Force Of Nature

“What are your thoughts on climate change and the devastating impact we have had on the planet? Have we run out of time to save it as many of the climate experts seem to think? Curious about your thoughts on the subject since you never seem to talk about this issue…”

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Yes, I don’t talk about it much because I’m no climate expert. I don’t know if the planet can be saved or not. I don’t know to what extent we have been responsible for its destruction. That humans have had a negative impact, is clear to me.

To me the conversation surrounding climate change seems terribly polar. There is the climate change denier camp which is living in a la la land with blinkers on. And then there is the “man-made climate change is real” camp. I don’t think there is any debate as to whether man has caused the climate to change. But how much? To what degree? What proportion of that change was inevitable even without humanity’s footprint? Has the impact of civilization contributed to 95% of the climate change or 5%? To me these questions have not been sufficiently answered. And until we know precisely how much of an impact we have had in altering the climate we won’t know how much of an impact we can have on reversing it.

Mind you, I’m not terribly well informed on the matter either so there may be research that I’m not aware of that answers these very questions. I’m happy to take a look if someone has those facts and figures to show. 
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THE REAL PROBLEM

The reason I haven’t immersed myself too deeply into the whole climate change issue is because the problem for me is something else entirely than the one climate change advocates seem to be focused on. From where I stand, even those who are campaigning to save the environment are doing so from the same fundamental misassumption that those who have allegedly “wrecked it” are working from.

And that assumption is that: mankind is separate from the planet, rather than a product of it.

Without realizing it, we all tend to think of ourselves as an extra-terrestrial species that has come to inhabit this planet. We are aliens to it. And as a result, we believe we have the power to either destroy or steward its destiny. It hasn’t even occurred to most of us that the roles may be reversed entirely. That the planet has evolved us in order to have exactly the kind of impact we are having at the moment – both negative and positive. That, rather than us destroying the planet, it’s really a case of the planet destroying and recreating itself using us as its instrument.

In fact, if one is of a truly scientific mindset and sees the inherent rationality in Darwin’s theory of evolution and that of evolutionary psychology, I don’t think there is really any other conclusion one COULD draw.

We live in an age where we understand that we have evolved from lesser species. An age where our DNA conclusively reveals our evolutionary roots in nature. And further, we live in a unique era in which ancient wisdom paths and neuroscientific discovery have converged upon the same basic conclusion: this “self” that we think exists is really an artifice – an intelligent illusion required to manifest a “sense” of personal will, volition and direction.

In other words, the SAME science which says that we are nothing more than an extension of nature and that our sense of being separate from it is a mirage – NOW claims that WE are responsible for the destruction of the planet. Is no one seeing the glaring contradiction in this?

If humans are to be fundamentally held responsible, this then implies that the findings of neuroscience are false and a concrete self DOES exist that is entirely separate from everything in the natural world. And if that is the case, evolutionary theory needs to scramble to explain where this self came from if it isn’t just the outcome of some natural phenomenon. This then opens up a Pandora’s box of religious speculation once again.
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A NATURAL DISASTER

I don’t think of humans as separate from nature. I think of humanity as a “force” of nature.

And just like natural disasters such as tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, earthquakes, insect plagues and meteor strikes have been responsible for radical alterations in the fabric of the planet and its eco-systems, human beings too are nature’s agents of radical alteration. At the scale at which we live, it may seem like this destruction of the planet has been slow and gradual, unfolding over centuries since the industrial revolution. But from the point of view of the planet, in which evolutionary cycles span hundreds of thousands of years, the entire history of human civilization has been nothing more than a blip on the radar.

In other words, our impact has not been gradual at all, but sudden and explosive. Humanity has erupted into existence and the effects of that eruption have engulfed the entire planet. Humanity has been a natural disaster. But just like a volcano or a virus is not some alien scourge attempting to destroy the planet but rather is an outcome of the planet calibrating itself, so also are human beings not separate disembodied entities but rather creations and extensions of the planet itself.

The planet is perpetually recreating itself – prompting new disasters, creating new pestilences to wipe out what already exists in order to create space for something new. When a volcano erupts and destroys the eco-system, new eco-systems form and thrive from the very molten rock that once burned everything to the ground. Humanity has been a similar explosive phenomenon, a similar pestilence. 
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THE SINS OF OUR FATHERS

There is a great irony in condemning ourselves for the sins of our ancestors.

When we condemn the empires of the past that set out to conquer the rest of the world we conveniently omit the fact that the global connection and cultural diversity that we enjoy and celebrate today is a direct outcome of all that conquest and bloodshed. Similarly, the very tools and technology we are developing today – both in order to produce more environmentally friendly solutions and in order to communicate and organize this clean-up initiative on a global scale are the direct outcome of the dirt and soot of the industrial age.

Human beings once lived in small isolated tribes scattered across continents. And certainly, when the population of the world was a paltry few million, having a zero carbon footprint was a no brainer. Yet, in a mere few thousand years, the species has literally exploded to an astronomical number of nearly 8 billion strong with the added bonus of a doubled lifespan boosted by an evolutionary impulse to cross-breed outside one’s own tribe. To think that ANY of this would have been possible without the planet taking a massive hit, without there being copious amounts of destruction and bloodshed in the process is a vision that is terribly naïve and myopic.

The smooth veneer of civilization has been built brick by brick by the blood and chaos of our barbaric pasts. Sitting in our ivory towers casting stones on the sins of our fathers believing ourselves to be chaste and utterly divorced from such evil is both childish and stupid.

Humanity cannot have its cake and eat it too. We want the ability to totally infest the planet with our species like some swarm of locusts BUT we want to do so responsibly and with zero footprint. That is absurd! If you believe humans truly ARE the problem, then the solution is to get rid of the problem. If you have termites in the house, you call an exterminator. You cannot reform the problem while continuing to perpetuate its numbers.

But no one wants to tackle that elephant in the room. No one wants to admit that our agenda for the planet is always subservient to our own agenda as a species. And our agenda as a species is to survive and proliferate. And these two agendas, whether we like it or not are ultimately conflicting. They undermine each other.

So, presented with all the facts – which include not just climate statistics, but rather a vision of the whole and how our evolutionary path has really been about the planet’s own evolution not just that of our species – seeing this big picture, what can we as individuals do about it from a practical perspective?
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PARADOXICAL WISDOM

Here, I return to the same mechanism I’ve alluded to in past posts. We need to work with a paradoxical wisdom. And that wisdom in this context goes something like this:

I realize the self is an illusion of my mind and yet I learn to utilize this illusion. It exists for a purpose. Knowing that ultimately I am not the doer, I DO ANYWAYS – acting with will, volition and determination.

I do not accept blame for the past deeds of humanity. Nor do I point fingers and cast blame on those who have allegedly “caused” these woes. There is no blame because there is no choice about the past. The past, no matter how sordid, has resulted in my existence in this human form. To condemn the past is to condemn myself. The past has unfolded beyond our will.

In fact, the human will has been nature’s own tool. The human brain, nature’s own technology.

Thus, I accept the past as inevitable. Yet, I do not accept the future as inevitable. Because to do so is to condemn it.

The root of our delusion has resulted from our error in viewing the past as the future and the future as the past. Believing that the past is changeable rather than inevitable; thus believing things “should have been” different, that humans “could have acted” differently. Equally misguided, is our preemptive acceptance of the future as inevitable rather than changeable. Convincing ourselves that since we have no real agency, we can have no real impact. That everything will unfold as it must anyways…

Everything WILL unfold as it must but NOT because of our inaction, but as a result of our ACTION. Because humanity is a force and a force ACTS upon its environment. 
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NOT IN, BUT OF

This is the paradox. And the only way to face a paradox is to LIVE it:

To take full responsibility for the future… AND YET neither accept nor perpetuate any blame for the past.

To see that the self is an illusion; that there is no action that is independent from the movement of the whole… AND YET to act in a truly independent and self-determined manner.

To see humanity as an extension of nature like the leaves of a tree rather than an aberration or an alien entity; realizing that our WILL is ultimately directed by nature’s own evolutionary designs… AND YET to direct our own will freely and unhesitatingly driven by our own unique aesthetic.

To balance on the knife’s edge between absolutely negating our own existence and absolutely asserting it.

“Be IN the world, but not OF it”. I don’t know if we realize what a destructive statement this is.

It is the single belief that drives all people regardless of whether they are spiritually or materially oriented. It is a validation of our basic feeling of alienation from the world. I am IN this world, but I am not OF it. I am an alien from some other dimension. As long as this remains the belief or the spiritual ideal we aspire to there is no recourse but to continue perpetuating the same destructive patterns. We will either destroy the world out of frustration or desperately attempt to escape it through transcendence because this existence doesn’t feel like our home. This simply can’t be all there is to it.

Total freedom and total responsibility go hand in hand.

And these can only result when we no longer see ourselves as being separate, no longer alien visitors to a foreign dimension. When we realize that we are a force of nature. When we fully embrace the paradox of our own existence and learn to,

BE OF THE WORLD, BUT NOT IN IT.

I Do Not Know

“For someone who says “I don’t know” is the full circle of wisdom, you appear to know a lot! I don’t mean that as a criticism BTW. If you really don’t know, why have you written so many articles?”
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I don’t know anything. Not with any certainty. Not about the absolute nature of reality.

All I have are my own personal experiences to go by. And everything else extrapolated from there is a working hypothesis. Nothing more.

Everything I know, everything I understand, is relative. It’s in relation to or in negation to some other form of knowledge or understanding out there. I know nothing about what reality is. All I can talk about is what it isn’t.

So my knowledge, my words, my articles are mostly reactionary. They are not designed to tell you what life is. Only to say what it isn’t. They are designed to dismantle already held and cherished views about what reality is. And to reorient the attention away from the mind’s desperate desire to grasp what this is. Because to grasp it is to lose it.

Everything I know is only relative to what you know. I use my knowledge as a weapon to disarm you. But my weapon cannot create anything. It cannot illuminate. All it can do is cut down.

Like a machete that clears out an opening in an overgrown forest, my words can only open up a space, an opportunity within the awareness of the person reading. What you do with that space or opportunity is beyond my control. I am helpless to determine that. Whether you let it become overgrown again, whether you plant the seed of some new belief system or whether you learn to keep that space within the forest of your mind empty always is something you alone will determine.

This page isn’t about knowing. It is about unknowing. I am an iconoclast. I am compelled to tear down cherished beliefs. I am driven by hate as much as I am driven by love. But I am a fool. Make no mistake. I am a fool. Because I don’t know why I do what I do. I don’t understand it. I am simply compelled by some force I neither fully perceive nor understand.

I am humbled by my own insipid intelligence, by my glaring incomprehension. I look at a wasp sitting on my windshield as I write this and I’m blown away by the complexity yet utter simplicity of this phenomenal creature. And I have no idea what it is, how it comes to be. And beyond the wasp, I look at this world: the rice farmer spraying his fields with pesticide, pale blue mountains under cumulonimbus clouds pregnant with rain, two dragonflies locked in fornication as they soar above the power lines. I am amused and astounded by my profound ignorance.

What a deeply stupid creature I am! Seeing this used to depress me once upon a time. Now it only makes me laugh. I have no desire to know anymore. Because I simply can’t know. I’m an innocent idiot. And seeing this has freed me to just be.

I can’t tell you what any of this is. What a wasp is. It’s beyond description. Far too sublime to articulate with vulgar words. What is a wasp? What is a cloud? What is this world? What is life? I can’t articulate any of this.

The truth is there. Right in front of my eyes. I can see it! I AM it! But I don’t know what it is. I can’t tell you what it is. Yet “knowing” what it is simply doesn’t motivate me anymore.

However, what I CAN tell you is that it isn’t what YOU say it is. Whether you are a scientist or a spiritualist, I can tell you that you don’t know the wasp, you don’t know the cloud, you don’t know life. You don’t know shit. And I can write tomes about what you don’t know. I’ve already written close to 200 articles about it in less than a year. I can write another 200 more. 2000 more.

But I can’t write a single word about what I DO know. Cuz, I don’t know shit either.

All I can do is hack at every false belief, every nonsensical piece of speculation, every assumption taken for granted as fact. Hack, hack, hack, hack. In order to open up a space in a mind dense and overgrown with weeds. A space for you. A space for me. A space for anyone who wants to see. Because I have found sanity exists only in this space.

I use words to combat other words. But my words taken out of the context of such combat are worthless, flaccid, foolish things turning me into nothing more than

A wolf howling at the moon.
A dog barking in the wind.
An imbecile speaking in tongues.

Make no mistake.

The Tao I speak, is not the real Tao.

Full Circle

“A question came up for me after watching your zoom with Robert Saltzman. There was a part where you said that consciousness and material reality is like the chicken and egg question – “There is no way we can answer that.” I totally agree with you. It feels so much better when we just say, I DON’T KNOW!

It reminded me of a Rupert Spira video where a scientist was claiming that the brain creates consciousness and Rupert was saying no consciousness is all there is. My question to you is, why are spiritual teachers and scientists so determined to state their own conclusions about brain and consciousness so definitely? And why does Shiv come in denying both sides of the game?”

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Nobody really fucking knows.

That is the whole and most honest version of the truth you will ever read in the written word.

We don’t know how any of this is happening. How there is even an awareness of it happening. We don’t even know what consciousness is. We don’t even understand what matter is.

Some say reality is fundamentally material, but don’t really know what “material” is. Others say reality is fundamentally consciousness, but don’t really know what “consciousness” is.

These are all words we have invented to grasp an absurd and unexplainable phenomenon of existence. Stuff exists. No one knows how. No one knows why. No one even knows what “existence” is.

The commonly held dualistic view is that there is a self that exists independently of the existence of all else. The non-dualistic view is that there is no such separate self. That all that exists is simply one. A whole. But what is that whole? Nobody knows. What is the all-that-is? Nobody knows. What is the self that is not separate? Nobody knows.

You have to understand, every philosophical argument hinges on an assumption. It is a hypothesis, nothing more. But often these assumptions get completely buried under layers of ideas and concepts that begin to appear robust and airtight over time. Yet, the entire structure is balanced on the head of a pin – that single assumption that was simply taken for granted and ignored. Yet, the moment you see that it’s nothing more than an assumption, the entire house of cards falls.

You asked me why scientists and teachers are so determined to convince us of what reality is. The simple answer is : they are afraid. They are afraid of living in a universe of such asphyxiating uncertainty. Of existing in a reality in which NOTHING is absolutely true. Things are only true in relation to other things.

But it isn’t just philosophers and scientists. It’s all of us. We have built civilization in order to avoid this very harsh aspect of life.

Think about what “civilizes” us. Our laws, our ethics, our morals, our freedoms, our rights and privileges. These are all equally made up. For example, we hold the idea of “human rights” very dear. We are all for protecting human rights all over the globe. But what is “human rights”? It is an idea, nothing more. Built on the assumption of such a thing called a “right”.

When you look at nature, there are no such things as rights and privileges. There is no morality nor ethical code. There is no law, no freedoms.

Yet, in our everyday lives these words mean something. We want women’s “rights”, we want “freedom” for those who live under oppression, we want to establish “laws” that regulate gun control and so on. And we assert these points of view with certainty.

Someone living in Saudi Arabia may assert that men and women are not equal and so should not be treated equally. A progressive western person may claim that they are equal and so they should have equal rights.

What’s the difference between this argument and asserting that the brain creates consciousness or consciousness is all there is?

Both arguments hinge on assumptions that are entirely ignored.

The first argument’s assumption is that something called “equality” exists. Equality and inequality are only ideas. A hypothesis. Nothing more. It stems from creationist theories about all human beings being created equal in the eyes of “god”. Even if this idea appeals to us on an intuitive level, it still doesn’t prove anything.

And so by making this simple assumption of “equality”, we have built our modern democracies which seem to work out relatively well for us and most people seem happy with it. So, “equality” feels like a relatively workable hypothesis. But that still does not make it true.

When you see presidential candidates debating abortion laws based on whether a woman’s right supersedes the right of the foetus – have you ever seen a candidate ever ask the question, “but what are “rights” exactly”? They’d be booed off stage!

Everyone is happy to question things at the surface level and debate matters until they are blue in the face. But very few are willing to dig deeper. Because the deeper you get, it all begins to appear very weird and wonky. Things make less and less sense. And when you finally get to the base of it all, you get the shock of your life.

Because the whole fucking thing is just MADE UP.

Even these words I’m using to communicate all this are totally made up sounds. If I go to Uzbekistan, most people won’t understand the sounds coming out of my mouth and I won’t understand the sounds coming out of theirs.

Seeing that this whole thing is just make believe is the biggest mindfuck one can experience in human form. The cognitive dissonance is incredible. There appears no practical way in which to continue living in society from this perspective. What reason is there to obey the law? To cast a political vote? To adhere to an ethical standard in business? To behave in a moral manner within society? Yet, there is no reason not to either. It’s literally all baseless. None of its real. It’s just an idea someone had that someone else ran with and built upon and so on it continued over and over. A complex web built out of nothing but a fundamental assumption.

At the end of the rabbit hole is a wonderland where absolutely nothing makes sense. It’s all utterly bizarre – sometimes comical, sometimes wondrous and sometimes horrifying. What the fuck is everyone up to on this godforsaken planet? Like Alice, one just wants to find a way out of the madness. To just wake up and heave a sigh of relief that it was all just an unfortunate dream.

You asked me, why people assert reality with such certainty? Because the alternative is just too unfathomable to conceive. Why do scientists assert that the brain is fundamental? Why do spiritual teachers assert consciousness is? Because they are all terrified children.

You tell me you’re comfortable saying, “I don’t know”. But how far does your “I don’t know” go? How deep does it go?

What are you willing to stake? Your reputation? Your family? Your career? Your own identity? Because all of that will unravel when you take that “I don’t know” deep enough. It’s all built upon an assumption. Everything you know, think, desire, hold dear, love. Everything unravels. It all begins to come apart the moment you probe deeply enough.

That’s a scary place to go. And I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone in the world.

So, let the spiritual teachers have their reality in which consciousness comes first. Let, the scientists have their reality in which the brain creates it. You also have your reality in which there are many things you think are true that you have yet to unravel and discover that you “don’t really know”.

But if you are determined to follow that thread as far as it goes. If you are driven by some maniacal need to keep exploring that rabbit hole to the very end. You will find out that UNKNOWABILITY is the fundamental nature of life. Existence cannot be known. Only “things” can be known in RELATION to other “things”. Like words have meaning in relation to other words. All of existence is essentially like language. Mostly symbolic. Hardly any of it is what we think or perceive it is.

“I don’t know” is both the beginning and the end of the circular journey of wisdom. It is it’s only natural start and only natural conclusion. And when that journey is complete, there is nothing left to do but to simply live whatever this is.

Break On Through

“I am unable to see much of a point in life. It’s like that Louis C.K. standup where he wonders why more people don’t just kill them selves. Why don’t they? Not that I want to. I’m too chicken and too worried about what that would do to people who love me. But intellectually it feels like a logical choice. Everything feels hollow. I’ve become a nihilist. I feel like a lost cause. A loser. Why am I so cynical? I want to go back to being ignorant again. Ignorance really is bliss. I feel I’m being too cynical…”

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And I feel you’re not being cynical enough.

What is cynicism? It is an attitude of mistrust – of authority figures, of social mores, of institutions, of belief systems, of social dynamics, of rules of engagement, of political ideologies, of spiritual doctrine…it is to suspect that the very scaffolding, upon which all of what we see has been built, is a sham. And when one begins to see this, often against one’s own will and volition, one has no choice but to feel jaded by the whole experience.

There is a bitterness and a resentment that brews inside. There is a feeling of having been duped by this elaborate scheme that everyone has been a part of. There is the disappointment in realizing that even those we believed were wise like our parents, our teachers, our gurus, our leaders were just fools like the rest of them. Everyone fell for it.

If you’ve ever been conned, you know that it doesn’t feel good.

To rub salt into the wound, it’s not like you can just walk away from it all either. Sure you could go hide in a cave or a forest somewhere. But if that’s not your cup of tea, then you are pretty much stuck living in the sham. Every news report, every tv ad, every celebrity performance, every spiritual satsang, even ordinary social interactions like small talk by the office cooler, or getting chatted up at someone’s party is a grating feeling on your senses. It all reeks of hypocrisy, idiocy, confusion, falsehood.

Why would you want to be in the world when that world is a cesspool of lies, fabrication, pretentiousness, fear, insecurity, manipulation and exploitation?

You are right to say that the world is empty and devoid of real meaning. It is hollow to the core.

But that world is not life. It’s a tiny aspect of it. The human drama. With its elaborate sets and elaborate scripts and elaborate roles and elaborate costumes. It’s like stumbling into a Hollywood set except this set encompasses most of the globe.

Not cynical enough…

Because you still think of yourself as a “lost cause”, “a loser”. Compared to what? Compared to whom?

What is a loser? What is a winner? You can only have losers if you also have winners. So, what are we talking about winning and losing at? Life? Everyone loses in life. Reaching the finish line earns you the prize of a wooden box six feet under the ground or a bed of sticks set ablaze.

Winning and losing is about the human drama for you. And if you feel like a loser then there is something within you that STILL believes you can win.

Not cynical enough. Not skeptical enough. Not nihilistic enough.

You’ve whittled away many of your beliefs but there are some fundamental ones still lurking just beneath the surface that are totally fucking with your mind.

When in doubt, double down. That’s been my motto ever since I began to see through the facade. The moment I begin to feel an inner wavering, an inner questioning of my own self in relation to my environment, an inner hesitation to act in a manner that feels true to me for fear of how it may be perceived, I override my instinct to brake by hitting the gas pedal instead.

Trust your cynicism. The energy of it. Not the content of it. Not what it’s saying to you. But where it’s taking you.

I talked about this in the “Halo of Hope” post last week. You can’t discover life’s meaning until you have drowned in its total meaninglessness. You can’t affirm life until you have utterly denied it. You can’t discover your reason to live until you have exhausted all the reasons why you shouldn’t.

Anything short of that is a decoy. It’s a substitute. An impostor ideal handed to you by someone or something outside of you. They are not YOUR reasons.

Anarchy is the highest form of governance. But the world isn’t ready for it. We still need to be led, to be policed, to be told right from wrong, to be judged, to be worked, to be told how much we owe, to be held responsible for our actions, to be rewarded for our good deeds and punished for our bad ones – like children. Like witless children.

But the chick that grows too large for its shell begins to feel constricted by it. He feels the pressure and stress of a world that he has outgrown. And he pecks. He pecks like mad, in a frenzy, in desperation to break free – to GET THE FUCK OUT of this structure that once nourished him but is now slowly crushing him.

Keep pecking.

There is a bigger reality out there that has little to do with what human beings think or say about it. You can’t see it because this shell is all you know. This shell of ideology, identity, ideas, idiocy.

And it may seem like you have a death wish. To the chick who is compelled to destroy his shell, it may seem like his is an act of self-sabotage; of annihilation of his world and thereby his self. But what he doesn’t realize is that he is really obeying his impulse to live. To encounter life raw and real. To no longer be separated by an opaque wall that keeps him cocooned in a world of warm isolation.

Life, raw and unfiltered, is rife with meaning. Not the kind of “meaning” the intellect craves. But the kind that is self-evident, self-explanatory, self-justifying in the absolute immediacy with which the moment appears.

Follow your discontent. Follow your disgust. Follow your mistrust and your cynicism. Follow it until you are standing outside that shell of your former self.

From that vantage point one sees things differently. The human stage becomes no more than a form of entertainment. Our plots and storylines no more than substandard and hackneyed scripts. Our roles and identities no more than over-the-top caricatures of ourselves.

And instead of a guttural moan of dismay, all this absurdity evokes is a great and unrestrained belly laugh.

Spiritual Pyromaniac

“I want to thank you for everything you do. I passed the word of your wisdom to some of my friends, believing it would make a positive impact in their lives.

I’m concerned about an old friend…

She’s been through a lot in her life. She’s been in search of the true, of the perfect guru, for almost her whole adult life. Recently she seems to have found some answers, found her balance… she seems content, at peace with her past, with life. I don’t know if she’s struggling to maintain this balance or she’s really in control of this apparently euphoric state.

Recommending her your writings may make her feel like all her struggles have been in vain, her light, her balance will dissipate in an instant and she’ll have to take it all from the start. I fear she’ll be crushed.

Or at least this is my feeling. It would be great to get your input on this.”

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Do I recommend your friend read my writings?

Actually, I don’t recommend my writings to anyone. I have never ever told anyone that they should read what I’ve written. I’ve never asked anyone to spread the word of my page. Many people like you do so anyways, of course. Articles on this page are shared quite often. But that is entirely other’s prerogatives.

This is not because I doubt my writing or the value of it. I know the value of it. The reason I don’t openly share it or promote it…the reason most of my family members and friends don’t even know it exists…the reason why I have rejected advances from people to help me market it…is because what I write is incendiary.

It’s designed to set your world ablaze.

I am a serial arsonist. Every piece I write is like a Molotov Cocktail I hurl at the facade of the structure you call “my life”. Why would you recommend an arsonist to come and burn down your friend’s home when they have carefully built it up with twigs and pretty flowers? Maybe they are lost and afraid and simply need to shelter for a while. Even if that shelter is a flimsy facade, who am I to decide if they require it?

I have no desire to save anyone from themselves. No desire to peel people out of the embrace of their gurus. No desire to evacuate ashrams. I’m a Firestarter by nature. A spiritual pyromaniac who loves blowing up false beliefs and identities. But I’m not a sociopath. I believe in every individual’s right to pick their own prison. To shelter in their own suffering.

Most spiritual pages are like gourmet restaurants where patrons can go to gobble up delicious word salads, succulent foods-for-thought and heart-warming desserts. You will find the writers on these pages are like master chefs choosing only the most exclusive and rarefied ingredients to titillate their clients’ existential palates. Of course, the sort of food they serve is nothing like the food you eat at home. It’s delicious but rarely fills you up, rarely curbs your hunger. Still, there is a sense of exclusivity to dining at these fine places: the people that come there are of a familiar breed. It feels cultured. There is a sense of importance about being there.

