Looking at a thought from its outside and inside

There are two ways of releasing identification with a thought: By looking at it from the outside, recognizing it as just a thought. And by exploring it from the inside, finding the validity in its turnarounds, and releasing any sense of absolute truth in any of the versions.

In both cases, there may be clarity, nonreactivity, kindness, wisdom. In both cases, stories are seen as tools of practical value only.

At the same time, it is pretty easy to notice which teacher has worked with which approach.

The ones who clearly see a thought as just a thought, and have not explored the truths in turnarounds much, often stay with the tools of relatively conventional stories. Stories that are familiar to them, that have been passed on to them through whatever traditions they are familiar with. They may even be slightly shocked by folks who freely use the turnarounds of these stories as holding validity and useful truth.

Others, who also see thoughts as just thought, but have extensively explored the truth in reversals of common stories, have far more freedom in which and how they use stories. They are free to use the conventional ones, and also their reversals when that seems appropriate. They have a wider active repertoire of stories.

Although both come from clarity, there is a difference in flavor. The first one may seem a little safe and timid, while the second is more juicy and alive. (At least to me!)

And there is also a parallel to voice dialog and the Big Mind process here.

Just as we are more familiar with certain voices (subpersonalities), and can disown or own their polar opposites, we are more familiar with certain stories and can be familiar or not with the truths of their reversals.

And the more we own disowned voices, and find the truths in the reversals, the wider the active repertoire of our human self becomes.

Whether Big Mind is awake to itself or not, a wider active repertoire gives a richer set of options for our human self. A wider range of ways of functioning in the world. A wider embrace of the richness and fullness of the human self and how it lives in the world.

If Big Mind is not awake to itself, it at least makes for a more fun, juicy, fuller life.

And when Big Mind is awake to itself, this wider embrace translates to more fluidity and richness in skillful means.

One example that brought this home for me: Byron Katie said once that Hitler may have brought more people to God than Jesus, and I can easily find the validity in that story. (Which is a reversal of conventional stories in our culture.) When I mentioned that to a local teacher who has not worked much with turnarounds, he reacted with horror and did his best to banish any appearance of validity in that statement.

He of course saw it as just a story, as any other story, but had not explored the truth in that reversal, was not comfortable in using it, so then also missed out of any insights that may come from it. And his students then miss out of the same as well, and also any releases from beliefs that may result from it.

Wolves and perspectives


Since I was a child, I have tended to get into arguments with my uncle, repeating the same patterns over and over. (With him and few or no others.) Most recently, when I last visited my family which lives on another continent, it was over the topic of wolves. Our country has ten or fifteen wolves or so, and he is adamant that they should be shot. The conversation went along these lines…

  • Me: Why should they be shot? Don’t they have as much right to life as anyone else? They were probably here long before us humans, so we are the invaders. And there are lots of us, and very few of them, so if anything they are the ones needing protection. (The usual Spiral Dynamics Green arguments.)
  • Uncle: They are a danger to people. Would you like your child to be eaten by wolves on their way to school?
  • Me: If you are concerned about that, why don’t you work for traffic safety, or even eradicating all the wasps? Traffic and wasps kills quite a few people every year, while there is no recorded instance of a wolf ever killing a human being.

And so it goes, with both of us deliberately pushing each other’s buttons, getting more caught up in emotions, and more entrenched in our particular and increasingly fixed views. (Even writing this, I notice some jitteriness and emotions coming up.)

It is an example of both of us getting caught up in habitual patterns, even as we see it happening, and even as we both (most likely) see that we both agree below the surface of particular strategies, and that we both have valid and good points. Even as we see it, we can’t help getting caught up in it…

We both have the same deep wish, which is to support life. For him, it takes the form of wanting to protect people. For me, wanting to protect a species that is almost eradicated. Our wish is the same, although our emphasis, perspective and surface strategies are different, at least as they come out in an entrenched conversation like that.

And I also see how we both take perspectives that comes out of the conditions of our lives.

He (and my father) grew up on a farm, hunting for much of their food, and during difficult economical and social times (including war), so they needed to actively take care of humans and fend off threats from nature. Their lives were precarious, and a deliberate and active protection of their family and community was appropriate in those circumstances. Humans obviously, and appropriately, went before animals.

I grew up under quite different circumstances, in a country now peaceful, safe, prosperous and social democratic, where everyone were taken care of. For me, seeing that humans were generally safe and well of, it was natural to expand my circle of concern to include animals and the natural world. For me and my generation, taking care of other species was a luxury that we could easily afford.

Seeing all this, a space opens up that includes both of us…

There is an understanding of where we each are coming from, and how we defend perspectives based on our own background and circumstances. There is a recognition of how we both have the same wish, to support life, although it is sometimes expressed in different ways. There is a recognition of the validity of both of our perspectives, and a willingness to find strategies addressing the concerns of both. And there is an empathy for both of us, a heartfelt allowing and holding of each of us where we are.

