The mental gymnastics required to talk about who and what I am

It requires a lot of mental gymnastics to talk about anything at all, and talking about who and what I am is no exception.

THE WHO & WHAT DISTINCTION

In this context, “who” and “what” refer to two different things.

“Who I am” refers to this human self.

“What I am” refers to what I more fundamentally am in my first-person experience – what my field of experience happens within and as. (A thought may call this consciousness.)

This is a sometimes useful distinction, and it’s created by my mental field as all distinctions are.

MENTAL GYMNASTICS

What are some of these mental gymnastics? What’s required to distinguish between who and what I am?

(A) There is what’s here in immediacy which is simpler than any words. If I were to put words on it, it would be a “seamless whole”, although even that’s a bit too much. This is the first mental gymnastics and the first distinction.

(B) Then there is a distinction between what I more fundamentally am (AKA consciousness) and what it forms itself into (the field of experience). In immediacy, there is no such distinction. It only appears when my mental field creates that distinction in order to communicate and explore certain things.

(C) Then, there is a distinction within this field of experience between this human self and the wider world, into me and not-me. In reality, the field of experience is seamless so it requires quite a bit to differentiate out these two.

USEFUL MENTAL GYMNASTICS

These distinctions are sometimes useful. As I mentioned above, they help me communicate with myself and others, and they help with certain types of explorations. (Although I sometimes wonder how useful some of those explorations are!)

It’s also helpful to notice that these are mental gymnastics. What they refer to is far more simple and immediate and words cannot really touch it1.

It’s also interesting to notice how much energy all of this takes! It doesn’t come for free.

A FEW MORE WORDS

There is always more to say about this.

For instance, I can imagine further distinctions: (a) Seamless whole. (b) Calling it consciousness. (c) The field of experience it forms itself into. And (d) it as capacity for all of it, capacity for itself.

Capacity is inherent in what I am, it seems, just like the rest.

NOTES

(1) Just like words cannot really touch anything they refer to. This is inherent in words, not what they point to. More accurately, it’s inherent in the difference between the mental field (mental images and words) and what they point to.

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The divine includes us

If what’s happening is divine will, why would I try to change it? Why would I pray for change?

Someone asked that question in a social media group for a healing modality I am involved in.

PRAGMATIC ANSWER

There is a simple pragmatic answer.

I am part of the world and the situations in my life, so whatever I do is inevitably changing it all1. Whether I try to do nothing or something, I am still embedded in it. So why not aim at changing something if that’s what I am drawn to? Why not aim at shifting situations in a way that seems kind, sane, and maybe even a bit wise?

Why not aim at shifting situations, even if I don’t know the outcome and even if I don’t know the full situation and have hangups and biases. That’s how life is anyway. That’s how it’s all set up. So I may as well willingly and intentionally play my role.

IN IMMEDIATE NOTICING

I can also answer the question more literally.

For me, this is easier if I bring it back to my immediate experience.

This field of experience happens within and as what I am.

The wider world, situations, this human self, anything connected with this human self – it all happens within and as what I am.

It’s all happening within and as the consciousness I am. It’s the consciousness I am forming itself into all of it. It all lives its own life.

Whatever this human self does is not more or less happening within and as what I am than anything else.

THE DIVINE INCLUDES US

It’s also possible to use the language of the question and explore it from there.

In this case, the question contains its answer. If what’s happening is divine will, all of it is divine will – including us trying to change something. Nothing is excluded.

It’s all happening within and as the divine – the situation, us, whatever we do or don’t do.

We are the divine changing something within itself. It’s all the play of the divine.

STEPPING OUTSIDE OF THE MINDSET IT’S ASKED FROM

Often, the mindset a question is asked from is what prevents us from exploring it more satisfyingly. Stepping outside of the mindset in a certain way may even allow the question to fall away. It doesn’t make sense anymore.

The question was framed as a question about reality, slightly removed from our daily life. The pragmatic answer steps out of that frame and brings it back to our daily life.

The second answer is from my immediate experience. This too steps out of the framework of the question. The question was about the nature of reality, and I brought it back to what I notice here and now.

The third answer is a more literal answer to the question. Even here, we step out of the frame of the question. The question assumes duality and the answer comes from a view of all as the divine.

THE ESSENCE

These are a lot of words, although the essence is simple:

To explore a question satisfyingly, we often need to step outside of the frame of the question, one way or another.

The pragmatic answer to the question is: I am inevitably part of the world and the situations in my life, so why not play the game willingly and intentionally and try to be a good steward of my life?

And there are two more literal answers:

To me, this field of experience – the wider world, situations, this human self – happens within and as what I am.

Said another way: It’s all the divine, including me trying to make a change – or not – in the world. It’s all the play of the divine. There is no outside.

NOTES

(1) Even if I stay in a cabin in the woods or remove myself from this life, I am still impacting the situation, others, and the world. I cannot escape it since I am part of the fabric of life.

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Emptiness

I have written about the Buddhist emptiness before and thought I would see what comes up for me now.

EMPTY OF SUBSTANCE AND SOLIDITY

The world to me, appears as consciousness. All content of experience is similar to a night dream. It’s empty of substance. It’s ephemeral. (To myself, I am consciousness, and the world to me happens within and as the consciousness I am, so the world inevitably appears as consciousness.)

EMPTY OF A FUNDAMENTAL SELF

Then, there is a noticing that comes from comparing images of what’s here to images of what was or could be. This is a mental comparison. Here, I notice that this content of experience is empty of a separate self. This field of experience happens within and as what I am. Anything that could be taken as a self – this human self and ideas of being a victim, a doer, an observer, and so on – all happens within and as what I am. All of it comes and goes. None of it is a fundamental self. The content of experience is empty of a fundamental self.

EMPTY OF WHAT MY IDEAS TELL ME ABOUT IT

There is another noticing that could be called emptiness. The world is inherently free of what my ideas tell me about it. It’s not touched by it. It cannot be captured by it. It’s different from and more than any idea I have about it, and also less.

Of course, in a conventional sense, a thought can be more or less accurate, and it’s important to use the more accurate ideas as a guide. Still, a thought cannot capture any final, full, or absolute truth. They are questions about the world.

A NAIVE APPROACH

This is just what comes up for me from that one word. It’s a naive approach and likely has little to do with how Buddhist teachings and teachers see emptiness. (Naive is not bad, it helps me notice what’s here for me instead of what “should” be according to some ideas about it.)

The image is created by me and Midjourney

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A secular view on awakening

Awakening has traditionally been understood in a religious or spiritual context.

All of existence is Spirit and the divine, and the awakening is Spirit becoming conscious of itself and its nature locally. It’s Spirit locally conscious of itself while operating through the vehicle of this particular human self.

These days, it makes sense to also use a more secular understanding of awakening. We live in a more secular society, so why not see it in a secular context? After all, awakening and our nature is not going away.

I have written about this several times before so I’ll make it short.

OUR MORE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE

If we “have” consciousness, then what are we to ourselves? We are not primarily anything within consciousness, we are consciousness itself. There is no way around it. It has to be that way. Whether we notice or not, and independent of whatever conscious worldview we happen to use, to ourselves, we are primarily consciousness. Since the world, to us, happens within and as consciousness, it happens within and as the consciousness we are.

To ourselves, we are primarily conciousness.1 And the world – any content of consciousness – happens within and as the consciousness we are.

THE DREAMLIKE NATURE OF THE WORLD

That means that to us, the world is not so different from a dream. A dream happens within the consciousness we are while this human self is alseep. Waking life happens within and as the consciousness we are while this human self is awake.

ONENESS

Consciousess does not have boundaries. It doesn’t begin or end anywhere. It doesn’t have inherent dividing lines. There is no outside. It’s one. What we are is one. That means that the world, to us, is one whether we notice or not.

TRAINED ITSELF TO NOT NOTICE

Most of the time, the consciousness we are doesn’t notice this. It doesn’t need to. It trains itself to not notice, in a way, since most others don’t seem to notice. It trains itself to operate based on assumptions picked up from others: I am primarily this human self. Consciousness is a kind of add-on. Others and the world are separate from me. The world is more or less as it appears to me.

This is natural and innocent, and since the perception is out of alignment with reality, it comes with some inherent friction and discomfort.

WHEN WE NOTICE OUR NATURE

Sometimes, the consciousness we are may have glimpses of what it is and how the world, to it, is. We may feel or experience a connection with all. We may go into a flow state and forget our identity as this human self and of separation. This happens to many or most in daily life, at least now and then.

Occasionally, this is even more clear.2 There may be a shift so everything is revealed as consciousness. Consciousness becomes aware of itself as everything it’s experiencing and everything it has ever experienced. It becomes aware of itself as consciousness and of its world as happening within and as itself.

A SECULAR VIEW ON AWAKENING

Nothing “spiritual” is required to understand this. We don’t need to refer to God, the divine, Spirit, Brahman, or any of that.

We can understand it in a much more simple way, and a way that fits most (nearly all) worldviews: To ourselves, we are consciousness. The world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

Sometimes, the consciousness we are doesn’t notice itself. (It’s lost in identifying primarily as this human self, as something within the content of experience).

Sometimes, it recognizes itself. When it does, we call it awakening.

It’s all a process. It’s an exploration. It’s something we can keep clarifying, deepening into, become more familiar with, and mature into and within.3

THE ESSENCE OF EACH VIEW

What’s the essence of the secular and spiritual views on awakening?

To me, it has to do with our nature and the nature of reality itself.

Both views see our fundamental nature as consciousness. That’s not in question since it makes logical sense and is something we can check out for ourselves.

The difference is that the secular view does not make assumptions about the nature of reality itself. It leaves it open. The spiritual view, on the other hand, assumes that our nature – consciousness – is also the nature of reality itself and all there is.

COMPLEMENTARY VIEWS

The spiritual and secular views on awakening are complementary. They fill in what the other is missing, and they each have upsides and drawbacks.

The secular view is compatible with just about any worldview. It’s compatible with the view of Western science. It doesn’t rely on anything mystical or magical. It doesn’t rely on belief. It’s something we can check out for ourselves. It fits with the descriptions from people (mystics) throughout history and across traditions. It helps us find the lowest common denominators of awakening. It can give us a language independent of traditions, and that can help communication across traditions. It can help us find the essence of awakening. It keeps it simple, sober and grounded. It doesn’t say anything about the nature of reality itself and leaves it open. To me, these are all upsides. The downside is that it can seem a bit uninspiring to some.4

The spiritual view has more of a tradition. It may be more familiar to many. It may be more inspiring. On the other hand, it’s often bogged down in terminology, hierarchy, and misconceptions.

Which one is more accurate? The secular view is quite accurate in terms of our own experience and what we can check out for ourselves. And I suspect the spiritual one may be more accurate in the bigger picture. Many hints suggest it.5 (Although these can also be understood in other ways.)

NOTES

(1) I left out something that we even more fundamentally are. When we find ourselves as consciousness, we may also notice something else about our nature. At some level, I am this human self in the world. That’s an assumption that works well in daily life and I have to include it to function in the world. More fundamentally, and in my own first-person experience, I am consciousness. Even more fundamentally, I find I am capacity for it all. I am capacity for any and all of the experiences that are here. I am even capacity for consciousness itself.

(2) In my case, there was a dramatic shift when I was sixteen. Everything without exception was revealed as God or the divine. This human self and anything connected with it was the temporary and local play of the divine. That language was the language this human self used to make sense of it at the time. Today, I would more likely replace “God” and “the divine” with consciousness.

(3) This process is not always easy. For instance, for most of us, our psyche is formed within separation consciousness and it has wounds that operate from separation consciousness. To align with the reality of what we are (consciousness, oneness), these have to surface and be seen, felt, loved, and recognized as consciousness. The consciousness we are has to recognize itself as it. That’s not always an easy or comfortable process. Depending on how much trauma we have, it can be overwhelming, confusing, and we may not always deal with it gracefully. (Speaking from own experience here.)