The shit you get on THIS page will give you indigestion. It’ll send you evacuating from one orifice or another. The levels of sourness, spice and bitterness that you will get here require a steel rimmed stomach in order to process. Of course, there is plenty of sweet, salty and umami as well but nothing is ever in proportion. When it enters your mouth it’s rarely what you think it’s going to be. It’s like eating street food in a crowded Mumbai alley. Better make sure you have health insurance and quick access to bathroom facilities if you are going to hazard a meal.

Yet, the ingredients used here are raw and earthy. Straight out of the ground, dirt and all. And if you manage to process it – it reminds you of home.

If you want to recommend this page, go ahead. Do so at your own peril.

But here is something you may want to consider.

You can’t force the truth upon someone. Because truth is not perceived by a process of addition, it is revealed through a process of subtraction. In other words, you have to take something away from them. Often, it’s something deeply cherished and fundamental to their lives.

Revealing the truth by force is a criminal act. It’s like robbing someone’s bank account and leaving them penniless. Or burning down their home and leaving them on the streets. Or assaulting their person and leaving them bruised, beaten and defenseless.

Would you rob someone just because you believe that they are greedy? Would you burn down their home because you feel they are vain? Would you assault them because you feel they are too proud? Then why would you strip someone of their illusions by force just because you feel they are delusional?

I may be a truth teller but I am not a truth enforcer. I don’t believe in vigilante justice. I don’t believe in forcing people against their own will to let go of their falsehoods. Even lies serve a purpose. There is truth even in untruth.

Illusions are a security blanket that protect us from reality. Would you snatch a child’s “blankie” away from them if they require it for psychological comfort? Adults are children, too. And everyone has their own psychological “blankie” that helps them maintain some semblance of balance in their lives. Each blankie is woven of a different fabric. Someone’s is material, another’s is spiritual. Someone’s is atheistic, another’s is non-dual.

But for the ones who are beginning to peer out from under their own security blankets, this page may serve to encourage them to step into the “big, bad reality” outside. For the ones who are tired of floundering in their own illusions, these words may serve to ground them. For the ones seeking to set their own facades ablaze, the Molotov Cocktails of a Firestarter may provide just the right recipe for creating their own flaming projectiles.

Yet, I would never recommend reading my words. Because I know what happens when you play with fire.

On the contrary, a page like this ought to come with a disclaimer:

“DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!”

Foundation Of Trust

“I’d like to get your take on marriage and infidelity. I’m in a committed relationship right now. Which is great, I might add. My husband and I have a wonderful dynamic. Of course we have some challenges but who doesn’t, right? But I find myself attracted to someone and always imagine what it would be like to have a romantic connection with this person. I feel guilty about this a lot. One part of me is telling me that marriage is an artificial institution. Love is unconditional. So, there is no reason to feel guilty. The other part is afraid of causing hurt or losing what we have. Since, you are a married guy, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this? I feel like I need to hear a sensible opinion that isn’t judgmental but also not all “free love” anything goes kinda thinking.”
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***
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I believe the question you are getting at in a roundabout way is: “is it okay for me to cheat on my spouse?”

Each person will answer that differently. For me, in my own life, it is not.
But this is not a very complicated issue for me. I don’t ruminate over philosophical arguments in my mind about whether humans are meant to be monogamous, or whether marriage was invented as a means to control people’s thoughts or whether unconditional love is what humans should aspire to or any of that stuff.

I did once, of course. In fact, I was dead set against getting married. I told my wife that when we first began dating and was relieved to hear that she was cool with it. But then quite randomly while sitting at a bar with her one night, a couple of years into our relationship, I was joking around like, ”you know, it be funny if we totally just got married.”

And we did. It’s been eight years now.

See, marriage isn’t a tangible thing. It is a shared vision between two people. And that vision is based upon a mutual understanding you have arrived at together. It’s like a mini constitution. And that constitution is based upon certain agreed upon tenets: what do we value, what do we believe (or disbelieve), what do we want, what are some of the terms and conditions upon which this vision of ours can be brought to fruition.

The moment two people have that they are “married” as far as I’m concerned whether they have obtained a legal document stipulating as much or not. Because to “marry” essentially means to “bring together”. Two individual lives on very individual trajectories have been brought together so as to create a joint trajectory on which both have decided to embark.

This is not all that easy to do. It’s like bringing two rivers that flow apart into each other by some feat of engineering. And because there is this architecting aspect to it, there are certain design and aesthetic rules that cannot be violated without affecting the integrity of the structure itself.

Love is a vital aspect to it because without it a marriage becomes more like an industrial warehouse. For it to be something like an artistic or architectural marvel, passion is essential but so is restraint. Inspiration alone is insufficient. Like any form of art, mastery only results from practice, repetition, discipline and dedication.. Intimacy is what breeds both passion and expertise. And that intimacy can only flourish if there are clear and mutually agreed upon guidelines within which both parties feel safe to bare themselves and be completely vulnerable.

Fortunately, gone are the days in which those guidelines were handed down to us wholesale by social or religious institutions. Now, unless you live in a religiously conservative part of the world, most societies have a fairly fluid view of what a marriage could look like. Who your partner is, which gender they belong to, what race, what social stratum and so on are more or less moot points for most progressive societies.

Further, what the rules of engagement are, are also fluid. What constitutes “fidelity” in one marriage may be very different than what it is in another. Some marriages are monogamous, some are polyamorous. Some actively include a third member into their daily fabric. Fidelity isn’t some absolute stance on right and wrong.

But once that framework and that mutual understanding of the terms and conditions are established, that forms the blueprint upon which the relationship then progresses. Nothing is ever cast in stone, of course. Like a constitution or an architectural design, amendments and modifications to the structure are always possible. Yet, these amendments are mutually agreed upon.

I’ve known marriages that went from being monogamous to polyamorous over time, because the parties involved decided that it was in their mutual interest to do so. I’ve seen the reverse as well, open-relationships that gradually became monogamous and exclusive over time as the priorities of the people involved gradually shifted. And then there are the marriages that dissolved as the two parties realized that the aesthetic directions each was heading in were no longer compatible.

None of this is infidelity. This is simply how most relationships organically evolve. Dissolution of a marriage is not synonymous with “failure” as many in society think of it. It’s simply the end of its lifecycle. Some lifecycles are short, some are long, some morph into different forms over time. A marriage can take on pretty much any form, no matter how far-fetched, and still retain its integrity.

Yet, the one thing that compromises that integrity is dishonesty.

The choice to be dishonest has absolutely nothing to do with whether humans are meant to be monogamous, or whether love is unconditional or whether marriage is a state-enforced institution designed to control your spiritual expression. No, these are some of the ways we rationalize our own dishonest behavior by introducing philosophical arguments in order to create moral ambiguity.

Intimacy is purely dependent on trust. And trust relates to truth. When you trust someone, you are working under the active assumption that the reality they are projecting to you is the reality they are living in. And you in turn feel safe to project a reality to them that is very much an accurate representation of the one you live in.

When the reality someone else is living in changes, coping with that change may be challenging for you, but at least the trust is maintained. Truth has just taken on a different form and the decision lies with you whether you want to adapt with it or move in another direction.

Understand that this is one hell of a rare phenomenon.

But when two people pull it off, it is tremendously rewarding. Mind you when I talk about intimacy I’m not just talking about that transcendent experience of two people losing their sense of self in one heated moment of passion and mutual admiration – that honeymoon phase of each romance in which love overshadows and tints every mundane experience.

I’m talking about the ordinary, day to day, bearing and baring of each other’s shitty, messed up, damaged and dysfunctional personalities.

What most people fail to understand is that the only thing “unconditional” about life is TRUTH. It’s the only thing ever present and staring you in the face all the time. And so truth, not love, is the foundation upon which a marriage is based. When truth is fundamental, then love can flourish. And if truth is unshakeable, then that love can evolve into something truly unconditional in a way that doesn’t require dishonesty and subterfuge.

This doesn’t pertain to only marriage, mind you. This applies to every facet of your life and experience. Without honesty, intimacy is impossible. Intimacy with ourselves, with nature, with community, with society, with our children. There must be a willingness to face the truth no matter what form it takes and no matter how inconvenient it is and to act in a manner that doesn’t seek to manipulate or subvert it.

But I’ll tell you what this willingness to face the truth also does. It breeds courage.

Because after a while of doing it, you begin to see how the various fear-based scenarios that your mind creates, of what would happen if you were to tell the truth, rarely ever pan out. And even if they do, they are almost never the unscalable obstacles we imagined them to be. When one is consciously aligned with the truth, one finds all the resources both outer and inner that one needs in order to deal with the circumstances that arise as a result of that alignment.

There is so much infidelity in the world: in spirituality, in government, in society, in business, in marriage, in education, in our social relationships and interactions. And really this blog’s focus is just about that. Your question about marriage is not exclusive to marriage alone. The same pattern plays out in all aspects of our lives.

We have been conditioned to believe that the truth is “dangerous” and “chaotic”. That in order to maintain some semblance of security and order we must be moderately dishonest. And so our lives become a process of manipulation whereby, from sun up to sun down, we are actively involved in distorting to the truth we perceive, both to ourselves and to others.

This blog is about orienting our perspectives to be able to see the truth, which is always evident. And then to maintain that perspective by aligning ourselves with it. It’s easier to look at something consistently if you are facing it rather than having to crane your neck awkwardly backwards while facing away.

Honesty, is how we manifest that alignment.

I make an active choice every day to say what is on my mind. Sometimes its profound, sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes it’s obnoxious, sometimes it’s just plain dumb. It doesn’t make it easy for my loved ones to deal with me. Its taken great patience and openness on my wife’s part, I’m sure. Yet, she rests well at night knowing that she has my heart, the whole of it. She knows its light and its darkness. None of it has been concealed.

And she does the same for me. And so there is a degree of trust there that I have rarely encountered. And through that trust, we have achieved an intimacy that goes beyond just spiritual. It brings all the mess of our complex humanness into it. And that mess is not just our own. It is familial and ancestral as well. In our relationship, nothing is disowned. The darkness is not dispelled in favor of light and love. In fact, darkness, fear, hurt, trauma, anger and hatred are regularly invited and confronted on a near daily basis, both within ourselves and with each other.

This kind of intimacy is both a ballet and a battle. It is fierce and forgiving. Filled with conflict and camaraderie. And at the end of it, I know that no matter what – “this woman will have my back”. And she knows the same is true of me without a smidgen of a doubt.

Then any changes or amendments that need to be made are an ongoing process of communication and re-negotiation always. But the foundation of trust remains intact.

Infidelity has nothing to do with love. It has to do with trust. And by making it about love, your mind is drawing you into a false parallel and creating a false dilemma. This isn’t a choice between unconditional love and conditional love. This is a choice between truth and untruth.

Cheating isn’t about what we do. It’s about how we go about doing it.

Let It Go

“Shiv, your writings have really impressed me. The clarity you write with I can’t say that I’ve encountered it anywhere else. I wonder about your daily life. You said that you have no spiritual practice. Is there some other kind of ritual you follow that helps you to keep your head clear? Just wondering…”
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There is.

Every morning I wake up around 7:00 and make breakfast for the girls and prepare coffee for my wife and I. And then I retire to practice a ritual that I have performed unfailingly every single day, including weekends, no matter where I am. It is the deepest form of spiritual practice I have ever encountered. My family knows all too well what a sacred time this is for me.

Once I’ve served the breakfast and the coffee, I retire to the bathroom. And there I sit down to take a shit.

I have the most regular bowel movements of anyone I’ve ever met. I’ve never skipped a day. I’m never constipated. The moment I sit, I go on command. There is little resistance within me. Surrender is effortless. Letting go happens in and of itself. It is a profound experience. The experience is one of pure flow.

You think I’m pulling your leg. I’m not.

You see, it doesn’t matter what I’ve consumed the previous night. Whether it’s a decadent five course meal at a Michelin star restaurant or a greasy Big Mac that was slapped together by someone who clearly hates their job. No matter how sublime or devastating the gastronomic experience, my body is trained to process it quickly and just LET IT GO.

As a result, nothing lingers in my system.

There is nothing within me that craves to hold on to the sublime experiences nor to throw up the indigestible ones. My iron stomach processes both the good and the bad, the delicious and the yucky, the ephemeral and the gross in short order and releases it to clear up space for the next flavour of experience whatever that might be.

And so I am open to consuming all sort of things. I don’t restrict myself merely to foods I like. I don’t just dine in restaurants that serve an elevated cuisine. I don’t ingest only foods that are “balanced”, “wholesome” and “healthy” for me. I equally partake in street food or spicy or greasy junk that has little to offer in terms of nutritional value. Yet, my body is so designed as to be able to extract the right amount of nutrient from even these “baser” foods.

Now, if I hadn’t developed such a robust system of digestion, I’d probably end up being very picky about what I ate. I’d try and focus almost exclusively on fine experiences, haute cuisine, healthy foods. I’d have to stay away from the any kind of risky gastronomic venture : too oily, too fatty, too spicy or even too much. I’d have to try and architect a balance in my intake in an effort to ensure a balanced expression in my output the next morning. I’d have to adopt all sorts of diets and regimes, probably have to sign up with some naturopath or food guru to teach me how to en-lighten the load in my large intestine.

Fortunately, that isn’t the case, nowadays.

However, I wasn’t always like this. When I was a child my stomach was extremely sensitive. It was deeply traumatized by the violent levels of oil, fat and spice I was exposed to in the culture I grew up in. As a result I was often dependant on medication for when I just couldn’t keep things in and fibre supplements for when I was holding on too tight.

How I suffered.

Then one day, I reached a crisis point. I had held it in for three whole days. All the pain, the trauma, the toxic waste within me was destroying me from the inside. And I knew. I just knew I couldn’t live like this any longer. I wanted to be done with the medication and the supplements. I no longer wanted to try and find new techniques or follow any experts who claimed they could en-lighten my load for good. I decided that I was simply going to sit with myself on that can and not move until I had let it ALL go.

And so I faced it all. All the shit within me, that had been tormenting my insides, became my sole and only focus. I sat with it for what seemed like an eternity. Even though every instinct within me wanted to get up. Yet I sat. And sat. And sat…

Plop!

The sound of liberation.

Ever since then, I have never skipped a beat. No matter what, no matter where, no matter when and no matter how I consume an experience, my highest priority above all else is simply to allow it to process through my system with minimal resistance and then to smoothly let it go.

So to sum up that rather long winded response to your very genuine question: is there some ritual I follow that helps me keep my head clear?

Yes. I simply and consistently let shit go.

At the end of the day:

Good, bad – it’s all the same shit.

Halo Of Hope

“Wow, can so relate to all of this (the comment is in reference to the post “There Is No How”). The thing for me is an almost depressive meaninglesness when it becomes clear that what I have done all my life, trying to get somewhere else and find what I’m looking for, didnt work. But I gave all my identity in that and all the purpose of life. So now what?…I can understand what you mean with the simplicity and the play and wonder of how it all is, but i feel that my motivation is damaged and very low. And thank you for the post!”


Seeing fully into the futility, of all these searches we embark upon to “find” ourselves, our truth, our purpose, our happiness, HAS to be depressing.

Finally realizing that there is absolutely no chance or route of escape HAS to be deflating.

Grasping that no matter what you do, achieve, understand or create you will not have improved upon this moment as it already stands even an iota, one HAS to be inundated by a sense of meaninglessness.

Fully comprehending that evolution is ultimately a circular movement around an unchanging core of experience, one HAS to be drained of purpose and motivation.

Let me assure you that what you are experiencing is not outside the norm. It IS the norm. Getting sober is a tremendously deflating experience.

The truth is you haven’t really been drained of purpose, meaning, motivation and such. You have been denied the substance that had hijacked all those things from you and was only giving it to you on ITS own terms. That substance is the FUTURE.

The future has always been your escape route. And the future has hijacked your sense of self, your purpose, your meaning and motivation. It has captivated them and made you believe that since it holds the things you value the most, IT must be more valuable than the present.

It has created a decoy. A copycat identity. A perfect replica of yourself – except for certain cosmetic modifications. Your future self is the photoshopped version of you – minus many of the flaws and blemishes you sport while highlighting your assets. Most importantly, it has enveloped your image in a halo of “hope”. Because that is what the true enchantment of the future is. That is it’s spell. That is the advantage it holds over the present. And so the present-self can never compete with the future-self, because it will always lack that halo.

The future hijacked you a long time ago just as it did me and billions of others. And most people will languish and eventually die never knowing how they were bewitched by it their entire lives.

Yet, something caused you to snap out of it and come to your senses. You’ve begun to see the dead end in this escape route of the future. Something in you senses that that isn’t your home, it isn’t where you belong. Home is here and now. Except…

“I knew who I was in the future. But who am I, here?”

“I knew what purpose the future held for me because of all the plans I created. But what purpose do I have, now?”

“I knew how the future motivated me to act through its various goals and milestones. But how will the present motivate me?”

“I knew the meaning my life had through the various dreams and hopes I held. But with what ingredients am I to create meaning in THIS moment, when it is devoid of dreams and hope?”

The present feels like returning home to a land you left when you were still a child and have lived away from for a lifetime. What you are experiencing is a reverse culture shock. A reorientation that begins with disorientation.

You cannot rediscover meaning without going through a phase of meaninglessness. You cannot rediscover purpose without going through a phase of purposelessness. You cannot rediscover your self without going through a phase of not knowing who or what you are.

That limbo is where you are. But that limbo needn’t be purgatory. It’s just a matter of developing the right perspective around what is happening.

The halo is missing. That hope that filled in all those empty spaces, that smoothed over all the rough edges, that reconciled all the seeming gaps, that repaired all the broken bridges. The reality of the present isn’t so neat, isn’t so clear cut : it is full of paradoxes and riddles, missing pieces and puzzling occurrences. And the self we encounter in the present is equally paradoxical – with glaring blemishes that can’t just be smoothed away, gaps and spaces which can’t just be coloured in.

Yet, the present has one thing the future doesn’t have. And that is “depth”. No matter what, the future only exists in 2D. You can photoshop the image all you want but you can never bring it to life. You can never see all its dimensions at once. All you have to work with is a two-dimensional replica of the real deal.

Within every human being is a tug-of-war between truth and hope. Between being and becoming. Between what-is and what-could-be. And when the pull of truth within us overwhelms the pull of hope, we find ourselves with our feet firmly planted in the present.

You have resigned yourself to the present but have yet to fully accept it.

Acceptance is not resignation.

Even though you have placed yourself in the present you are still thinking in the LANGUAGE of the future. That is why the meaning, the purpose, the motivation still eludes you. You have lived abroad so long you have forgotten your native tongue and are only able to think in a foreign language.

Give it time.

If the future has truly lost its hold on you, your mind will reorient to its new circumstances. It will learn the language of the present. It will reclaim its meaning and its purpose and assert it in this new territory. But it will do so in a new way. In a way that you can’t quite envision as yet, because you are still accustomed to thinking of yourself as a future-based entity.

When the halo of hope has lost its shine, when the hellfire of purgatory has lost its heat then you will find yourself no longer drawn to saints nor terrified by demons.

Instead, with your feet planted in the cool mud of truth you will discover a whole different way of being. You will learn about purpose from the trees, about meaning from the passing clouds, about motivation from the birds and the ants who ceaselessly build their lives one present moment at a time.

There Is No How

“I’ve tried looking at the fucking tree, man. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. You say “truth is evident” but I don’t know how to see it. How do I see it? This stuff has been driving me crazy for years. I’m so fed up. Just wanna be done with it. How to be free? How to be happy? How to be at peace? How to let go?”
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***
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The boy is on the beach busy building a sandcastle. And each time the wave comes in and wrecks his castle, he moans in despair and blames the universe for his woes. Yet, in the next moment, as he begins rebuilding, he is filled with positive emotion and hope when his castle begins taking shape again. Eventually, another big wave comes in and wrecks the castle and the boy cries out in dismay, lamenting that life as he knows it has lost all purpose….

You are being a child. Why do you think this “stuff” has been driving you crazy all these years? Because what you’ve been indulging in is literally insane. You are attempting to find the “one shape” of a castle that will withstand the big wave. There is no such shape. The big wave will destroy whatever you build no matter how sophisticated.

All these HOW questions you are asking: how to be happy, how to be free, how to see the truth, how to let go – what you are really asking me is: “how do I build a castle that won’t crumble?”

You can’t. You won’t. Castles are meant to crumble.

Can you imagine the boy who keeps rebuilding again and again in desperation in the belief that he will hit that magic configuration one day? THIS is your problem. THIS is the source of your neurosis. You think “truth” is some ideal or superior architecture that needs to be found through diligence and practice and perseverance.

That’s why you’ve followed these teachers and gurus for so many years. These “castle experts” who have just the right technique, the right practice, the right teaching that will provide a solution to all your problems. Do this meditation, inquire in this way, eat this, sit like this, sleep like this, fuck like this. They’ve got you jumping through hoops like a circus pony because that’s how gullible you are.

You say you’re fed up. You say you want to be done with it. Then, BE DONE WITH IT.

What’s your excuse?

Sitting here asking another human being: how do I do this, how do I do that, is not going to get you anywhere. It keeps you stunted and child-like (and not in a good way). Only children ask their parents how they must do things because they are helpless. At least they have a good reason – they’ve only been alive for a handful of years. What’s your excuse?

Your problem is not truth, happiness, peace or any of that. That is how you have FRAMED the problem in your own mind because you want to avoid seeing the REAL problem.

And the real problem is that life isn’t easy.

It holds an inherent dichotomy that makes us uncomfortable. Every moment of pleasure contains within it the seed of pain just waiting to sprout. Every new birth already prophesizes a future death. Every good thing that happens to you is eventually going to go away. Everyone you love is eventually going to die in front of your very eyes, or you in front of theirs.

Every fragrant flower eventually rots and gives off a stench. Every innocent child eventually grows into a confused adult. Even great marriages end in messy divorces. Even children who have been given everything by their parents grow up to forget all about what their parents did for them. No matter how much money you earn, no matter how much power you wield, no matter how much fame or influence you have, the burden of what “you don’t have” will always outweigh the weight of what you do.

Every single person alive on this planet today will be dead in another hundred years. And in time they will be entirely forgotten. Your life, your name, your entire existence will be like it never even happened.

Your entire lifetime will vanish like a fucking Snap Chat conversation.

THAT is what you simply cannot bear.

And you want it to be different. So you invent this alternate reality called “enlightenment” where life IS easy. And there are no problems in enlightenment-land. There is no happiness or sadness – ONLY happiness. No peace or conflict – ONLY peace. No truth or falsehood – ONLY truth. Sat, Chit, Ananda.

In other words, all you have done is taken the religious notion of PARADISE and turned it into a “place in the mind” versus a place in the sky.

Earth is too painful and you want heaven. Isn’t that what “transcendence”, “ascending”, “higher self”, “higher consciousness” are all about? Look at the imagery and symbolism hidden in the words! It’s all about GOING UP. Up where? Up to what?

You’ve tried escaping in the horizontal direction – through work, relationships, alcohol, money and none of that worked out for you. So, you just shifted your strategy to a vertical direction. Now, rather than sideways, you are trying to escape upwards! That’s all spirituality is – a vertical escape hatch.

People think Zazen is meditation. It is not. If there was a practice I would endorse as even remotely beneficial it is zazen. And not the version it has become with its bullshit rituals and gasshos and other such nonsense. But its original intent.

Because all zazen is about is JUST sitting. NOT meditating, NOT trying to experience insight, NOT trying to see reality, NOT trying to witness your own thoughts, NOT trying to be aware of awareness or some such pretentious crap. But literally JUST sitting.

Because these zen dudes realized that people like you are literally in escape mode 24 fucking 7. If there is an outlet to escape, you WILL take it. It could be a door, a window, a sewer, a ventilation shaft. ANYTHING to get the fuck away from where you are right now.

So, the ONLY solution they saw to this problem of compulsive escape was to SIT PUT. If you were to translate the word “zazen” into its literal meaning in the context of when it was created, it would translate to “just sit yer ass down!”

Forget heaven. Down to earth. Forget enlightenment. Back to basics.

That is what I subjected myself to for over a year. Hours and hours of just sitting on my balcony with nothing to do. Not meditating, not witnessing. Just using every ounce of self-control I had to prevent myself from leaping out of my own skin or jumping over the balcony. And it was through utter boredom and helplessness, seeing how deep that resistance was within me, that I came to realize what my REAL problem was.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy or at peace or whatever. It was that I couldn’t bear discomfort. And the more I focused on the discomfort the more uncomfortable it felt – just like an itch that you can’t reach. Sitting in self-imposed solitary confinement did two things. First, it developed courage within me to sit with the discomfort and take responsibility for it. Second, it allowed me to see how I was exponentially magnifying the discomfort by giving it undue significance.

All my existential angst was no more significant than an annoying itch. How many people are willing to look at their own suffering in such a mundane way? Imagine glorifying a skin rash into the greatest existential crisis to plague humanity! That is what we do with our suffering.

Truth IS evident when you aren’t desperately trying to look away from it.

Nobody TOLD the boy that he has to build a castle. He sees other kids doing it so feels he should as well. But neither the ocean nor the beach exist for the purpose of his castle. And when he is done sulking, he will realize it isn’t all about him.

The real miracle here is that he has been given the opportunity to play. The beach provides the sand for him to create shapes with. The ocean provides the moisture with which the sand may hold together. This simple dynamic of interaction between water and sand allows him hours of endless play.

What a fucking miracle. Because if this were just a desert, the sand would be too dry to hold together. And if this were the ocean floor, there would be too much water for the sand to take shape. It is precisely the point where surf meets sand, that sandcastles are possible. And it’s precisely here that the big wave will come in to eventually tear them down.

Truth is seeing this dynamic for what it is. Happiness is enjoying the miraculous opportunity to play. Peace is realizing that no matter what you build it will eventually be taken down and returned to its original form.

The system is flawless to begin with and nothing you can do can either improve or fuck it up.

So play. Just play.

When it comes to playing, there is no how.

Life Is A House

Your life is a house. You are the space in which it exists. 
At first the space has no name to go by. 
No one to claim, “this is mine.”
You are this space of infinite possibility. 
Empty of all but imagination. 
The dream of the whole world exists in this space.

