How do we know what’s true? (part one)

There is no single simple answer. 

THE LIMITS OF THOUGHTS

In a more absolute sense, no thought can reflect any final, full, or absolute truth.

Thoughts are questions about the world.

They are mental representations meant to help us orient and function in the world.

They are different in kind from what they refer to. And they simplify.

Reality is always more than and different from any thought. And it’s also inherently simpler than any thought.

For all of these reasons, thoughts are unable to capture any final, full, or absolute truth. 

NAVIGATING IN THE WORLD

When it comes to our life in the world, we need to use our discernment and methods to discern what’s more or less accurate in a conventional sense. 

If possible, we can try something out for ourselves. Someone said something, and we check it out. Most of what I write about in these articles is something we can check out for ourselves and see what we find. And sometimes it requires some guidance and persistence over time. 

If we are told something we cannot, or cannot yet, check out for ourselves, we can put it on the “this person said it and I don’t know” shelf AKA the “maybe” shelf. Depending on the solidity of the data and the logic, and how well it fits the majority of the data, we can hold it as more or less reliable.

We can be aware of biases. We all have biases from our biology and evolution, from our culture and society, from whatever subcultures we are familiar with and resonate with, and our personal experiences, inclinations, preferences, and hangups. What may the biases of the source be? What are my biases, and how do they color how I relate to what this source said? 

Do I have an emotional attachment to a certain view? Do I feel I need to defend it? Does it bring up reactivity in me? If so, it’s a clear sign that I may be caught up in an emotional issue and not be so clearheaded in how I relate to it. 

Another side of this is the weight of the source. Does it align with how experts in the field generally see it? Does it fit the highest quality data and the majority of the data we have? Does it come from someone who has the credentials in the field? That gives it more weight, although these views are also provisional and up for revision in the face of better knowledge. 

Some like to say that our views and opinions on a range of issues are equivalent. “You say that and I say this, and they are equal in value.” That’s obviously not accurate. Some have far more experience and insights into a particular issue. And some views are supported by far more and higher quality data than other views. And that gives it more weight. (It may still be wrong, although it’s less likely to be grossly wrong.) 

In addition, I like to examine the practical effects of certain views. Does it help me live with kindness, receptivity, and curiosity? If so, I’ll give it more weight. 

Ultimately, solid data is what determines what’s true. For instance, Putin says the war against Ukraine is to “denazify” the country. The numbers show that only about 2% of the population vote for right-wing parties, and they elected a Jewish president. This alone shows that Putin’s argument is out of alignment with reality. Similarly, when it comes to the question about the risk of taking the covid vaccine, we can look at the numbers. Hospitals were full of patients with covid, not people who were there because of how their bodies responded to the vaccine. Simple numbers show us something about reality. And there is, of course, a need for nuance and discernment here too.

DISCERNMENT

Yes, it’s true that we cannot know anything for certain, and even our most cherished assumptions are up for revision. Much of what people assumed about the world one or five hundred years ago is different from how we see the world today. 

And it’s also true that views are more or less accurate in a conventional sense, and we can learn discernment to arrive at the views that have the best chance of being accurate. 

This is about learning methods for evaluating views and data, examining sources, knowing a bit about the history of ideas and science, being aware of one’s own biases, and being honest with oneself.

In part two of this article, I’ll write about what we may discover if we take a closer look at this topic.

TRUTH VS VALIDITY

Why do I write about validity and not truth?

It’s mainly because the word “truth” often comes with some unfortunate associations. It can make it sound as if thoughts can hold a full, final, and absolute truth, and that’s obviously not true (!).

Validity is a bit more gentle and open-ended. A thought can have validity, in one way or another, without holding any final, full, or absolute truth.

Using the word “validity” instead of “truth” can help us hold it a bit more lightly and with more curiosity.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that validity in a conventional sense can be more or less supported by solid data, it can be supported by varying amounts of data, it can be more or less logically coherent, and so on.

Note: All of this seems obvious and what many of us learn early in life. So why do I bother writing about it? Because some seem to – against better knowledge? – take a view that “my opinion is as good as yours” when that’s clearly not the case. On many topics, some have a far more informed view, and some views are far more grounded in experience, good data, and good logic. That doesn’t mean we should automatically accept the conclusions or advice of others (I have received terrible advice from doctors). But it does mean that a measure of intellectual honesty and humility is appropriate and useful.

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Adyashanti: For the vast majority of people that awaken and sustain in it…. Truth is the most important thing in their life

For the vast majority of people that awaken and sustain in it, there is something similar among them. Number one is that Truth is the most important thing in their life. Truth and reality is number one on their agenda, and usually it’s been that way for a long time.

– Adyashanti, The Intention of Spirit

Yes, awakening requires us to be radically honest with ourselves. It requires us to prioritize what we honestly and genuinely find we are in our own immediate experience and what the world is to us in our immediate experience. And set anything else – anything we have been told and anything we tell ourselves – aside.