(4) What are some of these hints? Sensing and healing at a distance, relatively solid reincarnation stories, undeniable chains of extraordinary synchronicities, and so on. None of these have been examined well enough by Western science yet. Each one can also be explained in other ways. Still, together, they suggest that the spiritual view on awakening may be accurate in the bigger picture.

(5) There are definitely ways to make it inspiring while still grounding it in modern science. We can, for instance, bring in the Universe Story and the Epic of Evolution. In the words of Carl Sagan: We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We can call the wholeness of all there is for God.

Image by me and Midjourney.

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Assuming something is healed

I sometimes hear someone say that they healed this or that.

The question that comes up for me is: how do you know?

ASSUMING SOMETHING IS HEALED

Why would we assume something in us is healed?

It may just be a way to say it, and we know we don’t really know. We don’t nuance it because we know we and others know we can’t know.

It may feel more comforting to tell ourselves something is healed. We may feel we need that comfort.

We may not have enough experience to see how something may appear healed, and then it surfaces again – often in a slightly different form since a lot has changed in us between then and now.

UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES OF THAT ASSUMPTION

There is an upside to telling ourselves something is healed. It may give us an extra boost and encouragement to keep going. It can give us the confidence we need in that situation.

The downside is that we tell ourselves something we cannot know for certain, and a part of us knows that. It may also make it extra challenging if or when an issue resurfaces, in a way it wouldn’t have been if we held it more as a question.

A RICHER VIEW

In my experience, there are typically layers to a wound, issue, or trauma. It has aspects and wrinkles that we discover over time.

What’s wounded is a part of me. Sometimes, a particular wounded part goes into the background for a while, and other parts – free of the issue – come more into the foreground.

It may be that one aspect of an issue is healed. And there are underlying issues and painful beliefs yet to be explored.

Any issue typically exists within a network of issues. To find a more real healing, we need to explore the network.

HOLDING IT MORE LIGHTLY

I prefer to keep it as a question.

It may appear that an issue is healed. It may be tempting to tell myself it’s healed. But I cannot know for certain.

To me, it’s more honest and comfortable to hold it more lightly. I may notice that a particular issue may not come up as often as before, or it may appear less strong than before. And I don’t really know what’s going on. I cannot know if it’s healed or not, or to what extent it’s healed.

All of that is hidden from me, and that’s fine. I don’t need to know. If it comes up, I’ll explore it. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too.

Image by me and Midjourney

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Awakening: Why is it difficult to put into words?

Why is it difficult to put awakening into words? Or anything related to our more fundamental nature?

There are a few different reasons.

IT’S NOT BECAUSE IT’S SO SPECIAL

It’s not because it’s unfamiliar, distant, or special, or for someone special.

It’s what’s already most familiar to us, whether we recognize it or not.

THE GIFTS & LIMITS OF LANGUAGE

Mental representations serve an important function. They help us orient and function in the world, and to communicate with ourselves and others.

They are questions about the world. They can serve as pointers.

At the same time, they have limits. Words cannot properly capture anything.

It’s the nature of words that makes it difficult to put our nature – and anything else – into words.

Our nature is not a special case.

WHEN WE ALREADY ARE THERE

Words and mental representations are maps.

They help us orient and navigate in the world, and they help us communicate with ourselves and others.

Say we have a map of a place we haven’t been to. The map can give us a rough and abstract sense of the place, but not much more. We fill it in with our imagination and past experience, and that imagination is bound to get a lot wrong. It’s bound to get everything a bit wrong, and some a lot wrong.

If we are there, then the map can help us explore it more in detail and discover more about it.

That’s another reason it’s difficult to put awakening into words. If someone is not there, no words are sufficient to describe or explain it. If someone is there, then words can help them explore new aspects within it.

Here, the limitations are in where we are, and that’s the same with everything. If we are familiar with it, then words can serve as practical pointers. If not, the words remain more abstract and we imagine more into it.

WORDS DIVIDE

Words operate on distinctions, they create imaginary boundaries and divisions. That’s how they are useful.

Our nature is one. It’s what forms itself into any and all of our experience, without exception. It’s all we have ever known.

That’s another reason why it’s difficult to put it into language.

Often, the best we can do is to say what it’s not and use poetic expressions to point to it.

IT’S NOT IN OUR SHARED CULTURE

If we lived in a culture where exploring our nature was common and a part of our culture, we would have more of a shared language for it.

In the Western world, we don’t live in that kind of culture (unless we are in the Bay Area!) and we don’t have a shared language, apart from what we borrow from other cultures and a few mystics from our own.

I am trying to talk about it in a language that’s natural to me, simple, mostly free of jargon, and that reflects my direct noticing as much as possible.

FAIL WELL?

I know I am bound to fail in trying to capture any of this in words.

In the best case, it may be slightly interesting, create a frame, or serve as a pointer or reminder.

It always falls short. That’s OK. That’s how it is.

There is a gift there. It’s a blessing that we cannot capture any of this – or anything at all – in words.

It leaves us with one option, and that is to experience it for ourselves. We have to explore the terrain for ourselves.

There is no substitute. The experience of others is not a substitute. Words – no matter how beautiful or apparently insightful – are no substitute.

That’s how I can attempt to fail well: I know words cannot capture it, and I know there is a beautiful blessing and pointer in just that.

Image by me and Midjourney

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Being capacity for the world

I find I am fundamentally capacity for the world as it appears to me.

CAPACITY

I am fundamentally what allows any and all content in this field of experience.

This capacity is everywhere in my experience. It’s as if it’s inherent in all experience. It’s as if it forms itself into any experience.

It’s as if it makes itself into consciousness itself, which in turn makes itself into any experience.

NOTICING IT

There isn’t much to say about it. It’s just something to notice, and not even notice but kind of touching on noticing since this is not directly content of experience.

It’s always here. Sometimes, it comes to the foreground of attention. Sometimes, it’s more in the background while attention is on something else. (And even then, it’s kind of noticed.)

Sometimes, it’s even more in the foreground and everything else goes into the background. In my case, it happens during some shifts in meditation. And it also happens when there is consciousness through dreamless sleep.

TALKING ABOUT IT

Words come short in describing it, as words come short in describing anything. (Not because it’s so unusual or mysterious or unfamiliar, but because of the nature of thoughts. Thoughts can only point to something, they cannot capture it.)

When I look for words here and now, I can say it’s absolute stillness, a kind of absolute stillness that’s in and takes the form of everything.

NOT SPECIAL

It’s not special. I assume any “conscious being”, to themselves, are consciousness, and also are capacity in this way. It’s likely universal. It’s difficult to see that it can be any other way.

Here, it’s been consciously noticed for about 37 years so this human self is used to it. It’s familiar to this human self. That too makes it not so much to talk about.

IS IT IMPORTANT?

Is it important? It’s important since there would be no experience without it. It’s what allows any experience. It’s what takes the form of any experience. It’s even what seems to allow and take the form of consciousness itself. It’s kind of a scent that permeates everything.

Is it important to notice it? Or for it to kind of notice itself? Apparently not since it doesn’t seem to be something most consciousnesses focus much on. If it was important to life and existence, it would be noticed a lot more. It seems that it’s perfectly fine for it to be in the background and not consciously noticed or recognized so much.

For this consciousness, it’s fun and interesting to notice, and here too, it’s very rarely talked about. Very occasionally, there may be some words written to reflect it, and I don’t think I have talked to anyone about it unless briefly when it’s clear we both recognize it, as a kind of nod.

A FEW MORE WORDS

Finding myself as most fundamentally capacity also means I am not most fundamentally human. That’s fine. My human layer is one of many layers, and I am most fundamentally capacity for all of it. I am what forms itself into all of it.

Is this what Buddhists call emptiness? It may be. I see how the label could fit, but I prefer the word capacity which I think Douglas Harding used. It fits a bit more.

I used “as if” and “kind of” phrases above. I am sure I could find clearer ways of saying it, but it also works. It shows that the words here are just pointers and approximations. They are trying to reflect something that’s here in immediacy but is also a bit elusive.

The image was created by me and Midjourney.

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What does non-dual mean?

I hardly ever use the word non-dual even if I have been familiar with it for a few decades. I prefer to describe my experience using more ordinary words.

So what does on-dual mean? What does it refer to?

ESSENCE

Here are a couple of versions:

Reality is a seamless whole. Only thoughts divide. And reality is always more than and different from any thought or set of thoughts.

To ourselves, we are consciuosness and the world to us happens within and as this consciousness. We are oneness and the world to us happens within and as that oneness. Again, thoughts divide and cannot capture the reality of what we are, or reality as it fundamentally appears to us.

We are non-dual and reality as it appears to us – before mind gets caught up in our stories about it – is non-dual.

WHAT DOES DUALITY REFER TO?

Another approach is to focus more explicitly on our relationship with thoughts.

Duality – the experience of duality – happens when our mind assigns exclusive truth to a thought.

This thought is true, that thought is false. Buddhism is true, Christianity is not. I am right, you are wrong. I am this human self and not the wider world. I am something within the content. of experience, and not what it all happens within and as.

Non-duality involves – but is not limited to – recognizing the limited validity in a range of different perspectives and stories, and seeing the bigger picture that holds them all.

HOW THE MIND RELATES TO THOUGHT

Said another way, this has to do with how the mind relates to thoughts.

If my mind gets caught up in holding thoughts as true, then duality is created.

When I recognize my own more fundamental nature, and the nature of thoughts, the non-dual is revealed.

It’s pretty simple, and yet there are innumerable wrinkles here which makes it interesting.

HOLDING THOUGHTS AS TRUE

What happens when my mind hold a thought as true?

The obvious is that I’ll perceive and act as if it’s true, to the extent possible.

Also, when my mind gets caught up in holding a thought as true, then an experience of duality is created.

Each thought creates a view, and the mind identifies with and as that view. A sense of I is created around the view. I become that particular view.

That, in turn, creates a sense of I and Other and identification with the former.

That’s how an experience of duality is created.

RECOGNIZE THE NATURE OF THOUGHTS

So what’s the nature of thoughts?

They are here to help us orient and navigate in the world. They have a pragmatic function. Their function is not to hold or reflect any final, full, or absolute truth.

They are pointers. They hold limited validity, and the way they are valid varies.

RECOGNIZE MY MORE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE

In one sense, I am this human self in the world. And when I look more closely, I find I more fundamentally am something else.

More fundamentally, and to myself, I am what my field of experience happens within and as.

A thought may call this consciousness. To myself, I am consciousness. And the world, to me, happens within and as the consciousness I am.

This involves a release of identification with content of experience, including a human self, doer, observer, and so on. And, more precisely, it involves a release of identification with mental representations of all of these things.

Here, it’s easier to recognize the nature of thoughts. Recognizing my more fundamental nature makes it easier to recognize the nature of thoughts. It’s easier to hold them all more lightly. To see that they have a pragmatic function only.

IN REAL LIFE: A MIX

In real life, it’s of course not always so clean cut and simple.

Our nature may generally rest in recognizing itself and thoughts are generally recognized for what they are. And at the same time, parts of our psyche holds onto certain (painful) thoughts as true. These are wounded and traumatized parts of us. And they inevitably color our perception and life.

We may also generally recognize or nature and the nature of thoughts, and sometimes more obviously get hijacked by painful thoughts and identifications.

Or there may be areas of life where we hold onto limited and painful thoughts and identifications, perhaps even without recognizing because it’s so familiar to us. It may be obvious to others but not so much to us, at least for a while.