And then one day, the space is claimed. 
It is portioned and sectioned and marked : “private property”. 
People will think twice before treading here now. 
All will know that they are only welcome with your consent.

Here, in this space, you must build your house.
Take the time to dig deep and lay your foundations well. 
It may seem slow and tedious work, 
But you will only know its value when 
The brutal storms of circumstance come knocking at your door.

As you lay your foundation, 
The weather can be both a friend and a foe. 
Cracks in the earth may appear from the heat of the scorching sun. 
Or the ground may be softened by torrential rain. 
You cannot control the circumstances of your foundation years. 
You can only do your best to keep true to your purpose.

As you erect the frame of your house,
Ensure that the structure is sound,
And aesthetically true to who you are.
Don’t worry about how big, small, grand or ordinary it is
Nor what the neighbors might whisper and think
This is your house and yours alone
It does you no benefit to alter its designs to please the sensitivities of others

Build your windows wide and in every direction
These are the windows of your mind
They will welcome the light of wisdom and patience on bleak winter days
And the winds of fresh possibility when spring emerges
Keep them open as often as you can
So that you are never a stranger to the chirping of sparrows
The laughter of children
Or the aromas of freshly baked apple pie

Keep the furnace of your heart always lit
Even if you do not need its warmth in the moment
Even if the matters of the world require your urgent attention
Attend to your furnace often
Watch the flames childishly play and dance about
No matter how many years roll on by
No matter how the world changes just as your body changes
The flame in your furnace will never age
It is just as it was the day your house was built

Keep your basement free of clutter,
This basement that is your subconscious mind
Where the secret cracks and fissures of your childhood years
Remain hidden and forgotten even to you
Endeavour to spend time here often
Attending to each crack, each fracture of your foundation
You can only heal it with your own awareness
Compassion is the only sealant which works after the fact

Furnish your home sparsely yet tastefully
Occupy it with the experiences and events you love
Rather than those that you think you want or the world says you need
Let space, not things, be your primary focus
Because it will always be a reminder of your original self
This space was here before anything else
Treat it with consideration and above all respect

Attend to your house diligently and often
Make repairs when necessary and renovate once in a while
This house is the deepest expression of yourself
Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty!
But don’t get so fixated that it becomes your obsession
Don’t struggle to make it flawless or perfect
The imperfections are half the charm
It is what makes it recognizable to passersby on the street

Above all, keep the door to your house always open
Welcome friend and stranger alike to come share in its warmth
This house is a living, breathing thing
Not some inanimate structure of wood and stone
The walls have ears and the windows have eyes
Let the sound of laughter echo through them often
And gestures of kindness be a commonplace sight
Your house will learn from you and respond in kind
Don’t blame it for your misfortunes or credit it with your joys
It is only a faithful companion that always follows your cue

The day will come when this house must fall
Either from the onset of a terrible storm
Or from the natural consequence of wear and tear
Great sadness will accompany this event
As will joy at the memories that were created within its walls
The neighbors will be reminded of what once was
Each time they gaze at the empty space in which your house once stood

And yet, from the little windows of their own perception
They are unable to recognize what they see
Only you are aware that nothing has happened
Nothing has been lost and nothing gained
You continue to exist unchanged, unaltered
To remain as the space that you always were
Free once again to dream and imagine 
You ponder upon the next house that you will build.

To Wake Or Not To Wake


“There’s nothing to achieve. This is it. What’s the point of talking about any of this? Why are we so interested in “awakening”? Why is it so important? Why do teachers talk about awakening like it’s the most incredibly important experience on the planet? Why can’t I just go back to the story of me? Why not take the blue pill and continue living in the Matrix?”
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Why not? That’s a perfectly reasonable choice to make.

Awakening isn’t important. It isn’t even necessary. What you realize or fail to realize makes not an ounce of difference to the overall scheme of things.

I know most of the stuff you’ve heard directly contradicts what I am saying. To awaken to your own true nature has been marketed to you as the highest virtue a being can aspire to. It is “breaking the karmic cycle”. It is “getting off the wheel of birth and rebirth”. It is having “compassion for all sentient beings”. It is seeing, like the Buddha did, that “all beings are enlightened”. It is breaking the chains of suffering and becoming liberated once and for all.

Except…

… It’s still all about YOU. And life simply couldn’t care what you do or don’t do, what you see or don’t see, what you realize or don’t realize. Even other people don’t really care that much. If they appear to care it’s because they really care about themselves and wish the same for themselves. The only person who this is actually important to – is you.

Awakening, self-realization and most things spiritual are only new stories we tell ourselves when the old stories we were living out begin to seem boring and predictable. That’s not to say such experiences don’t exist. Certainly they do. Awakening is an experience as real as my sitting here and typing this sentence.

But is it important? Is it essential? Is it the highest virtue you can aspire to?

How you answer that depends on the LENS through which the question is being asked.

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If the lens is a self-centric one i.e. a worldview in which your self is the center around which the universe has been constructed and its values prioritized? Then, YES. Awakening IS important, essential and the highest virtue.

In such a self-centric view, what greater importance could there be than to liberate the very core around which the entire universe revolves and upon which all of reality hinges? Awakening is the pinnacle of all experiences! To be enlightened thus, is to enlighten all beings. Because when the root is awakened the whole tree that emerges from it must spring to life! You ARE that root. There can be no greater act of virtue than this. What human endeavor could be more essential? To say that awakening is “important” is the greatest understatement of all time.

With the self at the center, the fate of the universe literally depends upon you. What choice will you make? Will you choose just another mundane sheep-like existence: being fed your views, your beliefs, your ideas and your stories of self? Or will you choose the extraordinary path of realization and casting aside all falsehoods one by one in an effort to reveal the truth? Which movie will you star in? Will it be a dull and forgettable TV Drama? Or a groundbreaking, award-winning, box-office record-setting, blockbuster of the year?

As the hero of your own narrative, what could be more important than to undertake a “hero’s journey”? From rags to riches. From disillusionment to triumph. From suffering to liberation.

That moment when you finally awaken and proclaim as the Buddha did, “ALL BEINGS ARE ENLIGHTENED!”

Do you hear that?

That’s the sound of the whole universe applauding!

Or…

…There is the lens through which no such self sits at the center of it all. The self is just a passing phenomenon like a cloud formation in the sky. In such a view, there is no center to the universe. All points are equally valid. Everything affects everything else. Nothing remains for long. Even the brightest supernovas and the densest black holes are passing phenomena that have a momentary effect then are totally forgotten.

In this view, what happens or doesn’t happen for a single particular self is of minimal consequence. Whether you awaken or don’t. Whether you realize something of yourself or don’t is of very little significance. Whether you burst into a blaze of illumination like a supernova or collapse into a dense void like a black hole is of negligible importance. The universe has seen many like you and will encounter many more to come.

From the viewpoint of the whole, no point within it is more or less significant than another. No phenomenon happening within it is more or less significant. A Buddha enlightening and a prostitute orgasming are of equal significance. A sage waking up to the reality of his true nature and a teenager waking up to the reality of another school day are both utterly ordinary phenomena.

ALL are ordinary. Nothing is extraordinary. For if something were to be extraordinary, something else would have to be less-than-ordinary. And to the whole, nothing can be more or less than whole. Everything is of the same nature as itself.

From this lens of perception, the answer to your questions is a resounding NO. Your awakening is not essential. Not important. Not the highest virtue one can aspire to. It is just another mundane event in the universe: like a cloud dissipating.

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The great irony then, is that “awakening” is simply a shift in perspective from the first lens to the second.

It is a reordering of one’s worldview from a self-centric one to a “centerless” one. And in the process, all those events of spiritual significance, all the revelations we crave and value, all our hopes and aspirations are razed back to the ground zero level at which all phenomena exist. Everything becomes absolutely ordinary and of no special significance – INCLUDING awakening.

If our spiritual teachers were really “awakened” they would be telling us this. They would be like our dull and humorless parents, dousing the fires of our romantic spiritual views with their sobering perspectives rather than fanning the flames for their own amusement or benefit.

Like teenage girls or boys who believe that finding their perfect soulmate is the purpose of their life, spiritual seekers are likewise driven by hopelessly romantic ideas of enlightenment. A good parent is one who neither discourages nor encourages the teenager, yet simply adds a sober perspective that the teen may not fully comprehend as yet, but will in time make greater sense. Similarly, a teacher if they are truly wise, will neither egg the seeker on nor will command them to cease and desist. They will simply present a sober perspective that says,

“None of this is really as significant as you are making it out to be.”

The seeker may not fully comprehend this, but in time it will make greater sense.

Of course, what most teachers actually do is egg on their students. They are like parents who claim, “I have found my own soulmate and YOU WILL TOO ONE DAY IF YOU JUST BELIEVE!” They rarely question the fundamental premise of lack that is driving the seeker’s seeking. And they NEVER talk of awakening as the ordinary experience that it is.

Seeking, finding, awakening, realizing. None of this is of any real significance.

If given the choice to live another lifetime under an entirely different storyline – I would gladly choose something completely different. Rather than the theme of spiritual realization, I’d pick another genre entirely. Perhaps, a life of organized crime or being a member of an undiscovered Amazonian tribe. So many genres of fiction to pick from. The only reason we pigeonhole ourselves in our narratives is because we actually believe that such a genre as “non-fiction” exists. Spirituality is not non-fiction. It’s just another fictional genre like the rest.

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So, why not take the blue pill and live in the matrix? Or take the red pill and step out of the matrix. It’s all just as well. Both choices are equally valid. Neither is of greater significance than the other. Neither of higher virtue. Neither is going to save you from the death that is imminent. The universe isn’t going to give much of a shit. You won’t get an applause. You may receive a scattered clapping from a few people around the world who are obsessed with the same things you are. But they are really clapping for themselves, not for you.

For me, the question of which pill to take is inconsequential. It makes no difference whether I place my self in the matrix or apart from it. Blue or red? It’s as significant as asking me what my favorite color is. It’s only a matter of preference and nothing more.

Because what I see through my own lens is that, I AM the matrix.

One Day At A Time

“There are only a handful of teachers that I would consider even as Bodhisattvas… Have you ever encountered a living Buddha? How would I know if I have encountered one?”

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Considering Buddha kicked the bucket over 2500 years ago, encountering a living Buddha would be something like a scene out of the Walking Dead. And so my counsel to you would be to do what the famous Ninth Century Master, Lin Chi advised his students to do, which is to KILL that motherfucker.

But remember, the “undead” don’t die the same way we do. Stabbing him in the heart or the gut will achieve jack shit. These enlightened types have a way of rising up again. Just look at our homeboy Jesus, for example. No, if you want them to stay down, you have to go for a head kill. If you haven’t watched the Walking Dead, I suggest you study it closely.

The living Buddha will have certain vulnerable spots around his head – near the eyes, nose and ears – any facial orifice in which a reasonably sharp wooden or metallic implement can be inserted with sufficient thrust. Obviously, you’ll need a significant amount of upper body strength to pull this off. Those post-apocalyptic hero types from the TV shows are all ripped as shit, not a gelatinous couch-potato like you are, so I suggest you do at least 30 minutes of upper body workout everyday with an added focus on your posterior deltoids, your pectorals and your Latissimus Dorsi, which is where the majority of your thrusting torque will be generated.

When encountering the living dead, there is no room for hesitation. They may appear docile, peaceful, equanimous, bemused, beatific or even lost in a trance, yet the moment they notice you they will become savage in demeanor. Your brains are a delicacy to them and their only desire will be to feast on your skull as you spasm pathetically like a fish out of water. You will be converted into just another brainless zombie like the rest of them. Resist AT ALL COST to confuse the undead with the living. You must act decisively and immediately.

At the moment of thrust, you will hear a squelching sound as your weapon of choice penetrates the rotting inner tissue of the Buddha’s head. It will feel like skewering a really big marshmallow with a chopstick. It is important that you FOLLOW THROUGH on your thrust all the way until you reach the end of his skull. If your weapon is able to cleanly break through the opposite cranial wall then that is a guaranteed kill. If it doesn’t, then you may have to thrust again until you do.

An incomplete head kill is about as effective as a tickle. Remember with these undead types, there’s “no one there” and “no-thing” in between their ears. So, nothing short of completely impaling his noggin will do. Or he’ll just end up walking around with your weapon stuck in his head like a human pin cushion yapping brainlessly. And you will be out one weapon…

Beware of the so-called bodhisattvas. They are living souls who emulate the dead and raise them on a pedestal rather than leaving them buried in the ground where they belong. In fact, this is the one fact zombie films get wrong. The dead can’t DIG their own way out of a grave. They have to be EXHUMED by living fools.

And so its these idiot bodhisattvas, gurus and priests who unleash what has been dead and buried for thousands of years, upon the rest of humanity, by believing that their dead ramblings are of greater value than our real-time experiences of life, no matter how dull or mundane they may be.

Once the dead are raised, they have bottomless appetites. And these bodhisattvas and gurus, have built houses of sacrifice to satiate the voracious appetites of their undead overlords. These so called “temples” and “churches”, are where the living come and offer their heads to be feasted upon by the undead in a ritual they call “worship”. And when they leave these houses of worship their conversion is complete. From the “living” to the “living dead”.

Yes, I encountered the Buddha once.

But I was lured in by his “equanimity”, his “boundless compassion”, his “perfect countenance”, his “profound wisdom”, his “inward smiling gaze” and it put me in a sort of zombie-like trance. I hesitated long enough for him to begin nibbling on a part of my brain. (Luckily, it was only the part of my brain that controls social filters. Since then, I’ve been helpless to prevent blurting out whatever the hell is going on in my mind. But, oh well, it could have been worse.)

I realized only at the last moment what was happening. I woke up in the midst of it, to hear a slurping and snacking sound somewhere above my right temple. I reached for the closest and sharpest implement I could find, which (un)fortunately turned out to be a pen. And I stabbed him in the left cornea with all the strength I could muster.

The ball pen made it almost all the way through to the other side.

Almost.

The fucker didn’t quite die. He just remained sort of twitching with my hand up against his bulging eye socket and the ball pen mere centimeters from coming out the other end.

So, yeah the bastard is still with me.

He goes everywhere I go because as long as I’m holding on to the pen he is pretty useless to do anything to anyone. And every day, I drive the pen just a few millimeters further into the putrefying tissue of what was once a healthy living brain.

This is why I write…

One day at a time. One day at a time.

I’m killing the Buddha, one day at a time…

Secrets Of The Universe

“Do you mean to tell me that there are no words of wisdom that are of any value to you? There is no teacher who you would consider worthy to listen to?”

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That’s not true.

Around midnight last night, I cracked open a can of beer, sat on the steps outside my front door and listened to the trees for the better part of an hour. They have more wisdom than any human being is capable of. Attending a satsang with the trees, so much is revealed. My own wisdom is merely a regurgitation of what they have spoken to me in their own fluid language, translated into the crude and clumsy jargon that humans use.

But it’s a different ear with which the wisdom of the trees needs to be listened to. There can be no anticipating what they are going to say next. They do not speak in sentences. Their thoughts don’t end predictably. The way our human ones do.

Human language is like listening to pop music. Once you’ve heard the first verse and the chorus of the song, your mind already knows what the rest of the song is going to sound like. It’s mostly repetitive. But the sound of the trees is like a symphony composed in real-time. The only way one can listen is if one is completely without any sense of expectation or anticipation. Any expectation is sure to be met with disappointment because what you hear is impossible to predict.

The language of the trees is a remarkable language. Silence is as much a part of their vocabulary as is sound. And when they speak, I feel their breath ruffling through my hair, caressing my skin, awakening my senses. And then silence again. Indefinitely. As my consciousness marinates in what has been said.

Human teachers are like rudimentary instruments. They are like a toy piano only capable of basic sounds and notes that are amusing at best and tinny at worst. They regurgitate the same tired notes with uninspiring variations that try their best to sound original but ultimately amount to nothing more than chewing the intellectual cud.

But when the trees speak, every syllable uttered is conceived, created and uttered for the very first time. If you know how to listen, the teaching is evergreen. Perennially fresh. Not a word regurgitated. Not a thought repeated. Not an ounce of energy wasted on communicating anything but the direct and absolute truth.

When I have the trees as my teachers – to hold satsang whenever my heart desires, whenever my soul requires nourishment, why would I turn to a human being? Why would I reject the real deal and opt for the cheap knockoff?

What you call a “teacher” I call a “translator”. That’s all these human teachers are. Middlemen with varying levels of translating skills. Most of them are simply just making shit up as they go because they don’t really understand what is being communicated to them by life.

But even if they did? So, what? Why listen to their tinny voices? Their limited notes? Their predictable and regurgitated thoughts? Why listen to a shitty scratched up CD when you have an open seat to the live concert?

Makes no sense to me.

The trees have been my teachers for the better part of two decades now. They have always accepted me as an equal in their midst. They have never made me feel lower than them even though they tower over me. They have always displayed great humility even though they are the most majestic creatures I’ve ever met. They have watched me in my despair, in my epiphanies, in my anguish and my happiness. They have watched me nearly kill myself. And through it all they have always spoken kindly, chided me gently, met my arrogance with stone silence, advised me in my confusion and responded to my courage with rustling enthusiasm.

They have been my friends first before they have been my teachers. I trust them more than I do my own loved ones. Isn’t that what every seeker is in search of in a teacher?

No human can give me that. We humans are merely sophisticated mouthpieces. Our words are the brutal sounds of a hammer mauling a brick wall. “Well, some humans create beauty with words”, you may argue. And some people make music using hammers, yet, there are much finer instruments one can use to create music than hammers.

I can never aspire to be a teacher of wisdom. Because I know what I am.

I am a poor translator. I am a redundant middleman. I am a sophisticated mouthpiece. I am a regurgitator of unoriginal and predictable thoughts. I am a cheap knockoff.

Yet, when I listen to the trees I become something more. Or rather, something less.

When they speak to me, I become a child. No. Not even a child, a mere newborn.

I know nothing. I understand nothing. I anticipate nothing. I become nothing.

And in that nothing, the secrets of the universe are revealed to me.

The Marrow Of The Moment

A balmy breeze wafted through the rooftop patio of a trendy Toronto bar. A large group of us were there to celebrate the birthday of a close friend. We’d spent most of the night drinking, talking animatedly, dancing, shooting pool and smoking and now, half an hour past last call, most were winding down and getting ready to leave. The bar itself, that had been packed only an hour earlier, had mostly emptied out.

I put out my cigarette and went indoors where the birthday girl and four of her girlfriends were still on the dance-floor, dancing in a circle. I sat down on a bar stool with my unfinished pint keeping an eye out for a belligerent crew of young troublemakers I’d encountered in the restrooms earlier that night. This group of six were loud and clearly wanted to make their presence known to others. They had kicked over the trashcan in the restroom and had made the bathroom attendant clean it up while taunting him the entire time.

Now, on the sparsely crowded dancefloor, they had begun acting belligerent again and were whooping and high fiving each other aggressively while a couple of them had their eye on the birthday girl and her circle of friends. The group were menacing to say the least not only because of their numbers and aggressive attitudes, but also because they had amongst them a certain specimen that appeared to me as more beast than man. He was well over six feet tall and appeared to weigh easily 300 pounds. This Minotaur wore the mean look of a man who goes looking for conflict.

Sitting on the bar stool, the only male of our group who was indoors, I considered going back out to the patio to summon the two other males who were out there still smoking. However, I also knew the birthday girl and her crew were warriors in their own right and this was far from their first rodeo. They had handled plenty of brutes of this variety before.

As this decision making process was happening soundlessly in my head, one of the hooligans came up behind one of the girls and began grinding up against her. She turned and gently shoved him away and continued dancing with her friends as the group became more alert as a whole. I inched off my bar stool, anticipating what might come next. The guy, not interested in taking “no” for an answer, came up behind her, this time grabbing her more forcefully. At this point, the birthday girl, a nearly six foot tall Serbian who most men would think twice about messing with, stepped up to the dude and pushed him firmly away from her friend, using the palm of her hand. I was off my barstool at this point my body tense and at the ready.

Yet, I hadn’t quite anticipated what would happen next. The guy who had been firmly pushed back suddenly retaliated by thrusting both his arms against the birthday girl’s chest, so violently, that she was sent sprawling across the dancefloor. Before I knew it, my right fist had made contact with the guy’s jaw and, as he recoiled, my left elbow was on the way to making contact with his friend’s advancing temple. With both of them going down and my body exposed and vulnerable I had just enough time to brace myself when the Minotaur charged me.

I played rugby in university, so I know how to take a tackle, but this was like being hit by a locomotive. Still, as I hurtled towards the ground locked in a death struggle with the Balrog, the only thought going through my mind was, “If I break my glasses, mom’s going to kill me!”

The glasses were a $400 pair I’d received for my 26th birthday just the month prior and, in that moment as I fell, the fear of having to endure another motherly guilt trip, for how irresponsible I was, far outweighed the fear of losing life and limb. And so, in the split second it took to crash on the ground, I somehow managed to yank my glasses off my face and send them flying under a sofa to safety.

However, in that same single throwing action, my arm caught the end of a small table next to the sofa on which an entire tray of empty shot glasses had been placed, waiting to be cleared by the tardy servers. And as the table tipped over, the shot glasses all shattered on the floor creating a welcome bed of sharp and deadly shards for my careening body to come to rest upon.

So, there I was, lying on a bed of broken glass, a three hundred pound silverback pounding down on me with his fists as the other five punched and kicked me in the ribs from the sides. Birthday girl was doing her best to pull one of them off using a wrestling chokehold. While one of her friends (incidentally the woman I would later marry), an all of 5 feet 3 inches petite package of raw guts, flew into the air like a bat out of hell and landed on the Minotaur’s back and was riding him like a rodeo cowgirl while punching his melon-like head.

To this day, I wish someone would have taken a snapshot of that very moment. What good laughs that may have provided!

Obviously, as it was happening, no one was in a laughing mood. Yet, lying at the base of it, the unwilling protagonist of this bloody drama, I began experiencing something strange. Firstly, I felt no pain whatsoever, not from the broken glass I was lying on top off, not from the punches and kicks I was taking to my ribs, since my arms were busy protecting my head. Not even from a sore ego at having the absolute shit kicked out of me.

No, instead I had this feeling of being tremendously alive and thoroughly relishing the moment. I still remember the Minotaur’s breath and slobber as he sat on my chest and wailed on me with his fists. It was vile, putrid yet smelled so earthy and yummy at the same time; like eating a handful of nutritious soil. That scent mixed with the taste of blood in my mouth was a flavor so primal that it aroused within me a deep gratitude for THIS moment: as bizarre as that might sound.

It all happened in super slow motion. It was like time had slowed itself down in order for my consciousness to fully process and suck the marrow out of that absurd moment. As I witnessed the punches and kicks rain down on me, the contorted faces of friends and foes all locked in a deadly struggle for survival, my own body being tenderized, sliced and diced, it all struck me as utterly and absolutely brilliant. The perfect orchestration of one of the most compelling scenes in the film of my life thus far.

And just like that, the scene was over. The bouncers had peeled the Minotaur off me. Birthday girl and her friends helped me up and all burst out laughing at the sight of me. My entire shirt had been ripped off my body leaving nothing but the collar and the string of buttons running down my torso. Yet, when they glanced at my back that laughter quickly turned to horror as my entire lower back was lacerated and bloody. Fortunately, none of the cuts were deep enough to require stitches and healed by themselves, albeit painfully, over the days to come…

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This event, which occurred over a decade ago, often reminds me of the Buddhist tale of the man who, while being chased by a tiger, falls over a cliff and ends up dangling over the precipice while holding on to a single strawberry vine. With the tiger waiting above him and a sheer drop below him, he notices two mice who begin gnawing at the vine at its base. Helpless to save himself, his attention suddenly fixes upon a strawberry growing out of the vine. He reaches for it and puts it in his mouth. How delicious the strawberry tastes!

I consider that moment, as I laid on a bed of broken glass while being viciously beaten, as much an awakening as any spiritual revelation I’ve ever had. It revealed to me that the violent, painful and bizarre moments of life are really no different IN ESSENCE from the peaceful, blissful and serene ones, nor from the ordinary, mundane and boring ones.

“How” the moment appears is merely a distraction – the getup that draws our attention away from the essence that lies beneath it and animates it…the MARROW of each moment.

With the attention firmly and fully planted in the moment, time itself slows to a standstill as the spirit within us declares to it:

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

Shining A Light

“Must you be so critical of other spiritual teachers? It’s easy to criticize others. But seeing the good in others is a gift. Some of your articles are so inspiring. You need to lose that chip on your shoulder IMO…”
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There is a difference between having a critical eye and merely criticizing. The latter is no different from complaining. The former is a faculty all of us would do well to develop.

In spiritual culture, “seeing the best in others” has become pathological to a fault. Even when the person standing before us is as rotten as they get, we are perpetually attempting to find what is good in them in order to validate our own magnanimity. Seeing the good in others is fine as long as it is well balanced by a sound judgment and finely tuned bullshit detector. Unfortunately, this culture doesn’t encourage people to sharpen their bullshit detection skills. On the contrary, most are taught to mute it.

Every so often I get asked the same question: “why do you write? What motivates you to write almost an article everyday?”

Most people can’t fathom that it may have little to do with “helping people”. Most of you reading this page are people whom I’ve never met and know almost nothing about. A few I have had some interchanges with but even you I know about as well as the cashier at my supermarket. I’m not a charitable soul to begin with so unless I see someone in absolute distress in front of my eyes, little within me feels motivated to change anyone’s lot in life. As far as I’m concerned, your suffering is your practice. Far be it from me to tamper with that.

So, why am I writing then? Why am I so critical of this culture?

Last summer, we began to smell this strange odour in the house one day. We tried hunting everywhere for the source, but simply couldn’t locate what it was. After a few days the smell became quite unbearable. We had done everything we could to locate it, but had come up with nothing. So we just tried to put up with it and hoped it would go away. Of course, it didn’t. The stench grew so strong it was the only thing we could think of. So, finally we literally took the whole house apart. Moved furniture out of the way, cleared closets, trashed or gave away a lot of stuff – the whole deal. And eventually we found the source. It was an egg, that had somehow rolled into a corner rarely accessed and had sat there for weeks most likely. And the smell had spread through the entire house.

