Maps for the awakening path

Maps for the awakening path can be very helpful.

MAPS HELP US NAVIGATE IN UNFAMILIAR PLACES

After all, any time we enter a place that’s unfamiliar to us, maps, stories, guides, and fellow travelers can be invaluable. They help us orient, make better decisions, avoid some pitfalls, provide company and guidance on the way, and can make the whole experience generally more easy and enjoyable. We can learn from those who are more familiar with the place, and we can find support from others exploring it.

Of course, this depends on the quality of the maps, stories, guides, and fellow travelers.

It depends on how we relate to these sources of information and the journey itself.

And it depends on what we bring with us in terms of baggage, orientation, experience, and good sense.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MAPS

For all the many benefits of maps, they also have some limitations, and it’s good to be aware of and explore the characteristics of maps.

They are different in nature from the terrain. They are mental constructs and are different in nature from what they point to. (Unless they happen to point to other mental constructs!)

They simplify and leave a lot out. That’s why they are useful, and it’s also one of their limitations.

They may be more or less accurate. Sometimes, maps are misleading.

They inevitably reflect the biases of the one(s) making them. They reflect a certain time, culture, worldview, personal orientation, and sometimes even hopes and fears. That doesn’t make them less useful, but it’s good to keep in mind.

As with any story, they inevitably reflect and come out of a certain worldview. There are innumerable other existing and possible worldviews that may make as much or more sense, and fit the data as well or better. And these worldviews may produce very different maps of the same terrain.

Maps and stories in general cannot reflect any full, final, or absolute reality.

Reality is always more than and different from any map.

And any mental construct is a kind of map, no matter what form it takes. Whether it’s a book, a diagram, a teacher or fellow traveler sharing something, or our own mental images and words telling us something.

THE LIMITATIONS OF AWAKENING MAPS

Maps of a physical place have these benefits and limitations, and that goes doubly (or triply!) for maps of non-physical and metaphorical places like an awakening process.

Yes, there may be patterns in how the awakening process unfolds that we can detect and put into a kind of map. Many have done just that. For instance, Ken Wilber has collected and synthesized many of these maps into a more inclusive and comprehensive map.

And yet, life doesn’t follow our shoulds or our maps. Life goes its own way.

The process may be different for people in different cultures. Your process may be very different from mine. Each case is always different to some extent, and sometimes by a lot.

Also, maps about awakening are informal. They come from people’s own experiences, or what they have seen or heard from others. It’s not a topic that’s studied rigorously using scientific methods.

Maps of the awakening process are provisional at best, and likely only partially accurate.

In my experience, the process is not necessarily very linear, and the process itself tends to undo any and all fixed ideas I have about it or anything else.

HOW WE RELATE TO MAPS

How we relate to these stories and maps makes a big difference.

Do I hold onto some of them as true? What happens if I do? For me, I typically find it’s stressful. I need to hold onto, rehearse, and defend the stories. I make an identity for myself out of it. If my path is different from the maps, I feel something is wrong. And it’s generally stressful whenever life shows up differently from the “shoulds” of the maps, which it inevitably does.

How would it be to hold onto them more lightly? Here, I find it’s generally more peaceful. I find more curiosity. I recognize the maps and stories as pointers only, and as questions about the world. I am more open to exploring what’s here rather than being distracted by how a story tells me it should be.

USING MAPS TO FEEL BETTER (OR WORSE)

We can use maps, and especially stage maps, to feel better (or worse) about ourselves and our life.

We can use them to tell ourselves: I am at this stage in the awakening process. It means I am further ahead than these other people. It means those people are ahead of me. It means this will happen next. It’s all cleanly laid out and predictable, and I know how it is.

But do we actually know? Can we know if the maps are accurate? Can we know that we understand them well? Can we know that another worldview wouldn’t make as much or more sense, and bring about a very different map? And what about everything left out of the maps? Isn’t what’s left out far more than what’s included?

HOLDING IT ALL LIGHTLY

For me, and for all of these reasons, it makes more sense to hold these stories and maps lightly, and it gives me more sense of ease. It’s more aligned with reality.

Yes, I have found it fun and fascinating to learn about them. (Since my teens and for about three decades, I read everything by Ken Wilber. I read widely about stage models in general from psychology and spirituality. And I studied developmental psychology and stage models at university.)

Yes, they can be somewhat useful as something I keep in the back of my mind and sometimes check in with.

And it feels better to hold it all lightly. To not invest too much into it.

SCIENCE IN GENERAL

That’s how it is for me with science in general.

I love science and find it fascinating, fun, and helpful.

And yet, I know that the stories from science are maps. They reflect our current culture and understanding. They are provisional. Future generations will see our maps as quaint, at best as partially valid, and often as hopelessly outdated.

Perhaps most importantly, what they leave out is far more than what they include. What they include is likely an infinitely small part of what there is to discover. And what we discover may put what we already (think we) know in a completely different light.

Reality is always more than and different from any story we have about it.

[Read on to see what ChatGPT has to say on this topic.]

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Spiritual stories vs what’s here in immediacy

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

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

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

MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS

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

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

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

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

DIFFERENTIATING MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS AND IMMEDIATE NOTICING

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

That’s a sobering realization and an important one.

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

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

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

WHAT I AM LEFT WITH

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

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

IT’S ALL I KNOW

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

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

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The different types of validity in different stories

Each story has validity. The question is how and what the specific validity is for each story.

And whatever seems to make the most sense to us is always provisional and up for revision.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF VALIDITY

There are some general ways stories can be valid.

We can use any story as a mirror for ourselves. We can turn any story towards ourselves and find genuine examples – from the past and now – of how it’s valid.