MY EXPERIENCE

As I have mentioned a few times before, there were a couple of big shifts when this human self was in his teens.

The first one was when I was fifteen. Mid-day on January 1st, it was as if the world became distant. The whole field of experience became distant – the world, this human self, emotions, thoughts, everything. Later, I understood that it was if any sense of “I” became absorbed into observing. The observing became an I and what this consciousness was temporarily identified with and as. My human self at the time had no ideas about this and just felt something had gone terribly wrong. This lasted for a year.

Almost exactly a year later, between Christmas and New Year, there was a shift into oneness. Into all as the divine, Spirit, God. This shift didn’t go away.

All of this made it unavoidable to see the general nature of thoughts. They are here to help us orient and navigate in the world, and not so much more. They cannot capture any full or absolute or final truth.

They happen within and as what I am, as anything else. They live their own life, as anything else.

As is not unusual, many parts of my psyche were formed within separation consciousness, were wounded and perhaps traumatized, and these continued to operate from separation consciousness and wounds. They color my perception and life. Some of these have found healing, and some still wait for healing.

When it comes to my mental field and mental habits, it was shocking to to this part of me when the oneness shift happened. I was a self-identified atheist since elementary school so definitely hadn’t expected – or even heard about – it. My mental field was used to operate from duality, so it took some time for it to reorganie and be more aligned with oneness. And that’s an ongoing process.

How have I supported my mental field in realigning? I read a lot of systems views and deep ecology books in my teens and early twenties. I read a lot of Taoism in my late teens and twenties. I read a lot of Buddhism in my twenties and thirties. I read a lot of general mysticism in my twenties and thirties. And equally or more importantly, I have done quite a bit of different types of inquiry – especially the Big Mind process, The Work of Byron Katie, and the Kiloby Inquiries.

BIG MIND ON NON-DUALITY

Hi Big Mind.

Hello.

Can you say something about non-duality? How does it look to you?

Non-duality is a term some humans like to use. It looks about as useful as it’s not. Some get very caught up in the idea of it, in their mental representations of it, instead of using it as a pointer for finding it for themselves.

Non-duality is what I am, what you are, what every conscious being inherently is. It’s not something mystical or distanced or weird. It’s what we already are and are most familiar with.

It’s really all we ever know.

At the same time, mind is very good at creating the experience of something else. Of creating the experience of duality.

It’s part of how I explore and experience myself. There is nothing wrong about it. It’s natural. And it can be interesting to explore.

Duality is the experience we create for ourselves when we take ourselves to fundamentally be a human self or anything else within the content of experience.

It’s just an experience. It’s a filter. It’s not inherent in what we are or reality.

What we are and reality is one. It forms itself into everything within content of experience. And that includes a temporary experience of duality.

When I form myself into an experience of duality, it creates a sense of discomfort. It’s out of alignment with my nature and reality so it’s inherently uncomfortable. It can also create a longing, and that longing is ultimately for me to recognize my nature.

I should also say that recognizing my nature and being temporarily caught up in duality are inherently equal in a certain way. The former is more peaceful and the latter is more uncomfortable and creates more challenges for this human self and other beings. And my nature is also the same in both cases.

Image by me and created with Midjourney to hint at non-duality AKA oneness. Lots of things inside a circle.

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Divine awareness is in all things?

Divine awareness is in all things

– NW in a Vortex Healing forum

These kinds of simple statements can be fertile ground for exploration.

MENTAL & PERCEPTION

When people say these things, it can come from two places.

It can come from a mental representation, often formed by exposure to what others say and write.

And it can come from a direct noticing.

In this case, I know the person who wrote it so I assume it comes from a combination. He directly perceives it and is also guided by what he has heard others say.

WE ARE CONSCIOUSNESS

Where does that perception come from?

Rationally, we see that we are consciousness. If we “have” consciousness, then – to ourselves – we ARE consciousness. And that also means that the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

We can also find this in direct perception. Yes, in some ways, I am this human self in the world as others see it and my passport suggests. When I take a closer look, I find something else. I find I more fundamentally am what this whole field of experience happens within and as. I am what – to me – the world and this human self and any content of experience happens within and as. And that can be called consciousness.

When the world, to me, happens within and as what I am AKA consciousness, then the world, to me, appears to be made up of consciousness. The consciousness I am forms itself into the whole field of experience, including of the wider world. The world, to me, appears as consciousness. It appears as a night dream since both night dreams and waking life happen within and as consciousness.

And from there, it’s easy to also call it the divine or Spirit. The world, to me, inevitably appears to have the characteristics of the divine. It’s one. It’s consciousness. It’s “alive” in that sense.

SMALL AND BIG INTERPRETATIONS

So what’s really going on here?

If the world, to me, inevitably APPEARS as consciousness, does that mean the world, in itself, IS consciousness? That it is what we can call Spirit or the divine?

Most mystics will say so, and many spiritual traditions say so as well. But that’s just what someone says.

There are also many hints suggesting all is Spirit. For instance, sensing at a distance, distance healing, seeing energies, amazing synchronicities, reports of near-death experiences, memories from before this life, and so on. All of this fits into seeing all as Spirit, but it can also be understood in other ways. It’s not conclusive.

So for me, it makes sense to use two different understandings of what’s going on.

One is the small interpretation. It’s based on what’s described in the previous section: to ourselves, we inevitably are consciousness, and the world, to us, inevitably appears as consciousness. That’s all we can say for certain. Anything else is speculation and assumptions, although some views may be more compatible with the data than other views.

It’s possible that the materialistic view is correct. In an outside and third-person view, we and the rest of existence may fundamentally be matter and it just appears to us as if all things are consciousness.

It’s also possible that all is Spirit, and our nature and the nature of all things is the same. We cannot know for certain. We hold the possibilities open.

The upside of this view is that it’s honest. It allows for a range of possibilities when it comes to the nature of all things. It leaves the door open for anyone to explore their own nature independent of their existing worldview. (A Marxist or materialist can do it as well as a Christian or Hindu.) The downside is that it can seem a little dry. (Although not to me, I find it fascinating.)

The other is the big interpretation. The nature of reality itself is the same as my own nature. Not only does all things appear as consciousness, it also IS consciousness. It’s all Spirit, the divine, Brahman, Allah, and so on. The upside of this view is that it’s inspiring, and it’s familiar and fits what mystics and many spiritual traditions say. The downside is that it can put some people off, and it taken as is, it may not be entirely honest.

USING BOTH VIEWS

To me, what makes the most sense is to use both of these views. They complement each other. Each one has upsides and downsides. And it just feels more comfortable and honest.

The small view is more inviting for a wider range of people, and it also fits better in an academic context. It makes it easier to study awakening and the experience of mystics in an academic setting.

The big view is more familiar to many, fits many traditions, fits more data, and is often more inspiring.

As I see it, the small view is more honest to our own experience. And the big view may be more accurate in the bigger picture.

WHY IS THIS MORE INCLUSIVE VIEW NOT MORE COMMON?

Why don’t more people differentiate between these two views? (I actually don’t know of anyone who does, although I am sure there must be many out there. This is just something that makes sense to me.)

This view seems so obvious to me and makes so much sense, so I am honestly a little baffled why others don’t seem to talk about it.

The obvious answer is that many do, I just don’t know about it. I have been out of touch with these kinds of explorations in the wider world for several years due to my health.

Also, some may talk about it outside of the public view. They may see it as a refinement not necessary for most explorers, and something that may confuse people starting out on their own exploration. (I see it as something that could clarify and guide.)

Some may use these views for themselves without speaking about it very much. (I usually don’t mention it apart from in these writings.)

Some may find comfort in using the traditional language and ways of talking about it.

And some may not have explored this very much. They may not find it interesting or useful. (I obviously find it both useful and interesting. Also, exploring the sense fields and projections has been a central part of my path since my teens so this may come more naturally to me. I am biased in this direction.)

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When a non-dual teacher appears one-sided

I have seen Rupert Spira talk about “non-existent self” in a few quotes, and don’t know enough about him to know if he, in other situations, also talks about the other side(s) of it and the bigger picture.

In any case, it’s a reminder that some non-dual teachers speak in a slightly one-sided way and that some folks like and are attracted to it.

WHY DO SOME STUDENTS LIKE IT?

Why do some prefer or like that?

Likely because it’s easier to grasp mentally. It allows our mental aspect to function in a familiar (simplistic) way.

And they may, at some level, assume that grasping it intellectually is what it is about, even if many point out the contrary.

Also…

It may be just the medicine they need there and then. It may help them release out of taking themselves as most fundamentally a self, an object within the field of experience. It may be a helpful stepping stone.

Through grace – they may engage in practices and explorations that – through grace – give them a direct conscious taste of what they are in spite of the one-sided pointers.

WHY DO SOME TEACHERS APPEAR ONESIDED?

So why do some non-dual teachers talk in a one-sided way?

It may appear they do it because we have limited information. We have just a small window into how they interact with others. They may be far more fluid and explore from many more views.

They may want to make it simple for the students, although that seems misguided. (It’s far better to be honest and not make it simple where it isn’t simple. What it points to is simple. Talking about it is not.)

They may fall into a lazy habit of using familiar phrases and ways of talking about it.

They may be focused on a simple mental representation of our nature rather than trying to put words on an immediate noticing.

UPSIDES & DOWNSIDES

I have already mentioned some upsides.

It can be a useful stepping stone. And it may not get in the way of their nature recognizing itself.

I have also hinted at some downsides.

It can give the impression that this, and anything, is something that can be grasped mentally.

And that tends to reinforce a habit of holding mental representations as true.

When we hold mental representations as true, there is an identification with the viewpoint of that or those mental representations. That’s an identification with something within the field of experience, and it creates a sense of “I” and “other”.

There is nothing wrong with that. It’s natural and innocent.

And yet, if we want to explore what we more fundamentally are, it’s a side track (or a stepping stone). It’s a distraction from our nature recognizing itself, and learning to allow this human self to function in the world and live from and as that recognition.

WHEN A TEACHER IS MORE FLUID AND SINCERE

If we are more fluid and flexible in how we talk about things, we are coming at the same issue in several different ways. We look at it from many different sides and in different contexts. We adapt how we talk about something to the person, situation, and context. We use words and pointers as medicine for specific conditions, and those conditions are different depending on the person and situation. *

We are typically more focused on our immediate noticing, and finding words that – in that moment – reflect what we are noticing, rather than using habitual phrases.

We don’t use pat answers. What we talk about cannot easily be pinned down.

And that may be less attractive to students who want simple answers (they can mentally understand and memorize) rather than what the pointers point to.

NOTE

* Said another way… We know that mental representations can never capture what they point to. Life and reality is far too rich for that. There can be, and often is, validity in a mental representation, and it’s not any full, final, or absolute truth. We know it in our gut through direct noticing and lived experience.

Mental representations are about pragmatics, pointers, and navigating in the world. Their nature is not to capture any full or final truth. And that goes for anything that mental representations point to, whether it is our more fundamental nature, a human being, gravity, a rock, or an ice cream dessert.

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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Form is emptiness, emptiness is form

This is a well-known phrase from the Heart Sutra.

At one level, it doesn’t really make sense to analyze it or even put words on it. It’s just how it is in direct perception. Words move away from the simplicity of direct noticing.

And if I were to try to put it into words, I could say…

What I am allows this content of experience that’s here, and it forms itself into the content of experience that’s here. It forms itself into the visuals of this computer, the table, the room and so on, the sounds, the smell and taste, and whatever happens within the sense fields.

The consciousness I am allows any and all experience, which our mental field can call “empty”. It’s inherently empty of any form, so it can take any form.

And it forms itself into the content of experience that’s here, whatever it is.

Night dreams and waking life both happen within and as the consciousness I am.