My writing on this page is no different. I am driven by two things – a desire to declutter and simplify the (head)space in which humans live. And to expose that rotten egg that everyone can smell but no one is willing to identify. That rotten egg is “culture”.

And defenders of culture will find no sympathy with me. Because to me culture is nothing more than vapid entertainment. Walking into a church is no different for me than walking into a zoo or a comic convention. None of these places has absolutely any bearing on who I am. The same goes for a satsang or a retreat or a zen monastery or whatever. Those who dress themselves in identities that their culture has provided them have no choice but to carry that same stench in their clothes.

The gurus are not my target. They are not my enemies. They are innocent fools just like the seekers who follow them. When I see a guru sitting in his chair next a vase of flowers and his audience enrapt in the “wisdom” he is expounding, I just have to facepalm because the whole thing is just so bloody idiotic. The blind leading the blind. Fools preaching to fools. Narcissistic self-absorbed children pontificating to other narcissistic self-absorbed children. Spiritual culture is designed to emotionally stunt people while promising to “spiritually evolve” them. As a result the entire culture is utterly infantile.

I get that my style isn’t pleasing to a lot of readers. Yet, to quote Rajneesh’s psychopathic right hand woman, Ma Ananda Sheela : “Tough titties”.

I’m a fucking party pooper and nobody likes a party pooper. Seekers are like underage high school kids getting wasted at a house party while the parents are away. Gurus are like the shady drug dealers and booze suppliers liquoring everyone up. At some point someone’s gotta break up the party.

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In ancient Athens, there lived a man who was known as Diógenes of Sinope. This man maintained that the root of human suffering was “culture” which was designed to subvert the independent spirit of the individual. He maintained that all artificial growths of society are incompatible with human happiness and that spirituality implies a return to the simplicity of one’s nature.

Diógenes was a harsh critic of other philosophers including Plato, Socrates’ famous student. In fact, Plato often referred to Diógenes as “Socrates gone mad”, recognizing the dichotomy of his brilliance and his sheer refusal to adhere to any cultural standards.

Diógenes could often be seen walking around though the streets of Athens in broad daylight holding a lantern and would hold it up to people’s faces claiming to be in search of “an honest man”. He lived in a ceramic pot in the marketplace. And although he was famed as a great philosopher he wanted nothing to do with the schools or the culture that sought to celebrate him.

One day, Alexander the Great, entered the streets of Athens and demanded to meet with Diógenes whom he had heard of and admired greatly. He arrived with his troops behind him to find Diógenes lying in the sun on the street. Alexander was thrilled to see him and, feeling magnanimous, told Diógenes that he was willing to grant him any favour he wanted. At which point Diógenes peered up at him and replied,

“Then would you mind standing out of my sunlight?”

Alexander struck by his audacity replied, “Were I not born Alexander, I would wish to be Diógenes!”

To which Diógenes replied, “Were I not born Diógenes, I would still wish to be Diógenes.”

Diógenes’ simple philosophy and rejection of cultural norms would go on to influence the Stoics, the most enduring of the Greek schools of philosophy…

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I only learned about Diógenes quite recently but immediately felt a kindred spirit. And my perspective very much aligns with his. He lived at a time when the Philosophers were some of the most influential members of Athenian society. And he could have easily been one of them – enjoyed the same power and prestige that the likes of Plato enjoyed. Yet, he scorned all of that because it reeked of hypocrisy. One cannot create a culture out of truth because culture is the very antithesis of it.

Culture exists for the express purpose of telling you who you are. It is an elaborate conspiracy designed to subvert your own independent spirit. But it does so surreptitiously. It pretends to “empower” while sapping your power. It pretends to encourage your independence while actively hampering it. It promises freedom even while it ties you down. It says that your happiness is its highest purpose when in reality it only wants your obedience.

But “who I am” is the one thing no one on this planet can tell me. What purpose I must serve is unknowable to another. All these roles and identities, statuses and positions of power within hierarchies after hierarchies that society has created as an endless labyrinth in which to lose myself is nothing more than an elaborate distraction. Spiritual culture is no different, although it tries it’s very best to pretend to be.

If one’s domain of expression is the spiritual – which for me has nothing to do with metaphysics and everything to do with truth – then honesty must be the brush with which one creates their art. Endorsing “culture” of any kind as the path of honesty or discovery of one’s truth is entirely absurd to me. Like a rotten egg, it permeates into every corner of our lives and fills it with its putrid odour.

“Humans have complicated every simple gift of the gods”, Diogenes said.

There is no simpler or greater gift we have been given than a “self”. And boy, have we FUCKED UP that one. No fucking guru on this planet is going to be able to cure that stupidity for you. All they can do is convince you that you are smarter than you actually are.

That “chip on my shoulder” that you think I’m carrying around is really a lantern in my hand in broad daylight.

And if you don’t like me shining it your face, well,

“Tough titties.”

The Devil In The Details

“I know teachers who aren’t abusive. They don’t charge money for people to attend their talks. Some of them even hold regular jobs. So, clearly there are some good spiritual teachers out there truly interested in helping others awaken…”
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Maybe that’s true. But my basic critique of spiritual culture isn’t that ALL gurus are rotten or exploitative. Many are, of course, but there are some who aren’t charlatans. They are genuinely interested in “awakening” others, so to speak. My main criticism goes deeper than that to the very fundamental assumption that forms the teacher-seeker dynamic i.e. :

“ I am awake, you are not.”

And if you take a look at any teacher-student dynamic in spirituality today, regardless of whether the teacher is rotten or genuine, this basic assumption has to be the case in order for that dynamic to even exist. Or else, what is there to teach?

There has to be a fundamental difference between the teacher and the student. And that difference cannot be one of “knowledge” because spirituality is experiential in nature. So, it’s not like a math teacher teaching you theorems and concepts for you to memorize and mull over and eventually apply. In spirituality , “concepts” ARE the problems we are trying to overcome. So, none of these spiritual teachers are claiming to provide “more concepts” to their students.

So, in lieu of “knowledge” what is it that the teacher is attempting to communicate? If they have no concepts to provide you, what is there left for them to teach you? What is the difference between them and you in that case?

They will claim that they exist in a whole different realm of consciousness than you do. They will claim that they are “awake” and you are “asleep”. That the difference between how they experience reality and how you do, is like the difference between how we experience the world in our waking hours versus how we do in our dreams when we are sleeping at night. They will claim that “waking up” within the dream is the answer to the puzzle of human suffering. They will claim they have woken up and do not suffer and they can teach you how to wake up as well if you are willing.

But if it’s a dream, why is waking up important? If it’s all a figment of imagination then what is the motivation to wake people up? After all we don’t walk around in our daily lives just waking up anyone we see who is fast asleep in bed. They may be dreaming, even babbling in their sleep. We allow it to happen because we understand that sleep serves a purpose. So, what is this great taboo against those who are “asleep” and this glorification of those who are “awake”?

One argument is that the suffering of the world is the result of people who are “asleep” wreaking havoc over it. However, if they can wreak havoc over it, it must mean that this world is also within the dream. So, why do those who claim to be “awake” care so much about any of it? You are awake, so go be awake and leave the sleeping folk to their dreamworld of suffering.

My daughter sleepwalks sometimes. And when she does, I gently and wordlessly watch her and guide her back to her bed being careful not to wake her up. To try and forcefully wake her up would be absurd. To try and talk to her rationally when she is sleepwalking would be insane. Even if she responded it would not be her responding. It would simply be an automatic response with no cognition of what is actually transpiring.

So, if these “awake” teachers are talking to their “asleep” students, what are they hoping to achieve?

It’s all nonsensical. The fact is there are no “awake” teachers and there are no “asleep” students. There are simply people with different levels of insight into themselves.

The world may be all maya and illusion and this may all be an elaborate dream, but I assure you that these so called “awakened” teachers are just as immersed in that dream as anyone else is. They may claim the body is an illusion or the self is an illusion yet they nevertheless will wince when poked with a sharp object and they will respond when called by name.

The only thing they may have had some success around is in being able to step out, from time to time, from the hypnotic trance of the “story-making” mind. There is certainly a freedom in being able to not take one’s own story as gospel. But this is not some incredible feat. And it certainly isn’t indicative of a superior state of consciousness one permanently exists in. All it means is that you know how to sober up from time to time.

The “asleep-awake” model insinuates that the teacher and student exist in entirely different realms of conscious reality. And this is a false implication. One that serves as the source of a whole lot of projection, worship, yearning and desperation that is the twisted norm in spiritual culture today.

On the other hand, the drunk-sober model suggests that everyone involved is in the same conscious reality, just in various stages of intoxication. Even those who are “sober” are only RELATIVELY sober. Even they’re having a drink from time to time. They just aren’t getting totally wasted like some others.

When you create a model like that, there simple isn’t enough of a difference between people to build a teacher-student dynamic out of it. At best you can create some kind of a mentorship based relationship like they have in Alcoholics Anonymous where each recovering alcoholic has a sponsor who themselves is a recovering alcoholic.

That’s it. That’s as far as the differences between any of two people on this planet goes. There are no different states or levels of consciousness. There is just one and we are all in it.

So, even these “good teachers” out there may be well-intentioned. But they are being willfully blind to the falsehood that they are perpetuating both within themselves and their followers by claiming that they are “awakened”. They are not. They may just have sobered up a bit more than you have.

Being well-intentioned, does not preclude one from perpetuating the same messes that those with malicious intentions do. The culture is broken at the very foundation and is built on a fundamental lie. And when you start with a lie, no matter how conscientiously you approach things, you will never end up being truthful.

For the road the hell is paved with good intentions. And the devil is in the details.

Paradox Of Pain

“What are your thoughts on living with a chronic illness or chronic pain? As a truth seeker, how do I reconcile my desire to be free of this pain and my desire for truth?”

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This is a beautiful question because it highlights the dilemma of every spiritual seeker. Because almost everyone who embarks on a spiritual path is suffering in some seen or unseen way. And that suffering is chronic I.e. alleviated only temporarily before it returns again.

However, for those who suffer from chronic physical pain or disease, the dichotomy is all the more apparent. Because it is beyond just psychological, it is physical. It cannot be concealed. Psychological pain is easy to conceal from the rest of the world and at times even from ourselves. It is possible to live in denial of our own suffering until a certain watershed moment comes when it becomes no longer possible to deny. However, physical suffering and especially illness are nearly impossible to conceal. We have no choice but to face it. It relentlessly demands that we look at it.

In a strange and twisted way, this is a kind of gift. Because until there is acknowledgement that suffering is the case, no reconciliation can even begin. Having said that, to live with chronic illness and pain, especially when it completely debilitates you and lowers your capacity to live a functional life, is one of the most challenging experiences a human being can go through.

There are certain practical factors to consider and put into place which are designed to support your lifestyle and accommodate this experience of pain and lowered functioning ability. Finding the right kind of treatment and counseling, medical or otherwise, a support network of friends, caregivers and family who can assist you in the day to day practical challenges that you face that have to do with mobility, transport, finances, nutrition, access to resources and so on, are essential.

Assuming you have this infrastructure in place, we come to the existential aspect of your condition, which is primarily what your question is about. How to reconcile the desire to be free from pain and the desire to find truth.

What does that “truth” look like?

To me, truth takes the form of my immediate reality. No matter what form that may be. Whether that form looks like health or illness, clarity or confusion, joy or grief, peace or conflict. The forms are irrelevant. What is relevant is “what is”. Which means if “truth” is the deepest desire within me, then I have to learn to see it in the form that it appears, rather than the forms in which I would “like it to”.

In other words, I may want truth to look like joy, ease and serenity but it may just as likely manifest for me as anxiety, discomfort and exhaustion. In fact, there is no greater indicator of how deeply we desire to align with the truth than when it appears in its most painful forms. Its in those moments that we turn away from it. It’s always much easier to want it when it comforts and brightens.

I rarely quote stories from the Bible, but the story of Job is relevant here. In this parable, God boasts to Satan that Job is his most devout follower. And Satan claims that the only reason Job is devout is because God has blessed him with wealth, good health and many children. He dares God to test Job’s devoutness. So God kills all Job’s children. He then destroys Job’s livestock and livelihood. And finally, he covers Job’s body in horrible painful sores in order to test his devoutness. And Job wavers quite a bit but in the end is able to maintain his steadfastness of virtue.

Now, obviously this story is terribly loaded with a whole lot of superstition and innuendo. But if we trim away all the dross there is a nugget of wisdom in there. Eliminate God and Satan I.e. good and evil. Take away the blind devoutness. Look at the skeleton of the story and what you get is:

Reality is easy to align with when it takes on a welcome form. But when we are met with suffering in the forms of grief, poverty or illness among others, our desire to turn away from that truth, towards the form of another more desirable reality becomes an indicator for how grounded we are in that truth.

Now, this is not to say that one must passively accept everything that happens and take no corrective actions whatsoever. If an option to heal exists it must certainly be taken. If an option to seek justice exists it must certainly be taken. But the action we take is secondary to the space from which it is taken.

Are we taking the corrective action from a place of acceptance and alignment with that truth? Or from a place of non-acceptance – claiming that this “should not be”.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I often quote the serenity prayer because it is one of the wisest statements ever made. Because it neither advocates action nor non-action. It advocates wisdom first and foremost from which both action and non-action naturally stem. And wisdom is nothing other than the “perception of truth”.

When I was a child, I lived with chronic stomach pains. Medication rarely helped and I was hospitalized for it often. I would spend hours and sometimes days just doubled over in my bed moaning in agony while clutching my stomach. Yet, sometimes, quite without thinking, I’d enter deeply into my pain. I would immerse myself into it, as if it were a bath, to a point where it would take over every sense experience I had. It would become my whole world. Everything outside would completely cease to exist. There would just be me in a universe of pain.

And being there for a while, something curious would happen. The pain would begin to feel familiar. And it’s energy would feel warm, like a blanket enveloping me. And I would cocoon myself in this pain for hours imagining I were a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. I became so intimate with this pain at some point that whenever it left me and I returned to normal life and school and friends and so on, sometimes I would reflect on those intimate moments almost with a sense of nostalgia. It was hard to put my finger on it, but there was something sweet and haunting about the pain.

Only years later, did I come to understand what that sweetness was. It was not my intimacy with the pain that I missed. It was my intimacy with the truth. And pain was the PORTAL that introduced me to it. In my daily life, my mind wandered constantly away from the immediacy of the moment, from distraction to distraction, abstraction to abstraction. My pain, on the other hand, arrested my attention and drove its focus like a laser towards itself and thus towards the immediacy of the moment. In hindsight, pain was my most powerful introduction to the “present”- far more than any kind of pleasure I ever experienced. It was my meditation. And it kept me there until I developed a taste for the truth that would drive my search for the next couple of decades.

In your case, the desire to be free of pain and the desire for truth are not mutually exclusive. They may appear to contradict one another but they are both encompassed in the wider truth of “what is”. Every seeker, no matter the brand of suffering they experience, whether physical, existential or both, will feel the tug in these two planes. One is the horizontal movement away from pain towards pleasure. The other is the vertical movement deeper into the experience of what is present right now.

The truth encompasses all of it, the vertical and the horizontal. You will not find it exclusively on the horizontal plane nor exclusively on the vertical axis. It is evident in the totality of your experience right now: the pain, the desire to be free from pain, the desire to be with the pain, the forgetting of the pain, the escaping the pain, the confronting the pain, the questioning the pain, the feeling broken by the pain, the feeling hopeful of overcoming it.

All of that, taken together in their myriad conflicts and paradoxes, transforming from one form of experience into another, ceaselessly, all surrounding the common theme of your pain : is the form “truth” has taken.

Reconciliation lies in the simple act of sitting with that paradox.

The Truth About Untruth

“Every single fucking thought is untrue. Every single one man… If I really look there is absolutely nothing I can say for certain…They are just interpretations based on past experiences.

They are simply not true. Just guesses based on sensory input and memory. They can’t tell me what’s actually true.

I feel like every word that comes out of my mouth is a lie.

Not just me… everybody. We’re all insane.”
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Yet, you say that with a lot of certainty.

What is “untrue” about a thought? A thought to me is just a form of expression like any other. Like art or music. What is untrue about art? What is untrue about music?

The piece of art or the piece of music exists. You see it. You know it is true. Similarly, the thought. It exists. It has occurred. You know the thought is true.

Da Vinci drew figures that were proportionate and symmetrical. Picasso drew figures that were distorted and disproportionate. Escher drew figures that defied all reason. Whose painting was true and whose, untrue?

It all depends on what purpose each of these forms of expression serves for you.

If a painting is about artistic expression for you then you will perceive the truth within it regardless of how distorted or undistorted it may be. But if the painting is meant to be a complete and accurate representation of “truth” and “reality” for you, then every painting, no matter how accurate it attempts to be, will ultimately fall short. Because the painting is simply a point of view on reality, not reality itself.

The map is not the territory. This is not the fault of the map, nor is it the fault of the territory. It is the fault of those who cannot distinguish between the two.

If I give your friend a slice of decadent chocolate cake and I give you a photograph of a slice of decadent chocolate cake, will you try and eat the photograph? And after chewing on the photograph for a while will you spit it out and exclaim – this photograph is a fake!!! It simply isn’t true!

It’s not a fake. It’s a real photo of a cake. It’s just not a real cake. But no one ever said it was a cake. That was an assumption YOU made.

The thought is not the experience. The word is not the phenomenon. It is your assumption that thoughts and words ARE reality rather than simply snapshots of it. They are conscious expressions, some distorted others less distorted, yet each true representations of the minds that have spawned them.

When a Bible-thumping conservative stands on a soapbox and preaches about hellfire and damnation – are his words untrue? They are untrue if I need his words to be a complete and accurate representation of reality. But if I don’t, then they are true. They are a true and honest expression of the point of view he lives in and occupies. And whether I appreciate his expression or not is a matter of taste.

When a child writes a letter to Santa Claus for Christmas – are her words untrue? They are untrue if I need her words to be a complete and accurate representation of reality. But if I don’t, then they are true because they are a true and honest expression of her own point of view on reality.

Even scientists, whose job it is to most accurately and objectively model the nature of reality – are their words untrue? Yes, of course they are, if I need their words to be a complete and accurate representation of the truth as a whole. Because their point of view is limited only to what is seen and knows very little about what is “seeing” and how the two relate. But if I don’t, then even the scientific view is true because it is a true and honest expression of a predominantly materialistic lens on reality.

Every point of view, is a model of reality NOT reality itself. Being unable to discern between a model and the real thing doesn’t indicate that there is a problem with the model.

Yesterday, in her kindergarten, my daughter stuck four pieces of origami paper together with tape into the form of a square, taped a piece of string at the end and tried to fly her “kite”. She was disappointed it wouldn’t fly. I explained to her that just because it “looks like” a kite doesn’t mean it is one. She didn’t quite get this at first. So, I said, let’s say you make a bicycle out of origami, can you ride it? She say, nope. How about if you make a pizza out of origami, can you eat it? She shakes her head vigorously and laughs. Then, why do you think that something that “looks like” a kite should “act like” a kite?

Why should a thought about reality, be “true like” reality? The thought is true like a thought. It does what a thought is designed to do: evoke something – another thought, an emotion, an action of some kind. And if it is doing that it’s being true to its purpose.

Expecting the thought to be reality is like my daughter expecting her “kite” to fly. And your frustration is like her frustration. STUPID KITE! DOESN’T FLY! I HATE KITES! ALL KITES ARE DUMB!

What can I say? Kites are not dumb. And thoughts are not untrue. You are standing on your map and expecting to travel the world.

All the words I express here. All the thoughts that have been contained in the 170+ articles I’ve written here: do I consider them to be TRUTH?? Of course not! They are an expression of my mind. They are true expressions of the point of view I occupy. But truth is beyond anything I say about it. I am looking at it as we speak. And it is beyond fathomable yet starkly simple and evident.

You are frustrated because you need your thoughts to be your eyes, your ears, your nose, your skin, your tongue, your heart. How can they be? They are just thoughts.

When you understand that thoughts are true as thoughts, objects are true as objects, emotions are true as emotions, perceptions are true as perceptions, people are true as people – then you will also understand how everything is as it should be. Everything is already true as itself.

And that is what the “truth” is.

Truth Is Not A Practice

There’s a point that a few readers of my work have brought up with me in recent weeks. It’s a concern that, while they resonate with many of my critiques of spiritual culture, teachers and practices, they also feel that someone who is new on the path might take my writings as a reason to never embark on a journey of self-discovery in the first place. 

It’s a fair point to bring up and something that I’ve mulled over on my own since I first began writing on this page. 

Do my words have the power to derail or block someone’s legitimate search? Or alternately, do they have the power to hypnotize someone and brainwash them into believing what I am saying as gospel? And finally, is my critique of someone’s spiritual culture, tradition and practices the same as undermining their “spirituality”?

I’m going to answer each of these questions in this post, both to address some concerns my readers have as well as to clarify my intentions in writing on this page.

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SEEKING ENERGY

Everybody is seeking something. Whether that be love, money, power, fame, creative expression, enlightenment or whatever. And that seeking is driven by a powerful energy. And that is the energy of “lack”. How that lack manifests in a person’s life varies from person to person depending upon their circumstances. And depending on how one has interpreted that lack in one’s own life, it will determine what kind of search they will embark upon.

Some will go in search of “true love”, some in search of “great wealth”, some in search of “saving the world”, some in search of “spiritual enlightenment”. Each will believe that theirs is the path of highest value and virtue. Each will believe that what lies at the end of the search is the greatest good life can offer.

No one chooses what kind of lack they will experience. Thus, no one chooses what kind of search path they will embark upon. Most of this is something we have very little control over. Similarly, we have very little control over stopping the search or getting off the path we are on. We are drawn towards it often against our own will. 

How many men and women keep repeating the same poor choices in choosing to enter abusive relationships even when they know full well that they aren’t making a wise choice? How many men and women continue persisting in those relationships even when they know that there is no hope for things to ever change? 

Similarly, telling someone who is obsessed with becoming rich, that great wealth holds no intrinsic value, is hardly going to shift them off that path. And if it does, that is evidence that they may have already been harbouring significant doubts about their own choices. Or, telling a horny teenager that simply having sex is not going to reward him with the intimacy that he truly craves is hardly going to deter him from trying his very best to “get some”. 

The seeking energy is such a potent organizing force and has such a powerful momentum that it can direct the entire course of someone’s life. It can no more be deviated by an opposing point of view, than a high-speed locomotive can be derailed by sticking your arm in its way.

There are only two ways a search can be altered. 

When a person who has been on a particular path for some time finds that it’s just not working out for them, they may then latch onto another kind of search to satisfy that seeking energy. In other words, when one seeking strategy fails another gets adopted. 

In the old days, unmarried, divorced or widowed women with “no hope of finding love” would enter the convent and give themselves to the “greater love” of god. A man disillusioned by money and fame may seek to settle down and start a family in the belief that that will provide him the value he seeks. Many seekers on the non-dual path today are those who have exhausted other kinds of searches and ended up seeking their spiritual selves in hopes that that will satisfy the gnawing lack driving them.

The only other way the search can be altered, is that it can stop altogether, when the seeking energy itself becomes fully exhausted. This happens when all seeking strategies have failed AND there is no further feeling of lack within. But this is something uncommon because a certain amount of lack is part and parcel of our basic construction as human beings. Absolute contentment isn’t a practical or functional state to be in.

So, there is this limbo state in which one still feels the lack yet one no longer has a strategy they can utilize because everything has been tried and failed. This is the kind of person that this page is particularly geared towards, although all may find some relevance in it.

And through this page, I talk about how I address that sense of lack in my OWN life. Not by resorting to some strategy of seeking some future state of betterment. But by adapting my perspective from moment to moment – rediscovering how the present moment comes in exactly the shape of the void that I’m carrying around in me. How life and I, complete each other. It is the peg and I am the hole. Together we make a whole.
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TWO SEEKERS

There are two kinds of spiritual seekers. Those seeking truth and those seeking validation. In reality, no one is wholly one or the other, but in each person one of these two forms of seeking energy is dominant. 

For the ones predominantly driven by a need for validation, spiritual culture will hold great appeal. Because what culture provides is a whole lot of external value markers by which we can evaluate ourselves and thus feel validated as per our progress. There are techniques to master, rituals to perform, texts to study, gurus to worship. Like any culture there are layers and layers we can immerse ourselves into and each of those layers comes with a plethora of identities we can adopt in order to validate ourselves. 

Further, culture also provides the comfort of the crowd. By building communities, communes and cults based on shared beliefs, we crystallize our sense of selves through a constant feedback mechanism of validation. Culture exists for one purpose alone : to provide a sense of identity. And so those who are drawn to culture over anything else are those who are in search of an identity.

This is why charismatic individuals play such a powerful role in shaping culture. The words “cult” and “culture” actually derive from the same origin which means to “cultivate”. Those with charisma unanimously project a strong sense of their own identity. And in turn people, who are in search of an identity, are drawn to “cultivating” their own identities in the image of these gurus and teachers. However, it’s when these gurus and teachers themselves willingly participate in this very dynamic by pandering to the fragile egos of their devotees and providing all the false validation they require that the culture becomes solidified. 

Seekers who are driven by a need for validation will spend a lifetime bouncing from guru to guru in search of the “perfect guru”. No matter how many times they end up disappointed, they don’t turn to themselves because within themselves there is no validation, only truth. And truth wasn’t the driver for them in the first place.

The really smart ones will become gurus themselves. They will find that the validation one receives as a seeker from even the greatest guru is a drop in the ocean compared to the validation a guru receives from thousands of devotees. Becoming a guru is a far superior strategy for seeking validation than being a devotee. It’s like graduating from a food kitchen for the homeless to a banquet hall. You can get a feast of wealth, power, status, fame and sex as bonuses on top of all that validation. 