The main way to do this is to radically prioritize truth and to prioritize truth in all areas of our life. It creates a habit and an atmosphere where we more easily can be honest with ourselves about what we find and notice in our own first-person experience.

The truth is ultimately kind

Our worldview, and our assumptions about ourselves and reality, inevitably color our perception and how we live our life.

And one element of our worldview is whether we see reality and our own nature as fundamentally kind, neutral, or somehow stained (e.g. original sin).

A PARTICULAR BRAND OF CHRISTIANITY AND SCIENCE

I grew up in a Christian protestant culture, and although Christianity didn’t explicitly play much of a role, I too absorbed some of the views from Christianity of our nature as inherently stained. Also, from the particular brand of science popular in the 1900s, I learned that reality is inherently neutral and in many ways cruel and merciless. So, naturally, somewhere in me, I didn’t really trust reality or truth.

This is in no way inherent in Christianity or science in general. It’s easy to imagine and find approaches to Christianity and science that see it differently. Approaches that are more life-affirming, and perhaps closer to reality.

WHAT I FIND

When I explore this for myself, I find something else.

When I explore the actions of others or myself, and what’s happening in the world, I find innocence. It’s not personal. It’s the local expressions of the movements of the whole of existence.

Often, actions that harm ourselves and others are a result of pain and trauma, and more accurately how we react to our own pain and trauma. And how we react to our pain and trauma is often absorbed from those around us and our culture. Often, the pain, trauma, and how we react to it, is something passed on through the generations.

I also find I can use anything as material for my own healing, maturing, and even awakening. In that way too, what’s happening is ultimately innocent and even – in a sense – kind.

HOW WE CAN EXPLORE THIS FOR OURSELVES

Having a general mental framework for a more kind reality is a good start.

And the real shifts in ourselves come from a more thorough examination of specifics, and especially of what seems the least kind to us.

To do that, it can help to initially use a more structured form of inquiry. For instance, The Work of Byron Katie, Living Inquiries, or the Big Mind process.

As usual, there is a lot more to say about all of this. I decided to make this post short since I have addressed many of the topics here in other articles.

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Tradition or truth?

After the initial awakening when I was sixteen, I sought out books of people who may have had something similar happen – mainly Christian mystics, Buddhism, and Taoism. (This was before the internet and I didn’t have any spiritual teachers nearby.)

In Taoism, I found the most resonance. I could see that these people got it.

Within Christianity and Buddhism, I could see that whether or not these people got it, they often seemed to value tradition over truth. They would clothe what they said in traditional wording and even in traditional ideology, and that obscured the simplicity and clarity of awakening.

So the question is: do we value tradition or truth the most? Are we willing to sacrifice the simplicity and clarity so we can be more aligned with tradition? Or the other way around?

Of course, there doesn’t have to be one or the other. The ones with the most clarity and flexibility in how they express it can often do both.

From this, something else quickly became clear to me: traditions are about maintaining themselves. That’s their primary and obvious purpose. If there is genuine spiritual insights, guidance, and expression there, then that’s a bonus.

A caveat

I hesitate writing about this because it can easily be understood in a way it’s not meant. The truth this is about is not one found in words, and if we take it as something that can be found in words, it becomes an ideology. And if it becomes an ideology, it just becomes another tradition, even if it’s our own personal one. And if it becomes a tradition, then the main purpose of it easily becomes to maintain itself.

So as usual, this is something to be held very lightly. There is often a great deal of value in traditions. I am immensely grateful for them and the people maintaining them, and have benefited greatly from them.

It’s just that when we notice what we are, it’s free of traditions. All of them may point to it, but it cannot be contained by any of them.

Adyashanti: There is more truth and sacredness in a blade of grass

There is more truth and sacredness in a blade of grass than in all the shrines, scriptures and stories created to honor an idea of God. […] All of these are labels. All of them are fine. There is nothing wrong with any one of them, until you actually believe they’re true

– Adyashanti

Not every thought is true in an everyday sense of the word, and no thought has any final or absolute truth in it. But everything is truth.

Everything is, as it is, an expression of reality and is reality.

On the one hand, it’s all an expression of and is existence, this unfolding universe, life. It, in itself, is reality and truth. And our thoughts about it are pointers, helpful in a pragmatic sense, and contain no final or absolute truth.

On the other hand, everything – to us – happens within and as what we are. They happen within and as what we may label awakeness, consciousness, or even the divine.

When we humans – or existence or the divine in this local expression as a human – look for Truth, or God, or Home, or our True Nature, we often look out there in what others say or are or in thoughts and ideas. Those can all point us in the right direction. But what we are looking for is what everything – to us – already are. We are looking for what we already are and what everything already is.

How can we discover this? How can we shift out of the trance we have created for ourselves through identifying with and believing some of our thoughts? This is what most spiritual practices are about, although the shortest path to what we already are is often inquiry. (Big Mind process, Headless experiments, Living Inquiries, or something else that brings our attention to what we already are.)