Form is empty. It’s made up of the consciousness I am which is inherently empty of any particular form.

Emptiness is form. The consciousness I am forms itself into the content of experience that’s here.

The direct noticing is very simple. It’s beyond simple. And whenever it’s reflected in our mental field and made into words, it seems far more complicated and exotic than it really is.

There are also other ways to talk about it. For instance, any sense of “I” or “me” is not what I more fundamentally am. Yes, it’s here. The mental representation of an I or me helps this human self orient and function in the world. And it’s not what’s more fundamentally here. The consciousness I am is metaphorically empty of a fundamental I or me. It’s what allows the experience of it, and the experience of anything at all. It’s what allows the sense of I or me – in whatever forms it takes – to come and go. It’s what temporarily forms itself into innumerable versions of images of an I or me.

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Everyone is already enlightened?

I was curious about a book and saw a review on Amazon that said: “Everyone is already enlightened”.

As usual, I would say “yes” and “no” and “it depends”.

There may be a few more nuances than what the simple statement suggests.

YES(ISH)

Everyone is Buddha Nature. To ourselves, we are consciousness. The world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are. And that consciousness is Buddha Nature.

So yes, we are Buddha Nature, although few would call that “enlightened”.

NO

In most cases, the consciousness we are doesn’t fully recognize its own nature. It tends to assume it’s something within its content, typically this human self and mental representation of an I, me, doer, observer, and so on.

For the oneness we are to recognize itself and its nature typically takes some intention, effort, sincerity, and guidance.

To keep recognizing it is the same.

Learning how to live from it requires the same dedication and engagement.

And allowing our human self and psyche to transform and align within this new context is an even longer process that requires dedication, courage, honesty, sincerity, and work.

IT DEPENDS

So it depends. It mostly depends on what we mean by the words.

For me, the simplest is to say that all beings already are Buddha Nature. To ourselves, we all are most fundamentally consciousness whether we notice or not.

The consciousness we are typically doesn’t fully recognize its nature, and may not perceive it clearly even if there are glimpses.

It typically takes work for the consciousness we are to recognize itself. And it’s a long process to keep recognizing this through situations and states, explore how to live from and as it, and allow this human self to transform within it.

It’s a process that appears to not have any finishing line.

ENLIGHTENMENT?

I don’t really know what’s meant by “enlightenment”.

Maybe it means what happens when most of our human self and psyche is on board with the awakening?

If so, it’s not something I am familiar with so I can’t say much about it.

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Mystery of existence

Why is this website called Mystery of Existence?

PERSONAL REASONS

Mostly, because I have a visceral experience of the mystery of existence. It’s all a mystery. It cannot be captured by thought. It can only be explored and lived.

And calling it that is a reminder that invites my system to shift into receptivity and curiosity.

MORE IN DETAIL

And then there is a more involved answer.

In a conventional sense, we know some things. We know we don’t know some things. And there is an infinite amount we don’t know we don’t know. In that sense, we are living the mystery.

There is always more data to be collected. Different perspectives that makes as much or more sense than the ones we are familiar with. New contexts that make as much or more sense. And different worldviews that may turn what we thought we knew inside out and upside down. Here too, there is mystery.

Then there is the nature of our mental representations. They are questions about the world. Their function is to help us orient and function in the world. They are different in kind to what they point to. (Unless what they point to happen to be mental representations.) Like any map, they highlight some things and leave a lot out. They cannot capture any full, final, or absolute truth. And reality is always more than and different from our ideas about it. (And also fundamentally less than.)

When it comes to our nature, all the same applies. We cannot capture it in thoughts, just like we cannot capture anything with thoughts. Thoughts differentiate, and reality – and our nature – is inherently undivided. Thoughts inevitably point to something within the content of experience, and not what it all happens within and as.

We cannot know anything for certain. Our experience is limited, and our mental representations are questions about the world. And that leaves mystery. The mystery we are and live, whether we notice or not.

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“I am tired”?

In a previous post, I wrote “I am rested” and “I am tired” even if it’s not really accurate.

It’s more accurate to say that my body is tired, my brain is tired, my system is tired. Or even that this human self is tired.

It’s something happening within the content of experience, within the sense fields.

It’s happening within and as the consciousness I am. It’s all happening within and as what I am.

In daily life and writing, I tend to switch between a more conventional and a more accurate way of talking about it. It just depends on the situation.

The first way of talking about it eases communication since it’s more familiar, and it also tends to reflect and invite identification. If I say “I am tired” I present it as if I – what I more fundamentally am – is tired.

The second way is more accurate and it invites curiosity, exploration, and perhaps even a softening or release of identification. It’s happening to something within my content of experience. It refers to something happening within and as the consciousness I am.

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Does explaining through psychology remove the mystery and magic from life?

I saw a post on social media about how psychologizing everything removes the magic and mystery of life.

That’s not how it is for me.

WHEN UNDERSTANDING REMOVES THE MYSTERY

Yes, if you assume that your psychological explanations are correct and true and all there is, then it does remove a sense of mystery and magic. But that’s out of alignment with reality. That is pretending that our maps are more than they are. It goes against common sense and the essence of science.

WHEN UNDERSTANDING GOES HAND-IN-HAND WITH THE MYSTERY

For me, exploring through the lens of psychology – as I do in most of my writings – goes hand-in-hand with mystery.

It’s an exploration.

What comes out of it are maps with all of the benefits and limitations inherent in maps. They are different in kind from what they are about. They highlight some things and leave in infinite amount out. They are guesses about the world. They have a practical function only, to help us navigate and function in he world. They are provisional and have temporary value only. They cannot hold any full, final, or absolute truth. Reality is always more than and different from any map.

This context is more aligned with reality.

And it keeps the mystery and magic in life.

APPLIED TO AWAKENING

I write about awakening in some of these articles. And when I do, I often create a map of some aspects of awakening.

For instance, both in direct noticing and through logic, we find we are consciousness. If we “have” consciousness, then to ourselves we have to BE consciousness. The world, to us, happens within and as consciousness. It happens within and as the consciousness we are. The world, to us, appears as consciousness. The consciousness we are is one. So we are the oneness the world, to us, happens within and as.

This fits what mystics across times and cultures describe.

It’s a psychological way to understand awakening, and it fits perfectly with a wide range of worldviews – from materialism to a spirituality that sees all of existence as the divine.

Does this remove the mystery or magic from awakening? Or from life?

It could… if I pretend I know that this is how it is and that this is all there is. But I would have to do a lot of pretending for that to be the case.

In reality, it’s a guess. It’s a map for practical and temporary use only. It opens for and fits a wide range of worldviews. And it’s compatible with a more spiritual understanding of the world.

It’s open to the mystery and magic of awakening and existence.

How I have learned to talk about an invisible and less-understood chronic illness

I have had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS, ME) since my teens, although I had a period in my twenties and thirties where I functioned better.

Through experience, I have learned a bit about how to talk about it. If I say I have CFS/ME, it won’t mean much to most people. They think it means I am a bit tired, or – in the worst case, which I have experienced during my education – they will dismiss it or even see it as an excuse for laziness. (In my studies and work, I was anything but lazy.)

So I learned to talk about it in a different way. Now, I say I have a chronic illness, and I add whatever makes sense in the situation. I may say it causes me to need to rest a lot. Or it makes it difficult for me to think and it takes time for me to think through things. Or that it makes it difficult for me to talk coherently. (When I am extra exhausted.)

That makes more sense to people. Most people have a rough understanding of what a chronic illness means, even if there are many types of them. Most take it seriously, respect it, and don’t feel they need to question it. (Or give uninformed advice.) And that makes my life much easier.

As with so much, the way we frame it – to ourselves and others – makes a big difference.

Note: I don’t often call it a disability, even if that’s what it is. In some situations, I would probably use that term as well to bring home a point.

What does “oneness” mean? Some examples of different forms of oneness

What comes to mind when you hear the word “oneness”? That it always refer to the same? That what it refers to is something mysterious? Something that belongs to certain religions or New Age thought? Something not grounded in reality? Something real you cannot check out for yourself?

The word oneness can refer to several different things and it’s helpful to differentiate.

THE ONENESS WE ARE TO OURSELVES

We may take ourselves to be this human being in the world, and that’s not wrong and it’s an assumption that works reasonably well. 

And yet, if we look more closely in our own first-person experience, we may find something else. We may find that we more fundamentally are capacity for the world – for any content of experience – as it appears to us. And we may find that the world, to us, happens within and as what we are. 

Said another way, we may find that we inevitably are consciousness and that the world, to us, happens within and as this consciousness. 

We can also say that we are oneness, and the world happens within and as this oneness. 

This is the oneness we are and we can explore in our own experience, especially if we are guided by a structured inquiry and someone familiar with the terrain. 

ONE IN A MORE CONVENTIONAL SENSE  

In mainstream culture, we sometimes say we are one – whether that comes from poetry, politics, science, religion, or something else.

We are one in an ethnic or political sense.

We are one in terms of our shared history, either as a group or as humanity.

We are one in terms of our evolution and shared ancestry, either as humanity or all Earth beings.

We are one in that the essence of what we want is the same and shared by all beings. We all wish for comfort and happiness and to avoid suffering.

In some cases, it can be a dangerous rhetoric if it sets “us” up against “them”. And it can be beautiful and healing to the extent it is inclusive.

ONE IN A SYSTEMS SENSE 

We can take this one step further and find oneness in a systems sense.

We are all parts of a seamless system. All of humanity, all of this living planet, all of this evolving universe, all of existence. All of existence is part of a seamless system. 

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

ONE IN A SPIRITUAL SENSE 

It’s also possible that all of existence is God or the divine or Spirit. Spirit takes the form of all there is and all we know, including everything connected with this human self. 

It’s all the play of the divine. It’s the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways, as all there is. 

All of existence is divine and one. 

SEVERAL DIFFERENT ONENESSES 

We can find several different onenesses. 

To ourselves, we are the oneness the world happens within and as. 

We are one in several different social, historical, biological, and evolutionary ways. 

We are parts of a seamless system. 

And all can be seen as expressions and explorations of Spirit. 

THE VALIDITY OF EACH 

Each of these ways of talking about oneness has validity, and the validity is slightly different in each case.

I can check the first one for myself. I can find myself as that oneness.

The two next ones make sense within the realm of stories, and I include science here since science produces stories that help us function and navigate in the world.

And the last one is what mystics from all traditions describe. We can say that they found the first kind of oneness and then over-generalized and assumed that their nature is the nature of all of existence. And there are also hints beyond that suggesting that the “all as Spirit” view is valid in itself. (See articles on the small and big interpretations of awakening for more on this.) 

Image: Enso / Zen circle by Sengai

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Awakening is in the sweet spot of what can be described and studied, what cannot be proven to our satisfaction by others, and what we have to find for ourselves

I love the sweet spot where we find awakening. It can be talked about and studied. It cannot be proven to our satisfaction by others. And we ultimately have to find it for ourselves if we want to check it out and get a taste of it.

And that is, of course, how it is with most things in the world. It’s not unique to awakening.

IT CAN BE TALKED ABOUT AND STUDIED

We can talk about awakening and we can study it through science.

We can talk about our own experiences with it. We can talk about others’ reports on it and their lives. We can philosophize about it. We can talk about fantasies and misconceptions about it.

And we can study it through science. We can examine the reports of individuals. We can examine groups of reports for themes and patterns. We can examine biological correlates to what people report. We can try out methods for awakening and see how apparently effective they are. And so on.

And that’s how it is with most things. We can talk about it and we can do different kinds of research on it.

IT CAN NOT BE PROVEN TO OUR SATISFACTION BY OTHERS

There are many things we assume exist based on second and third-hand reports.