The other kind of seeker is the kind primarily driven by a desire to know what is true. And this kind of person may find little to no attraction in spiritual culture depending on how much of a desire for validation is also within them. They are likely to dabble in various philosophies and cultures, follow gurus and teachers for a time, without ever fully committing to any one of them. And they are likely to practice techniques that they believe will aid them in their search or ability to perceive the truth. Some may even settle on a particular kind of meditation or activity that they feel best relates to their own particular brand of seeking. 

This kind of seeker intuitively understands that external value markers, people or sources cannot provide the truth. They seem to naturally grasp that the onus is upon them alone to find out what that truth is. And this is the resolve with which they engage in their spiritual practices or techniques of choice. However, given sufficient time they will inevitably come upon a roadblock : a sort of logical stalemate which is inescapable. And the stalemate is this: if truth is “true” by nature, then it should be always evident. Why do I need to “practice” to see it? 

They have hit upon something significant. Because although, during meditation one’s perception becomes greatly clarified, truth must be something beyond just the quality of my perception of it. Does meditation make me perceive “more truth” and not meditating make me perceive “less”? Then if truth is my goal I should be trying to meditate ALL the time. Yet, something about this doesn’t feel right either. Truth by its very definition should be all encompassing. Evident at all times regardless of how clearly I am perceiving. And if it’s evident, then I’ve been looking at it all along. 
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ALWAYS EVIDENT

Truth is an elusive thing precisely because it is so evident. It’s like searching everywhere for your car keys while holding them in your hand. And precisely because it is so evident, there can be no path to it. Only paths away from it. Yet, it is also true that giving up the search along any ONE of these paths can lead to the realization of that truth. 

So, as in the example of the car keys: I may search for it using different seeking strategies. I may think the car keys must be in the bedroom of “love”, or in the kitchen of “wealth”, or in the living room of “spirituality” or in the study of “intellectual knowledge” or in the dining room of “power and fame”.

The kind of room I’m searching in has absolutely no bearing on where the keys actually are. They are in every room I seek because they are already with me yet I cannot find them. The further irony is, even if someone were to yell at me and say “Hey! They’re in your right hand”, I won’t be able to see them. Because the desire to search for them is so strong, I’ll literally be moving them out of my right hand into my left hand in order to look for them in my right hand. The reality is I’ve forgotten what those keys are even supposed to look like.

It’s only when I’ve completely exhausted myself that I may finally sit down in defeat and look at my hands. And I will wonder, is this shiny object that I’m holding actually my car keys? Naaaah, they can’t be. That would just be too stupid and too obvious. No, I was searching for my “car keys”. This is just some weirdly shaped object that I can’t even understand the purpose of.

And I may sit in that state of limbo and disbelief for quite some time. But eventually, the curiosity of what this bizarre shiny object I’m holding onto will gnaw at me. If it isn’t my car keys, what is it? It’s at the moment that I insert it into the ignition and the whole engine of the car roars to life that the reality of the matter will finally dawn.

It’s been with me all along.
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THE QUESTIONS 

So, I want to return to the three questions I outlined in the beginning: 

“Do my words have the power to derail or block someone’s legitimate search?”

I say no, because the seeking energy is so powerful nothing can stop it unless it has spent itself. Those who resonate with what I say have felt that stopping happening within themselves for some time now. Others may be curious for a time, but will eventually move on because the words here will do little to fill the void the seeking craves to fill. 
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“Or alternately, do they (my words) have the power to hypnotize someone and brainwash them into believing what I am saying as gospel? “

It’s not words that hypnotize, it’s culture, it’s charisma, it’s emotional feedback and validation. If this page were actively designed to provide all of those then one could argue that, yes, this could be another form of propaganda or brainwashing. But that is not what this page does. I have intentionally built it in a lean and minimalist fashion. I provide no emotional validation, no ego massages, no culture to congregate around and a frugal sense of community. Everyone who visits here knows they are pretty much on their own. You can come as often as you like, but you don’t “belong” here.
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And finally, is my critique of someone’s spiritual culture, tradition and practices the same as undermining their “spirituality”?

No. Because none of those have anything to do with spirituality. No more than searching in the living room has anything to do with your car keys. 

Spirituality is nothing other than “one’s relationship with truth”.

And one is ALWAYS in relationship with truth. No matter what path one is seeking on, because the truth isn’t defined by any path or practice. 

In fact, the words on this page are simply echoes of the three following sentiments expressed in a myriad different ways:

– You won’t find your keys in that room. 
– Your keys have always been in your hand. 
– Insert that shiny object in the ignition and find out for yourself!

Or in other words:

No teacher, teaching or technique will provide the answer you seek. 

The truth is the most evident and obvious thing there is. 

Take full responsibility of your life just as it appears and see for yourself!

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

“I’m curious about the inner life of spiritual teachers themselves. Of course, this is impossible to know with any certainty, but if they put themselves in this position, how much self-awareness do they really have?

As someone said, “The clowns [in the Spiritual Circus] are innocent. They believe the skit that’s written on the programme. They have to believe it. Because if they saw [that] they’re not holding anything . . . and they stayed there, then they must be miserable sons of bitches, feeding off the attention of the confused.”

Meaning that these teachers, like so many others, really believe that enlightenment is a thing you can be and that they are it.

Even people who say, “I’m not offering anything” have websites, sell books and hold satsang-like meetings where fans and devotees can listen to them talk about how not dual they are for hours on end.

I guess what I’m asking is how these people who claim to be free of delusion can still, in many ways, seem so deluded. Do they just not see it? Once they have that bright flash of insight, does it become assimilated into that ideology, even if they believe they are beyond all ideologies?

Am I just being judgmental? Do you have any thoughts?”
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***
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There’s something you should understand which will permanently re-frame the way you look at authority figures altogether:

EVERYBODY is delusional.

The only difference is one of degrees. Some are less delusional than others. By how much? To what extent? In what aspects or areas of life or understanding? This varies from person to person.

So, while you may be suffering from your delusions, just know that the person towards whom you turn to seek advice is ALSO a delusional person. Your best hope is that he/she is less delusional than you are. Or at best, has some clarity in those areas of life in which you seem to lack it.

But to look at someone and expect them to be wholly sane and thus, reliable, is a mistake. You cannot rely on them because you don’t know the delusions they suffer from. They may be presenting in a wholesome and psychologically integrated manner but that outward presentation is most likely a cover-up for the inner tension and chaos they experience. You are better off trusting someone who presents an outwardly messy and muddled exterior because that way you know they aren’t investing their resources on curating a persona for your consumption.

The way seekers look at gurus is the way children look at their parents. When I was a child my parents seemed to have it all “figured out”. And even when shit hit the fan and their dysfunctions rose to the surface, my child’s psyche grappled to come to terms with the fact that they were imperfect people. It’s only when I became an adult did I come to see just how clueless they themselves were. They were just winging it like I was.

All these gurus and spiritual teachers are also just winging it like you are. They haven’t figured anything of real consequence out. At best, they’ve figured out how not to have a miserable time in life. How not to make a total mess of it.

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UNIVERSAL ASPECTS

You asked me what the inner life of these teachers is like. How much self-awareness do they really have?

While this is speculative, I’d be willing to bet my last penny that it’s not really all that different from yours or mine. No matter what experiences they’ve had, no matter how many earth-shattering revelations into the nature of reality and self, certain basic structures will continue to exist:

– There will still be a functioning sense of self and accompanying self-image

– This sense of self will still require protection, promotion and some amount of attention

– There will still be a fear of the unknown and a discomfort with uncertainty

– There will still be strategies to mitigate that uncertainty and explain the unknown

– There will still be several unconscious programs and patterns of behaviour

– There will still be several unconscious beliefs driving their self-image and perception of others

– There will still be a desire to achieve “pleasurable” experiences and avoid “painful” experiences (although how pleasure and pain are defined may vary dramatically from person to person)

– There will still be an unconscious desire to resolve the cognitive dissonance caused by conflicting self-interests

– Self-interest will still be a significant driving factor in one’s endeavors no matter how “selfless” one appears to be

– There will still be difficult emotions like anger, fear, jealousy, envy, anxiety and dread

– There will still be a distortion of self-image based on how other people react to it

– The self- image will still feel inflated when others react favorably and will still feel deflated when others react unfavorably

– There will still be a significant desire to control how others perceive them

– There will still be a tendency to objectify other people in order to utilize them in some way

– There will still be a tendency to control events and circumstances in order to influence desired outcomes

These are certain UNIVERSAL aspects of the inner life of a human being (that the enlightened ones claim to have transcended). It manifests in varying degrees in people. Very little of it can be short-circuited. No matter how much self-awareness one develops, one cannot sidestep this basic mechanism that has been hardcoded into our consciousness. 
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EXISTENTIAL RELAXATION

While these aspects of our inner lives are universal, there may be differences in how people REACT to this knowledge.

One may develop an acceptance that this is just HOW THINGS ARE. There isn’t a whole lot of choice in how these programs evolve and operate. And as a result of that acceptance, one may experience a sense of existential relaxation about the whole deal of “being this person” that one is. One may just choose not to struggle against it, but rather simply observe it all with greater curiosity and interest.

What this attitude of “existential relaxation” leads to is a LIGHTENING UP in one’s day to day experience. There is a lack of seriousness about oneself or the world. One is not devastated that things are broken nor is one celebrating things that are going well. One understands that all of this is just the nature of the beast we call “life”.

And this mind, being a manifestation of that same life, is similarly dysfunctional in certain aspects and functional in others. One is not overly invested in becoming “perfectly functional”; as if perfect functioning were the goal of life. Instead, one is more interested in observing and understanding the interplay between all the factors and facets that exist within us: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Being an imperfect or a dysfunctional human being who doesn’t have it “all figured out” is certainly nothing to be ashamed of because EVERYONE is like that. When one recognizes this deeply, achieving or claiming “enlightenment” or some other superior state of awareness (call it “awakened or whatever) becomes the absolute LEAST thing of value. 
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SPIRITUAL HYPOCRISY

The kind of people who have developed an acceptance around their own innate imperfection are NOT the ones lining up for spiritual teaching jobs. It’s the ones who are desperate to believe such perfection exists, who are. Many of them have simply loitered around the satsang scene for so long that they feel it’s time for a promotion. Time to leave the infantry behind and become an officer. Others have developed such sophisticated psychological mechanisms of denial that they literally CAN’T SEE the glaring imperfections and flaws within them.

Your quote about the clowns in the spiritual circus is correct:

Either a teacher is completely ignorant about themselves just like the student is and they are blindly believing in this state of perfection called “enlightenment”, in which case it’s just a case of the blind leading the blind. Or he/she knows FULL WELL that it’s a sham but they’re doing it ANYWAYS because they get something out of it – which makes them quite a shitty person.

This latter attitude is quite rampant in the self-help industry.

Some billionaire sharing his tips for financial success is obviously going to leave out all the details about the bad investments, the shady deals and the people they’ve had to throw under the bus to get to where they are.

Similarly, many of these guru types are consummately concealing their own flaws, inhibitions, fears, doubts, confusions and ulterior motives. And what that communicates to the people following them is that THEY DON’T HAVE ANY.

Of course, this concealing of the darker aspects of our inner lives is not unusual. We all do it to a certain extent. But when one is in the public eye and is, literally, the object of emulation and admiration, the stakes to conceal that darker side go up exponentially. And when one puts oneself on a pedestal of “enlightenment” or awakened awareness, then one has no choice but to shut that dark side in an iron vault and throw away the key.

This is why spiritual teachers can often be so destructive to their students and their communities. Because when one uses that much energy to repress one’s own imperfect humanity, the backlash effect of all that repressed energy is EXPLOSIVE. When all that anger, anxiety, jealousy, doubt, envy, shame, fear and confusion is suppressed so violently in order to maintain an exterior of perfect peace and knowing, it turns RADIOACTIVE.
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SPIRITUALITY AS A FORM OF OPPRESSION

Spirituality has become this tool with which to deny our humanity: as if our humanity is the problem. I look at all the things that are vilified by these spiritual paths: our emotions, our attachments, our desires, our personal worlds, our own selves. And I can’t help but wonder what kind of sick, twisted mind came up with such a “spirituality”.

Yes, our humanity is paradoxical; often muddled and chaotic, never easy, deeply painful at times. But it is also rich and diverse beyond belief.

To me, my emotions are like music. My attachments are intense and fulfilling. My desires are powerful and revelatory. My personal world is a wonderland. Being my self is a beautiful privilege and a unique opportunity for expression.

Sure, I could come up with a non-dual alternative reality in which to (non)exist and focus so much energy on denying every one of these aspects in my life that pretty soon I could become completely desensitized to it all, including my self. But why? And to what end? To realize the “absolute perfection” of all that exists?

It already IS perfect to me JUST the way it is.

I watched about ten minutes of a Ramana Maharishi documentary on youtube last night. And even though the documentary was heavily tinted with a blind reverence for the man, the thing that watching it evoked from me was not reverence. It was sadness and pity. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen actual film footage of Ramana and it was like watching a holocaust video.

The man’s body appeared devastated, his muscles completely atrophied. His legs were like two long stilts that he could hardly walk on, his knees didn’t bend. He used a stick to support himself when walking with his disciples and his hips looked like they were locked in place. His skin sagged loosely and his bones appeared frail and about to break at any moment.

And the thought that appeared in my mind was, “did you really hate your body THAT much that you allowed it to deteriorate in this way?”

What kind of ideology has to hijack an organism’s brain in order to subject itself to that degree of torture and deprivation in order to prove WHAT? That the “self” is an illusion? That one can transcend suffering?

This guy, who can barely hold himself up and whose body is literally collapsing under its own weight, is counselling other people on “suffering”?

That to me is not spirituality – it is OPPRESSION. To debase the organism in that manner, to defile one’s own body and neglect it so insensitively is a kind of madness.

So, while he may have had a lot of philosophical insight – Ramana, who most consider the greatest of all teachers, whom most contemporary teachers are scrambling to establish a lineage to, strikes me as a deeply flawed and misguided soul himself – even if he was capable of brilliant insight.

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EVERYONE is delusional.

And when you get this, you will understand that you cannot make your own delusional mind someone else’s responsibility, because they have their hands full with their own delusions. And if they take on that responsibility of dealing with your delusions for you, you are inadvertently signing up for dealing with theirs.

Better a known devil than an unknown one.

The only thing a person can offer another by way of “guidance” is to share their own experience of life and living. And that requires them to be honest. To portray themselves as the works in progress that they really are. To lead by example.

And in response, witnessing such an open willingness to take responsibility for one’s own imperfect humanity, the listener may feel inspired to similarly open up to their own.

For spirituality, to me, is simply that:

Embracing the ESSENCE of what it means to be “human” – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Spiritual Advancement

I was reading this Facebook thread recently where some commenters were debating the “spiritual advancement” of certain gurus and which one was the most advanced of them all. And reading it reminded me of the following incident…

***

I was an amateur sculptor in my student days. It all began with this wooden Weeping Buddha statue someone gifted me. It was plain and unfinished in its appearance. But it inspired in me this deep desire to create something just like it.

So, I got myself some clay and began working on making a replica of it. After a few days of work, I finished it and covered it in gold paint. Many people complimented me on the statue and remarked that I had a natural talent for sculpting. So, I began sculpting more often. Over the next couple of years, my skill improved and I began sculpting all kinds of figures. My subject of interest was in sculpting figures of ascetics, mendicants and monks in meditation.

Then one day, a friend invited me to display some of my sculptures in a university arts and crafts show. So, I brought a handful of my clay figures together and displayed them on a table that I had been designated.

When I returned later that afternoon, I found a group of three students standing at the table discussing the sculptures. They sounded like freshmen art students who were trying to one-up each other with their superior critiquing skills. I listened in amusement as they analyzed the thought process of the “artist” in sculpting each figure – what he must have been channeling when he created it.

I sauntered over and stood beside them pretending to be just someone browsing.

“See, I don’t think that’s it,” the guy with the glasses was saying to the girl with the pink hair, while pointing to a figure of a meditating monk, “this one is clearly different from the rest. His expression doesn’t bear the same stern resolve and grim ambition so evident in the others’ expressions. His posture is soft and yielding not rigid and defiant. His body isn’t quite as emaciated. To me he seems content. His smile conceals a secret only he can understand. In fact, I dare say, he alone has found what he was searching for. He is enlightened!”

The other two balked at him. The girl with the pink hair disagreed, “you’re not looking at it deeply enough. That’s not contentment, that’s self-satisfaction. It’s not a secret he is concealing, it’s his own ego and arrogance. That smile is the smile of false humility like all those priests and false prophets who fill their coffers with the hopes of the masses. If any of these figures are enlightened it’s this one over there,” she pointed to the frail and aging figure of a peasant woman sitting in the shade of her own shawl.

“Now this is a simple woman who has clearly devoted her life to her work, her family, her love and her god. Her truth is more powerful than any of the others’. Her face is creased with hardship and suffering, but her eyes are full of wisdom and compassion. To me, she strikes me as the most spiritual of them all.”

The big guy with the beard shook his head, “don’t agree with either of you. You’re trying to read too much into their stories. There is only one that easily stands out far above the rest and it’s this sadhu dude over here. You can tell by the length of his hair and the total lack of flesh on his body that this dude is COMMITTED! This guy is hardcore. The others are amateurs!”

This back and forth continued for a while and then, at a certain point, the guy in the glasses noticed me listening to their conversation. So, he decided to settle the argument and asked me, as an outside and unbiased observer, whose opinion I aligned with the most? Which figure, among these, struck me as the most “spiritually liberated”?

I furrowed my brow and thought for a while. And then responded,

“You know, I really couldn’t say. But what I can tell you is that they were all made from the same lump of clay. And next week, they’ll all be going in the same trashcan.”

Live Fully

“Is there any spiritual practice that you recommend as being superior?”
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***
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Live fully.

That’s pretty much it.

Everything else is only a layer of fat. All our philosophical musings, our spiritual rituals, our beliefs, our opinions, our social engagements and so on may provide our minds with a lot of succulent fat to chew. But there is no meat in any of it.

“Spiritual” is not this other dimension of experience that is separate from the mundane. Spiritual IS the mundane.

Washing the lotus feet of a Buddha statue is just as spiritual as washing the dishes.

Singing devotional songs in an ashram is just as spiritual as singing Top 40 tunes in a karaoke bar.

Sitting on a meditation cushion is just as spiritual an activity as sitting on the toilet.

A monk praying in a monastery up in the mountains is just as spiritual as an investment banker closing a deal in his office up in a skyscraper.

We think because the first set of activities lead to an altered state of mind there is something “more spiritual” about them. We feel like the quality of our awareness is improved, our vision is expanded, our senses are aroused – and this leads us to believe that these practices are somehow different; that they have an aura of sacredness, of extraordinariness, of specialness, of spiritual depth to them.

But that is a facade. It is a trick of stagecraft designed to lure your attention. It’s because you have forgotten how to find the spiritual IN the mundane that all these tricks and elaborate rituals have been constructed to try and remediate you.

When I was a little kid I was a lousy eater. So my mother would have to devise these elaborate stories and rituals to even get a single bite into me. The spoon would be an airplane or a train and my mouth would be the airport or station. And we’d try and see how many passengers we could accommodate today.

That’s what meditation is. That’s what spiritual practices are. Elaborate techniques to get petulant children to consume the MOMENT in its entirety, one morsel at a time, without balking at it or becoming too distracted with the next shiny piece of thought-candy that comes along.

Spiritual practices are our existential aerobics regimes. Ashrams and retreats are our existential gyms and fitness centres. Civilization has turned our bodies flaccid and has addled our minds by exponentially shortening our attention spans. Gone are the days, when on a hunt, we could squat concealed in the long grass and silently scan the horizon for prey for hours on end. Instead, I sat in a restaurant today and watched every single patron there obsessively glued to their phone, whether or not they were dining alone.

Our “spiritual practices” aren’t spiritual practices at all. They are “correctional practices”. They are designed to offset a certain gross imbalance in the way we have grown accustomed to live.

Just as a person’s physical health has little to do with how many times they go to the gym, spirituality has little to do with how many times one meditates. Gym workouts serve the purpose of offsetting the imbalance created by a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. But people who are active in their daily lives to begin with, don’t need gyms. I workout regularly and consider myself pretty fit but the elderly people living next door can outwork me any day. They’ve been farmers their whole lives and have a physical endurance that is far beyond anything I can muster.

Similarly, spiritual practices serve to offset the imbalance created by a culture of distraction. Yet, people who are open, attentive, curious and present in their day-to-day, moment-to-moment, don’t need spiritual practices. Ordinary life and it’s events are where they find their spirituality.

I have nothing against spiritual practices just like I have nothing against gym workouts. My only issue is with the misconception that spiritual practices are the bedrock of a “spiritual life”.

That’s total nonsense.

That’s like saying workouts at the gym are the fundamental basis of a physically fit and healthy existence. Opportunities for activity and physical exertion arise constantly in our everyday lives if we so choose to engage with them. Physical fitness seems to be an inherent requirement in our very existence as physical beings. Gyms have hardly INVENTED fitness! They simply provide a space for us to engage in that sort of activity IF we are unable to do so otherwise.

Similarly, spiritual practices and rituals, teachings and philosophies, ashrams and centers provide a space for people to engage in “spirituality” IF they are unable to find opportunities to do so in their everyday lives. Yet, they don’t hold any dominion over or claim to spirituality. Spiritual experience is a constant in our lives – if we choose to engage with life in that manner. Spirituality seems to be an inherent requirement in our very existence as spiritual beings.

If someone were to ask me what workout regime I would recommend for them to live a fit and healthy life, I would answer : “None”. I would simply tell them to use their body for what it was designed to do. And to use it THOROUGHLY for that purpose. To utterly exhaust it.

And my answer to your question about spiritual practices is, likewise, similar. Use your spirit for what it has been designed for. To experience every moment being THOROUGHLY alive. To utterly exhaust each moment.

Chuck the fat and sink your teeth into the very meat of it.

An Impossible Choice

“I’ve been with this teacher for some time. He is one of the most brilliant people I’ve met. I’ve been sensing many disturbing things about him. The way he treats people doesn’t match up with his “state of realization”. I’m starting to think he is full of it. I’ve tried to address this with him once and he became quite aggressive. Some of the members in our community began to turn on me. I’m having a really hard time with this. I think I can see through his mask now. But at the same time many of my friends still believe in him. I don’t want to lose them. So, I still play nice. But it doesn’t feel right to me. I feel I’m being faced with an impossible choice. I’m not sure what I should do…”
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***
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I’m not sure what you should do either. But let me tell you a little story about Mr. Welcome…

When I was in the fifth grade I attended an all boys British school in Kolkata (Calcutta, at that time). Our class teacher was a man named Mr. Welcome.

Mr. Welcome was one of those teachers you dreamed of having. He was good looking, oozed machismo and was incredibly charismatic. He was an excellent teacher. He kept his students’ attention hanging off his every word. He was hilarious, inspirational and magnetic. He made every one of us feel like we were part of his team. He called us his “boys” and he felt more like a father to us than our own fathers were. Our class was the envy of other classes. Most other boys wished they had Welcome as their class teacher.

If the picture is still unclear to you, I want you to envision Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society. O Captain, My Captain! He was our captain. And we were his troops. I’m quite sure any of us would have gone to war for him, that’s how much we loved and believed in him. That is how much love we felt from him as well.

And of all the boys in class, I was his golden boy. He often told me I reminded him of himself when he was my age. I was an excellent English student (the subject he primarily taught). I could quote writers ranging from Shakespeare to P. G. Wodehouse back to him. I was a fierce scrapper and competitive in sports. He had been a boxer and a track athlete as well in his youth. I loved him like he was my own father.

Every year, the school held an Elocution contest. This was an oratory event in which contestants could choose a poem or a piece of prose and would have to recite it to an audience and a panel of judges. Each class from every grade put forth one or two contestants for the contest. Because of my sharp oratory skills, I was selected to take part in the event that year. I had chosen a particularly humorous story – a poem by Roald Dahl, for my piece. I spent two months rehearsing it in preparation for the event.

A couple of weeks before the event, Mr. Welcome announced to the class that the school had come up with a new event. A dramatics contest which would occur in only a week’s time. Each class would have to put on a play and the winning class would win a field trip somewhere special. The news electrified the class and everyone immediately began wondering what play we would put on. How could we create a script on such short notice? Who would the actors be? How would we learn our lines so quickly?

Mr. Welcome then announced to the class that he had decided that the play, our class would perform, was the same story I was reciting for the elocution contest. He said it was an excellent and humorous story and, since we were all familiar with it after watching me rehearse it, it would be a story everyone could ramp up on quickly. Then he looked at me and flashed one of his charming smiles,

“You don’t mind, do you my boy?”

I was a bit surprised by his decision, especially since performing it just a week before my own contest would take the element of surprise out of my own performance. But I didn’t think twice about it. I wanted our class to win no matter the cost. I grinned back and said it was no problem at all.

“That’s my boy!”

That evening I mentioned to my mother that our class would be putting on a play. When she asked what play it was, I told her it was the same one I would be reciting a week later. She was taken aback by this. Why would he choose THAT play when he knows how hard you’ve been working on this?? She asked. I told her it wasn’t a big deal. And she insisted it was. She said she was going to write a letter to him explaining the conflict of interest. I said it wasn’t necessary, but she reassured me that she was going to say it very nicely and even recommend some alternative scripts that she would be happy to type out for him. Eventually, her insistence wore me down and I caved.

The next morning I delivered the letter to Mr. Welcome as the class assembled. We all took our seats as he stood silently reading the letter. I watched him intently and started to get this uneasy knot of anxiety in my stomach. Something didn’t feel right. His face darkened. He didn’t look at me. He simply placed the envelope on the table and said to the class,

“I have an announcement to make.”

It sounded so serious, everyone hushed at once. That knot in my stomach was now a sick feeling.