The irony is that since we already are this, it can be difficult to notice. What we are is already very familiar to us. Even when we notice it more consciously, for instance through inquiry, it can seem too ordinary. Thoughts may tell us that this is too simple and ordinary, it can’t be it. What we think we are looking for should come with bells and whistles and fireworks. (Sometimes it does, but usually not when we notice it through inquiry.)

And yet, since it’s what we already are, we can notice it in our ordinary experience. We don’t need any special states to notice it. It’s available here and now, in all it’s extraordinary ordinariness. It’s available through any number of changing experiences and states, including all the apparently ordinary and familiar ones.

Fear of the truth

I was reminded of this in a conversation this morning.

When we believe something, we are automatically scared of the truth because the truth may destroy what we believe. That’s how it is for us as individuals, and also for us as organizations and groups.

Sometimes, we are also scared of the truth because it goes against what we want others to believe about us.

For instance, when I lived in Salt Lake City in the ’90s, the Mormons (LDS Church) excommunicated a university professor for researching the early history of mormonism (and finding things they didn’t like). What they wanted to present to others as the truth was a glorified and idealized version of their history, and reality turned out to be a little less savory.

Instead of embracing it and chose to be real and transparent, they chose to (try to) get rid of the messenger, and scare others within their church from doing similar things in the future.

Any time we believe something, we are scared of the truth. It doesn’t matter what it is or how close to reality it is. Any thought is just a pointer. It’s not the whole picture. We may see it differently, or in a different context, with more experience. And the reversals of the thought also have some validity to them.

So when we believe any thought, and hold it as a final or absolute truth, we are automatically scared of the truth. We invest the idea of truth into the thought, and We feel we need to defend the thought because reality may show us it’s not as true as we initially thought.

How can we notice when this is happening? For me, I keep an eye on any time I feel something is a given truth. Or when I feel defensive about something. Or feel a need to justify. Or find others who agree so I can feel better. Any time there is a charge on a thought, it means I believe it.

What can we do when this happens? Sometimes, it’s enough to notice this. That, in itself, may help us shift out of it and uncover the receptivity we are. It also helps to admit – to myself – what’s happening. (OK, I notice I have a charge on this thought. It feels true to me, but I know it’s not.) Sometimes, if we feels safe to do so, we can admit it to someone else. And it also helps to explore the thought through inquiry (Living Inquiries, The Work).

When I work with clients (including myself), we sometimes encounter this fear of reality. And it can be helpful – and sometimes essential – to address this fear directly before going further.

Niels Bohr: A deep truth

A deep truth is a truth so deep that not only is it true but its exact opposite is also true.

Niels Bohr, paraphrased

Yes, this is true (!) in my experience. Although, I find that any statement with some truth in it has reversals that also has some truth in it. It doesn’t have to be a deep statement. Words are only pointers, and we can find some validity in most statements about the world.

The question is specifically how something is true. When we identify that, we avoid assuming that all statements are somehow equally true (they are not) or true in the same way (they are not).

The truth will set us free

and the truth will set you free

New Testament, John 8:32

This is true in many ways. 

It’s true in relationships, in society, and in terms of social justice and sustainability. We need the truth, and to be honest about it, for change to happen. 

It’s also true in healing. And, as Jesus referred to, it’s true in awakening. 

For emotional healing, we need the truth. Truth = reality, and consciously aligning more with reality = emotional healing. 

For awakening, we also need truth. Truth = reality, and awakening means to consciously align with reality. 

And then there is fear of truth. Most of us have a fear of truth to some extent, in some areas of life, for several different reasons. It’s important to honor this fear, and explore it with some gentleness, kindness, and curiosity. 

I have written about each of these more in depth in other articles so I’ll leave this article brief.  

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Intellectual honesty on the spiritual path

For me, spirituality is about being consciously aligned with reality, and deepen in clarifying and living from it. 

That means that intellectual honesty is an important component. So how does that look? At least for me? 

Here are some examples: 

In immediacy, content of experience – input from all the sense fields including thought – happens within and as what I am. I can say that it’s all happening within and as consciousness, or awake space. The whole universe appears as happening within and as what I am.

It appears as consciousness (aka love, wisdom, the divine, Spirit, God). And I can go one step further and tell myself the whole universe and all of existence is consciousness. That fits how it all appears to me, but I also know it’s an assumption. It’s going one step further than what I can be more certain about. 

And the same goes for a whole range of other things. I may have direct experiences of something. Someone – great spiritual masters – tells me it is a certain way. It may fit some research. It may make complete sense to me. I may wish it to be true. All of these may align. And yet, I don’t know for certain. All I know is that some stories, some overlays of thoughts, make sense and seem helpful to me in orienting and functioning in the world. They are not the final word, and there is no absolute truth to them. 

That’s how it is with ideas about God, life beyond death, reincarnation, divine beings, angels, distance healing, awakening, ESP, and anything else. At best, they are ideas that seem to fit the data, make sense, and help us orient and function in the world. And that’s about it. That’s all I can say about it.