I assume Australia is an actual place even if I haven’t been there. I assume there are bears even if I haven’t encountered any. And so on.

And yet, if we want to be sure we cannot completely rely on the reports from others. We have to check it out for ourselves.

That especially applies to awakening since it’s not something we can take photos of and measure. And it’s not widely accepted in our culture so most people are less likely to accept second- or third-hand accounts.

WE HAVE TO FIND IT FOR OURSELVES

In terms of awakening, we can listen to what people have to say about it. We can pretend it’s true. And that, in itself, is ultimately not very satisfying.

To find satisfaction, we need to use effective pointers and find it for ourselves. That’s the only way for us to know for certain if what people talk about exists or not.

And to find deeper satisfaction, in terms of the transformation that comes with awakening, we need to keep noticing and finding it and make that noticing into a new habit. And to allow the noticing to transform our perception, identity, and live in the world and to keep working on us.

A GOOD MIX

This is a good – or even perfect – mix.

If we couldn’t talk about it at all, it would be difficult to share our experiences, learn from each other, and ignite our interest through the sharing of others.

If we couldn’t study aspects of it through science, it would mean it didn’t really touch the world that can be studied and measured which, in turn, would mean it didn’t touch our lives in this world and a significant part of its relevance would be missing.

If we couldn’t find it for ourselves, it would just remain something distant and irrelevant at – at most – something others talked about.

AWAKENING IS NOT UNIQUE IN THIS WAY

Awakening is not unique in this way. It’s similar to many or most other things.

To be certain, we have to find it for ourselves.

And for something to really do something with us, it has to be a firsthand experience and it requires a wholehearted engagement and willingness to be transformed.

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Nondual but dismissing the human?

Some nondual or neo-Advaita folks seem to dismiss or downplay the human aspect of what we are and say things like “I am not this human”, “there is no self”, “I don’t exist”, and so on.

I understand where they are coming from. As our nature, we are not primarily this human self. There may be a human self in a conventional sense, but there is no inherently separate self here in my own experience. As capacity for the world as it appears to me, I don’t really exist.

They may want to emphasize the capacity and oneness aspects of our nature and downplay the human aspect, perhaps to compensate for others (or themselves!) viscerally over-emphasizing the human aspect out of habit.

At the same time, it does seem one-sided and perhaps a bit like an ideology. It can be quite misleading to others not familiar with that terrain. And it’s not terribly nondual. They seem to mentally create a split where there isn’t one and where it’s not strictly necessary.

HOW IT APPEARS TO ME

I find myself as….

Capacity for the world as it appears to me. As what allows it all to happen within my experience. As what forms itself into any experience.

As oneness. As what the world, to me, happens within and as. As the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as. (And with “the world” I mean any content of experience, anything seen here, heard, smelled, tasted, sensed, and thought.)

A part of oneness is this human self, as he appears in my sense fields including my mental representations. He is as much part of it as anyone and anything else that’s here.

And there is a special connection with this human self. This oneness has inside information from this human self in the form of all his sensory input. Others take me as him. And this oneness plays the role of and as him in the world.

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The loops of consciousness creating a sense of separation within oneness 

When I explore what I am in my own first-person experience, I notice some of the ways oneness creates an experience of separation for itself. This seems to happen through several metaphorical folds or loops.

WHAT WE ARE 

In one sense, I am a human being in the world. That’s how I appear to others, and it’s not wrong. 

And yet, is it what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience? 

When I look, I find my nature more fundamentally is capacity for all of my experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else. I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. 

Thoughts can label this oneness, consciousness, love, or Big Mind. Or even, if we are so inclined, Spirit, the divine, Brahman, or something else. 

It may not be the nature of all of reality. But it clearly seems to be what I am in my own experience. 

It’s what I more fundamentally am than a human self, or a separate being, or an I or me or observer or doer or anything else. All of that happens within and as what I am. 

THE REFLECTION LOOP 

So how does this oneness create an experience of I and Other for and within itself? 

An early loop seems to be consciousness being conscious of being conscious of something. 

Consciousness is inherently low grade conscious of everything it creates itself into, and this is a loop of oneness being conscious of being conscious of something within itself. 

This early loop sets the stage for several other loops. 

THE LOOP CREATING THOUGHTS 

One of these is a reflection of an experience in mental representations including mental images and words. 

Thoughts can reflect experiences, and – as we know – consciousness can create all sorts of other mental representations that don’t directly reflect an experience. 

THE SEPARATION LOOP 

From the reflection and thought loop, consciousness can create a sense of separation for itself. 

It can create a sense of observer and observed, of being a human self in the world, and so on. 

It creates an experience for and within itself of being something within its content of experience (an I and me) and not being the rest (the wider world, the background). 

THE SEPARATION-CONSCIOUSNESS LOOPS 

This, in turn, sets the stage for all the dynamics created by separation consciousness. 

It sets the stage for all the drama we know from our own life and from humanity in general. 

It sets the stage for what we find when we ask ourselves: “What happens when I believe this (any) thought?” How do I perceive myself and the world? What emotions come up? What choices do I make? How do I live my life? 

THE RETURN 

And this sets the stage for a possible return. 

The oneness we are creates a sense of separation for and within itself, and may then find itself in a process of rediscovering itself – and its whole world – as oneness. 

This is what we call an awakening process, and it often goes through several phases: An early interest. Early glimpses. Investing in fears and hopes. Going into a more dedicated exploration. Finding itself and its whole world as oneness. Exploring how to live from this. Inviting in healing for our human self and psyche so we more easily can live from oneness in more situations and areas of life. Going through dark nights. And so on. 

CAVEATS 

This is a map, and any map is a simplification and highlights some things while leaving other features out.

It may also be mistaken in certain ways. I am sure others have far more detailed maps based on more detailed examinations and more familiarity with the terrain.

This is just how it appears to me right now, and it’s a very simplified version of even that. 

Photo: One I took in Cañón del Chicamocha

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Finca Milagros - view

Awakening described in five levels of difficulty

I keep seeing YouTube videos where people explain something at different levels of complexity. 

So why not do it for awakening? 

How may it look if I describe it from the essence and then increasingly add more detail and differentiation? Here is my first go:

What is awakening? 

LEVEL 1 

At the simplest level, it’s about exploring what we really are in our own experience. 

To see what we find and see how it is to live from it. 

It’s as simple as that. 

LEVEL 2 

We can add another layer of detail. 

In one sense, we are this human self, a being in the world, and so on. That’s not wrong. 

And yet, when we look, what is it we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience? 

This involves setting aside any ideas others tell us we are and we tell ourselves we are. Engage in a sincere and often guided exploration. See what we find in our own first-person experience. 

And then see how it is to live from that noticing and what it does with us. 

LEVEL 3 

This can be understood in a psychological or spiritual context. 

In a psychological context, awakening is just about discovering what we are in our own first-person experience. 

We have mental representations of this human self in the world, and we need those to orient and function in the world. And yet, when we look more closely, we may find we more fundamentally – to ourselves – are something else. 

Conventionally, we may say we “have” consciousness. And in our own first-person experience, we are this consciousness and all content of experience – including this human self, the wider world, and anything else – is happening within and as this consciousness. What we are forms itself into any and all our experiences. 

In that sense, all we have ever known and will ever know is what we are. All we have known and will ever know is our nature. 

In a spiritual context, we can go one step further. We can say that all of existence is the divine, and we are the divine first taking itself as a separate being and then reminding its own nature and oneness. 

The upside of the psychological interpretation is its simplicity and that it doesn’t require any particular worldview. It can help us ground our approach to awakening and living from and as oneness. 

The upside of the spiritual interpretation is that it *may* be more accurate in the bigger picture, and it can be more inspiring. 

LEVEL 4 

What may we find when we explore our more fundamental nature? 

We may find ourselves as capacity for all our experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else. 

And we may find ourselves as what any and all experiences, and the world to us, happens within and as. 

Noticing this is the first step. And it doesn’t necessarily involve a long and complicated process. 

Simple guidance from someone familiar with this terrain may be enough, for instance using the Big Mind process or the Headless experiments. 

The next step is to keep noticing this in more and more situations in our daily life, and over time deepen the groove of this new noticing habit. 

And to explore living from it. How is it to live from noticing my nature? How is it to live from noticing that the world and all of existence, to me, is one? 

What does this do to me? What does the noticing do to where my “center of gravity” is in terms of what I most fundamentally take myself to be? What does it do to me to intend to live from this noticing in more situations and more areas of my life? 

The noticing itself is relatively simple. It doesn’t ask that much from us. 

And to keep noticing it and to live from it asks everything from us. 

It involves a profound transformation of our most fundamental identity, our perception, our life in the world, and our human self and psyche. 

And it requires a deep healing at our human level. It requires deep healing of all the different parts of our psyche still caught up in separation consciousness, and emotional issues, hangups, beliefs, and traumas. 

We can notice our nature and even, to some extent, live from it, while also having many parts of us still operating from separation consciousness. These parts of us will inevitably color our perception and life, and they will sometimes be more actively and obviously triggered. 

In an awakening process, they’ll come up metaphorically asking to join in with the awakening. Asking to reorient within the context of finding ourselves as oneness. And find deeper healing through that. 

LEVEL 5 

A couple of things here are relatively simple. 

It doesn’t necessarily take much for us to notice our nature, especially with skilled guidance. 

And it doesn’t take that much to understand all of this, to some extent, at a story level. 

Both of those are good starting points. And the real work is in living it. 

The real work is in keeping noticing our nature, exploring how it is to live from it, and inviting the many parts of us still operating from separation consciousness to align more closely with oneness. 

There is always further to go in the noticing, living, and realigning of the many parts of us. 

It’s an ongoing process. 

What are some of the many things we may discover or experience? 

We may go through dark nights. As I see it these days, these are phases where our system holds onto deeper assumptions and identities and life puts us in a situation where these don’t work anymore. There are many types of dark nights, including one I am familiar with where deep trauma comes up to heal and align with the awakening. 

We may engage in different forms of structured inquiry and explore certain processes more in detail. We may notice what happens when our system holds onto a specific belief, examine this belief, and find what’s more true for us and how it is to live from this. 

We may explore our sense fields. We may notice how our mental field is a kind of overlay on the rest of the content of our experience to make sense of it all. Our mental representations help us orient and navigate in the world. 

We may see how our mind associates certain mental representations (mental images and words) with certain bodily sensations. The mental representations give a sense of meaning to the sensations, and the sensations give a sense of solidity to the mental representations. This is how the mind creates beliefs and identities for itself, and also emotional issues, hangups, and traumas. 

This is also how the oneness we inherently are creates an experience for itself of I and Other. It’s how separation consciousness is created. It’s a relatively basic mechanism behind separation consciousness. 

We may find that mental representations (thoughts) are questions about the world. Their function is to help us orient and navigate in the world. They are different in kind from what they point to. They simplify. In a conventional sense, they are more or less accurate. And they cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth. Reality is always more than and different from any thought, and also – in a sense – far more simple. 

As we explore this in more detail, we may discover more places where our systems hold onto identities and assumptions about ourselves and the world. We may find an identification as an observer, as consciousness, as oneness, as love, as capacity for the world, and so on. In each of these cases, the mind creates a mental representation for itself, associates it with certain physical sensations, and identifies with the viewpoint of that mental representation and its story. 

This is an ongoing process.

ABOUT THESE STEPS 

These steps are obviously somewhat arbitrary, and they turned out to be more about adding another layer of detail than explaining awakening in different levels of complexity. If I did it again, I may be able to follow the assignment more accurately…! 

I would likely also include more about the heart and energetic aspects and more about the dynamics of living from noticing our nature.