“My boys, we have been let down by one of our own. Someone we trusted. Someone I believed in more than I’ve believed in any other. He has betrayed us. Shiv doesn’t want our class to succeed. He only cares about himself. He only cares about winning himself. He has been a coward. He has made his mother write a letter to tell me what I can or can’t do. He has taken our play away from us. That’s right boys. We are no longer allowed to do it. But don’t worry we will find something else. We will find a way to succeed despite his act of cowardice and betrayal. Let this be a lesson boys. Even a trusted brother can suddenly stab you in the back if he stands to benefit. Now we all know his true colors.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was as if time stood still in that moment. I watched the entire image I had built of the man, in my mind, shatter into a million pieces. I could feel the fiery glance of 39 other boys searing into the back of my neck. I went from class hero to social pariah in a single instant.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” The words echoed in the background rousing me from my stupor. Mr. Welcome was glaring at me. I knew what he wanted. What he needed.

I stood up to address him, as was customary and replied, my voice shaking, “I have nothing to say. I stand by that letter.”

His eyes grew wide with disbelief. He had fully expected me to grovel, to repent, to beg forgiveness, to confess that I had made a momentary and fatal error, to be begged to be let back in the fold. He would have, in his usual charming way, magnanimously forgiven me and told me not to give into my petty vanity at the expense of my brotherhood ever again, or some such nonsense. Yet, none of that held any appeal for me anymore. In that single instant, I saw through him and the sham of a “brotherhood” that we were.

The class went ahead and put on a different play the following week. The play had 39 participants. I was the only one excluded from participating, by him.

For the remainder of the year he made my life hell. He graded me much more unforgivingly than he did the other boys. My efforts to participate in the classes were completely ignored. He often made remarks to humiliate or ridicule me in front of the other boys. And they all lapped it up and laughed and guffawed. They called me “weak”, a “coward”, a “loser”, a “traitor”, a “sellout”, a “snake”. It stung badly, of course. These had all been my friends, my brothers. Now, I was worse than scum to them.

But I never regretted my decision: not to acquiesce…not to compromise my own self-respect in order to win back their love.

The year went by.

It was the last week of class. And by now, Welcome’s attitude towards me had begun to soften a bit. I sensed that he felt I had been in purgatory long enough. So, he asked me to stand up in class one day. And he looked at me with his usual charming smile and said,

“I think he’s learned his lesson now eh, boys? What do you say, Shiv? Shall we say this has been an important learning experience for everyone and put it past us, my boy?” The others were all murmuring. They seemed happy at this final reconciliation at the end of the school year.

He was looking at me with that twinkle in his eye, that roguish smile. I felt a slight tug within me – a reminder of what used to be.

And then I looked him dead straight in the eyes and said,

“I’m not your boy.”

Welcome stared at me, still smiling. The other boys were shocked. He nodded, then looked away and continued with the class.

Even after I went to the sixth grade, I’d sometimes encounter him in the hallways. He’d make some friendly remark, try to engage me in some sportive kind of way. But I wouldn’t give him the time of day. I knew what he was. And I knew what I was…

***

The dynamic you are referring to isn’t exclusive to spiritual circles. It exists everywhere: in schools, in corporations, in the military, you name it. The strength of the herd and the sense of belonging one feels, especially when under the guidance of a charismatic leader, is an incredibly powerful force. It’s powerful enough to start wars and revolutions.

But there is one thing that is even more powerful than that. And that is the power of your own spirit. It is infinitely more powerful.

But there is no way for you to really KNOW this until you have put it to the test. And those tests come in the form of making impossible choices. Choices that feel like burning every bridge we have built and excommunicating ourselves from the ones we know and love. No wonder few ever make such choices.

I have known incredible, conscientious, kind people stand by and watch abuse and discrimination happen because they were faced with this impossible choice. I have watched strong, independent and self-respecting people accept abuse and comply with conditions that go against their own sense of ethics because they were faced with this impossible choice.

I cannot tell you what you need to do. I can only tell you what I did. And that wasn’t the only time I stood up to a false authority in my life. I did it over and over and over again. And each time, without fail, I was alienated from my clan as a result of it.

Yet, in the end, each alienation just served to set me more in tune with myself.

Each excommunication, from a foreign land I once believed was my own, only served to deliver me closer to home.

The world is full of Welcomes. But there is only one of you. The real choice you face is which one you will choose to honor.

I Am Not, Yet I Am

“I am not the thinker of my thoughts”.

“I am not the doer of my deeds.”

“There is no one here that is witnessing this.”

“Thinking, doing, witnessing happens without cause.”

These were the words that came out of my mouth when I experienced my first awakening.

It was a staggering realization to see everything as one great movement. The universe still in the midst of that first bang. All my words, my thoughts, my actions, my desires that I had believed were my own and chosen by me – nothing more than part and parcel of that singular bang – still happening, happening, forever happening.

No I nor you. No this nor that. No here nor there. No now nor then. No cause nor effect. All just an endless unfolding and unpacking of a singular explosive event.

Space, time, matter, energy, self, world : these bedrock constants upon which our realities are based suddenly appeared completely fluid, elastic, changeable, hollow.

The world began to appear increasingly surreal – dreamlike. Everything, including nature, began to appear artificial – as if it were all made of plastic. My body too felt like something artificial, plastic, manufactured off some assembly line in China.

My mind began to feel similarly artificial. Like an A.I. programmed with myriad algorithms. My thoughts, my ideas, my opinions – nothing felt original to me. They felt like implants. And further, I had no control over when the thoughts occurred, how they took hold of me, what they convinced me to do, what other thoughts or emotional experiences or actions they triggered. It all seemed like an elaborate game my mind was playing with itself as I just sat uselessly watching and being moved like a puppet. Even the “watching” seemed to happen beyond me and my control.

“Then where the fuck am I?” I couldn’t find myself. There simply was no “I” in this equation that was in any way separate from what was occurring. Any “sense” of a self that there was, was only another appearance like space or time or matter.

At first, all of this felt immensely liberating, because it freed me of the burden that my own identity had become. I had suffered so intensely, hated my self so much, wished it destroyed, been ashamed of it, felt tormented by it. Imagine being the captive of some abusive kidnapper and suffering as their hostage for years. And then one day you realize the kidnapper is no longer there. They’ve just vanished.

Seeing that the story of my self was not only a piece of fiction, but also that the self was a mirage created by a trick of the mind similar to how one sees a face in the clouds, was like being set free from my captor.

I believed I was enlightened. In fact, I had no doubt about it.

Yet, I struggled to orient myself to this new reality. I had lost my bearings on reality altogether.

What was good, what was bad? What was right or wrong? Where was up or down? What was now, what was later? I became dysfunctional to a large extent. I had lost my coordinates and was drifting listlessly on an empty ocean of nonsensical experience that had no end.

I couldn’t relate to people easily because I had no language by which to relate. I didn’t understand rules of speech, decorum, boundaries of appropriateness. Everything became open season. Morality, ethics, laws, empathy, decency – none of these held much meaning.

Why can’t I eat rotten food? What’s the point of eating at all? Why can’t one sleep with another man’s wife? Why can’t one sleep with another man’s pet? Why can’t we just cannibalize each other for food? Why can’t I just step off the second storey balcony and see if my knee caps shatter on impact, just for the heck of it?

What at first seemed like great freedom and sanity soon devolved into a madness that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. When it’s all uncaused, when there is no “thinker” to the thoughts, when there is no “doer” to the deeds – there also ceases to be a “regulator” of what is thought, said and done. The conscience is annihilated.

Yet, even in the absence of a separate self, the mind was still pumping out thoughts and emotions by the second. And this emotional roller coaster became terrifying at a point. The highs were intense highs and the lows were devastating lows. I lived in pure survival mode. Through it all, I struggled to function in my daily life: hold a job, pay rent, feed myself.

“It’s all made up. It’s all arbitrary. There is no real north or south, east or west. There is only this endless ocean of experience!”

At a certain point I came to realize that this was an unfeasible way to live. I had entered a realm of pure chaos. And if a life had to be lived, it needed an anchor around which perception could be ordered and life could be structured.

That anchor was the self.

Whether the self was real or illusory wasn’t the point. The point was that just like my “sense” of hearing converted waves of energy into SOUND, just like my “sense” of sight converted waves of energy into SHAPES and COLORS, just like my “sense” of touch converted waves of energy into SOLID, LIQUID OR VAPOR – so also did my “sense” of self convert waves of energy and information, coming from my nervous system, into ME.

“I am as real as the redness of a rose. I am as real as the resonance of a guitar string. I am as real as the hardness of this table. I am of the same nature as all that I see, feel, touch, smell and hear.

“If I am an illusion, then this is all an illusion too. So, we are of the same nature regardless. Then what is “real” and what is “illusory”? Only words.”

“Reality. Illusion. Are they separate? Are they not two aspects of the same?

“One may say the rose is real. Redness is only an illusion. But a rose without redness isn’t a rose. And redness cannot exist without a form like the rose to manifest it. “

“A rose without “redness” is simply an idea of a rose. A table without “hardness” is simply an idea of a table. A guitar string without its resonance is simply the idea of a guitar string. This world, without me, is simply the idea of a world.

“I am the essence of what it means for something to “exist”. I am what gives reality it’s “realness”. I am not real. I am realness itself.”

As my self reassumed it’s former position: Mountains once again became mountains. Rivers once again became rivers.

In a world innately free of coordinates, it became my responsibility to set my own coordinates. In the absence of any real cardinal directions, I established my own north and south using the magnetic pull of my intuition. I used my wife, my first daughter and then my second daughter as my three anchors to reality. And the deep love I felt for them became the immovable weight that held those anchors firm. I began building a new scaffolding around my life. A new set of rules by which to play the game…


Realizing that it’s all a made up game is one thing. Yet, as revelatory as that is, sitting on the bench for the rest of the game just because “it’s all made up” is a waste of a lifetime. Much better not to realize anything, if that’s the case! But getting off the bench and rejoining the game, knowing full well it’s a game is where true freedom lies. And that is also where true responsibility lies, because now you are not only responsible for how you play but also responsible for the game itself.

“I am not the thinker of my thoughts. Yet, I choose to be.”

“I am not the doer of my deeds. Yet, I choose to be.”

“There is no on here that is witnessing this. Yet, I choose to be.”

“Thinking, doing, witnessing happens without cause. Yet, I choose to be the cause of it all.”

The Mark Of A Teacher

“Your critiques of guru types is spot on IMO. I agree with you wholeheartedly that the entire spiritual scene is corrupt. It’s time to drain the swamp and clear voices like yours are much needed in this culture. I’m curious about something else. In your opinion, what are some qualities that a “good spiritual teacher” might possess?”
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This is a purely hypothetical answer because I’ve never encountered one. Just kidding! ..Not.

Well, first and foremost, one needs to ask themselves “why” they want to be a spiritual teacher? What is it that they feel they need to teach somebody? Is it some kind of belief system or school of thought one has bought into that one feels one needs to indoctrinate other people into? If that’s the case, that’s fine, except that’s not the kind of person that I would consider a “spiritual” teacher. That’s a teacher of dogma. And I’m sure it is possible to be a good teacher of dogma, but that’s not your question and nor am I interested in answering that question if it were.

So, let’s assume that an individual has realized something of their own spirit. They have undergone a process of maturation: perhaps they’ve had certain epiphanies (awakening experiences) along the way, they’ve fumbled through learning to integrate those experiences and develop a more mature perspective on life. Still, the question remains: why do you want to be a teacher?

Perhaps, one is motivated by the confusion one sees in others and the suffering that results from that confusion and one wants to do something about it. That’s fine. However, if one believes one is on a mission to “save people”, that right there, is a recipe for disaster in the long run and will impede one’s ability to provide true mentorship.

So, the desire to be of assistance, to provide guidance must be balanced by the realistic expectation that not everyone needs guidance, is ready for guidance or will even respond to one’s guidance favorably. One is guiding out of one’s OWN desire to guide, not because people will be lost if you didn’t provide it. No one NEEDS you.

If and when one’s own sense of contribution and expectation is grounded in reality, then one is setup to be in a position in which one could potentially provide useful guidance. Still, this doesn’t mean one will be a “good teacher”.

So, assuming one’s head isn’t in the clouds and one is approaching this from a fairly down-to-earth perspective, what are some of the qualities that one can expect to see as a bare minimum standard so as to be considered a reasonably decent teacher?

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FIRST: ”There simply cannot be any claims of being a “master” or “guru” of anything: life, mind, spirituality, whatever. “

Spirituality is already such a nebulous subject that to claim any sort of mastery is delusional to begin with. Mastery based on what criteria? These absolute titles are meaningless and misleading.

At best you can claim a certain level of experience and proficiency in comparison to someone else less experienced. So, the “role” one takes on is purely relative and in relation to the people you are guiding. Thus, “mentor” is probably the most honest title you could assume, if having a title is your thing. “Teacher” even feels like a bit of a stretch because it assumes a certain “subject matter expertise” which again can’t be qualified. Unless you are providing instruction on an established technique or activity like yoga or vipassana, simply talking to people about your philosophical outlook doesn’t imply that you are an expert of anything except your own thoughts.

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SECOND: ”There MUST be a willingness to meet students where they are rather than expect them to meet you where YOU are. “

This is something that I feel is absolutely fundamental and in fact is intuitive. Any half decent school teacher, for example, will attempt to do this. Of course, in a school setting a lot is limited by class sizes and curriculums. But on a one-on-one basis it is the teacher’s job to work from the level of understanding that the student exists at. And NOT the other way around. Which seems to be how spiritual culture functions.

The danger with expecting the students to meet you at your level of awareness is that the student cannot reasonably do that. If they could they wouldn’t need you in the first place. So, instead they will fake the understanding. They will fake it to you and more importantly to themselves in order to convince themselves that they GET what the teacher is talking about. And in the process, all sorts of problems emerge.

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THIRD: “Regardless of what one understands in comparison to one’s students, there can be no condescending to them by putting oneself on a pedestal or elevating oneself as being superior in any way.”

This is a vital point. Within the role and the dynamic, you might be in the position of a mentor, but there may be other areas in life where the roles could be reversed. A former high school student of mine is now a mechanic and when he talks cars he is the teacher and I am the student. Understanding, that one’s identity as a spiritual teacher does not encompass the whole of what one is, is imperative if one is going to be an honest and effective mentor.

Further, what one knows or understands is simply a drop in the ocean. And one must be willing to be cognizant of what one doesn’t know and openly admit to it.

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FOURTH: “There can be ABSOLUTELY NO communication, whether overt or subliminally implied, that one has found or discovered something that others lack.”

Especially as a spiritual teacher, it is crucial that one establishes the clear equality between teacher and student when it comes to INTRINSIC VALUE. In other words, the teacher’s life is in NO WAY BETTER than that of the student’s. In fact , clearing up that misconception on the part of the student IS the teacher’s job. Most teachers today are doing the opposite i.e. actively creating and building upon that misconception in an effort to create a greater chasm between student and teacher that the student desperately seeks to cross.

THERE IS NO SUCH CHASM. And any teacher who doesn’t communicate that unequivocally, is not fit to teach, in my opinion.

The teacher’s primary role, if the student is willing, is to steer the student towards a recognition of their own authority. It is the student’s job to determine for themselves what kind of life and awareness they want to manifest. And this can only happen in an organic fashion if the teacher isn’t setting up any biases in the student’s mind to begin with. Creating categories of experience like: awake or asleep, liberated or suffering, enlightened or unenlightened and so on sets up a clear inner bias.

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FIFTH: “One CANNOT create an atmosphere of have’s and have not’s. “

The nature of spirituality and mystical experiences is that they often happen spontaneously and unexpectedly. Each is revelatory in their own way. None are superior to any other. Most importantly, even a lack of such mystical experience or insight does not compromise one’s ability to learn, grow and evolve if that is one’s inclination. Displaying such insights and awakening experiences as badges of achievement are petty and miss the point entirely. Ordinary everyday awareness is our highest spiritual achievement and communicating anything other than that is to immediately create an atmosphere of lack. No true learning can ever happen in an environment that fosters lack, desperation or fear of missing out. A “good teacher” understands this and would likewise never display their own experiences or insight as any badge of achievement.

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SIXTH: “One must be willing to teach by example.”

This point is almost too obvious to state, except that in the culture of spirituality that exists today, it can’t be stated enough. Nobody likes a hypocrite. And hypocrisy is rampant among the teachers of our times.

Before you open your mouth to speak, make absolutely sure you can walk the walk. Having some incredible flashes of insight do not equate with actually living those insights. One only lives them when one has gone through the arduous and disorienting process of integrating them. And the wisdom that comes from that aftermath is far more useful than the momentary insights one has had. If all one has to offer is philosophical wisdom then one should become a philosophy teacher.

“Spirituality”, to me, encompasses the entire human experience. Thus, practical wisdom has to be a necessary aspect of one’s teachings as well. Further, if one has not learned to integrate the two, philosophical and practical wisdom, one has yet to learn how to live with paradoxes. And if that is the case, it is best one avoids taking on the responsibility of teaching since one is not in a position to truly guide others spiritually.

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SEVENTH: “One must be truthful and transparent in one’s expression.”

Transparent about who they are, what they understand, where they struggle, what their strengths are and what their weaknesses are. To project an image of oneself as being anything more than imperfectly human is unacceptable. To pretend to be some perfect manifestation of the divine, of course, should be considered a guaranteed, “Yeah, leave your resume with us and we’ll get back to you at a future date….in the trash!”

Your job as a spiritual teacher or mentor is not to drone on and on about what “truth” is. It is to demonstrate it by actually living it. Honesty, first and foremost, is how a human being manifests truth in word, deed and action. After that you can talk about the nature of reality being “dool”, “nan-dool” or “uber-dool” all you want: what you say is secondary and purely a matter for intellectual consideration. HOW you say it, is the meat of your teaching. You can say all the right words, but if you are being dishonest, the stench of your hypocrisy will eventually reach noses that are sensitive enough to smell your bullshit.

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EIGHTH: “One must establish a clear ethical stance and boundaries in teacher-student relationships.”

This is a hard one for many spiritual teachers to swallow because they’re so “free and uninhibited” and hey, “they’re not even here” and, besides, who can control what happens since they’re not the “doer” of their deeds! All of these rationalizations should be immediate disqualification criteria for anyone wanting to assume such a role.

Regardless of how “illusory” all of this is, failing to establish a clear framework of engagement is a sign of immaturity. Establishing such a code of ethics and drawing firm boundaries clearly communicates to students what their own responsibilities are and how they may hold the TEACHER responsible if he/she fails to abide by their own standards. A “good teacher” not only establishes clear and respectful boundaries, but abides by them and takes full accountability if and when he/she might falter.

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NINTH: “Maintaining a standard of dedication and work ethic is essential.“

Making a youtube video of yourself just “spontaneously rambling” about life, does not constitute “teaching”. At the very least, one must aspire to the standards of a school teacher: the thought, the preparation, the material, the quality, the professionalism that one brings to the table must be of a reasonable standard. One must take “pride in one’s work” and by that I don’t mean one must be full of oneself. One’s work should stand by itself, independent of the person, and be easily recognizable for its quality.

The focus of your work needs to be your students NOT yourself.

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TENTH: “If one chooses to make a living from teaching, then one must do so ethically, professionally and transparently.”

One must operate like a business and maintain one’s books in a similar fashion clearly outlining what one’s overhead, incidentals and operational costs are and what salary one has decided to pay oneself. That salary too must be transparent and reasonable. What “reasonable” is must be determined in a rational manner.

Given the fact, that this is an unregulated field requiring no education, certification, testing or qualification: one must be willing to accept that no matter how “essential” one believes one’s role is, from a purely practical perspective one is offering nothing more than layman advice. So, at best, one can aspire to the income level of an ordinary school teacher (although they are more educated and more qualified).

Of course, book deals and public speaking engagements once the marketing machine kicks in will greatly inflate that income. But at that point I no longer consider you a spiritual teacher. You are a spiritual celebrity. By teacher, I imagine you have a venue: a school, an ashram, a community center where you regularly hold classes – and if that is the case, then your income stream must be comparable to that of any other teacher’s in your locality.

If you choose to go the non-profit/donation route, don’t be a douchebag and try and game the system like the rest of those pricks out there. Literally, DON’T MAKE A PROFIT from it. Use your donations for operating expenses and offsetting costs for those who may need the financial support. Have a day job that supports you, your family and provides you enough of a livelihood that you can AFFORD to teach people for no profit. Be completely transparent with the money you receive from your donations and what it is being used for.

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This is, of course, only MY OPINION, which is what you asked for. There is so much room for ambiguity in this sort of endeavor that it opens up all kinds of cans of worms: abuse, exploitation, tyranny, brainwashing, gaslighting and so on. Maintaining a clear code of ethics similar to the Hippocratic Oath that all medical doctors take and are expected to abide by is, in my view, the bare minimum expectation we should have of those who claim to be our teachers and guides in matters of existence and spirit.

Abiding by THAT, rather than in some permanently “awake” state is, for me, the mark of a good teacher.

The Need Of The Hour

(This is possibly the most important post I’ve written on this page, because it reveals a dynamic that is pandemic in spiritual culture and a roadblock few seekers get past…)

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When I was in my twenties, I organized this Philosophy meetup group in Toronto. We were about five to six members who would meet up once a week and discuss the existential questions of life over a cup of coffee. One of these members, was a woman who was in her fifties at the time. Her name was Kathy.

Kathy was an incredibly intelligent woman and she had a wisdom that was quite evident the moment you met her. Kathy and I hit it off right off the bat and often, even after the group would disperse, the two of us would linger and be passionately immersed in conversation on whatever topic struck our fancy. We were fascinated by each other’s minds.

Kathy had a rough childhood. She grew up in the Canadian foster care system. She moved a total of seven times between the ages of 3 and 16. She would talk about how awful the conditions in some of the homes were. One set of foster parents were drug addicts and they would use the welfare money, that they received from the government for her care, to shoot up. She and her foster siblings were basically forced to fend for themselves.

At another home, she was molested by her foster dad while her foster mom watched. When she told her foster sister about it, her sister confessed the same had happened to her and the girl before her who had ended up taking her own life soon after leaving foster care. Eventually, these foster parents were charged and Kathy was moved to another home.

Here, Kathy had a somewhat normal life but her parents were aloof. It was clear that this was just a business transaction for them. The only real family she had was a grandmother who loved her dearly but was unable to care for her because she lived in an assisted living facility. Visits with her grandma would fill her up with love and give her the strength to return to those horrible homes she lived in.

Eventually, Kathy became an adult. She was extremely bright so she went to college. But she ended up doing drugs and even became an escort for a while. She entered bad relationship after bad relationship with men who mistreated her and abused her. Eventually, she evolved past all of that.

When I met her, Kathy had a lightness about her. She seemed a genuinely happy person. Which is why hearing about her past was a shock to me. She confessed to me that, in hindsight, she was glad that all of that had happened. Every bit of pain, misery, suffering and abuse she had experienced had brought her to the awareness and understanding that she now had. All the good and all the bad had contributed to her growth and learning. How could it have happened any other way?

Yet, Kathy was also a vocal advocate for reforming the Canadian foster care system. She frequently campaigned and lobbied for policy changes to be made in how foster care is administered and how foster parents are screened. She worked closely with grassroots organizations to make changes at the very ground level. She worked to get kids out of abusive homes. She told me that the system was perverse and that abuse was systemic because of the very fundamentals on which the structure was based.

Upon hearing her deep acceptance of her own past and experience within foster care versus her passionate resistance and activism against the foster care system – my twenty year old mind found this confusing and paradoxical. How can one have acceptance and yet show resistance at the same time?

I was yet to learn to grasp the paradoxical nature of wisdom. It would take me another decade and a half from then, to see the world the way Kathy did…

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It’s been a repeating objection that many readers have had to my posts where I am critical of spiritual cultures and spiritual teachers in general. The argument many of these well-meaning readers propose is:

“Well, I have learned a lot from both the positive and negative experiences that I’ve had. I’ve had good gurus and fake gurus and both have had something to teach me. So I don’t see why one needs to be critical of the industry. Good or fake, there is something to learn from all of them.”

This is the argument. And it is a confused argument and I’m going to illustrate to you why.

As I mentioned earlier, my friend Kathy had developed a deep acceptance of all that had happened to her in foster care. She had learned much from the abuse, the neglect, the assault and also from the love she received from her grandma. So, as far as she was concerned, the rotten foster parents had played a vital role in her own growth as an individual.

However, this DID NOT stop her from being critical of the foster care system and becoming a vocal advocate for reform. She didn’t just say, “Well, there are some good parents too you know. Not all are bad. And the bad ones also have something to teach us, so there is no use being critical of the foster care system.”

And there is a reason she didn’t resort to this kind of thinking which is something that plagues most spiritual seekers AND teachers today. And that is because she understood that there are TWO KINDS of wisdom.

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PHILOSOPHICAL WISDOM VS. PRACTICAL WISDOM

Philosophical wisdom can be considered the “wisdom of being”.

In other words, philosophical wisdom has to do with an ACCEPTANCE of things as they are. Philosophical wisdom attempts to zoom ALL THE WAY OUT to the “30,000 foot view” of life and take all the myriad factors and variables that contribute to the events that happen. It tries to grasp the complex interrelationship of causes and effects and thus attempts to RESERVE JUDGMENT on what is good and bad, right and wrong. It attempts, instead, to establish a holistic view of life and operate from there.

Philosophical wisdom is a critical ingredient of HINDSIGHT.

In fact, if one has not learned to develop a holistic attitude towards one’s own past, it is quite likely that the past is still a sticking point and continues to traumatize us in some way. Having a holistic view of the past means viewing all the positive and negative events of one’s life as the singularly propelling “coupling force” that has contributed to one’s evolution as an individual. This is both a psychologically healthy and wise perspective to maintain.

However, there is also this thing called PRACTICAL wisdom. And practical wisdom can be considered the “wisdom of action”.

That action could look like anything: acceptance, resistance, encouragement, discouragement, agreement, disagreement, complimenting, critiquing and so on. Practical wisdom zooms ALL THE WAY IN to the “ground zero view” of life and sets its coordinates using only a few parameters in its environment. It operates with a strong JUDGMENT in order to navigate efficiently and effectively forward. Good, bad, right, wrong in this case have to be very clear cut as one is moving forward in this perspective. Rather than a holistic view: it operates on a dualistic evaluation of its environment.