A story can be more or less valid in a conventional sense. It can fit the data more or less well. It can be supported by more or less solid data and different amounts of solid data. It can work more or less well as a map and guide for our life in the world or for a specific area of life.

And a story is valid in the most basic sense that it is a story. We can recognize it as happening in our mental field, as mental images and words. It’s a mental construct. It’s meant as a provisional guide, at most, and not a full or final reflection of something in the world.

OUR ORIENTATION

What helps us discern the particular validity of any one story? 

Sincerity and intellectual honesty help us stay grounded and receptive.

Familiarity with the topic helps us with discernment and nuances. Experts generally understand a topic far better than laypeople. (And as all of us, they too have blind spots and biases and their views are provisional.)

Familiarity with valid arguments, soundness, logical fallacies, biases, media literacy, and so on, helps us avoid some common pitfalls.

It’s easy to go into lazy thinking and adopt the view of those around us or our favored subculture. It’s easy to get caught up in wishful or fearful thinking. It’s easy to deceive ourselves. 

EXAMPLES

Fairy tales have a metaphorical validity and are a mirror for psychological processes. They help us learn something about the world, society, universal human dynamics, and parts of ourselves and how they may relate to each other. This applies to any story – whether it’s in the form of a movie, book, news, a dream, a daydream, and so on. 

Science has a methodology that’s relatively universal. It mirrors how we go about learning about the world and ourselves if we are systematic about it and sincere and intellectually honest.

The content of science is more or less accurate in a conventional sense. It’s supported by more or less solid data, different amounts of data, is provisional, and is always up for revision. It will also always, to some extent, reflect our culture, worldviews, biases, what society sees as important, and so on. 

That we are a human being in the world is valid in a conventional sense. To others, that’s how it looks. It’s a story that works relatively well in our daily life. It helps us function in the world.

That we more fundamentally, and in our own first-person experience, is something else is also valid. Here, we may find we are capacity for the world as it appears to us. We are what the world, to us, happens within and as. This is something we can check and find for ourselves.

When I have stories about someone else, they may be more or less accurate when applied to that person. And even if a story seems accurate, we are always much more than and different from any story about us, and we can always receive more information that shifts how we see the situation or puts it in a different context. 

I can also turn these stories to myself and find genuine and specific examples of how they apply now and in the past. For instance, I can find examples of when I was angry, cruel, deceptive, brilliant, beautiful, and so on, and perhaps also how it applies right now in this situation. 

Does life continue after death? This is a question for science and there is some research on this topic. Also, when it comes to the different stories about what happens after death, we can turn them around and see if we can find the essence of what they point to here and now. 

For instance, what about near-death experiences? They often describe not being the body, a sense of bliss, life review, and so on. When I look for myself, I find the body is in me. In my own first-person experience, I am not most fundamentally this body. I can find a quiet bliss that seems inherent in what I am. And if I examine my mental representations of my past, I can review my life in different ways. 

When it comes to rebirth, can I find that too here and now? At this moment, my mind recreates its story and its mental representations of me. In that sense, I am reborn each moment. Also, this moment is always new, different, and fresh, and any past and sense of continuity are only found within mental representations. I can find rebirth in that sense too. 

If I have a specific story about a past life, it’s difficult to know how accurate it is in terms of something that actually happened. But it does say something about me now. I can relate to it as I would anything in a dream, find it in myself, and explore it in myself here and now. 

The conventional validity in these stories is a matter of science, and it’s an open question so far for lack of solid data and because of the small amount of data we currently have. (This can change, and probably will with more research.) And all of these after-life stories have validity in the sense that I can find what they point to in myself, here and now. 

Astrology is similar to much else. In a conventional sense, it may have more or less validity and that’s a question for science. (Although there is very little to no serious research into it, as far as I know.) And it definitely has validity as a mirror for ourselves – for psychological dynamics, archetypes, and so on. Everything described in astrology, no matter if it happens to explicitly be about our particular configuration or not, mirrors us and describes something in us.

Conspiracy theories tend to have a grain of truth in them, and what that grain is will depend on the story. In most cases, the rest tends to not be supported by very good and verifiable data so it’s best to put it on the “maybe” or “unlikely” shelf until there is more information. 

For instance, there are a couple of grains of truth in several vaccine conspiracy theories. Some people die from their body’s reaction to vaccines, just as some die from their body’s reaction to medications that are widely in use. (This is not a reason to reject vaccines since they overall do a lot more good than harm.) And the pharmaceutical companies developing and selling vaccines are in it for the money. They are not philanthropists. There are dirty dealings, and not everything around the medical or business sides is as transparent as what would be in the public interest. (Again, that’s not a reason to automatically reject vaccines and it doesn’t mean that they overall haven’t benefited humanity enormously.) 

Also, as mentioned before, I can turn these conspiracy theory stories about the pharmaceutical companies etc. back to myself and find how they are valid. I can find genuine and specific examples from my past, and – if there is any charge on them for me – here and now. 

The vaccine will kill people -> I will kill people. If I believe that story, I’ll likely get very angry and a part of me will want to kill the people behind the (supposed) conspiracy. I kill them in my mind.

The people behind the vaccine want to hide something –> I want to hide something. In this situation, if I strongly believe the conspiracy theories about vaccines, I hide from myself that I cannot know. And perhaps that, somewhere in me, I know just that. I know there isn’t any solid data.

[to be expanded]

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We are fictional characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanting to know how fiction ends

Why do we have an impulse to know how compelling fiction ends?

FICTION CAN GO IN ANY NUMBER OF DIRECTIONS

I have often thought it’s a bit silly.