I am also aware of how these steps roughly mirror my own process. During the initial awakening shift in my teens, oneness woke up to itself. I wasn’t aware of the more detailed mechanisms and so on. All that came through different forms of inquiry and other practices later on. 

Note: If I wanted to point to it more directly in the first level, I could say: “It’s the one pretending to be two and then refinds itself as one and many simultaneously”. This is not wrong, but I prefer to emphasize the questions and exploration since it more clearly leaves the finding up to the person. Pointing to it more directly can give some a sense that they get it even if they only get it at a conceptual level. As mentioned above, that’s a good first step but it’s not what this is about.

Photo: A snapshot I recently took from the land that chose us in the Andes mountains.

Is oneness a state?

I saw a quote from Jac O’Keefe saying “the oneness state is….”. while others emphasize that oneness is not a state.

So is oneness a state?

As usual, the answer may be no, yes, and it depends. 

ONENESS INHERENT IN REALITY

Most fundamentally, oneness seems inherent in reality and not a state.

The physical universe is a seamless system evolving into everything within this universe, including us and our life and experiences. As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

And if we look with some sincerity in our own first-person experience, we may find we are oneness.

We may find that our more fundamental nature is capacity for all our experiences – for the world, this human self, and anything else. And that we are what our experiences happen within and as.

The world, to us, is one. We may not notice it, but that’s our nature whether we notice or not.

So in these ways, oneness is not a state. It’s inherent in the universe, and it’s inherent in our more fundamental nature.

ONENESS AS A STATE

We can also see oneness as a state.

When we notice our more fundamental nature, it’s a state of noticing. It’s a state of oneness noticing itself.

Within this noticing, we notice we are capacity for time and space, and time and space happen within and as what we are. So here, the oneness noticing doesn’t seem like a state. A state happens within time, and time happens within what we are.

And yet, from the perspective of time, noticing oneness – or oneness noticing itself – can certainly be a state. It’s something that can come and go. It can come and go and come again over years and decades. When we notice more easily, the noticing will also come and go to some extent depending on where we have our attention.

ONENESS AS A STATE AND NOT

Oneness is inherent in reality and what we are.

When oneness notices itself, it recognizes that time and states happen within and as oneness. So here too, we find that oneness is not a state.

And from the perspective of time, noticing oneness can certainly be a state. We can shift into oneness states for a while, then shift out of it, and then back into it differently, and so on. And when we shift out of it, it’s an invitation to notice our remaining unquestioned beliefs and identifications.

Our individual history flavors how we talk about awakening

The essence of awakening is universal, and the way we live and talk about it will depend on our culture, spiritual tradition, and personal experiences. (And if we eventually meet non-human beings with an interest in awakening, we may also notice that our biology and physical characteristics also flavors how we live and talk about it.)

I see that I have some perspectives based on my own history that are a bit outside of the mainstream in the awakening world, although not that unusual.

The awakening shift happened early in my life, when I was fifteen and sixteen. I was an atheist and had no interest in religion, spirituality, or awakening. And I had done nothing for it to happen.

All of that gives me a certain take on it all.

I have lived with it for quite a while now. I am not tied to any one particular religion or tradition. And my experience with different practices has more to do with clarifying and inviting the different parts of me to align with the awakening more than finding what awakening is about.

This also means that although I appreciate the different traditions, my preference is to find ways to talk about it that are more immediate and fit even non-spiritual worldviews.

Similarly, I am more interested in finding effective ways to notice what we are and live from it, than using approaches from any particular tradition. I prefer pragmatics over tradition, although there is a lot to learn from the different traditions.

And since it happened without any intention on my part or any previous practice, I am open for it happening in any number of ways for others. I don’t have any particular expectations of how it “should” look in terms of when and how and what goes before.

Another aspect of my journey has been going through a quite dense dark night for more than a decade. That too flavors how I see and talk about it. I know how difficult it is. I know there are many different types of dark nights. (The most intense for me has been the dark night of trauma, when deep trauma surfaces to join in with the awakening.) I know some of the things that can help a bit, and that it needs to run its course.

I should also mention that I have loved science since I was very little, and wanted to become a scientist. (I have a graduate degree but my health challenges put an end to any further career in science.) And that too colors my approach to awakening. I prefer a pragmatic approach, trying out things to see the effects, comparing my experiences with the reports of others, and being as intellectually honest as I can about all of it.

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We are not primarily human

This is a statement that can seem either obvious or outrageous depending on where we are coming from.

WE ARE NOT PRIMARILY HUMAN

If we are somewhat familiar with finding what we are in our own first-person experience, it may seem obvious.

In a conventional sense, we are this human self in the world.

And when we look more closely, and set aside our assumptions just enough to not be blinded by them, we may find that our more fundamental nature is something else.

We may find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and as what our world happens within and as.

If thoughts were to put (very imperfect) labels on what we are, it could be consciousness or awakeness. And this is the very ordinary consciousness and awakeness we are all familiar with.

It’s the consciousness or awakeness we are and which all content of experience – of the world, this human self, and anything else – happens within and as.

AND WHEN THIS IS NOT NOTICED

For most, the statement that’s the title of this article may seem silly or preposterus.

It may seem to come out of a weird philosophy or theology. Or something not meant literally but metaphorically or discovered through slightly forced logic. Or something said as click bait or for the (very moderate) shock value.

Of course we are this human self, and nothing else – unless you mean a vague idea of a soul or something like that nobody has seen or measured or have any clear idea what is.

I understand where this is coming from.

It’s not wrong that we are this human self in the world. We have inside information about this human self and outside information about all the other ones.

And yet, when we look in our own first-person experience, we may find that we more fundamentall are something else. To ourselves, we are something else.

HUMAN AND NOT

When we notice this, we find we are human for practical purposes in the world. And primarily something else in a more real first-person sense.

This only looks like a dilemma or paradox within a certain set of stories.

When it’s lived, is simple, given, and what we already are most familiar with even if we didn’t always notice.

Is awakening an experience?

Some would say that if the “spiritual experience” goes a bit further, it’s not an experience anymore. It’s what we are noticing itself. It’s a noticing, not an experience. Although, for me, a noticing is a kind of experience. I understand where they are coming from, and appreciate the distinction, but feel it’s a bit idealized.

– from a previous post

I thought I would say a few more words on this.

It is popular, in some circles, to say that awakening is not an experience.

So is awakening an experience? I would say yes and no, neither and both, and it depends.

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

We can say it is noticing what we are, and really what we are noticing itself.

Or that it is to notice our nature, which is capacity for the world as it appears to us, and what the world to us happens within and as.

This can sound very abstract if we don’t have a personal experience or noticing of it. And it can seem simple and obvious when there is that noticing.

IN WHAT WAY IS AWAKENING NOT AN EXPERIENCE?

Awakening is what we are noticing itself as all there is.

To us, the world happens within and as what we are.

Awakening does not happen within the content of our experience. It’s not dependent on any particular content of experience. We can notice what we are whether we experience elation or depression, sadness or joy, or anything else. It’s not dependent on any particular state.

And it can and will be reflected in the content of our experience. It will impact the content of our experience, to some extent. At first, our thoughts and emotions may respond with surprise, elation, fear, or something else. And over time, as we keep noticing what we are, our human self will transform within this noticing and align with it more consciously.

If we look for awakening as an experience and within our content of experience, we are looking in the wrong place. Sometimes, we may need to look in the wrong place for a while. And we may also use structured inquiry to guide our attention so we may more easily notice what we are.

IN WHAT WAY IS AWAKENING AN EXPERIENCE?

We can say that the noticing itself is an experience. Although perhaps a slightly different type of experience than most other experiences.

In a conventional sense, it happens within a timeline. We can often put a time period or even a specific day or minute for when the initial noticing happened. In that sense, it’s an experience.

As mentioned above, it does impact the content of our experience. Our system has a reaction to it. And if the noticing happens over time, our human self will transform within that noticing. In this sense, there is certainly an experience component to awakening.

And to others where this noticing may not be happening right now, it certainly looks like an experience. They (we) don’t have another option but to see it as an experience since that’s all we consciously know and are aware of.

POINTERS

When some say “awakening is not an experience”, it’s a pointer.

It’s meant as medicine for a condition, and the condition is to (mistakenly) assume that awakening is an experience and look for it within the content of experience.

It has a practical function only and is not meant to be any final, full, or absolute truth.

And that’s the same when I nuance it here. It’s meant as a pointer. As a support in unsticking from any one particular idea about awakening being an experience or not.

The extraordinary and ordinary of awakening

Awakening can be talked about as extraordinary and ordinary, and even extraordinarily ordinary (!), and all of it has some truth to it.

THE EXTRAORDINARINESS OF AWAKENING

A spiritual opening or awakening can seem special and amazing in contrast to an unawake state. This can last for a while until the awakening becomes more familiar, lived, and – in a sense – ordinary.

Finding what we are gives us what we most deeply long for. When the One takes itself to be something separate within itself, it tends to create neediness, a sense of lack, and longing. And awakening is the solution for that neediness, lack, and longing.

When we notice what we are, we can more easily dissolve any wounds, hangups, and traumas we have as human beings in the world. It’s not an easy process, and it can be messy, but we are coming from the right place to do and allow it. (It partly comes from intention and doing, and partly allowing.)

Presenting it as special and amazing can be used as a strategy to attract people. It appeals to our wishes and dreams when we come from an unawake state. (To me, this seems a bit too deceptive, even if there is a grain of truth to it.)

THE ORDINARINESS OF AWAKENING

At the same time, awakening is simple and ordinary, and the essence of it is already familiar to us.

It’s the ordinary consciousness we are all familiar with that wakes up to itself as that which all happens within and as.

What we find we are has always been here. We have just been temporarily transfixed by the assumption that we most fundamentally are something within the content of experience (this human self), and we have taken the rest – consciousness, the rest of the world – as others. When we find what we more fundamentally are, in our own first-person experience, we realize we (also) are what we took to be background or context.

We discover that our world, as it appears to us, happens within and as what we are. This is compatible with just about any worldview, whether it is atheistic or spiritual of some kind.

Since, to us, the world happens within and as awakeness or consciousness, it may seem that all of existence IS awakeness or consciousness. But that’s a step beyond what’s in our immediate experience. It’s good to be honest about this and differentiate what’s our own nature and fits most worldviews, and what’s an assumption about reality itself and fits only more spiritual or religious worldviews.

This is all pragmatic, practical, and something we can explore for ourselves. We can also say it is, in a sense, logical and even inevitable. To ourselves, we most fundamentally have to be what our world happens within and as. We are not, most fundamentally, any particular content of our experience since it all – including this human self – comes and goes and is in constant change.

THE EXTRAORDINARY AND ORDINARY

If we only present awakening as extraordinary, we leave out the inherent ordinariness of it. And if we only present it as amazing and perhaps blissful, we leave out the messiness and challenges of the process. In both cases, we present only part of the picture, it’s misleading, and we are likely doing people a disservice.

If we only talk about the simplicity and ordinariness of it, we leave out how amazing it can seem when we first discover what we are, that it is what we most deeply have been seeking, and the ability of this noticing of what we are to dissolve wounds, hangups, and even – over time – trauma.

Including both gives a slightly fuller picture, and gives people a slightly more accurate idea of what the process may entail.

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Why I rarely talk about “meditation” in a general sense

I find it curious when people talk about meditation in a general sense. To me, it’s inaccurate and easily misleading since the word can refer to innumerable types of practices with a wide range of intentions and effects. That’s why I rarely, if ever, use the word without specifying what I am referring to.

innumerable practices, with a wide range of intentions, can fall under the general heading of meditation.

Some are aimed at relaxation. (This is a kind of Russian roulette since they, in some cases, can take the lid off old traumas and lead to challenges that are anything but relaxing.)