The more I sincerely explore it and what is true for me around all of this, the more there is a release from being blindly identified and caught up in these patterns. From a sense of separation, there is a sense of intimacy with himself, myself and the situation. From frustration, a new appreciation. From truly believing the perspective I promote, a recognition of the validity of both perspectives.

Even if we go into the same old patterns again, there is a new appreciation of both of us, even in the midst of our stuckness. And that makes even the stuckness worth it.

Stuck in the absolute and the perfection of it all, preventing us from more fully appreciating the perfection of it all

When we are stuck in the absolute, in the idea of all as the field of awake void and form, and all as inherently perfect as it is,  we – ironically enough – don’t fully appreciate the perfection of it all.

We tend to be unable to fully appreciate and meet people where they are, with all that is real to them.

This attachment to the idea of the absolute can be there whether the field of awake void and form is noticed and alive in immediate awareness or not. As Byron Katie says, we are awake or not to a thought, and in this case, we are not fully awake to the limited truth in that idea, the truths in the reversals of it, and all those ideas as just ideas.

When the attachment to that thought falls away, there is a more wholehearted appreciation of what is, including an ability to meet people where they are with all that is real for them, and their desires and longings.
Read on for the initial draft which started as something else, and has more details…

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Difference between allowing and actively embrace

To continue the exploration of the difference between allowing and actively embrace…

When there is a disidentification with stories and identities, there is also an allowing of what is, as it is. So if there is a disidentification with all stories and identities, there is also a full allowing of anything happening here and now, including this human self and the wider world. It is all recognized as awakeness manifesting as form. And this is the traditional awakening, it is Big Mind awakening to itself.

Beyond this, it is possible for this human self to actively explore itself and embrace itself in its evolving fullness. It can actively explore and own its different voices and subpersonalities, become familiar with and live from a wider repertoire of qualities and ways of being in the world, and find a new fluidity among a wide and unlimited range of identities and roles in the world. All of this allows this human self to heal, mature and develop in a more active way, beyond what it would do (or not) if there was not this active exploration and familiarization.

It is a different way of participating in the development of this human self, and through this and in a small way to actively participate in the evolution of our culture and the even wider whole.

And it is also a way to develop skillful means. If Big Mind is awake to itself, then the human self it functions through is its main – and really only – skillful means. So actively engage in its healing, maturing and development only makes sense.

Buddhism is not about becoming good, yet is

A good topic over at Thoughts Chase Thoughts: Buddhism is not about becoming a good person, but becoming a human being.

And really, it is about both. It is about deepening into our humanity, as it is, and as it reveals itself and matures when not resisted. And it is about living from ethical guidelines, from the empathy that naturally emerges from embracing the fullness of our own humanity, and from the inherent goodness revealed behind narrow beliefs and identities.

By deepening in our embrace of the fullness of who we are, as human beings, there is a release of resistance to any of it and also a release of beliefs and identities. This opens for a recognition of our shared humanity, and of ourselves and others, which in turn tends to lead to a natural empathy which spills over into our lives. And this release of beliefs and identities also invites us to notice what we are.

Exploring what we are, untouched by stories, there is a fuller allowing and a wider embrace of who we are, as human beings. And there is also an uncovering of the inherent compassion and wisdom in what we are, this awake void and form, noticing itself, even while operating through this one particular human self.

And by following ethical guidelines throughout this process, we are more likely to stay out of trouble and be less of a nuisance to others in a conventional way, and it also helps us deepen into who and what we are. Ethical guidelines helps us notice what is happening, what comes up in us and how we relate to it. They serve as a pointer for recognizing our shared humanity and ourselves in others. And they mimic how we naturally live our lives within the context of Big Mind/Big Heart awake to itself.

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More conventional & radical

Buddhism is often described as the middle way, and it may be middle in that it goes beyond and embraces any polarity. But it is equally radical by going beyond the polarities, and also by deepening into each pole of the polarities.

In my own life, I see how the path is a deepening into both the conventional and radical.

It is a path of befriending the conventional and having it available as a part of the repertoire at the human level. Finding peace with, discovering the gifts in, and even enjoying the conventional in whatever form it comes up, from views to the universally human. It is a deepening into my own humanity and a discovering of the universally human in myself.

And it is also a radical path way beyond and outside of the conventional. It is an embrace of both ends of each polarity, a fluidity among any view and its reversals, a widening of identity to include any polarity. And it is a seeing of the inherent neutrality of any situation and form as the play of the awake void itself. It is a seeing, feeling and loving of all as God. In this way, the conventional is left far behind.

Here too, there is a mutuality between the two. Deepening into, finding peace with and embracing the conventional is an embrace of what is, and allows for it to be part of the repertoire of this human self. And deepening into the radical wide embrace of form, and a noticing of all form as the awake void itself, allows for a deepening into and embrace of the conventional, which is also an aspect of developing skillful means.

Together, it is a radical neutrality which allows the free play of any views and behaviors including the conventional ones.

And as a natural compassion arises beyond beliefs, this free play becomes in the service of compassion.

It is a radical nihilism which takes the form in the world as mature, ethical and compassionate.