The story is made up anyway. It can go in a number of widely different directions.

It’s easy to imagine alternate endings that the author plausibly could have chosen. The reason the author landed on a particular ending may be because ofpersonal fascination, wanting to subvert expectations, wanting to draw in an audience, wanting to highlight a particular feature of human life, setting it up for the next part, practical or resource reasons, or something else.

Sometimes, the ending we looked forward to can even be disappointing, as we have seen in a recent TV series (GoT) and final movie trilogy (SW).

If this was the whole picture, there would be little or no reason to want to know how a story ends. So there must be something more going on.

EVOLUTIONARY IMPULSE TO TAKE IN STORIES

One answer may be in evolution. We have likely evolved to be fascinated by stories since these told our ancestors something important about themselves, their community, and their world. Stories gave them a survival advantage.

It’s easy to see how this is the case with stories from real life. The way the story is told reflects community values and orientations, so the listener gets to absorb these. And the content can offer practical information about social interactions, interactions with nature and wildlife, how to deal with unusual events that may return, and so on.

To some extent, fiction – mythology, fairy tales, tall tales – did the same. Fiction also conveyed cultural values and orientations. It gave people insights into interactions within the community and with outsiders and the natural world, and so on.

And it’s easy to see that the ending is an important part of the value of all of these stories.

Taking in compelling stories, from beginning to end, gave our ancestors a survival advantage.

GOOD FICTION REFLECTS DEEPER TRUTHS

There is an obvious value in stories from real life. We learn through the experience of others and how they chose to tell the stories.

And compelling fiction does the same, in a heightened form. Good fiction distills the essence out of real-life stories and reflects universal human truths. They are a way for us to learn something essential about ourselves, others, and the world.

NO CLEAR LINE BETWEEN STORIES FROM REAL LIFE AND FICTION

There is a fuzzy boundary between stories from real life and fiction.

When we tell stories from real life, we inevitably interpret, filter, highlight, leave out, and get things wrong. The story reflects us and what we find important, our worldview and values, our hangups and limitations, and so on. As we know, these stories are often told quite differently by others.

And compelling fiction reflects universal human dynamics and insights and has a deeper truth.

There is always an element of fiction in stories from real life, and elements of real life in fiction.

WHY DO WE WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING?

So why do we want to know the ending of fiction? Even if it’s obviously silly since the story is made up anyway?

One answer may be evolution. It gave our ancestors a survival advantage to take in stories, told by others in their community, from beginning to end.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of simplicity and clarity here. I have had a quite strong brain fog for a few weeks, and it makes it difficult to write with flow and clarity. Hopefully, I can return and clean this up a bit.

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Fascination with stories

It’s understandable that people, including me, sometimes want to know how a TV series – or a movie, book, or any story – unfolds and ends. At the same time, it’s slightly amusing since if it’s fictional, it’s all made up anyway, and the ending of the story is somewhat arbitrary. It’s an ending the writer or writers decided on out of many possible fictional endings. It doesn’t really matter how it ends.

It’s a reminder that our curiosity about the world, and how stories unfold and end, is built into us through evolution. It helps us survive to learn about the world. To learn about how people work, and how the world works, and how specific types of situations sometimes unfold.

Fictional stories sometimes depict a truth about human interactions and dynamics. Real life stories show us how things sometimes unfold in the real world. And any story is a reminder that they are stories. They are made up. They are our own interpretations and reflect our own backgrounds and viewpoints. They are not in any way final and they don’t reflect an absolute truth.

In our post-postmodern world, or whatever it is, that may seem obvious. And yet, there are areas of life where many of us sometimes don’t take it to heart. Any time we identify with a viewpoint, with an identity, with a story about others, the world, or ourselves, we haven’t really – and thoroughly – taken it to heart. Any time we take any story for granted and how it is, we haven’t taken it to heart.

Sometimes, we hold onto these stories because we are hurt and we think we protect ourselves through holding onto certain stories. Sometimes, we hold onto them because those around us do the same and we haven’t seen a need to question it. And sometimes, they are so basic and apparently obvious that we haven’t even thought of questioning it. (E.g. I am a man, a human being, content of my experience.)

Our minds are fascinated by stories. It may be because conceptual thought is relatively new in our evolution and we are still learning about it and how to use it and relate to it in a sensible way. It may be because this fascination has helped our ancestors survive (most likely it did). It may be because those around us are so we take a cue from them.

In any case, our current habit of identifying with thought does seem like something a young species would do. A species that is still figuring out how to use and relate to thoughts effectively. A species that currently is stumbling because it does tend to identify with thought and take them as more true and final than they are. A species that creates suffering for itself because of it, and may even bring about its own extinction because of it.

A species that, if it continues for long enough, may eventually learn to use thought as a guide of temporary practical value at most, and inherently free of any absolute or final truth. As a question about the world. And recognizing that all thoughts are like this – a question, a pointer, a temporary guide – including our most basic thoughts and assumptions about the world and who and what we are.

Note: It’s obviously only in fiction that stories end. In life, there may be chapters and storylines but no story really ends.

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Unknown: I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened

I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.

unknown origin, (mis)attributed to Mark Twain

It’s a good quote even if Mark Twain probably never said it.

For most of us, most of the terrible things we live through never actually happen. They happen in our minds, and we may relive it in our minds, but it never actually happened.

Whether we tell ourselves it happened in the past, that it will happen in the future, or it does happen in the present, it never actually happened.

Some terrible things may have happened in the past. We then relive it in our mind, perhaps with added painful stories and interpretations, and it doesn’t happen anywhere else than our mind.