Some are aimed at opening the heart. (Tonglen, ho’oponopno, metta, and so on.)

Some are aimed at exploration of aspects of how the mind works. (Traditional or new forms of inquiry.)

Some are aimed at training more stable attention. (Bringing attention to an object within experience. This can be helpful for just about anything in life.)

Some are aimed at devotion and opening the mind for something apparently beyond itself. (Christ meditation.)

Some are aimed at allowing the mind to settle and may have different ideas about what that may open us up for.

Some are aimed at discovering what we already are. What we more fundamentally are in our first-person experience when we look. (Shikantaza, Basic Meditation, Headless experiments, Big Mind process, etc.)

And I assume there are many meditation practices with other aims and effects that I am not familiar with, or forgot to include here.

What happens as a result of these practices is a combination of many things, including the technique, the intention of the instructor and the student, the deeper motivation of the student, how wholeheartedly and sincerely the student engage in the practice, what their mind is ready and ripe for, and so on.

The spiritual path & comparing ourselves with others

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

TWO WAYS TO COMPARE

There are two ways to compare ourselves with others.

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

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

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

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

OUTSIDE VS INNER VIEW

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

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

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

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

HOW WE TALK ABOUT OUR SPIRITUAL PATH

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

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

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

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

MAKING USE OF THE TENDENCY TO COMPARE

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

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

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

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

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

THESE DAYS

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

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

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The problem with stages

Although I love Ken Wilber‘s integral model in general, there are several sides of him and the integral community I find a bit troublesome. This includes green-bashing (vilifying the ones they see at the green level of development), Wilber’s tendency to misrepresent the views of others (straw man arguments), and the tendency of the integral community to adopt both the good and bad sides of Ken Wilber’s personal approach.

I would also include an over-emphasis on stages, and especially the stages described in Spiral Dynamics. Of course, these models can be useful in some contexts and to some extent, if they are held lightly.

WHY FASCINATION WITH STAGES?

Why is there such an emphasis on stages in the integral world? One reason is obviously that they see the difference between first- and second-tier orientation as important and fascinating. (Very roughly, this is the difference between seeing your own view as right and other views as wrong versus appreciating the validity in each one and being curious about how they fit together in describing the world in a more rich and nuanced way.)

I can’t help wonder if there isn’t more going on.

Stage models offer neat ways of dividing up the world and understanding people. They are generally easy to understand. We can put them on top of just about anything and tell ourselves we understand what’s going on. They give us a jumping-off point for easy analysis.

They can be attractive because they give us a sense of understanding and that we grasp something important about the world, and many want to feel they understand.

Also, they can be used to boost our self-esteem. If we understand and like a model, it’s often because we imagine we are pretty high up on the hierarchy.

THE PROBLEMS WITH STAGES

At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind some things about stage models of human development.

Stages are not inherent in reality. They are imagined and put on top of something we observe. These imaginations can fit the data well, and help us orient in the world, and they are still imaginations.

If we have a set of observed data, we can find innumerable imagined overlays that fit this data – more or less well. In the future, we’ll likely come up with models that seem to fit the data, and new data, better, and models we may see as more useful in helping us orient.

What we observe largely depends on what we look for and expect to find. We already operate from assumptions and use those to determine the setting for gathering data, the data we gather, and how we interpret those data. To some extent, we see what we expect to see. It’s easy to imagine alien anthropologists or psychologists coming here, studying us, and highlighting and understanding what they see in a very different way from us, and it may be equally valid and useful as what we are familiar with.

We all operate from different parts of us in different situations and settings. What comes out in one situation may be different from what comes out in another. There is a richness, complexity, and fluidity here that may not be well captured by models.

We are rich and complex, and stages will by necessity only look at one or a few of the aspects of who and what we are. As Ken Wilber says, there are several lines of development. (In reality, there are innumerable since we can divide this up in as many or as few as we want.) Stage models tend to (over?)simplify and overlook the complex ecology of interactions within this organic richness.

We tend to develop stage models of what we value and where we, as culture and individuals, are high up or on top. In another culture, they may see something else as valuable and would develop stage models of that. In these models, they are likely to be closer to the top since they live in a culture where that particular development is valued, encouraged, and supported, and we may be further down. (These could be stage models of being in tune with the natural environment, hunting skills, shamanic development, valuing the interests of the group over self, living from a sense of deep time, and so on.)

In general, stage models can be over-emphasized and held too tightly.

Life is far more complex and rich than any model. Models and thoughts are different in type from what they refer to. Life is always more than and different from our thoughts about it. And our models tend to reflect – and reinforce – our own culture, orientation, and values.

Stage models can still serve as valuable guides for certain things and in certain situations. It’s just helpful to see the bigger picture, be aware of their limitations, and hold them lightly.

Note: I wrote this from what came to me, I am sure others have done a far more thorough and insightful analysis of the limitations of stage theories.

Is Big Mind / Headlessness a perspective?

Someone on social media asked this question about headlessness.

In itself, what we are – and noticing what we are – is not a perspective. It’s what allows any and all human perspectives.

When we live from it, it becomes a context for our life. Does this mean it’s a perspective or orientation? Not really, and perhaps not necessarily. Although in practice, we may make it into a kind of perspective for ourselves.

When we put it into words, it becomes a kind of perspective. A framework that becomes a way of talking about things.

And if we make it into an ideology or a belief, it certainly becomes a perspective. One of many, and maybe even one in apparent conflict with other perspectives.

The question may not have a yes or no answer. In itself, our nature is obviously not a perspective. And noticing our nature doesn’t in itself create a perspective. But when it’s translated through and as a human, it can become a kind of perspective.

As so often, it’s good to notice, be honest about it, and inquire into these perspectives and if anything in us feels a need to make it into a perspective.

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Brutally honest? Lovingly honest?

I find it interesting that “brutally honest” has been a common expression in our culture, and lovingly honest not so much.

Why is that? It may be because of a generally cynical view in our culture suggesting that truth and reality is unkind. We had the idea of original sin, that we are born with sin. (Christianity.) We had the idea of being brutal beasts beneath a veneer of civilization. (Some early views on evolution.) We had the idea that if we explore what’s unresolved in us, what we find won’t be kind or loving. (Early psychology.)

Fortunately, these days, this seems to be changing.

What more of us discover, when we explore this for ourselves, is innocence. For instance, when I explore what’s unresolved in me, I find innocence and confused love.

So maybe it’s time to change “brutally honest” for “lovingly honest”?

After all, there are ways to be lovingly honest – with ourselves and others. We all function better when we operate from truth, and especially when framed in a loving way.

How does loving honesty look? For me, it comes from being lovingly honest with myself. And as Adya says, that often takes the form of a kind of confession.

I may find what I really want by tracing wants back to the universal essentials. I may explore a contraction and find the unmet and unloved fear behind it, and the unfulfilled sense of lack (and then give that to that part of me). I may notice that quiet inner voice that guides me, free of fear and contractions.

Ways of talking about mystery

The biggest mystery in the universe is you.

– Adyashanti

I posted this quote from Adya on Facebook.

THE RESPONSES

The quote received a variety of responses and comments, each with some validity.

We can know things in a conventional sense. The first emphasized that we can know who we are and the importance of knowing just that. Yes, that’s true enough. At a human level, it’s helpful to know who we are in a variety of different ways. We can get to know our preferences, inclinations, and what makes us feel alive. We can find ways to bring this into life. We can examine our hangups, stressful beliefs, and traumas, and shift our relationship to these and invite in healing for them. We can explore some of the universals of how the mind works. And so on.

To some extent, these things are knowable and it helps us to explore and get to know it.

Several others responded to this and clarified Adya’s quote in different ways.

We cannot know anything for certain. I took a close-to-conventional view. In an everyday sense, there is of course a lot we know. And yet, when we look more closely, reality is often far more complex, rich, and open. Realizing we don’t know for certain opens us up to be surprised and discover something new.

We all have all sorts of knowledge in a conventional sense, which is more or less accurate and useful. And ultimately, we don’t know anything for certain. What we are and what anything is, is ultimately a mystery. We are that mystery.

The idea of mystery happens only when we try to think about it. Another said that mystery only comes about when we think about it. If we simply live, it just is. That’s true as well.

The label mystery only comes from a thought, and we can also say we are and live mystery.

Oneness. Another mentioned that the mystery is oneness. Which also, in a sense, is true. To us, the world happens within our sense fields and these are seamless and one. And there is also a oneness in a conventional sense since the universe is a seamless evolving whole.

To me, oneness isn’t a mystery different from the mystery inherent in anything since we can perceive it directly.

Poetry. Another expressed it beautifully in poetry.

Conventional knowing happens within a thought. Yet another mentioned that knowing only happens within thought, and what knows is what we are and a mystery to itself.

I would add that there is a kind of knowing in being, outside of thoughts. Although knowing is perhaps not the best word since most associate it with knowing within thoughts.

And a couple of other things…

To us, we are the biggest mystery. Adya specifically said that we are the biggest mystery. To ourselves, we are the biggest mystery. And that’s because, to us, the world happens within and as what we are. We don’t know, or know about, anything we are not.

Medicine for a condition. When Adya points out that we are the biggest mystery, it’s a remedy for a condition. It’s meant to help us shift out of any ideas that we know what we are, or that thoughts can tell us what we are – at any level. And perhaps also the thought that there isn’t more for us to discover in direct noticing.

The ultimate mystery. After going through this, I am reminded of the ultimate mystery: that anything is at all. How come there is something rather than nothing? (Even if that something is, to us, nothing taking the form of something.)

VALIDITY IN EACH ONE

It’s beautiful with all of these comments since they all are valid in their own ways.

We can know ourselves in a conventional sense.

Whatever we know within thoughts is limited and reality is always more than and different from this.

The idea of mystery happens only within thought.

Since the world to us happens within and as what we are, we – what we are, our nature – is the biggest mystery to us.

Adya’s pointer is medicine for the tendency to think we know what we are.

And the ultimate mystery is that anything is at all. How come there is something rather than nothing?

INVITES US TO DIRECT NOTICING

We can all explore this and will express it differently if we try to put it into words. In that sense, it’s a shared exploration since we can use pointers from each other for our own exploration. And we are also ultimately alone in this exploration.

Words are no more than pointers. While sharing can be helpful, a discussion is not really apart from showing us the futility of discussing these things. I notice getting caught up in all of this is, to some extent, interesting. And it also feels a bit removed, stale, confusing, and uncomfortable if it goes too far.

It can get us caught up in abstractions more than immediate noticing.

For me, it’s a relief to drop all of this and return to the freshness and immediacy of noticing and exploring what’s here.

I, over-I, it

It’s been a while since I explored Freud and his views, and I am not at all updated. What seems clear is that the essence often has a great deal of value and usefulness, while much of the specifics reflected his particular culture and time.

For instance, there is a lot in each of us we are not very aware of that colors our views, interpretations, and how we live our life.

Also, when I explore myself, I often find what he called I, over-I, and it. (Ego, super-ego, and id in a terrible, awful, no-good translation.)

The I is what I consciously identify with and as. It’s my conscious and partly private and partly public identity.

The over-I is a part of me evaluating what’s coming up in me, possible actions, and so on. It’s often what we have learned from our culture, parents, teachers, and so on. This has many layers. Superficially, it may seem like a value judgment. It can be related to wanting to fit in and not be unfavorably judged by others. And we can also see it as an evalutation of the consequences of our actions for ourselves and others.

The it are the parts of me I don’t acknowledge as me. To me, they appear as other, as it. Certain of my emotions, impulses, thoughts, and even actions can seem to me as it. They appear a bit foreign to me, while also being part of me and my life. When we see characteristics in someone or something and not in ourselves, it’s usually because it’s an “it” to us. It appears as other to us because we don’t (yet) acnowledge it in ourselves, and don’t yet know it in ourselves.