Practical wisdom is a critical ingredient of FORESIGHT. In fact, if one has not developed practical wisdom they are likely to feel indecisive about how to act when faced with often complex and conflicting circumstances of life. Practical wisdom is imperative to develop an ethical and conscientious standard of living. It allows for little ambiguity about what is “acceptable” or “unacceptable” in terms of circumstances it encounters. It is extremely clear cut and common-sensical in nature.

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THE CONFUSION

The problem is that Philosophical Wisdom and Practical Wisdom cannot operate exclusively. They must operate in tandem if there is to be a balance of being and action within the organism.

And if you look at society, you will see two kinds of IMBALANCE.

Most of what we call “material society” is operating purely from the standpoint of “practical wisdom”. In other words, they are operating in very pragmatic ways as they go about their lives with clear rules of engagement and decision making factors. However, because they lack philosophical wisdom, they apply the same practical wisdom to their HINDSIGHT.

And this is where they err. Because they treat their pasts as they would their futures – as something that COULD HAVE or SHOULD HAVE been different. Thus, there is no acceptance. This lack of acceptance causes them much suffering.

On the other hand, most of what we call “spiritual society” is operating from the standpoint of “philosophical wisdom”. In other words, they are applying a holistic lens to everything as they go about their days. The problem arises when they apply that same philosophical wisdom to their FORESIGHT.

And this is where they err. Because they treat their futures as they would their pasts – as something that ALREADY IS and can’t be any different i.e. INEVITABLE. Thus, there is no impulse for action. Because when acceptance is already the case, what is the motivation to change anything?

The only way to offset either kind of bias is to LIVE THE PARADOX.

The spiritual industry has propagated systemic abuse, neglect, exploitation and subjugation for centuries because of this very phenomenon of philosophizing heinous acts as being “teachable moments”. When taken to the extreme (and this is very common amongst seekers in various cults) one actually rationalizes the bad behavior and abuse of a teacher as a “mark of their enlightenment”.

When the famous teacher Chogyam Trungpa had his bodyguards forcibly drag poet laureate W.S.Merwin and his girlfriend Dana Naone from their room and held them down and stripped them naked in front of a crowd of onlookers, his students hailed his “brand of teaching” as CRAZY WISDOM. When Sogyal Rinpoche, endorsed by the Dalai Lama to spread Buddhism in the west, punched a young female devotee in the stomach on stage because she hadn’t understood what he said, no one came to her aid. For decades, his followers (including high profile people like the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy) simply “accepted” his bad behavior because they believed there was much to learn from how “triggered” they felt by it.

When one is too philosophical about the future, one loses contact with the very ground one is walking on.

As a driver in a car, when you look in the rear view mirror, your focus naturally moves to the horizon and takes in the “whole scene”. Yet, when you look ahead through the windshield your vision naturally narrows to the road, the cars in your path, pedestrians or cyclists in the periphery and so on. If a driver were to look ahead at the holistic view while in busy traffic, they are bound to get into an accident. Because their focus is required on certain specific variables in their environment.

Thus, the difference between the past and the future is that the past DOES NOT require our active participation in it, whereas the future DOES. And pre-emptively accepting whatever happens by default without discernment, preference or clear determination is a mechanism of avoidance. In treating the future as if “it’s already happened” we are trying to accept suffering before it happens in order to take the sting out of it.

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THE TRAP

This is the dark side of spirituality and spiritual teachings. They provide a philosophical perspective from which to make sense of, and find acceptance for, the often senseless things that happen to us. Yet, they do not balance this out with a practical wisdom of how to move forward and act decisively in a truthful, ethical and decisive manner. Instead, they promote a “do nothing” laissez-faire approach to living which generates its own brand of suffering. This is why it comes as no surprise that many seekers who eventually feel they have come to the realization of “who they are” still have no clue about “what to do”.

“There is nothing to do”, “there is no doer”, “doership is an illusion” and other philosophical statements like these become toxic when they override our basic practical programs for day to day survival and interaction. Because they turn us into flaccid and ineffectual creatures who can no longer tell up from down or right from wrong.

If an armed robber comes to my door and threatens to hurt my family, I will act in a manner to neutralize that individual at all costs. Does that mean I am incapable of seeing that this person themselves is a victim of social injustices? That through the process of harm, grief and loss my family too would evolve and learn much from the experience? That in the big picture whether a friend comes to my front door or an enemy, I will grow from both experiences regardless? Of course not. I am perfectly capable of seeing all that.

And yet, I am ALSO capable of taking a baseball bat to the fucker’s head. Because THAT is the need of the moment.

All the well-intentioned readers who are using their own experiences of “learning from the good and the fake gurus” and claiming that had it not been for BOTH they would not have been who they are today are right in saying so. Both WERE required. Yet, when they go on to say, that “so, we should not be overly critical of the culture” they are mistaken in saying so. Yes, one must ABSOLUTELY be overly critical of a culture in which abuse, exploitation and neglect are systemic. Especially, when the number of critical voices, opposing the sheer volume of such teachers, are so few.

You have made the fundamental error of applying the lens of philosophical wisdom to the future. And in doing so you have fallen into the very trap these teachers and teachings have invented in order to keep their followers from mutinying against their masters.

The spiritual industry has done with seekers what consumerism has done with consumers: It has created the illusion of freedom so no one ever has the motivation to revolt.

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PARADOXICAL WISDOM

Paradoxical wisdom emerges with experience and an unwillingness to flinch in the face of whatever life has to offer.

One does not claim to DOMINATE life like those of a more materialistic bent of mind. Nor does one claim to SUBMIT to life like those of a spiritual bent. One COOPERATES with it, one CO-CREATES with it. One is guided by it, yet is equally willing to guide.

The self is not some weapon of mass destruction as a result of alienating oneself from life, nor is it converted into a limp dishrag by rationalizing one’s own will and volition into oblivion. One is an equal dance partner with the universe.

Which means that sometimes we are called on to follow and sometimes we are called on to lead. Sometimes we are called on to accept what is happening around us and sometimes we are called on to resist. We hold both the holistic and dualistic views of life simultaneously in our view, with each giving context to the other.

We can act in a black and white manner even WHILE we are seeing infinite shades of gray in front of us. Because THAT may be what the need of the moment is. We are not hampered from acting decisively by our holistic view of life. Nor are we prevented by our dualistic view from accepting our past as wholly beneficial to us.

We have a clear understanding that what we “draw benefit from” MAY NOT be “beneficial by nature”.

Paradoxical wisdom is what brings the “wisdom of being” and the “wisdom of doing” into harmony, even though they appear to conflict on the surface.

It allows one to act in clear REBELLION even from a space of deep ACCEPTANCE.

If THAT is the need of the hour.

Spiritual Consumerism

“So do you think human beings don’t need guidance? It’s every man or woman to fend for themselves? This doesn’t resonate with me. To me, gurus and teachers play a crucial role in society…”
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No, I can’t say human beings don’t need guidance. Guidance can be crucial at certain points in a human being’s development. But guidance, by its very nature, is a double edged sword. And depending on how it is approached, it will either provide just the right kind of support that the person needs or it will greatly hamper an individual’s development.

If you look at a parent-child relationship, this is one that is a guidance-based relationship. As a dad, I guide my daughters at various points of their development, but I have to be careful not to become too involved. If there is too little guidance, they will flounder. If there is too much they will develop an over-reliance on me and won’t learn to trust their own strengths and competencies.

When I guide my children, they always know that they can rely on me if things go south, yet they never feel like they can remain in their comfort zones around me. They know full well, dad is going to push them just that extra bit past where they like to be. However, most parents from my generation tend towards the over-protectiveness side of the spectrum. They are pathologically involved in their children’s lives, guiding and keeping watch over them 24/7. This kind of guidance eventually backfires in the form of a stunted emotional and psychological development of the self.

Next year, my older daughter goes to 1st grade. And she will be required to walk over a mile to school on her own with no parents accompanying her. Japan is one of the only countries in the world where this is still possible and even required. It’s one of the factors that led to me moving here. Children here exhibit an independence from their parents that is virtually non-existent in our hyper-involved western societies. Both my wife and I, enjoyed that sort of independence when we were children. It is what has made us the self-determined adults we are. It’s something that we wanted our kids to experience also.

The reason I appear to take such a hard stance against gurus and spiritual teachers is because the culture, in which these individuals thrive, has a warped idea of what “guidance” is about. They are not interested in empowering seekers, they are interested in developing an over-reliance in them. I know parents who are like this too. They want their kids close to them always, so they pander to their needs and keep them emotionally under-developed and always dependent upon them.

Very few of these so called “teachers” are in the business because they are genuinely interested in contributing something. Most are in it to gain something – fame, popularity, power, authority, adoration, money, stature and so on. Even the ones who don’t have such high ambitions eventually get drawn into it, because the culture itself requires it. The spiritual world is practically infested with emotionally traumatized seekers who claim to desire truth, but really only want their wounds to be soothed.

Soothing isn’t guidance.

When my daughter took off her training wheels at 5 and fell and scraped her knee, I held her and comforted her for all of 15 seconds and then told her that she needed to get back on. After that, I watched her get on that bike, even though she was afraid to, and try again. Within minutes she was laughing madly, not because I had soothed her. But because she had conquered her own fear and mastered that bike.

Spirituality today comprises of comforting, soothing, feel-good rhetoric designed to keep the seeker FIRMLY FIXED within their comfort zones and stunted. That is why people keep seeking for so many years and even decades! They were never pushed into that uncomfortable space and encouraged to negotiate it on their own terms.

Its precisely because spiritual guidance is a “business” rather than a form of “education” that this happens.

In the business world, RETENTION is a marker of success whereas TURNOVER is a sign that your product isn’t in high demand. So, Apple, for example, has built a huge base of loyal customers who swear by Apple products and buy nothing else. It is THESE customers (and not the one-off buyers) who make Apple a successful company. They are Apple’s primary stakeholders.

In the “education” model, however, it is the exact opposite. TURNOVER is a marker of success and RETENTION is a sign that the quality of education offered is substandard. As a high school teacher, I can testify, if even one of my kids was flunking class and repeating the year it would reflect VERY badly on my skills as a teacher. I’d have to answer to the administration for it, no matter how good a job I think I’m doing.

But you look at the world of Spiritual teaching, and suddenly things look wonky.

If these gurus are really here to guide us, then according to the “education model” they must be doing an atrocious job of it. Year after year, the same students keep repeating class and almost NO ONE ever graduates! If a college or university had that sort of abysmal record, no one would ever apply to it.

However, if they are indeed following the “business model” then they are misrepresenting themselves as our “teachers and guides”. They are BUSINESSMEN AND WOMEN and we are their CUSTOMERS. And if you understand that, you will see how “guidance” can’t really be a priority here. To create a high turnover in one’s customers is plain bad for business.

So, you gotta pick.

Either this is a business, which is perfectly fine, but just don’t misrepresent what you are and why you’re doing it. Steve Jobs didn’t create Apple to help people, he did it to make a fuck load of money. Don’t call yourself a “guru or a teacher”. Call yourself an “existential consultant” or a “spiritual entrepreneur”.

Or if this is primarily about guidance, then your focus needs to be about getting students OUT of the door just as fast as they come in through it! There is absolutely no excuse for them to be sitting at your feet, year after year, creating groups and communities and Sunday afternoon tea-sessions around your teachings.

If the size of your alumni-population isn’t significantly LARGER than the number of students currently enrolled with you :

You are a SHIT guru.

Guidance is most effective when it is short and sweet. It comes into an individual’s life right when they are at a crossroads, it adds the weight of experience and insight to the one side that the person is already leaning towards but is second guessing themselves on. And then as the person takes their first step onto that new path, whoosh! The guidance is gone. Completely retracted. Leaving the individual to figure it out on their own two feet, now.

Everyone who contacts me through this page, I say the same thing to: stick around for JUST as long as required but not a moment longer. Even the words on this page, if read for too long, will just become another crutch and comfort zone in which you will end up languishing for the next chunk of your life. I don’t need any squatters.

So, to sum up. I do agree that guidance can be key, when provided by competent mentors with the right intentions in mind. However, in the current spiritual climate, I see neither competency nor right intentions driving the teachings of most of the well known gurus and teachers out there. To me, all I see is a whole lot of hype and very little substance;

Superficiality parading as “depth”…

Narcissism parading as “expertise”…

Mind-control parading as “empowerment”…

Greed and power-hungriness parading as “goodwill and guidance”…
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In reality, this culture isn’t about “guidance”. It’s about Spiritual Consumerism.

The Greatest Show

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating…

What if you knew this was your last day? That you’ve run out of time. That there’s a certain end on the horizon.

There’s no time left: to find that perfect love, to achieve the recognition and fame, to hit the jackpot, to become enlightened. What you have and what you are is as good as it’s ever going to get. Does that then imply that your life has become meaningless?

And if you answer “yes”, did you ever live a day which you knew with absolute certainty was NOT going to be your last? Did the only meaning you found lie in the “promise of tomorrow”? And if that tomorrow had arrived, what would have been so different about it when compared to THIS day? Would it not also have been devoid of meaning since “meaning”, by your definition, lies in the “promise of tomorrow”?

And if you answer “no”, if you say that even in the absence of “the perfect love” or “great fame” or “financial success” or “enlightenment”, your last day is still pregnant with meaning ; if you declare this to be true, then what do any of those words even mean?

If, on your last day, you are able to love this life for what it is, no matter how brief, what “perfect love” could compare?

If, on your last day, you are able to bear witness and be present to all of life, what greater “recognition” could you aspire to?

If, on your last day, you are filled with a sense of gratitude for what you have been privileged to experience, what “success” could even come close?

If, on your last day, you are able to look upon life in its bare simplicity and marvel at how remarkable yet unfathomable it is, what “enlightenment” could even hold a candle to such a vision?

On the last day, when there is no time left for improving, for achieving, for seeking or finding, it all becomes dead simple:

What you are, is all you are going to be. What you have, is all you are going to have. And what THIS is, is all it is going to be.

This is freedom.

And if freedom can be so evident on your last day, then why not on THIS day?

For even if tomorrow were to come, isn’t this the last time you will ever live THIS day? Isn’t this your last TODAY?

Perfect love, great success, fame and enlightenment are the hollow goals that deny us the very experience we crave. And that is the experience of being ALIVE. Even a single moment fully lived exposes these goals for the vacant enterprises they actually are.

But we feel we are undeserving. We feel we must somehow “earn” our right to exist. And so we turn time into a currency with which we hope to PAY our way to freedom. But who is there to pay? And who will accept our currency?

What are you seeking? And what do you hope to find?

Can you not see the giant production the entire universe has had to orchestrate over 13 billion years in order for you to experience just THIS moment right here? With a stage that spans millions of light years. With a cast of trillions of species. With over 7.5 billion storylines running concurrent to your own.

Is the bizarre miracle of this somehow “underwhelming” to you? Is the incredible scale of it not stimulating enough for you? Is the fact that YOU are standing here right now and bearing witness to the entire ancient history of ALL existence encapsulated in a single ordinary moment, somehow not “awe-inspiring” enough for you?

You have a front row seat to the greatest show the universe has ever put on. And instead of watching it, you are busy scanning the program to see what the next act is going to be about!

Snap out of it!

Right here, right now is where the whole show’s taking place. You don’t get to skip it and then ask others to fill you in on what you’ve missed!

Line In The Sand

“I have only one question that stays with me post after post. It seems to me (and I might be wrong and projecting) that you are not appreciating the existence of a variety of true or fake (and everything in between) teachers, gurus or other wise people who are taking followers on all sorts of journeys and practices and rituals towards nowhere (if I understood the meaning of your writing) and it is as if you write to this ‘you’ (the reader?) who needs to be saved from the disappointment that might arise while engaged with finding whatever one seeks to find.

Do you think that if you had read something similar with your writings before you started on your journey/path of spiritual seeking (and experienced all sorts of ups and downs and disappointments in the process) would you have still arrived with the felt personal experience and knowledge to this spot of understanding and write about it so beautifully that we, at least some of your readers, appreciate so full-heartedly?”
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It’s a good question.

Just because one is able to draw benefit from certain experiences, doesn’t mean that those experiences are beneficial by nature. If some gangster swindles me and my family of all our money, I may learn to become wiser about how I handle my money and whom I trust it with. But that doesn’t mean I will recommend people to deal with gangsters. This is a simple logical fallacy that many people make.

Gurus to me are kind of like drug dealers. And some people experiment with all kinds of drugs and become addicted and may eventually rehabilitate and be much wiser for it. But that doesn’t mean drug dealers are beneficial by nature.

So, we have to willing to draw a line between what “may be of benefit” and what is “beneficial by nature”. Just because the world has learned a lot from the experience of the current American President, doesn’t mean people shouldn’t protest his policies, for example.

15 years ago if I’d read what I write now, I would have dismissed it as nonsense. It would not have made sense to “that” me. So, I’m sure there are plenty who come across my writings and say, “this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about” and leave. If someone sticks around and is drawn towards reading my stuff, there must be something within them that is ready to listen. Something within them that feels something similar, senses something is fishy with the culture they are in but are as yet unable to articulate it to themselves. It may still be foggy.

Added to that, is the pressure to conform by the culture itself. It’s a form of gaslighting that happens where individuals begin to second guess the questions and red flags that show up in their own minds.

If this was a culture that had its fair share of vocal critics, like politics (say, where there are plenty of checks and balances in place to hold authorities accountable for their words and actions), I may have chosen to take a more moderate approach. But it isn’t. There is hardly anyone in this industry speaking in a common sensical way and addressing the many rational doubts people have, articulately and intelligently.

When a culture goes THIS rotten, where absolutely anything goes and corruption is rampant, the rare voice of opposition that emerges must be unequivocally confident and be willing to draw a line in the sand. Any ambiguity in approach immediately dilutes the effect and turns the criticism into just another intellectual musing and nothing more. It does nothing to jolt those people, who are on the cusp, into a state of sober thinking.

Do I believe all teachers are evil? No. Do I think absolutely no one can receive any benefit from at least some teacher in their life? I think depending on where one is, there may be a certain benefit, sure. But do I agree with this culture that institutionalizes co-dependency and promotes narcissists who claim ultimate authority and knowledge without ever being held accountable for their words or actions? Absolutely not.

The readers who can benefit from this page, already have a certain amount of maturity and will not take my words as gospel but rather will take them with a grain of salt and make their own minds up. And the ones who do swallow what I’m saying without discretion, have nowhere to get with me. I am not interested in pandering to anyone’s need to be validated. Nor do I need their attention for validation. Soon enough they’ll move on because there just isn’t enough emotional feedback that I’m providing to satisfy their needs or wants. They’ll find someone else who gives off that kind of vibe.

So, I’m not worried about how people interpret me. My words will land where they have to and in the way they have to. And they will miss entirely when and how they have to.

It’s not about the words for me. I trust myself. And only those who respect the vibe I’m giving off will understand the essence of what I’m communicating.

No matter the type of addiction, the only kind of addict who willingly comes to rehab is the kind that already knows that their addiction is a problem…

Getting Sober

Let me be clear. This page isn’t about advaita. It is about addiction. And addiction relates to substance abuse.

That substance can take the form of a drink or a narcotic. It can take the form of an activity that one feels compelled to do even to one’s own detriment: like sex or work or exercise. And it can take the form of an ideology or belief system and the culture surrounding it: like religion, communism or scientism.

The substance itself is neither harmful nor beneficial. It is designed to produce a certain effect within the individual. The issue is addiction. And one can become addicted to pretty much anything one can imagine: a car, a person, a pet, a hobby, a lifestyle, a habit, a group, a job…

And what addiction does, is it reorders the reality we perceive and structures it according to its own agenda. It hijacks the basic intelligence of the body and brain and allows it to operate only in accordance with its own perspectives. And the body and brain comply and are even stimulated by this process. Because they need an outlet for expression, even if that outlet isn’t one that is natural to itself.

Addiction is an internal Stockholm Syndrome whereby our substance of choice holds us captive and refuses to release us. And in the process we fall in love with our captor and rationalize its actions as good.

No matter what kind of addiction one has, this is the dynamic. An irrational love for the substance, even in the face of abuse, often accompanied by a sense of self-loathing.

Like I said, the substance can be anything: a liquor, a narcotic, a person, an ideology…

In truth, everyone is an addict in some way or another, to one degree or another. That’s because a sense of “lack” is almost universal within human beings. And it seems that the journey for most people is about how to resolve that feeling of lack. While part of this feeling of lack may be conscious, most of it is unconscious. The void we feel inside goes deep.

What we call “life” becomes nothing more than a series of strategies to fill that void.

Some believe that material objects will somehow satisfy that lack. So, they are driven by a need to acquire a vast amount of money, assets, homes, businesses and so on.

Some believe that emotional experiences will fill that lack. So, they are driven by a need to find the ideal partner, start a family, maintain a large circle of friends, acquaintances, social networks and so on.

Others believe that theories and concepts will fill that lack. So, they are driven by a need to acquire knowledge, build systems of thought, beliefs or ideology.

Still others believe that having spiritual or mystical experiences will fill that lack. So, they are driven by a need to attain altered states of consciousness, peak experiences and mystical union.

No one seeks in purely one direction. Most people are simultaneously seeking in more than one of these arenas of life. However, there is always one area that is most dominant when compared to the rest. And that is what informs our primary identity.

The “holy grail” is the one-size-fits-all solution that people are in search of that will perfectly resolve that sense of void. And that holy grail may take the form of “extreme wealth”, “the perfect love”, “a unified theory of everything” or “enlightenment”.

Yet, the hour of disillusionment is always inevitable. It is the moment when one realizes that no matter how much one accumulates in the direction of their choice, it can never fill the void for long. The sense of lack is always lurking in the background. The void is a bottomless pit.

However, rather than fully facing up to this fact, most will simply change their seeking strategy.

If acquiring material wealth did not satisfy, perhaps starting a family will. If that doesn’t eventually satisfy, then perhaps embarking on a spiritual path will. Same “holy grail”, different form.

When every avenue has been thoroughly exhausted one always ends up back where one started. In the midst of a void that cannot be filled….
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I was speaking to someone yesterday, who has arrived at exactly this point. Realizing that no external object nor internal experience will ever satisfy, he finds himself at an impasse. He has exhausted all his avenues. He has seen that they are all dead ends, including the “spiritual” path. Yet, the “truth” eludes him.

He holds on to this notion of THE TRUTH that he feels is beyond him. He has arrived at the conclusion that perhaps it is just too complex for him to grasp. That he should probably make his peace with the fact that he may never “get” it.

To which I responded that the case is actually quite the opposite. Truth is the most obvious and evident thing there is. And it is so simple it can’t be grasped by an idea. To seek it is to miss it, because seeking makes one look away from it.

Truth is simply what you are looking at. Call it “life”, “universe”, “all that is”, none of these words can do it any justice. It’s much more obvious than what these words imply.

Look around, I said. Look what’s in FRONT of your nose. Has this ever not been there? Don’t try to say or define what it is. Just look at it. It’s always present.

But how about what’s looking? He asks. That feels different. What about the “internal” life?

Look at that too. What’s BEHIND your nose? That has also always been present. You could call it a “self” or a “me” or a “Shiv” or “awareness” or whatever. But none of those words do it justice.

But it FEELS “separate” from what I’m looking at, he says.

It IS separate. In its form. In the way it appears. In the substance it seems to be made of. But notice something else. The two always exist together.

What is in front of your nose can’t exist without what is behind your nose. The two realities arise together and recede together, they ebb and flow as one even if they appear entirely different. Like the heads and tails of a spinning coin…

Truth is the whole of it. Always right here. Always obvious.
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The “void” is what we create through the force of our denial of the truth that is always staring us in the face. And every attempt to “fill the void” is really a reinforcement of that denial. It is a refusal to accept what is real and present, by envisioning an “alternative truth”; an ideal reality in which no such void exists.

Hence, the irony, that it is the “alternative truth” that creates the void. The void is the CHASM between the truth and its alternative. Between what is and what could-be.

Which is why facing the void and sitting smack in the middle of it is the only reasonable thing to do. It is usually the last resort option that people arrive at when there is nowhere left to go. And as unbearable as it feels for a time, the very act of sitting and being present with it is HOW it transforms.

As the pull towards an “alternative reality” gradually loses its hold, the reality surrounding us comes to the fore, gradually becoming the only benchmark of experience. And the truth that is inherent in its presence becomes increasingly more evident.

This is what the process of “getting sober” looks like no matter what the addiction:

It begins with a firm willingness to sit with the void, a refusal to succumb to the substance of addiction, a long period of withdrawal animated by acute suffering, a newfound sense of clarity that comes with sobriety, a period of disorientation and readjustment to daily life.

It is in this final stage that many who become sober eventually relapse because they are yet to fully become grounded in their sobriety. It still feels too unfamiliar. This page acts as a resource for such people.

Getting sober is a tough road in itself. But it’s in STAYING sober that the mechanism of addiction eventually resolves.

Non-Dualusions

What we call “non-duality” has become nothing more than a psychological strategy for spiritual bypassing using the ABSOLUTE as our rationalization tool for why things, that we don’t really understand, happen.

What we call “non-duality” has become nothing more than a method of avoiding taking responsibility, for the choices that we make and the repercussions that those choices have, by claiming, “it’s all inevitable anyways, so was their really a choice?”

What we call “non-duality” has become nothing more than a tool that we use to quickly resolve the cognitive dissonance that the inherently paradoxical nature of life produces within us because we abhor the uncomfortable tension that accompanies it.

What we call “non-duality” has become nothing more than a tactic for selectively rationalizing away our own flaws while actively highlighting the same flaws in others.

What we call non-duality has become nothing more than the misguided claim that because an absolute reality exists, the relative one we inhabit is an illusion and THUS of little consequence; our endeavors, our enterprises, our relationships, our struggles, our triumphs, our fears, our joys are of little consequence since they are all formulated on the axis of a “separate self” which has no reality.

Yet, the fact of the matter is, that non-duality in its original form says absolutely NONE of these things.

Non-duality simply states that the fundamental nature of reality is whole and indivisible. Every other conclusion one extrapolates from that is just a distraction from the point.