Some terrible things may appear to be in future, and that future isn’t here yet. Again, we live it in our minds and it’s not actually happening.

It may or may not come to pass, more or less as we imagined it.

If it doesn’t, then it clearly didn’t actually happen.

If it does happen, as it is happening, our imaginations about it are still imaginations. Our stories are stories. It’s all mind-made. It doesn’t actually happen as we imagine it. (I realize this one may require more investigation but it’s worth it.)

As with any of these explorations, understanding it intellectually or intuiting it is a good start. And for it to become a lived experience, we need more investigation. In this case, inquiry such as The Work or the Living Inquiries can be very helpful. Especially if we investigate the stories that seem the most true, and keep going with yet another story that seems true. Until, perhaps, they don’t anymore.

Dark forces or something much simpler?

Our stories about ourselves and the world has a big impact on us and our life.

When I shared something about the “dark night” phase I seem to have gone through, and how it has been a period of repeated losses and things going “wrong”, a psychic friend of mine said that “dark forces” want to prevent me from living my potential. It was meant well, and it was also a reminder of the power of stories.

At least on the surface, the “dark forces” story puts the responsibility “out there” in the world, into something mysterious and intangible, and it makes the person – in this case, me – into a victim. It’s a story that easily can trigger passivity and hopelessness.

I prefer stories that are closer to what’s here, that are about something I can check from my own experience and that trigger engagement.

The story that makes more sense to me, at least right now, is that I went against my clear inner knowing and guidance on a major and lasting life decision. It brought a sense of getting off track in life. It led into a “dark night” phase that gradually got stronger.

And although I wish I had been clear and healed enough to follow my guidance rather than my fears back then, I also see the tremendous and very real gifts in what happened. The “dark night” phase has brought what’s left in me to the surface. It has brought up remaining beliefs and identifications, and unhealed parts of me, and made it very visible to me. It has given me an opportunity for deep healing.

I created it. There is a valuable and real gift in it.

No “dark force” story is needed to explain what happened.

Although if I wanted to include the “dark forces” story, how would it look in this context? It may look like this: If there are “dark forces” at play, the reason they are at play is because they mirror what’s already in me. They mirror unhealed parts of me, and perhaps enhance dynamics already created by these unhealed parts of me. If anything, they are – really – part of the gift.

I should also mention that the content of the story has an impact on our life. And equally much, or perhaps even more so, does the extent we see through it. If we have examined the story, and it has lost much or all of its charge, the story is a much more useful tool for us. We hold it lightly and use it to the extent and in the situations it seems practically useful.

That often takes some work and investigation. For me, what seems most effective is a combination of inquiry (Living Inquiries, The Work) and Vortex Healing, approaching the story and how I hold it from the consciousness and energy sides.

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Finding meaning, and holding it lightly

We are conditioned to find meaning in the world, and especially in what happens in our own life. It’s put into us through evolution, and it just makes sense that we do so. It helps us survive and function in the world.

One special case is when something happens that we don’t particularly like. Often, it’s in the form of a loss. We lose someone or something, and the mind tries to find a meaning in it.

The meaning may be that we are a victim, or that we are not good enough, or something similar and painful. And in the best case, we find a meaning that help us learn, heal, mature, and find peace with what happened.

For instance, the meaning may be I have an opportunity to learn about impermanence. I can learn to relate to it in a more helpful way. It may invite me to more fully appreciate what’s here and make use of an opportunity while it’s still here. It may invite me to know it will go away, and find some peace with it even before it happens. It may help me mature as a human being and find and deepen my empathy with others who experience loss. That all makes loss meaningful.

I like to keep these meaning-stories as simple and real as possible. I could add to it. For instance, life “wants” me to learn this, or that the loss was a special set-up just for me. But that doesn’t really make sense. It just adds unnecessary complication and drama to it. Some meaning-stories are inherently stressful.

And, in reality, any and each meaning-story can be stressful if we hold it as too real and too… meaningful. If we take it as absolutely true and real, instead of just as a temporary guide, any story will eventually be stressful.

There is a way to do this that seems the most helpful to me.

Find a meaning that’s practical, simple, and real. A meaning that helps me heal, mature, and function well in the world. Hold it lightly, as you are able.

Leave the rest aside. The meanings that seem overly complicated or makes it into something special. The meanings that are clearly stressful or painful.

Take to inquiry any remaining meaning-stories that seem real and substantial, and especially the stressful ones. Examine them.

For instance, use The Work of Byron Katie to see the consequences of holding it as true, how it may be if you don’t, and the validity in the reversals.

Or use the Living Inquiries to see how the mind creates its own stressful experience, how it attaches sensations to stories to give them charge and a sense of reality and substance, and help the mind soften or release the association between the stories and the charge.

To find a constructive meaning, it can help to talk with someone we trust or use some guidelines or tools found in – for instance – the positive psychology world.

And when it comes to holding any meaning lightly and set the stressful ones aside, some form of inquiry can be very helpful.

Note: When I say “I like to keep these meaning-stories as simple and real as possible” I don’t mean that I hold the meaning itself as real. It just means that I try to find a meaning that makes sense to me. A meaning that’s “real” in the sense of authentic.

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Senseless, sensible, coming to our senses

Senseless: Lacking common sense, wildly foolish.

Oxford Dictionary

Sensible: Done or chosen in accordance with wisdom or prudence, likely to be of benefit.

Oxford Dictionary

Come to your senses: to start to understand that you have been behaving stupidly.

Cambridge Dictionary

There is often wisdom in traditional sayings and expressions and even embedded in everyday words.