This is as honest as I can be about these things now. It’s as aligned with reality as I can make it for now. It’s as aligned with the divine – if I see reality as the divine – as I can make it. And there is a great freedom here. I don’t need to defend anything.

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Adyashanti: We can not control somebody with whom we have been truthful

I have found over the years of working with people, even people who have had very deep and profound awakenings, that most people have a fear of being truthful, of really being honest—not only with others, but with themselves as well. Of course, the core of this fear is that most people know intuitively that if they were actually totally truthful and totally sincere and honest, they would no longer be able to control anybody.

We can not control somebody with whom we have been truthful. We can only control people if we tell half-truths, if we shave down what is true. When we tell the total truth, our inside is suddenly on the outside. There’s nothing hidden anymore. For most human beings, being that exposed brings up incredible fear. Most people walk around thinking, “My god, if anybody could look inside of me, if anybody could see what is happening in there, what my fears are, what my doubts are, what my truths are, what I really perceive, they would be horrified.”

Most people are protecting themselves. They are holding a lot of things in. They are not living honest, truthful, and sincere lives, because if they were to do so, they would have no control. Of course, they don’t have control anyway, but they would have no illusion of control, either.

– Adyashanti in The End of Your World

Meaning

What creates a sense of meaning?

How does my mind create a sense of meaning?

Here is how it appears to me now, as I look…….

When words and/or images combine – in my experience – with sensations, there is an appearance of meaning. The words and images appears real and true. The sensations associated, and apparently “stuck” on the words and images lend a sense of reality to the words and images.

Words and images alone are recognized as words and images, free of meaning. They can be helpful and practical pointers, but not inherently “true” or “real”, or conveying a real or solid “meaning”.

Sensations alone are recognized as sensations, free of meaning.

Only when words and images appear “stuck” to sensations do they appear real, true or conveying a real or true meaning.

And they can only appear stuck together when they are unexamined. That’s the only way there can be the appearance of a real and solid truth or meaning.

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Adyashanti: You come to truth by way of your delusions

You come to truth by way of your delusions. Your delusions are actually the temple gate.
– Adyashanti

How have I experienced this?

(a) When I live from my delusions – my hangups, my beliefs, my identifications – life responds. My delusions are mirrored back to me. People and life will let me know. And in this is an invitation for me to examine my delusions and seeing through them.

(b) Also, when I examine and see through my delusions, it can lead to clarity. This happens in an everyday sense, where I may adjust my assumptions and identities to be a little more aligned with life and reality. And it happens in a more full sense when the velcro is loosened out of a combination of words, images and sensations, and when identification is softened or falls away through seeing what’s really there (examining beliefs, exploring the sense fields).

In both cases, my delusions are the path to truth. Coming face to face with – and examining – my delusions, can lead to finding what’s more true for me.

And that truth may be an everyday truth, and mean an adjustment of my assumptions and perceptions.

Or it can be a softening or release of identification with certain words and images, revealing the not knowing that’s really already here.  Read More

I perceive, therefore I am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth

Truth. It’s a big word, and one I didn’t use for a long time.

Now, I seem to be a little more comfortable with it, perhaps due to having explored truth and reality through inquiry.

One way to look at truth is that it’s reality reflected in images or thoughts. In this way, there is no absolute or final truth. It’s always provisional. And it can also be quite helpful in an ordinary sense, in helping us orient and function in the world.

There are also several layers or types of truth.

(a) There is truth in an ordinary everyday sense.

(b) There is what’s more true for me than the images and thoughts I hold as true about something, and I can find this through inquiry.

(c) There is the “truth” of who I am as a human being, how the different subpersonalities and voices function etc.

(d) And there is the truth or reality of what I really am, which a thought may call awakeness, or awakeness and it’s many appearance (aka my world), or that which allows and appears as awakeness and it’s appearances.

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Speaking the truth, losing control

I listened to a talk by Adyashanti where he talked about speaking the truth, and losing control.

Of course, what’s really lost are some (imagined) means of control, and the illusion of control.

As long as I believe I need something from someone else (their love, approval, acceptance etc.), I will try to manipulate them. I try to be nice. I try to be the person I think they want me to be. I may tell half-truths. Through this, I get a sense of control. I imagine I am able to control the situation and the other person through appearing a certain way, behaving a certain way, saying certain things and leaving out the rest.

I monitor where I think the other is at, and say or do something – unconstrained by what’s true for me – to influence them to say or do what I want them to say or do. Not constrained by what’s true for me, I have a larger set of options in how to respond. I have more ways of influencing and manipulating the other person.

Most of these manipulations are what I tell myself are small white lies in what I say and do in everyday life, often – I tell myself – to avoid hurting someone or creating an awkward situation. And I notice that these too, are painful.

When I tell the truth, the ordinary human truth as it is for me in this situation, I lose this wider set of options. What’s left is simply what’s true for me here and now. It’s very simple, very honest, very real. I put it out there, and it’s up to the other person how he/she responds.