Talking about this human self in third person, and release

A recent New York Times article, This is Your Life (and How You Tell It) on narrative psychology, which, in its essence, says the stories we tell about ourselves, others and the world, influence how we see these (in past, future, present) and our actions.

Psychologists have shown just how interpretations of memories can alter future behavior. In an experiment published in 2005, researchers had college students who described themselves as socially awkward in high school recall one of their most embarrassing moments. Half of the students reimagined the humiliation in the first person, and the other half pictured it in the third person.

Two clear differences emerged. Those who replayed the scene in the third person rated themselves as having changed significantly since high school — much more so than the first-person group did. The third-person perspective allowed people to reflect on the meaning of their social miscues, the authors suggest, and thus to perceive more psychological growth.

And their behavior changed, too. […]

The recordings showed that members of the third-person group were much more sociable than the others. “They were more likely to initiate a conversation, after having perceived themselves as more changed,” said Lisa Libby, the lead author and a psychologist at Ohio State University. She added, “We think that feeling you have changed frees you up to behave as if you have; you think, ‘Wow, I’ve really made some progress’ and it gives you some real momentum.”

Several things come to mind here:

  • We filter the world through our stories, which in turn color (determine, to a large extent) how we experience and act in the world.
  • By changing these stories, we experience and act in the world differently.
  • Yet, as long as we believe in these stories, at any level, we are trapped by them. We experience and act as if they were true.
  • So when there is a disengagement from these stories, seeing them as relative truths with truths in each of their turnarounds, a whole new landscape opens up. One that is less filtered through believed-in stories, one that is more nakedly perceived, and one that allows us to play with any story, and use any story as a temporary and practical tool for this human self to navigate and orient in the world.
  • Talking about this human self in third person allows for a disidentification with it, which in turn allows for (a) an easier rewrite of our stories about ourselves and the world, and (b) an easier disengagement with these stories in general. From seeing this human self, and our stories about it, as a subject and an “I”, it becomes an object and an he/she/it.

In terms of research, it seems that it would be good to explore the effects of (a) the type of stories used, and (b) the degree of belief in these stories. Are they taken as gospel truth, at all levels, included supported by society? Are they consciously not believed in, but believed in at deeper levels? Is there a release from them at more levels of being (emotional, behavioral)? What happens then?

In terms of therapy and practice, it is probably a good thing to include both the rewrite and disengagement aspects, especially as they mutually influence each other.

When there is a rewriting of our stories about ourselves and the world, for instance through finding the genuine, and relative, truths in each of their turnarounds, there is also an easier disengagement from them.

(The rewrite can happen in many ways, but the easiest, for me at least, is to fully acknowledge the limited truth in the initial story, and even the gifts in it, and also the limited truth in each of its turnarounds. Instead of denying the truth in one story and trying to hold onto another as true, there is more of a wide embrace and a wide open field this way. Denial brings a sense of struggle and precariousness, and a wide embrace a sense of ease and no truths or identities to protect.)

And conversely, when there is a disengagement from these stories, even temporarily, it is easier to rewrite them.

The New York Times Story is also a reminder of modern academic psychology still being in its infancy, which means that a large portion of it still is an examination, refinement or rediscovery of what is already known, even by regular laypeople. It is a necessary phase, and valuable in itself as it helps refine and clarify processes and mechanisms… and also sift out what is valid and what is not among what laypeople assume is so!

When this initial phase is more fleshed out, and the insights from many contemplative and body-oriented traditions are explored in a more modern (post modern, post-post modern) context, there is a great potential for a far more finely-tuned and practical insights into the mind, as the aqal map is only the initial – and very general – taste of.

Dream: short distances

I am going from one area of my life to another, and one period of my life to another, with stories playing themselves out at each location before moving on to the next. Each is distinct, but there is also a seamlessness and short distances between all. I only need to walk a few steps and there is another location or time period. There is also some mixing, as for instance some people from Center for Sacred Sciences were at the Zen center helping with some construction there.

Another one of those “wide embrace” dreams… this one including any aspect of time period of my life, each one distinct, yet also with very short distances between any one. Everything is at different specific locations in a wide, rich, varied and somewhat fluid landscape, with short distanced between each one. This seemed to be a long dream with many distinct chapters, one after another. The only story I remember is of F. from CSS working along with the people at Kanzeon on a repair or construction project.

Dream: worlds and souls

Worlds and worlds pass through. Innumerable souls at any stage and flavor of development. Worlds forming, evolving and destroyed. Souls incarnating, finding worlds appropriate for them. The pain when a world is destroyed, the difficulty of finding a comparable one at a similar stage and flavor of evolution. The flavors of those intentionally destroying cultures, peoples, continents, species, whole worlds. Being able to hold it all. The worlds, the souls, the worlds coming into and going out of existence, those destroying worlds. Even those intentionally destroying cultures and worlds, the Hitlers, the Milosevics, the Pol Pots, the colonists. These are whole new realms for me, and I have to be big enough to hold it all.

I sense that this has to do with the opening below, the luminosity opening up below me. The collective shadows.