What does it mean to come to our senses? In an everyday use, it means to perceive and act in a more grounded and sensible way. There is a literal truth in that expression. When we are caught in thoughts, we can get a bit loopy and insane. We live in abstractions. We take our own imaginations, our own mental images and words, as reality. We make ourselves crazy that way.

Coming to our senses means to bring attention to our senses, to sensations, sights, sounds, smell, and taste. And also to our imaginations as what they are, recognizing them as mental images and words (imagined sounds and mental images). When we bring attention to our senses, the mind is incapable of simultaneously be caught up in stories and content of thought. It’s either one or the other. (Unless we do both half way, in which case we are still caught in stories and imagination.)

The more we bring attention to our senses, the more we make it into a new habit, and the more we have an actual freedom in shifting attention between our senses and occasionally into stories. Now and then, we do need to bring attention into stories to function in the world. Using stories in this practical sense is natural and kind. And we can do it as needed and while recognizing these stories as imaginations.

There is some effort here in terms of intentionally bringing attention to our senses. And over time, it becomes more and more effortless. Even the recognition of imagination as imagined becomes more effortless more often.

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The mind trying to make sense of what’s happening

The mind is a sweetheart, as one of my teachers (Todd C.) likes to say.

It tries to make sense of what’s going on. It tries to help out the best it can.

This happens when an old trauma is triggered by a current situation.

An old trauma is triggered by the current situation. A strong emotion or reaction comes up, the mind thinks it must be about the current situation, and makes up a story that makes it seem as if the current situation justifies the situation. To others, it may seem that the reaction is way out of proportion to the situation, but to the mind it seems justified because of the story it made up. (Afterwards, we may recognize this and feel perplexed or even a bit ashamed Or we may take it as an opportunity to look at the trauma and the initial situation creating it.)

And we also see it just about all the time in everyday life. Something happens, and the mind tries to make sense of it. It interprets. Makes a story out of it. Tries to make it coherent as best as it can. It may make a story out of it that either deflates or enhances the imagined self, depending on its inclination.

The mind is a story maker and we need it to function. We do need basic stories to navigate and orient in the world. And yet, it’s really helpful when we can recognize this as it happens. Recognize the stories as stories. Recognize velcro as velcro. (The charge we experience when the mind associates sensations with the stories.)

Thoughts give sensations meaning, sensations gives thought charge

Through inquiry, this can become quite clear:

Images and words give sensations meaning.

Sensations give images and words charge.

Images and words give sensations meaning

Sensations in themselves are simple sensations. They are bodily sensations without any inherent meaning.

When images and words become associated with them, these images and words gives the sensations meaning. They label the sensations and may also tell a more elaborate story about what the sensations mean.

The simple label may be pain, hurt, sadness, fear, anger, frustration, discomfort, joy, elation, threat, craving, or compulsion. The more elaborate story may be a story about me or the world, for instance that I am not good enough, unloved, or superior. Or that the word – or something in it – is dangerous, or welcoming, or anything at all.

The mind tells itself what the sensations mean with the use of images and words.

Sensations give images and words charge

When images and words become associated with certain sensations, these sensations lend a charge to the story told by the images and words. They lend the story a sense of substance, solidity, and reality, and gives it charge.

There is a story, and the sensations the mind associates with the story lends the story a sense of reality, substance, and solidity, and gives it a charge.

Temporary and chronic bodily contractions

In order for the mind to take it’s own stories as real (substantial, solid, with a charge), it needs to find sensations to associate them with.

And in order for the mind to reliably find sensations, it needs to contract muscles in certain areas of the body to create sensations that these stories can be associated with.

These contractions can be temporary and created “on command” as needed.

If the stories are more core and recurrent, the contractions can become chronic and very familiar to us.

Inquiry

Inquiry can help us recognize how stories and sensations come together. It can also help us separate out the stories and sensations, so they become “unglued” and the sense of solidity and charge of the stories soften or fall away. This can help with anxiety, depression, compulsion and just about any other stressful experience the mind creates for itself.

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The part of the mind I call the body

For me, in my immediate experience, the body is part of the mind.

My body is part of my mind since it’s happening within and as awareness. All bodies, and any experience, is like that.

Also, anything I think I know about “the body” is created by the mind, by stories, by sensations and an overlay of images and words.

In both of these ways, the body is part of the mind.

So if I say my body tells me….., or my body feels….., I really mean my mind.

My body tells me….. –> My mind tells me…..

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Hollywood, image making, and buying into it

It’s the Oscars soon, which reminds me of a recent visit to Los Angeles and Hollywood, the Hollywood hills, and a (quite good) exhibit of movie costumes.

That visit reminded me of how the Hollywood movie industry is all about image-making, and people buying into it. They are very good at creating a certain image through storytelling, pictures, music, and more. People buy into it. (And it has been very profitable to many.)

There is nothing wrong with this. It’s how culture is created and maintained. It’s what’s happening in just about all areas of life, from entertainment to politics to religion to our most basic stories about ourselves and life.

It’s good to notice. Someone makes up stories, and people buy into it or not.

And that goes even for basic stories, such as:

I am unlovable. Life is good. Life is terrible. Life is fair. Life is unfair. Death is terrible. I need more money. I need your love.

What stories do I buy into? What happens when I recognize that someone initially made it up? What happens when I question it, and find what’s more true for me?

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Every story was made up by someone

This is very obvious. And it can also make a big difference if we ponder it and take it in.

Every story was made up by someone.

And then passed on by others, and changed.

Any story was created by someone. Stories saying that a word means a certain thing. Or that something is good and something else is bad. Or that this is anger, or sadness, or pain, or joy. Or that loss or heartache is terrible. Or that humans are separate from rest of nature. Or that something called God or Spirit exist.