To explore my thoughts around this, it’s helpful to take one thought at a time (from a set of thoughts, a Judge Your Neighbor worksheet) in one particular situation, inquire into it, and see what I find.

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Feeling good

As who I am – a human being in the world – it’s natural and healthy to want to feel good. It’s a built-in survival mechanism.

As what I am, truth takes priority.

And I notice that beliefs creates discomfort (don’t feel good) and confusion (don’t have clarity). So whether I want to feel good or truth, it may be a good idea to look at my beliefs.

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Coming into alignment with reality

I keep seeing this, and each time I do it is surprising and seems new.

When I am out of alignment with reality, there is stress and discomfort in any flavor.

When I come into alignment with reality, there is relief and a sense of coming home.

And this alignment with reality is as who I am in an ordinary human sense, and as what I am.

As who I am, I come into alignment with reality when I find what’s already true for me. I was the one who made that choice, I cannot blame circumstances or anyone else. I am exactly what I see in her. I do what I complain about them doing. My advice, which I thought was for him, is really for me.

As what I am, I also come into alignment with reality when I find what’s already true for me. Am I content of awareness? Or am I what it all happens within and as?

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Life has very high standards, and no standards at all

Life has very high standards. The slighest slip into a belief, and there is tension and discomfort.

And life has no standards at all. Anything goes. It is all wide open. If something is possible, God will try it.

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The fruition of truth

I come into alignment with truth as who I am, in my personal life and with myself and others, and as what I am and what everybody and everything is.

When I come into alignment with truth – and it comes to fruition in my life and experience – it has a richness to it.

Truth opens for intimacy, trust, aliveness, passion and exitement. It gives a sense of intimacy with myself, the other, and existence, of trust in my connection with myself and the other, and of aliveness, passion and excitement.

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Losing and finding ground

It’s part of life to lose and find ground in different ways.

And that is no different when we are on the love/truth path.

I may make changes in my life to live more in alignment with my truth and heart, and this is an ongoing process. I may chose to leave the familiar and (apparently) comfortable.

I discover more sides of myself and embrace more of my wholeness as a human being in the world. My identities expand and become more inclusive.

There is a loss of identification with stories, images and identities, including the me (human self) and eventually I (doer, observer).

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Sequrity and freedom

In any relationship – with friends, family, co-workers, lovers – there is a desire for security and freedom.

And both comes from clear and honest communication, balancing passion for self with compassion for others*.

There is security because I trust myself and the other to speak freely. I trust each of us to bring up anything related to our relationship, for both of us to be clear about our needs and desires, and for our capacity to negotiate ways for each of us to fulfill our needs and desires. Giving ourself and the other the freedom to speak freely, there is trust.

And there is freedom because of that trust. When there is trust, I allow myself and the other freedom to be who we are, and to communicate honestly, to express our desires, and find ways to pursue those desires in ways that support both of us.

Freedom feeds trust, and trust feeds freedom. If there is a commitment to truth and love – which are really two names for the same – there is over time a deepening of trust and freedom.

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Hardwired for truth

Truth feels good.

When I find what is more true and honest for me, for myself and in conversation with others, it feels good.

There is a sense of relief, of coming home. The is clarity, kindness and wisdom.  It is all recognized as innocence.

It feels good throughout all of me. My mind relaxes. My body relaxes.

As Adyashanti says, we are hardwired for truth.

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Two forms of radical

Two forms of radical….

Whenever I take a story as true, I act as if it is true. I override what is more true for me, and sometimes wisdom and kindness as well. If it goes far enough, it can easily look radical. Ideology becomes more important than anything else, even if the ideology is that people shouldn’t use leafblowers. We are hooked up to act on truth, even if that truth is a lie. 

The other form is a radical honesty with myself, and in particular a radical honesty with my stories. Can I know it is true? What happens when I take it as true? Who would I be without that story? What are the truths in the turnarounds? This invites in receptivity of view and kindness to myself and others, and when it is lived from, it will usually look ordinary, mature and kind. (Although in unusual circumstances, it can look radical in a conventional sense if such an action appears as the most wise and kind action at the time.) 

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Confession

Speaking ones truth in two ways….

I can take stories as true and speak from there. When I do so, there is defense and attack, making others wrong, rigidity, a sense of separation.

I can speak as a confession. With heart. Receptivity. Taking responsibility. A sense of being in the same boat, of shared humanity.

When I am not clear, it comes out as defense and attack, even if it is in subtle ways. There is also a sense of compulsion around it, of not having real freedom in choosing if, when and how to bring it up.

When I am clear, it comes out as a confession. And there is also the freedom to chose whether or not to mention something, and how to do so.

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Truth will set you free

…. and the truth will set you free.
John 8:32

There are many ways of looking at this. One is to notice that when I take a story as true, perceptions and actions are confined by it. And when it is recognized as a tool only, there is freedom to perceive and act on either side of it – aligned with the story or aligned with its reversals, or independent of them all. 