When these are called “ego”, “super ego” and “id”, it can all seem exotic and a bit weird and removed from our own experience. And when we use the more ordinary words – I, over-I, it – as Freud did, it can make more sense. It’s what most of us already know from our own experience.

It’s more familiar to us, and less esoteric, than it initially can seem.

Why don’t more people and traditions talk about waking up issues?

When we find our own nature, it seems that one of the most natural things is to invite our issues to wake up.

WAKING UP ISSUES

I notice an issue in me, a contraction that has psychological, physical, and energetic components. I may notice the contraction in any of those areas: as a psychological contraction (defensiveness, reactivity, obsession, going into ideologies, etc.), as a physical contraction, or as an energetic contraction.

I notice it operates from separation consciousness. I may also notice that although I notice my own nature, and all of my experiences – in general – as having that nature, I may not notice that this contraction as having the same nature. I still struggle with it. I tend to join with it and identify with it, or I struggle against it.

The remedy here is to notice it has the same nature as me and everything in my experience, and to rest with and as this.

I may also notice that the contraction itself is not aware of its nature. It operates as if separation consciousness is all there is. So I invite the contraction to find its own nature. I notice its nature, have a gentle invitation for it to find it too and rest with it.

It can take some time, although there is movement. And typically within some minutes, there is a shift. I find it’s helpful to stay with it longer so it can deeper further. And sometimes, it’s good to revisit it, especially if it’s a deeper and more central issue.

There is also several other things we can do here to ease and support the process. Basically, we notice how the issue is kept in place and do the reverse. Instead of rejecting and struggling with it, we welcome it. Instead of trying to make it go away, we allow it. Instead of trying to contain it, we invite it to get as big as it wants. Instead of avoiding or joining the stressful thoughts within it, we examine them. Instead of secretly hating the issue, we find genuine love for it. Instead of getting caught up in the sensation-thought mix, we bring attention to the physical sensations. The issue has neediness and comes from a sense of lack, so instead of trying to feed it through other people and life situations, we can give it what it needs directly (love, attention, safety, etc.).

SEEMS NATURAL, SO WHY IS IT NOT TALKED ABOUT MORE?

This seems very natural, so why isn’t it talked about more?

It may be that some who discover who they are, don’t have a heavy issue load. They may have cleared much of it up through years of different types of spiritual practices, or they never had a very heavy load.

Many teachers and traditions may reserve these types of instructions and pointers for close students who clearly notice their nature. It may not be part of their public information.

Some traditions and teachers, for instance within Zen, may wait for the students to find it for themselves.

Some traditions and teachers may rely on the more standard practices – basic meditation, prayer, heart-centered practices, service and so on – to do the heavy lifting. They don’t see the need to emphasize this approach.

TODAY AND IN OUR CULTURE

Today, and in our culture, it may be different. We like to have it all out in the open. We like to give people any information, pointers, and tools they may need.

We also have access to tools and pointers that can give people a relatively quick access to noticing their true nature, and these are also out in the open. (Headless experiments, Big Mind process, Living Inquiries, and so on.)

So we are seeing more transparency about this. More people are talking about this and exploring it for themselves.

Higher vs ground consciousness

Some people talk about higher consciousness, and I am not exactly sure what they mean by it. For me, it sounds like too much work and something that’s created.

I am more drawn to what’s already here. To the nature of consciousness, to what’s here independent of anything manufactured. To finding my nature as capacity for my experiences, and for my field of experiences happening within and as what I am.

Why are some drawn to higher consciousness? It may just be another label for the same, for finding the nature of what we are and finding ourselves as that – in addition to being this human self with roles and so on. It may also be that it sounds like it will make us special, and it can be another “dream of the ego” as Adya calls it.

When I notice the nature of what I am, it’s very likely the nature of what we all – all conscious beings – are to ourselves. (Based on what people report.) It’s what we already are. It’s more familiar to us than anything else, although we may not consciously notice that it is our nature.

In general, I seem to be inclined towards what seems the most natural and organic and is the most essential and universal.

As what I am, all is subject and object

In one sense, I am this human self in the world.

And when I look more closely, I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am what all my experiences – including of this human self and the wider world – happens within and as.

And here, I find that all of my experiences are both subject and object.

Anything happening within my sense fields – of this human self and the wider world – is an object. It’s all happening within me. It’s not what I more fundamentally am.

And anything happening within my sense fields is a subject. It’s what I am. What I am takes all these forms.

THE PRACTICAL USE OF THIS

Why is this important? In some ways, it isn’t. It’s just something to notice, and it can be a bit fun to notice.

At the same time, it is helpful to notice all the content of my sense fields as objects. That helps me find myself as capacity for it all, and as what it all happens within and as.

And it is helpful to notice all of it as subject since that’s helps me find myself as oneness. As what takes the form of all of it, as it appears to me.

THOUGHTS CREATING A SENSE OF SUBJECT AND OBJECT

There is one thing here to clarify.

When we normally experience something as subject (what we are) or object (other), it’s really a thought telling us this, and a thought we hold as true.

The conventional sense of subject (me as this human self with all these identities and roles) and other (the rest of the world, and the parts of me that don’t fit my desired image) comes from holding a thought as true. It comes from identifying with a thought.

A thought says: I am this human self with these identities. My mind holds that thought as true and identifies with the viewpoint of this thought. In my own experience, I become the viewpoint of this thought.

Another thought says: I am not this table, or phone, or this room, or what’s outside the window, or these other people. And my mind identifies with the viewpoint of that thought, and that becomes my experience. All of this then is “other” to me.

This is our conventional experience of ourselves and the world. We take ourselves as this human self (roughly since we exclude some things we don’t like), and we are not the rest of the world.

That’s not wrong. But it’s not what we more fundamentally are, in our own first-person experience. To ourselves, we more fundamentally are capacity for it all, and what it all happens within and as.

This human self and the wider world happens within my sense fields, and I am what these sense fields – what this human self and the wider world – happens within and as.

And we can find this for ourselves. We can notice it, and it can become something we live from – and as.

And here, all my experiences – including my thoughts – become objects. They happen within me. They are not what I more fundamentally are.

And they all become subject. They are all what I am. What I am takes all these forms.

NOT QUITE AS CLEAR CUT

There are some wrinkles here. It’s not quite as clear-cut in practice.

Yes, I may notice what I am. And at the same time, I may still be partially identified with certain thoughts – mental images and words.

Both can co-exist. The task here is to notice where there is identification, and find that too as what I am capacity for, and what happens within and as what I am.

I can find it as having the same nature as myself – capacity for itself, stillness & silence, and so on, and invite it to find itself as that and relax in that noticing.

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Ocean and drop analogy, and big and small interpretations of awakening

This is perhaps not so important, but I was reminded of the ocean and drop analogy.

Our sense fields are made up of our experiences of this human self and the wider world, and it’s all happening within and as what we are.

We can call this the ocean. To us, what we are contains the whole world as it appears to us. Any boundaries happen within and as what we are. Any time happens within and as what we are. We are capacity for all of it, and we are all of it as it’s here.

In a sense, this is the ocean. It’s the only ocean in our immediate experience and noticing.

This is also the psychological or small interpretation of awakening. We don’t need to refer to anything divine. We don’t need to use any special terminology. It’s not something other or apart from us. It’s right here and we can notice it here and now.

There are several pointers and approaches that can help us find this for ourselves, sometimes in a short period of time and without much if any preparation. (The two I am most familiar with are the Big Mind process and the Headless experiments.)

There is also the spiritual or big interpretation of awakening, and this is where we would talk about the divine, Spirit, God, and so on. For instance, we can assume that all of existence is like us – it’s capacity for itself and, in it’s many forms, it’s consciousness. The details here are open for discussion, for instance, we may assume the existence of divine beings and so on. There are some hints that this may be accurate, although none of this is required for talking about awakening.

If we take this larger view on awakening and make some assumptions about the nature of all of existence, we can say that we – as we experience ourselves – are a drop in this larger ocean.

To ourselves, we are the ocean. And to existence as a whole, we are a drop in the larger ocean.

Note: When we discover our nature as it appears to us – as capacity for the world, as what our sense fields happen within and as, as oneness, as consciousness, and so on, all will appear as this.

We experience all of existence through and as what we are. So it’s inevitable that all of existence will look like what we are. But we cannot really know. It’s an assumption, which may be correct or not, or may be partially correct and partially not.

That’s why I like to differentiate between a small or psychological understanding of awakening, and a big or spiritual understanding of awakening. The first is simple and down-to-earth, the second makes some assumptions beyond what we easily can check for ourselves.

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Ric Weinman: You are the living expression of the divine’s process of experiencing itself as you

You’re the living expression of the divine’s process of experiencing itself as you.

– paraphrased from Ric Weinman, founder of Vortex Healing

This is phrased in the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. We can also find it here and now, without any spiritual labels.

When I look, I find that all my experiences happen within and as my sense fields – sight, sound, sensation, smell, taste, mental representations, and so on. This human self happens within these sense fields. The wider world happens within these sense fields.

In the world, and to others, I am this human self. And in my own experience, I am what my sense fields happen within and as. This human self and the wider world happen within and as these sense fields, and all of it happens within and as what I am.

I find myself as…. Capacity for all of this, whatever happens in the sense fields. What it all happens within and as. And what can, imperfectly, be labeled awakeness, awake space, and even consciousness. (And all of those labels are mental representations happening within and as what I am.)

We can also call it life.

So as a human self, I am an expression of life’s process of experiencing itself as me. And as what I am, as what all of this happens within and as, I am also an expression of life’s process of experiencing itself as me.

All my experiences – of this human self and the wider world – are expressions of the creativity of consciousenss. It’s consciousness taking on all of these forms and experiencing itself as it.

I see the value in using spiritual labels for this. The downside of using spiritual labels is that it can give the impression that this is something mystical or magical or something outside of ourselves or “other”. (I know that’s not now Ric means it, I am just talking about how it can be received by some.)

That’s why I prefer to use simpler and more ordinary labels, and point to how all of this shows up in our own experience here and now.

How can I talk about it so it invites us to notice it for ourselves, here and now.

Note: When I say the quote above is paraphrased, it’s because it’s not the original quote. Someone posted it on social media with bad grammar and without a source. I cleaned up the grammar and don’t know how that process changed the quote from the original.

The word “spirituality” (and why spirituality is not really about spirituality)

To continue on the previous post:

There are many commonly used words in spirituality I prefer not to use, for a few different reasons.

One of these is the word spirituality itself.

The upside of using this word is that most people have a rough idea of what it refers to. It’s a convenient shorthand, and I sometimes use it for that reason.

If the upside is that it gives people a general idea of what it’s about, that’s also it’s downside. It’s imprecise and sometimes misleading.

It’s a word with many different definitions, and there are probably as many understandings of what it refers to as there are people. I may use the word and mean one thing, and you understand it differently and possibly very differently.

It comes with a lot of baggage, and people associate a lot of different things with it. In our contemporary western culture, they may take it to mean something fluffy without substance, divorced from reality, irrelevant for our daily life, without practical use, or for especially interested people.

The way I see spirituality is very different. For me, spirituality is not really about spirituality. It’s about exploring what I am in my own first-person experience. It’s about living from that noticing. It’s about befriending my experiences. Finding healing for my human self. Live a life with life at the center.

This type of spirituality is not really spirituality, and it’s not dependent on any spiritual or religious traditions. (Although we can find many valuable pointers there.)

So I sometimes use the word spirituality as a shorthand. And I prefer not to use it very much since people may understand it very differently from how I intend it, and what spirituality is about for me is not really about spirituality. It’s about life.

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