Stories about these stories were also made up by someone. Stories saying that the initial story is true, or false, or comes from an authority (so you should perceive and live as if it’s true), and so on.

Each of these stories were made up by someone. They are all a thought. They are more or less useful as a pointer in daily life. Their content is really a question only, a question about the world.

 

Comforting stories

There are many stories in the world of spirituality. Some seem to apply to my situation now…..

I am being transformed, similar to a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. I am in a dark night of the soul. I am in an awakening process. I am in a kundalini process. It’s a hero’s journey, as Joseph Campbell described it.

All of that may be true. Perhaps in hindsight, and if I had knowledge of more cases, it may be even more clear that what I am going thorough fits a particular pattern. It’s universal and to be expected.

These can be helpful stories. They help make sense of what’s going on. They may point me to people who have experience with this, and can help me through it. They may point me to information that can be helpful. They may help me find other people going through something similar, so I get to see I am not alone in it, it’s not personal, and people do get through it.

They can also be comforting stories. In the pain and confusion, it’s easy to attach to stories like that. They give a sense of meaning and importance to what I am going through, and hope of an easier time – and perhaps rewards – in the future. And that too can be helpful. Comfort can be just the right medicine.

And yet, at some point all those stories seem hollow. They are recognized as comforting stories. Stories my mind use to find comfort.

Reality is, I don’t know. I really don’t know.

Reality is also that there are other explanations. For instance, I tried a diksha shortcut (a form of shaktipat) some years back, which did seem to lead to some months in a non-dual state, and also to a collapse later on. A collapse of body and mind, leading to CFS and brain fog, and lots of previously unhealed parts of me surfacing. Some years earlier, just prior to the onset of the dark night, I left my guidance on a major life decision, and continued to do so for a while. That in itself is a sufficient explanation of what happened. And it doesn’t exclude any of the other stories. Including that leaving your guidance on a major decision, out of unloved and unquestioned fear, is one of the ways a dark night sets in.

Recognizing this, at a felt level, is disillusionment. And there is a sense of liberation in this disillusionment. It feels good at a deeper level, since it’s more real. It’s more true. I recognize that some of those “spiritual” stories may be true, in a conventional and limited sense. That I really don’t know. That they are stories, imaginations, and not inherent in reality. That my mind has used them for comfort. And that the comfort part, and holding them as true and investing them with energy, doesn’t seem to fit anymore. It doesn’t fit my life and situation anymore.

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Collete Kelso: Everything happens for a reason

Everything happens for a reason, that you make up in your head.

– Collete kelso

We can have many stories about why something happened. Some can be quite painful and stressful. Some can be comforting, for a while. Some may help us relate to our lives in a more kind and helpful way. And all of them are made up. What they refer to are unfindable. At some point, it can be a huge relief to discover that. (And that discovery may not be a one-time event. It’s ongoing, and may involve investigating whatever “sticky” story is here.)

Fascination with scary stories

Why are we – some of us – fascinated by scary stories?

I find a few different ways of looking at it.

Evolution

In an evolutionary context, it makes sense that we are drawn to explore scary things through stories. It helps us mentally prepare for similar situations in our own life. We get more familiar with the possible situations and how we may react, we get a bit desensitized to these types of situations so we may be more calm if or when something similar happens in our own life, and we get a chance to mentally explore different ways of dealing with it.

Beliefs

When I take a story about something scary as true, my attention tends to be drawn to these beliefs and what they are about. Again, it’s an invitation to mentally explore these situations in a safe setting, and how I may deal with it if something similar should happen in the real world. It’s also an invitation to explore these beliefs in themselves. Are they realistic? What’s more realistic? What’s more true for me? 

An impulse to wholeness as who I am, this human self

What I see in the wider world is a reflection of what’s here. So far, I have found how each one of my stories of the wider world – including anything scary – equally well applies to me. As long as I think some human quality or characteristic is only out there in the world, or only in me, it’s painful and uncomfortable. When I find it both in the wider world and in me, there is a sense of coming home and it’s much more comfortable. In this sense, being drawn to scary stories in an invitation for me to use it as a mirror, to find in myself what I see out there in the world, and whether the scary story is from “real life” or made up doesn’t matter much.

Finding a characteristic both in the wider world and myself, I can also relate to it in a more relaxed and level-headed manner, so this impulse to find wholeness also makes sense in an evolutionary perspective.

An impulse to clarity as what I am 

There is also an invitation to find clarity here. When I take a story as true, it’s uncomfortable. And finding more clarity on the story, it’s more comfortable. So when I am drawn to what I think of as scary stories, there is an invitation for me to identify and investigate any stressful belief that may come up. Through this, what I am – clarity and love, that which any experience and image happens within and as – notices itself more easily.

I also see that when I take a story as true I tend to get caught up in reactive emotions and one-sided views, and finding more clarity helps me function in a more healthy, kind and informed way in the world.

Summary: Evolution, and who and what I am

It makes evolutionary sense for me to be drawn to scary stories in all of these ways. (a) I become more familiar with the different scenarios of what may happen and how I desensitize to scary situations to some extent, so I can be more calm if or when something similar happens in my own life. I get to mentally explore different ways of dealing with it, in a safe setting and before it happens. (b) I am invited to investigate my beliefs about it and find what’s more realistic and true for me. (c) I am invited to find in myself what I see in the wider world, which helps me relate to it in a more relaxed and level-headed manner. (d) And there is no end to the stories I can investigate, including my most basic assumptions about myself and the world, which helps me function in the world from more clarity, kindness and wisdom. Each of these support my survival and ability to reproduce and raise offspring.