In this, there is a freedom at the level of who I am, as this human self in the world. I can find in myself what the story points to, what its reversals point to, and as someone not confined by either. And releasing identification with those stories also makes it easier for what I am to notice itself. 

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Lies and truth

It is easy to misunderstand what is meant by lies and truth in the previous post.

A lie is what happens when I take a story, any story, as true. And I live a lie then, because I cannot help not acting on what I take as true.

So what is a truth?

It is the action that seems most clear and kind to me in any particular situation, when stories are recognized as stories only. Stories are recognized as having no truth to them, only practical value, and I chose one to act on because it seems the most clear and kind thing to do in the particular situation. It is very simple, but it takes some inquiry to get there. And there is always further to go – in inquiring into stories and finding more clear and kind ways of acting in the world.

Even when I chose a story to act on, and it seems the clear and kind thing to do in a particular situation, that too is a question.

And there is no reason why those actions shouldn’t look clear and kind in a conventional sense as well, in almost all cases. If they don’t, it is an invitation to look again, to see if there is another story there I take as true, making me act in ways that do not appear clear and kind to others.

How it appears to others is a good test, not because they are not caught up in stories as well because they are, but because sanity looks sane even in a conventional sense.

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All is truth

All is truth. It is something we can agree on across worldviews. All is reality, and reality is truth. Everything, as it is, is in its essence or nature truth, however we see or talk about that essence or nature. (Mystics may say it is all God, awakeness, no thing appearing as something.)

And at the same time, we can find truth in any story. We can find a grain of truth there. We can find how it is valid in our own experience, even if this may be different from how it was intended or others see it.

There is a relief in recognizing both of these. Recognizing that all already is truth, I can leave it to reality to be truth. It doesn’t need me to defend it even if I could. (Which I can’t for many reasons.) And recognizing the grain of truth in any story, there is appreciation for any story that comes up anywhere, from any source. It is a question for me, a pointer. How is it true for me? (In that very limited way that any story has validity.)

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Stories as true and not

In what ways are stories true and not? 

When we call them true, we often mean that…

  • Others agree. They match conventional views and consensus reality.
  • They match the data. Our stories about the data, that is. (Our stories of how the data fits together matches our stories of the data.) 
  • They seem to work. When we use them as guidelines for how to function in the world, they seem to work in a practical sense. At least well enough for our purposes, and for now. 
And here are some ways they are not true, first in a conventional sense…
  • Stories always come from limited experience
    • Our experience, individually and collective, is always limited, no matter how vast it seems in a conventional sense. We are always only scratching the surface. 
    • Our experience is finite within the infinite. 
  • The map is not the terrain
    • Maps are selective. We chose what is included and what is not. 
    • There is a difference in kind. Stories are mental field creations, and what they referer to is (apparently) not. 
  • Stories are always interpretations within a worldview
    • Other interpretations are possible within the same worldview. 
    • Other worldviews are possible, producing quite different interpretations. 
    • These interpretations can fit the data equally well, and be equally functional in a practical sense. 
  • Outside of what I can imagine
    • I have no idea what is beyond my limited experience. If I do, it is most likely wrong. 
    • Many of the interpretations within familiar worldviews are unfamiliar to me. 
    • Most interpretations within other worldviews are far outside of what I can imagine in advance.
    • There are innumerable interpretations and worldviews unfamiliar to me that fit the data equally well or better than anything I am familiar with, and may work equally well or better as practical guidelines. 
  • All happens within the mental field
    • Maps are mental field creations about other mental field creations. Interpretations (maps) of interpretations (data). And these interpretations happens within other interpretations (worldviews). 
  • Words split and what they refer to is not split
    • Reality is untouched by, beyond and includes all polarities.
    • Words, by their nature, split and exclude. (That is their job, and it is essential that they do so, but it is also good to notice.)

Wanting to be right, in two ways

I find two ways that I want to be right.

First, wanting my initial belief about something to be right. When I take a story as true, I identify with it and its perspective, and since it becomes an “I” I feel fuel other stories that prop it up, flesh it out, defend it, and make it look right to myself and sometimes others.

Then, wanting to find what is more true for me than the initial belief. What is the grain of truth in its reversals? What happens if I see all of those stories as just stories, with a limited practical value only?

So for instance, when I received the email from the Bernadette Roberts student, and he seemed to assign views to me that didn’t fit my familiar identity, the first impulse was to make me right and he wrong. I don’t have those views, and I’ll prove it to him.

But the signs of being caught up in beliefs are hard to notice (tension, wanting to protect and defend a position or identity), so it quickly shifted into wanting to find what is more true for me. How is he right? Can I find it, in a genuine way, right here?

What is the belief I got caught up in? (“He shouldn’t assign views to me I don’t have.”) What happens when I hold onto that belief? Who am I without it? What are the genuine truths in its reversals?

Now, having found – to some extent – what is more true for me around it, there is a release of that tension. There is less need to have to protect or defend a position or identity. I can find the truth in what he is saying, and also expand it so the fuller picture is more true for me than either of our initial positions. (As I tell myself those positions were.)

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Reasons for practice at the levels of who & what we are

Somewhat convoluted…

I find different reasons for practice at the levels of who I am (this human self) and what I am (that which experience happens within, to and as).

At the level of who I am, the reasons for practice are healing and maturing. And at the level of what I am, inviting what I am to notice itself, the motivations are truth and love.

Right now, it seems helpful to differentiate the two.

At the level of who I am, I practice to heal and mature, and this reduces suffering and sets the stage for happiness. It invites in both, in a genuine way and to an extent that is sufficient for most of us.

The world is a mirror for me, so I find in my own human self what I see in the wider world. There is a sense of wholeness, embracing the (evolving) fullness of who I am, of self-reliance. I am not looking for people or situations for happiness, but carry it with me in my own wholeness.

So this alone is a pretty good reason for practice, and – as mentioned – quite enough for many of us.

But for some of us, finding this approximate wholeness as who we are, is still not quite enough. We see that it is an approximate wholeness, no matter how much we work on it, and there is still a sense of I-Other, of a subtle separation, of something not quite right, of something missing, of not quite being home yet.

So then there is the practice at the level of what we are, inviting what we are to notice itself more clearly. The motivation here is truth and love, finding the truth of what we are, and acting on our inherent love for existence itself. (Said in a glib way, there is the love of truth, and also the truth of love.)

I am not practicing to get, compensate for, attain, or escape from anything. I am just practicing to find what is really true, and to act on and deepen my love for existence itself. (Aka God, Brahman, Tao, etc.)

The good news here is of course that the practices – the tools – we use in either case often are the same.

The Work, the Big Mind process, allowing/being with experience, exploring the sense fields, choiceless awareness practice, and many more practices, all work on the levels of who we are (inviting in healing and maturing) and what we are (inviting what we are to notice itself more clearly). The relative emphasis of the two depends somewhat on how we do the practice and our intention.

And even if we start with motivations at the who level (healing, maturing, release from suffering, fining happiness), it may shift (or not) into the motivations at the what level (truth and love).

So for myself, when I see motivations relating to healing and maturing – and reducing suffering and finding happiness, I know they are motivations at the who level. And when I find motivations of truth and love, I see that they belong to the what level.

This is quite different from what I see in most spiritual groups and traditions I am familiar with, and I am not sure if it is just a matter of preference or if I am missing something here.

For me, if I saw someone wanting healing/maturing, I would recommend finding increasing wholeness as who they are. That in itself gives a quite deep release from suffering, and invites in a stable happiness. It may not be “complete” but it is really quite good.

And if I saw someone with truth and love as their main motivation, I would point them in the direction of inviting what they are to notice itself. Of course also including the who level, since working on that level makes it easier for what we are to notice itself, it makes it easier for our human self to function in the world, and when what we are notices itself, it makes it easier for it to express itself more fluidly through our human self.

I would not promote a practice with the intention of what we are to notice itself, if what the person seeks is release from suffering, and happiness. It wouldn’t be honest, since a practice aimed at wholeness at the who level is more than sufficient for this.

Come to think about it, that may be why most Buddhist groups – although their “mission statement” is at what level awakening – often emphasize healing/maturing at the who level. Most people come from the motivation of seeking healing/maturing, and that is exactly what most groups and teachers emphasize.

For the few suckers (like me, it seems) who can’t help it and really want to find the truth and act on their love, there is always the additional teachings, and the additional work that invites what we are into noticing itself.

There are the few more steps beyond the healing/maturing at the who level.

Meeting people where they are

The long form improv guideline of Yes, And is a great way of meeting people where they are.

We find the grain of truth in their perspective, which is always there, acknowledge it, and then add another perspective to it.

It is a way to meet people where they are, and then gently expand the perspective. We expand our own by taking into account the truth in theirs. And we expand theirs by adding something new.

It is also a quick way to finding common ground, simply by noting the truth in their view.

And it is a way to stay in integrity. I find the genuine truth, for me, in their perspective. And then add something on my own.

It is very simple, almost childishly so as so much else in this journal. But it has a profound impact if we really bring it into our life.

Relief of truth

I don’t seem to be finished with these nerdy sorting-outs, so here is one on the relief of truth…

There is a relief of truth in many different ways, including the ones we all know from daily life when we are honest with ourselves and others about things we hid in the past, or have impulses to hide even now.

In terms of practice, there are also different forms of relief of truth.

For instance, the relief of reversals, seeing the grain of truth in the reversals of any story, and especially the ones we believe in. This brings the relief of not having to defend a story as an absolute truth anymore, and also having to defend against the truth in its reversals. And it brings the relief of consciously exploring and acknowledging the truth that we already somewhere knew… the truth in reversals, and the inherent neutrality of the situation the story refers to.