All of these also make psychological sense. It helps me function in the world, and find a sense of wholeness as who I am.

It all makes spiritual sense. It helps this human self – the infinite experiencing itself as finite – survive and function in the world. It’s an invitation for what I am to more easily notice itself.

And all of these perspectives – evolution, psychology and spirituality – converge in one sense, and are the same in another.

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A new question

I was reminded of this again yesterday.

Any statement, any answer, is another question.

With any statement, I can ask myself:

How is it to take this statement, this answer, as a question?

How is to find curiosity and receptivity in how I relate to it?

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Atheists and images of God

A few things about atheism:

When atheists argue against religions and religious institutions, they often have some very good points. There are unhealthy aspects to many religious institutions, including different forms of power abuse. Many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, often using religion as a cover for political or economic motivations. The three Abrahamic religions are based on bronze age/pre-modern mythology, and while the essence may be as valid today as back then, the packaging is often not.

On the other hand, when atheists argue against God, they are really arguing against their own images of God. At best, these images tend to be narrow, often limited to theistic religions. At worst, they are obvious caricatures and distortions of the images found in Christianity and other theistic religions.

Finally, to the extent they believe their own stories about reality, they make their own views into a religion. They mirror the religious people they argue against.

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Play with stories, and then find it here and now

When stories about past, future and present are recognized as imaginations, it gives a sense of freedom and fluidity.

For instance, I am free to go into stories about the three times, and also find what these stories are about here now.

I am free to go into stories about the past, future or present, and also recognize the stories and what they evoke as happening here now.

I can ask myself, what is the seed of these stories? What are the feelings evoked by these stories? What are the needs and desires behind these stories?

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Playfulness, wisdom and a toy piglet

Towards the end of his life, Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss had a toy piglet. It is perhaps a little odd for a grown and respected man to have a stuffed toy.

What is even more odd is that he and his wife treated it as a child, and wrote a book about him.

It is easy to dismiss it as the folly of an old man. But is that all?

Playfulness was always central in his life, and his playfulness in relating to his piglet is a teaching in itself. It is an invitation for us all to find more playfulness in life, including in how we use our imagination.

And there is also wisdom here.

When we interact with others, we usually assume we interact based on who they are. But we are really interacting with them based on who we imagine they are. When Arne Næss treated his piglet as a living being, it becomes clear that he is really interacting with his imagined piglet. This is an invitation for us to take a closer look at this in our own life.

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Justification and fullness of stories

It is very understandable when we try to justify our actions. We are just trying to protect a particular self image, often as “good”, and to find acceptance from ourselves and others and fit in.

There is fortunately a very simple alternative, and that is to find a fullness of stories around what we initially may wish to justify. And to deliberately include both “good” and “bad” stories in a conventional sense.

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Making ourselves smaller

Implied even in positive judgments is an idea of yourself as someone who is limited—someone who needs good things to happen to be okay and feel adequate. There’s nothing wrong with something good happening; it’s just that even your positive judgments are small truths that are based on a small idea of your self. Your Heart will contract just as much for a small positive truth as for a small negative truth.
~ Nirmala

A friend of mine posted this on facebook. It is a good reminder that any belief we hold about ourselves, others, or life, makes us, others, or life smaller and more confined than what we really are.

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Gifts of projections

There are many gifts in projections.

The most obvious is that projections allows us to orient and navigate in the world. Our world of images create a sense of space and time, places whatever happens in the sense fields in space. connects images of past, present, and future events, places boundaries to create the appearance of objects, filters, interprets, and makes sense of it all. This can most easily be noticed through simple sense field explorations. Without our world of images, we wouldn’t function.

This world of images also creates an infinitely rich world. We can place boundaries anywhere. Find connections anywhere. Look at any (imagined) object from any number of perspectives. Create any number of contexts which dramatically changes how we see something. We quite literally create our own worlds through the images we place on top of the sense fields.

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Evolution and a more pragmatic relationship to stories

Slightly revised, and from a previous post I just finished:

It is easy for us to recognize physical tools as tools only, and to use these with a measure of pragmatic wisdom.

And yet, it is so difficult for us to do the same with stories. At least for many of us.

Why is it so?

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Stories as tools

tool_box_piano_repair

Staying with the simple and obvious, here is a reminder about stories as tools:

First, let’s look at what we know about tools such as a hammer or a shovel.

We know that each useful in some circumstances and for some tasks. If we use the wrong tool for a task, it usually doesn’t work so well.

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Biographies

I went into a bookstore a couple of days ago and found copies of Sarah Palin’s autobiography prominently displayed in the fiction section. It may have been a staff person who deliberately placed them there, or a customer with a sense of humor. For a book with so many obvious distortions and factual errors, it is perhaps a good placement.

But all biographies and autobiographies are in a very real sense fictional. They are heavily filtered through interpretations and whatever information is available – itself just a selection and heavily interpreted.

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Secular and spiritual dark nights

Some folks frown when the phrase dark night is used in secular contexts, for instance describing what many of us go through after losing a job or the end of a relationship. They say it should be used only in its original meaning, as describing the dark night of the senses or the dark night of the soul.

But is it so wrong to use it in a secular sense? Maybe the secular and spiritual dark nights are not as different as they may appear?

Any dark night, whether secular or spiritual, comes about through a friction between our shoulds and reality, or rather, friction between our stories of what is and what should be. It doesn’t really matter what the content of those stories are. The effect is the same: unease, stress, tension, complains, sense of being a victim, perhaps sadness, grief, anger, frustration, sense of loss, and so on.