And the relief of being with our experiences, fully allowing them, in a wholehearted and heartfelt way, as they are, as if they would never change. This is the relief of not having to push them away anymore, of not having to identify with resistance to them, of not experiencing them as a disturbance and intrusion.

Finally, the relief of noticing the truth of what we already are. Of awakeness noticing itself, and its content as itself too. This is the relief of not having to resist Ground, the relief of not having to overidentify with certain content of awareness (this human self) and underidentify with the rest (the wider world), the relief of not being caught up in the drama of beliefs, the relief of not having to defend against the truth of reversals, and the relief of not having to resist any experiences.

The relief of truth

I am getting into doing The Work again, after not having done it for a while, and see again how the truth sets me free.

When I find what is genuinely more true for me than an initial belief, it gives a sense of liberation and freedom. My personality may not like what comes up, as in the most recent inquiry, but just being honest about it is a huge relief.

And there is a simple story why:

When I attach to a story, rigidly holding onto a certain perspective and identity to the exclusion of other ones, I am at war with what is already more true for me. It takes a great deal of effort to do this.

I need to monitor what is going on, making sure I am shooting down whatever the initial story does not include, and anything that may show that it has only a limited truth. I need to fuel it by repeating it to myself, and creating supporting stories. I need to act as if it is true. I need to filter my whole experience of the world through it.

So when I finally give up, and look in a more honest way at what is already more true for me, all of this can fall away or at least – for the time being – be fueled less.

There are innumerable dishonesties in our lives. All the little beliefs and stories we attach to that are not aligned with life as it shows up for us.

And then there is the major one: that there is a separate I here, an I with an Other. In our immediate awareness, here now, there is just the field of awakeness and form, inherently free from an I with an Other. Yet right away, this is covered up by an attachment to a story of a separate I, which filters it all making it appear true.

Like any other belief, it is a belief that needs constant maintenance. It requires a great deal of energy.

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Going to the mind and body for truth

Adyashanti often talks about how we go to the mind and body for the truth, and when I explore that for myself, I find the same.

Going to the mind for the truth is pretty obvious. We rely on thoughts to tell us how the world is, what is true, and how to behave.

Going to the body for truth is maybe a little less obvious. (I wrote about this one in the previous post.)

I find that I go to the body for truth, relying on two different signs. One is emotions, which are really just sensations and a story about these sensations. And the other is sensations such as tension, discomfort, shallow breath, and so on.

And I find that the bodily sensations I rely on for truth are the ones coming from beliefs. Any beliefs trigger reactive emotions, muscle tension and changes the breathing pattern, especially when it clashes with life as it unfolds or may unfold. These beliefs are, by definition, taken as true. So I associate these bodily changes with not only a story, but a true story, a truth. The outcome of all this is that reactive emotions, muscle tension and changes in breathing patterns are all taken as indication of truth.

Or more precisely, I see that beliefs all have to do with shoulds, with how life should be. So these bodily signs tell me that life is showing up differently than it should.

Somebody acts in a certain way, which triggers these bodily signs of reactive emotions, muscle tension and shallow or forced breathing. I notice these bodily reactions, and take them as a sign that life shows up differently from how it should, and that this person acted differently from how he or she should. And from there, I look for a story behind it, a story also telling me that life is wrong, life is unfolding differently from how my story and body tells me it should.

What I can be certain about

I attended a talk where the speaker said something along the lines of the only thing I can be certain about is that I am here, and body breathes and have weight on the floor.

When I look into this for myself, I find that the only thing I can be certain about is that there is awareness and content of awareness. And that this content of awareness is awareness itself. It is its own content.

And I cannot be certain about anything within this content. Everything this content appears as are only appearances, filtered, interpreted and flavored in many ways. Any differentiation, and any characteristic, of anything within content comes from an overlay of stories, and an infinity of these stories are possible.

It may appear that there is an I here, with the rest of the world as an Other, but that comes from a story of a separate self as one particular region of what arises (a set within what arises), and the wider world as the rest. It may appear that body breathes, but that too comes from a story of a body, as a particular region of what arises, and a story of breath overlaid on particular sensations within this region. And it may appear that all of this happens within space and time, but space is a story overlaid on what arises, creating the appearance of space, and time is another story, creating the appearance of continuity.

All of this happens in immediate awareness, and, when attention goes there, is seen as it happens.

Willing to pay the price to be right

This is another not-new insight, but one that becomes very clear through different forms of inquiry:

When I suffer, it is because I am willing to pay the price of suffering to be right.

Or rather, to be right in the sense of holding onto one story as right and its reversals as wrong, taking it as an exclusive truth.

The belief has a shadow, which is the truth in all of its reversals, and also the inherent neutrality of the situation which is revealed when the relative truths in all the reversals cancel each other out. And this shadow is what creates the suffering.

Life shows up in ways that correspond to the shadow rather than the original belief, there is a dissonance, and suffering.