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Shaking up boundaries

Imagined boundaries can be placed anywhere, creating the appearance of an inside and outside, and us vs them.

There are many benefits of imagined boundaries. They are practical. They help us communicate with ourselves and others, and navigate and function in the world. If ideas of better and worse are added, they can give a sense of cohesion within the boundary (whether as an individual or group) and it can help us feel better about ourselves.

And there are also some drawbacks. We may get so used to a particular imagined boundary that we take it as real, as something “out there” in the world. We may get so used to it that we don’t recognize it as imagined, and that equally meaningful and useful boundaries can be placed anywhere.

So it is good to shake it up. It is good to place boundaries at meaningful yet unusual places, as a reminder that these are just imagined boundaries and that other boundaries give meaning as well.

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Mr. Monk and living up to an image

NUP_131361_0227

One of the few things I watch regularly from the world of TV is Mr. Monk.

And one of the recurrent themes is his desire to be reinstated as a police officer, and repeatedly failing.

It is a good reminder of something most of us do:

He wants to attain an image, fails and despair, and overlooks what he already has.

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Don’t want to admit it to myself

I sometimes don’t want to admit to myself that a certain story feels true. It comes up as a feeling or image. It feels true for me at a gut level. But at the same time, it goes against a familiar story I have held as true for a long time and am not quite ready to let go of.

This happens naturally in life. Circumstances change. We have new experiences. Things shift.

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Identification, distance, space

I notice stories happening in at least three ways….

I can be identified with a story. I take myself as that viewpoint. It is inseparable from who or what I take myself to be. I cannot help perceiving, feeling and acting as if it is true.

There can be a sense of distance to that story. The story happens and there may be emotions there, but it happens at a distance. I am here and the story-emotion dynamic is over there. I have a choice in how I relate to it, and whether or how I act on it in the world.

And when what I am notices itself, the story-emotion dynamic happens on its own. It happens within and as what I am, along with any other content of experience. There is a sense of space within and around it and everything else. Here too, there is a choice in whether or how to act on it. And there is a more clear recognition of the story and its viewpoint as a tool only, helpful in some situations and not in other.

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What I see is what I am

What I see is what I am.

That is true in three ways:

What I see in the wider world – in others, culture, nature, fictional and real life stories, science, dreams – is a mirror of what is here now. It is a mirror of the characteristics and dynamics here now.

My world – the world I relate to and live within – is my own world of images. It is my own overlay of boundaries and interpretations on pure perception.

And it all happens within and as what I am and everything is.

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Ideologies as stepping stones

Any story is a temporary guide.

It helps us guide attention and organize our life in a certain way. It is a support. A stepping stone to something else.

That is where it gets tricky, because if the story is taken as true, it is more difficult to move on when the time is ripe.

And that is where a story can become an apparent hindrance rather than a support.

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Misdirection

Misdirection is one of the many wonderful analogies from the world of magic.

Any belief is misdirection.

I experience the world as if it is true. Any story filters the world and experience, and this experience – which naturally conforms with the belief – is taken as support for the belief. And since the filtering story is taken as true, I don’t even notice that and how it filters experience. I take the filtered experience as real, substantial, true and as support for my initial belief.

I believe the world is made up of objects. (Including however I see myself, as a human being, a doer, an observer). I filter experience as objects. I take that experience, those boundaries, as real, substantial and true. I experience myself as an object in a world full of objects. And that experience is taken as support for my initial belief. (Which most of the time is not even brought to awareness. It operates at the level of images, the first imaginary overlay on pure perception.)

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Origin stories and a sense of distance

early_humans

Although I don’t write about it much here, I often use an evolutionary view to explore dynamics in daily life. It is fun to imagine what evolutionary function something has, and it can even be helpful at times.

For instance, I noticed nervousness before giving a presentation to a group, and realized that it seems to make perfect sense in an evolutionary perspective. If I am careless about what I say or do in front of a large group of people, it can have serious consequences for me. In extreme cases, I could get killed. I could get thrown out of my community. I could get stigmatized and have to live with the consequences for the rest of my life. Of course, in the culture I live in, none of these are likely to happen, or if some of the less serious consequences did happen, I could just find another group or move another place. But my system still responds as if I lived in a small tribe in Africa and my life depended on that one small community.

Just having that explanation makes it a little easier. The nervousness seems a little less personal. It is not so much about me, but a shared human – probably mammalian – experience.

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Flavors of fundamentalism

There are many ways of being fundamentalist. We can be religious fundamentalists, of course. We can be atheist fundamentalists, taking the no-God story as true and not acknowledging that it all depends on the images we have of God (if we see God and reality as interchangeable terms, then atheism makes less sense!), and that we really don’t know. And we can even be science fundamentalists, taking current models from science as the gospel truth, not recognizing that these too will be obsolete at some point in the future.

Also, we can be anti-fundamentalist fundamentalist which I am familiar with from myself. I sometimes notice a reaction to fundamentalism of different flavors, and that is of course another brand of fundamentalism. I am not receptive to the validity and gifts of fundamentalism, and not free to shift between a wider range of stories about fundamentalism and apply the one that seems most helpful in the situation.

Any time I take any story as true, even if it is as an underlying assumption such as stores about the world (life is….) and what I am (an object in the world, content of experience), I become a fundamentalist. I filter experience as if it is true. I act as if it is true. And I can’t help it, as long as I take those stories as true.

The most common form of fundamentalist isn’t of the religious type. It is the fundamentalism of taking ourselves as content of experience, as an object within content of experience – whether it is an image of a human self, or an image of a doer or observer or any other image.

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