So, let’s look at some of the conclusions we have drawn from this basic statement of non-duality.
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Conclusion #1: “Since, reality is whole and indivisible in nature, the self is an illusion because it appears to be separate from the whole.”

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This is a common fallacy among non-dual practitioners. This is why everyone is in an all fire hurry to negate their self and claim that “I am not here”, “there is no doer”, “no one is saying these words right now” and other absolutely absurd things.

Imagine reaching with your hand into the ocean and scooping out a handful of water and holding it in your cupped palm. You have separated the water from the ocean. To claim that the water is not separate from the ocean is a ridiculous statement to make. It is clearly separate. However, is the water in your hand any less “water” than the water in the “ocean”? Is it any more or less “wet”? No, it is identical. In fact, “ocean” and “hand” simply refer to the shapes in which that water appears. Yet, its nature remains unchanged by the separation into the two containers.

So, there is a separation in form but not in essence. Yet, one cannot deny the separation in form and call it an “illusion”. The nature of form is that it is created, it exists for a while, then dissolves back into the flux from which forms arise. Denying a form which clearly exists is ridiculous. That’s like sitting on a chair and claiming that there is no chair. Until that chair breaks and disintegrates into dust, the chair is very much there.

Similarly, with the self.

As long as there is a body and a brain, awareness is organized into the shape of a self. That is the form in which it exists. Now, one might look at the universe and say “the universe and I are of the same nature and in ESSENCE there is no separation between the two”. That is correct. Yet, many then continue on to say, “and because there is no separation, this self is an illusion.”

It is not.

That is like scooping water in your hand and claiming, “There is no water in my hand”, when there clearly is.

Reality is whole and indivisible in essence, yet infinitely divisible in form. And this is the paradoxical nature of it. Those who are uncomfortable with paradoxes will try and assert one point of view over the other. And in doing so, they end up missing the whole point.

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

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Conclusion #2: “Everything is “inevitable”, so there is really no choice to be made.”
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This is a statement that is often used as a tool to encourage people to relinquish the iron-grip of control that they have over their lives. And from that perspective it has benefits. But when adhered to as gospel it has a totally debilitating effect on a person.

I used to have a friend who was terrified of driving. Each time she’d get into her car her seat would be completely upright and all the way to the front, with her nose almost at the steering wheel. And when she drove she gripped the steering so tightly her knuckles would be white. As a result, she was incredibly hesitant in her driving and constantly second guessed herself. The effect of this was that she was a hazard to other drivers because her reactions were unpredictable.

So, I counselled her to relax. That there were things that she couldn’t control. That, her believing that if she stayed in absolute control she could ensure that nothing bad happened was a fallacy.

This helped her relax a little and as she did, her driving became more confident.

However, imagine if she were to say to herself, “well, control is an illusion and everything is inevitable so there is no point in me even holding the steering wheel.” That’s a guaranteed car crash waiting to happen.

If you wouldn’t relinquish your hold on the steering wheel of your car each time you get set to drive, why are you so determined to relinquish your hold on the steering wheel when it comes to your life?

I think part of the draw of non-duality is that it offers a respite from a culture of obsessive control. The postmodern ideal of “taking life by the horns” and being “masters of our destiny” has infiltrated so deeply into our culture and psyche that it has turned us into neurotic creatures constantly seeking to control each and every little detail of our lives. Consumerism has inundated us with so much artificial choice in the forms of products and services that are marketed as “essentials”, that we are being faced with having to make “critical” decisions thousands of times a day.

Take a person who is drowning in that sort of culture and tell them, “You know, it’s all an illusion. There is no real choice in any of this.” And it feels like a hand literally reaching down and yanking them out of the water. It is no wonder that they then swing to the other extreme of attempting to relinquish all and any control over their own lives. It is the fear of drowning again that prevents them from being willing to even get their feet wet.

Claiming “none of this is in my hands” stops no one from gripping the steering wheel once the car gets moving. And if it did, they most likely never lived to talk about it.

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Conclusion #3: “Time is an illusion, thus cause-and-effect are an illusion. So, since no one can know why things happen, it’s best to reserve judgment about what happens.”
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This is a famous strategy that many non-dual practitioners use to avoid dealing with the shit side of life. No one wants to be seen as being “judgmental” as if showing judgment is somehow a BAD thing.

No, judgment is crucial. It’s what stops you from eating a rotten apple and picking a fresh one instead. Asserting one’s judgment and saying, “this is a rotten apple”, isn’t being “judgy”. It is demonstrating common sense.

However, there is good judgment and poor judgment. And good judgment is simply the ability to discern things accurately while poor judgment is discerning things inaccurately. And good judgment develops with experience and the wisdom that emerges as a result of that experience.

The Serenity Prayer goes,” God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Wisdom lies in “knowing the difference” i.e. good judgment. The cynic is one who sees rotten apples even among the fresh. The fool is one who claims that there are no rotten apples. Both show poor judgment.

Non-dual culture, in its reaction to the extreme cynicism of the world, has swung to the other extreme of encouraging a foolhardiness in people by relinquishing their basic common sense. Rather than encouraging people to show “good judgment” it instead encourages them to show none at all. And the effect of that is that followers of this philosophy turn into something like adult infants: helpless, indecisive, taking no accountability, hoping to be cared for by their guru, their community, “life” or whatever.

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Conclusion #4: “Everything that happens, good or bad, is simply part of “what is”. So, there is nothing that needs to be “done” about it.”
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Hitler was an animal rights activist, a vegetarian and an environmentalist who established many of Germany’s progressive conservation laws.

Gandhi was a controlling husband, a negligent father and often slept naked in the same bed with his nieces in order to “test his own self-control”.

Mother Teresa remained a vocal anti-abortionist till the very end and claimed that women who chose that path were soulless and going to hell.

Stalin was a doting father who always took the time to play with, educate and read stories to his children.

Paradoxes are uncomfortable because they require us to hold polar opposites in the palm of our hand. It is much easier to simply think of Hitler as demonic and Gandhi as heroic, Mother Teresa as saintly and Stalin as a monster. Yet, in reality even demons can be compassionate, even heroes can be perverse, even saints can be heartless and even monsters can show love.

But, that’s simply too complicated to bear. We want it simplified. We want good guys and bad guys. We want people we can love and people we can hate.

This is how the general public responds to the paradoxical nature of life. By reducing it into a binary, black-and-white format.

The non-dual practitioner’s response to paradox is something different altogether. Taking a black or white stance would immediately subvert their assertion of non-duality. So, they escape the paradox by claiming that it is all simply a manifestation of “what is”.

Now, on the surface, this looks like a kind of acceptance, whereas in reality it is a subtle tactic of avoidance. We are uncomfortable with the paradox, we don’t want to take a polarized stance on it, so we just sweep it under the rug of “what is” so that we don’t have to actually face it.

This attitude of avoidance breeds a culture of disengagement from one’s surrounding and what is happening in it. We begin to progressively cloister ourselves into our communities, our communes and our bubbles, all of which act as echo chambers of denial. And through this distancing, we gradually become desensitized to the suffering of other people, losing the empathy that is a natural aspect of what it means to be human.

To truly accept paradox means to engage with it. To be willing to CONDEMN an action without condemning the person. To be willing to COMMEND an action without commending the person. To fully face events and use one’s judgment to traverse them without reducing them out of a desire to have life simplified, nor avoiding them out of fear that one might be hurt as a result of showing poor judgment.

Simplicity is not simplification.

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Conclusion #5: “There is nothing to achieve, there is nothing to realize, there is nothing to actualize.”
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This is another statement used by many to rationalize away their feelings of disappointment, confusion, guilt and sense of feeling lost. While the rest of the world is off pursuing this or that in the belief that achieving those things will enhance them in some way, seekers on the non-dual path swing to the opposite extreme. By asserting that one cannot be “enhanced” in any way since one is already complete, there is no necessity to achieve, realize or actualize anything.

Again, this is a misguided conclusion to arrive at. One has no choice but to achieve, realize and actualize things as one moves from one moment to the next.

When one is hungry one “realizes” one needs to eat, one sets out to “achieve” that meal, one “actualizes” the meal by preparing and eating it. One then “realizes” one is satiated, one sets out to “achieve” some rest, one “actualizes” the goal by taking a nap and allowing the meal to digest.

Now, if on the other hand one is actively trying to OPPOSE that process. Then when one is hungry one STILL “realizes” it, yet one sets out to ignore that hunger and thus “achieves” a state of starvation, one “actualizes” ones denial by manifesting an emaciated and weakened form. This is essentially the dynamic in anorexia.

So, the question is not “whether it is necessary to realize and actualize”. There is no way to short-circuit that process. Realizing and actualizing is happening anyways whether we want it to or not. The question is “what” we realize and “how” we actualize it.

If you engage with an open heart in the suffering of others you will actualize empathy. If you turn away in denial you will actualize apathy. There is no “third” option.

“Realizing” things with greater clarity will lead to the “actualization” of realities that are more balanced and authentically aligned with who we are. One may argue, well what does it really matter? But that is a bullshit argument.

There isn’t a person alive who isn’t glad that they “realized” that one shouldn’t mess with fire. And the proof is in the fact that they haven’t “achieved” third degree burns all over their body. Instead, they have “actualized” a healthy, intact form.

***
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Non-duality, as a philosophy, seeks to examine the nature of reality, not prescribe how human beings must live. That is something each of us must determine for ourselves on our own; by fully facing our circumstances, by learning to bear the tension that paradoxes present – rather than resorting to polar perspectives or washing our hands off them altogether. Denying the existence of our own separation and manifestation as an “individual” form, even if we are united in our essence, is the ultimate cop out.

The attitude I have learned to take in my own life, is succinctly captured in this quote by Robert E. Howard, author of the Conan stories:

“Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is an illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and I am content.”

Just Fucking Life

“Dude, I know you’re not trying to be a teacher or nothing, but I’ve learned more from reading your articles the last few months than years of listening to spiritual teachers. It makes all this spiritual stuff so clear and simple. Like something has relaxed inside me, you know? It just makes fucking sense. Don’t know how else to say it! My question is, WHY ARE YOU THE ONLY DUDE TALKING ABOUT THIS IN THIS WAY??? There are a couple other teachers I know who are critical of the spiritual circus too. But even they are selling some brand of their own “awake” state. But you’ve got no skin in the game man. That’s what makes me wanna listen.”
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Why am I the only dude talking about this? I don’t know if I am, but if it’s true that’s a pretty fucking sad state of affairs. You’re right, I’ve got no skin in this game. I’ve got no skin in any game. Even my everyday jobs that earn me a living are something I can walk away from at a moment’s notice if they require me to compromise myself in any way.

It’s like that poem, The Man in the Glass, that Priscilla shared in the comments section a couple of posts ago. I don’t live my life seeking external validation of any form, emotional, psychological or financial. The only person whose validation I need is the guy staring back at me in the mirror. And it’s not about giving myself props or building up an image of myself either. It’s a silent validation. A soundless, “it’s all good”.

I trust myself to the extent that I no longer have to think about myself.

I don’t know why no one is talking about this. And how simple it all is. I don’t know why these gurus are up there “ego tripping” on the sense of importance they feel when others put them on a pedestal. All I can say is that they must feel utterly terrified inside. Yes, I know about teachers who are critical of the non-dual scene, yet end up manifesting a very similar kind of power dynamic under the guise of it being something else. They’re just looking for a new angle from which to market the same old product.

“You” are the product you’re being sold. And like any product, it isn’t enough to market just the product. They have to keep providing upgrades, newer models, more features and so on to keep the customer interested and seeking more. It happens in every industry: tech, auto, fashion, business, restaurants: we are constantly reinventing the same things in order to generate an illusion of progress. So, when “you” are the product, that’s what the whole focus is going to be about.

But it’s not meant to be that complicated. None of it is that complicated. Complicated is US, our minds, what we’ve turned our lives and ourselves into. But this: life, reality? It’s bizarrely simple and straightforward. That’s what makes it impossible to accept.


I was chatting with a buddy last night and he goes, “man, sometimes I sit on the bench in the park and just look at a tree. And I’ll look at it for like an hour or two. I’m not meditating or anything like that. I’m just looking at the tree. And when I’m doing that it just becomes absolutely fucking clear to me that, that’s all there is to it. That’s all the meaning there needs to be. Nothing spiritual or mystical. It’s an ordinary tree. Just looking at the fucking tree. It’s that simple.”

And I responded, “…and what we call civilization is the sum total of all the infinite techniques human beings have invented in order to AVOID looking at that fucking tree.”

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Of course, the fucking-tree isn’t the point. It could be a fucking-anything. The fucking-mailbox, the fucking-street, the fucking-dog, the fucking-book, the fucking-olympics, the fucking-mailman, the fucking-wife, the fucking-wife fucking the fucking-mailman, you get the idea.

It’s just fucking life.

Seeing everything with a simple matter-of-fact awareness requires nothing “more” to be made of the moment than it already is.

But simplicity is the enemy of progress. If we were just content with looking at the tree, we’d still be living in the jungle along with our other primate cousins who are genuinely content in their tree-gazing.

Yet, some ancestor of ours a bajillion years ago, while looking at that tree went, “Nah. There’s got to be something more to life than just sitting here looking at this fucking tree.”

So, he went and invented some tools which he used to cut that bastard tree down. Then he cut it up into small blocks and came up with the bright idea to set it on fire. Then he used that fire to burn down entire acres of useless trees. And he planted useful things like “crops” that served a more functional purpose than simply being stared at. But he couldn’t get the fucking tree out of his mind even though he had already assassinated it and its entire extended family.

So, he began to dig into the ground and discovered that the dead fucking-tree, along with other dead things, had turned into fucking-coal and fucking-oil. So, he invented machines that could use these dead tree-corpses to build massive steel and concrete cities in which not a single structure he built looked anything like a tree. In fact, they were designed to be distinctly anti-tree-like.

And living in his concrete bubble, he invented things like politics and religion, government and law, culture and tradition, technology and fashion, science and medicine and so on: infinite ways in which to preoccupy himself in an effort to prove the correctness of his original declaration, “there’s got to be something more to life than just sitting here looking at this fucking tree.”

But there was something missing. Something gnawing at him on the inside. He was unhappy. Even though he was more comfortable than he had ever been in the jungle, even though he had literally doubled his life span – that increase in quantity had not translated into an increase in quality. If anything the quality had deteriorated. At the back of his mind, he had this niggling sense that that “something missing” had to do with the fucking-tree. Over time, he came to accept the fact that he needed to look at it again. But how?

So, he began to invent spiritual practices that would teach him how to look at the fucking-tree properly. And he began to seek the counsel of expert tree-gazers, those who claimed to have transcended all desire to look-away-from-trees. Those who claimed to have realized their own tree-nature.

He paid a lot of money to these good, magnanimous folks. A lot of fucking-trees died in order to print all that cash he paid to those good teachers. And they taught him to feel all kinds of things about trees. They taught him to worship them. To offer sacrifices to them. To be filled with ecstasy, love and bliss at the very thought of them. To see his own tree nature.

He began to dress in only bark and leaves. He would meditate while standing and holding his arms upwards pretending to be a tree. He studied botany and could list every single species of trees that existed. He would meet with his other tree-loving friends and together they would spend hours talking about the beauty and freedom of trees. They would all join hands and sway together like the branches of a tree in the wind.

Yet as the years passed on he began to realize that he still felt empty. That all his worship and seeking hadn’t filled that void inside him. He was still missing something. And it still had to do with that fucking-tree…

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Then, one day depressed and confused, he walks down to a park. And he sits down, next to this other guy who seems relaxed and passively gazing at something. He asks the guy what he is looking at and the guy responds, “a tree.”

And our friend embarks on this long monologue about what trees are, what tree nature is, the millions of species of trees, the importance of trees in our lives, the benefits of tree-gazing, the greatest tree-gazing gurus he has had the fortune of studying under, his mystical experiences of union with trees and the sudden realization of his own tree-nature.

And the guy on the bench is just passively nodding, “uh huh, uh huh” while continuing to look at the tree.

And our friend, a bit peeved by this guy’s lack of acknowledgement of his own knowledge, expertise and realization begins to berate him as being superficial for not having delved deeply enough into the matter. He tells him that there are layers and layers of reality within trees. That the guy is blindly living in a concrete matrix designed to prevent him from recognizing his own tree nature. And that there is more to this existence than meets the eye.

The guy on the bench, continues nodding passively, unfazed and uninterested. Our friend becomes quite disturbed at this point. He inquires how the guy is so unconcerned. Isn’t the guy interested in what this whole thing called life is all about? Isn’t he interested in discovering the deeper purpose and meaning behind it all? The guy shakes his head without looking away.

At this point, our friend breaks down and confesses that he is lost. That he has searched high and low for a solution to his suffering. That he has done everything possible to try and acknowledge the fucking-tree: he has studied about it, meditated on it, sung songs of devotion to it, tried to become one with it, tried to surrender to it, tried to make love to it – but nothing has worked. He still feels a tree-shaped void inside his heart. Is there anything, anything at all the guy could offer him in the form of a pointer or some advice that will help him on his quest??? He has suffered in his doubt and confusion for so long! Just a word! Even a single word that will shine even one ray of light into the darkness of his own existence!!!

The guy on the bench sighs and turns to him and goes,

“Bro, shut the fuck up and just look at the fucking tree.”

The Myth Of “Being Awake”

The question on the minds of almost every seeker is, “how do I wake up?” But this is a meaningless question based on a myth. And that myth is that there is something called “being awake”.

At what point did you become an adult? Is there such a thing? We have, for the sake of convenience, created these clear cut stages in a person’s life. You’re an adult at 21. But are you? I know 15 years olds who are more mature than some 50 year olds. Of course, the 50 year olds have adult bodies and the 15 year olds don’t. But in their minds, in their emotional development, in the well-roundedness of their personalities and in the balance of perspective the difference is not so clear cut.

Thinking of conscious experience in such black or white terms as “asleep” or “awake” is binary thinking. It is limited and lacks maturity. Because nothing in life is binary. Everything exists on a continuum. And this includes consciousness and self.

So, anyone who is communicating to you that they are “awake” is fooling both you and themselves. That is like saying “I am wholly an adult”. You are not. You are a composite sketch of various stages of development – some further along than others; some unusually evolved and others stunted. And life is a series of experiences in which we circle back over and over and are made to face and resolve those parts of us still in need of development.
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One might say, “well, I can say I am awake because I no longer feel a sense of being a separate self.”

This is baloney. The ultimate self-deception. Because the sense of being a separate self is just an evolutionary mechanism our brains have developed in order to survive and evolve as a species. You can no more short circuit that function than you can annihilate your memory. EVERYONE functions with a sense of a separate self to one degree or another. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
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One might say, “well, my sense of separate self is only intermittent. There are moments where no such separation is felt.”

This is nothing to write home about. In fact, this is what ordinary consciousness looks like. EVERYBODY experiences moments where no such separation is felt. It’s just that they are not so hyper focused on them. Any moment in which one is absorbed in work or sport or music, such separation disappears. Any moment in which one zones out and stares into space, such separation disappears. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
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One might say, “well, it’s more than that. I don’t get lost in thoughts and stories about myself like most other people do. My default is to be inwardly silent thus not feeling a separation.”

Quietude of mind is certainly a therapeutic way to be, but this again is not so unusual. Plenty of people live this way, they’re just not talking about it. The vocal ones are the ones suffering the most. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
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One might say, “ Well, I no longer harbour beliefs about myself or the world or society. I don’t hold religious beliefs, nor beliefs about the nature of reality or the self. I am willing to live in the space of “I don’t know”. I am comfortable with uncertainty.”

Well, this just means you are an intelligent and rational person who doesn’t need to modify their view of the world in order to make it a more conducive place in which to live. There are plenty of intelligent and rational people in the world although they tend to be a rarer breed. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
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One might say, “well, I no longer think in terms of good or evil. I see the seed of evil in the good and the seed of good in the evil.”

This just means you are someone with a mature perspective who doesn’t see people and events in isolation but is able to grasp a big picture view of things. There are many such people with mature vision in the world.
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One might say, “I no longer identify with my name, my gender, my upbringing, my race, my ethnicity and so on. I don’t categorize myself. I just am.”

This just means you are comfortable with being a fluid entity. It means you are more likely to just go with the flow of things. There are many people who similarly go with the flow of things. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
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One might say, “well, I have had an awakening experience in which I saw how everything is connected. My sense of separation completely disappeared. I saw that everything was of a single existence, a single being.”

This just means you have had a powerful epiphany. Many people of all kinds of religious and non-religious backgrounds have had such experiences. And they explain it in terms of the language that is relevant to the culture from which they have emerged. You call it “awakening” someone else of Christian faith may call it being “born again”. Having such an epiphany, no matter how life altering, doesn’t mean you are awake.
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One might say, “I feel a natural outpouring of love for everyone I meet. Each person is another version of myself. I feel a tremendous sense of connection with nature.”

This just means you are a highly empathetic person. Your mirror neurons are firing more rapidly than the average person. Still, there are many who live this way. This doesn’t mean you are “awake”.
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No matter what you say to qualify your own state of being “awake”, there is someone experiencing ordinary consciousness who experiences the same thing.

So, what does it mean then, to be “awake”?

It means nothing at all.

There are no “awake” people and “asleep” people. There is only a continuum of conscious experience where each person will find they land. And even your position on that continuum is not something static. You are moving up and down that spectrum constantly from one moment to the next.

So “asleep” and “awake”, if we must use those terms, are not two binary positions in which awareness exists: like “on” and “off”. Rather they form the two extreme ends of this continuum of conscious experience. Nobody exists at either extreme. In other words, nobody is wholly asleep or wholly awake. We are all continuously moving between the two with certain individuals tending more towards one extreme than the other.

And it may so happen, that over a lifetime, an individual who tended more towards the “asleep” end of conscious experiences ends up tending more towards the “awake” end of conscious experiences. In other words, before they may have had overall more acute feelings of separation, more consuming thoughts and emotions, strongly held beliefs, a lot of negative mind momentum and so on. But now they GENERALLY tend to feel muted feelings of separation, internal quietude, loosely held beliefs and a mellow degree of negativity in the mind.

This still doesn’t mean they are “awake”. It just means they have grown into wise and well-balanced adults.

Yet, because this transition over a lifetime from the lower sections of the spectrum to the higher sections feels like such a “hero’s journey”, we want to encapsulate it in a simple-to-understand metaphor. So, we say, “I once was asleep, but now I am awake.” Yet, a METAPHOR is all it is.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.”

It’s romantic to think of our journey in this binary way and to communicate it to others similarly. But it is not truthful. Because no such “flip” has happened. All there has been, is a natural evolution of perspective and awareness that still continues as we speak.

Spiritual teachings that promote notions of people as being “asleep” or “awake” are no different than the ones of the past that judged us as being “good” or “bad”, “sinners” or “saved”. They are over simplifications meant for simpleton minds. Minds that naturally only operate in black and white thinking modes.

But when presented to a mind that sees in many dimensions and hues, such a teaching does great disservice and causes great turmoil. Promising a bag full of goodies or a lump of coal as the only options one has.

Get Real

I’ve been getting quite a bit of mail from readers lately. I suppose it’s to be expected when a page like this one begins to get reshared within various interest groups. It amuses me to read some of them, especially ones where it’s clear that the person writing has been building up some image of who I must be. Spend five minutes in the real world with me and I’ll cure you of any misconceptions you may have. I’m fairly unremarkable in person.

But then there are the earnest ones who are genuinely grateful because this page seems to give them the push they’ve been waiting for, for a long time, but struggled to muster themselves. They have long grown disillusioned with the spiritual circus, become nauseated by the satsang scene, have seen each of these gurus for the opportunistic snake oil salesmen that they are and yet….they still struggle to get out. To leave it behind. And a lot of that has to do with second guessing their own intuitions about what they are feeling now.

It doesn’t help that most of their friends (and in some cases, even family members or spouses) are still very much a part of that scene. And to step away from it would, in many ways, mean alienating themselves from people they were once close to. Those who have attempted to communicate their newfound points of view with friends have been met by general consternation. An unwillingness to listen to what they might have to say.

But perhaps the biggest block that seems to prevent them from making a clean break of it is a purely psychological one. Admitting to the vacuousness of the whole spiritual culture is to admit that they have wasted years, even decades of their lives on a charade. This one is too hard a pill to swallow for most.

All that time, energy and money spent …. all that hardship, feeling misunderstood by the rest of society yet finding camaraderie and safe haven in a community of like minds….all those hours spent meditating, inquiring, moving from this technique to that practice, this teacher to that guru in the hopes that they are progressing….all those books they read, those talks and retreats they attended, those relationships they sacrificed, those responsibilities they gave up on in the belief that the search would eventually yield its fruits….so that one day they might finally find what they were searching for…to look back and find it was all worth it….

…and yet, after all that, to finally arrive at the point of discovering it was all a hoax. A giant charade they played with others. Everyone fibbing, everyone pretending, everyone misleading, everyone posturing because they were all so terrified of being found out.

What does one do? It’s terribly deflating. To think that while the rest of the world went about it’s business you were on a wild goose chase for the better part of your adult life creates a cognitive dissonance that is too intense to bear. And at the end of it all, what do you have to show for any of it? Absolutely nada.

You’re not enlightened, you’re not an ascended master, you’re not an adept, you’re not even all that wise. You’re just an average joe like the mailman or the bank teller.

And so faced with the alternative of what living this “new truth” looks like, most go right back to the satsangs, the retreats, the seminars and so on because that’s the only world that feels familiar any more even if it has become entirely hollow to them. It’s like being unable to leave a bad marriage because you are just too used to being together and the entire social setup that comes with it. Leaving any enterprise that one has dedicated so many years of their life to often feels like a giant admission of failure.

Yet, those who somehow manage to push past those social and psychological barriers and step into their new sober realities, fully owning the responsibilities and repercussions that comes with, find that failure is an essential step towards authenticity.

When one is authentic, an inordinate amount of energy gets freed up within the system. A reader recently asked me how I can keep writing at this pace when he can hardly keep up with reading. It honestly feels mostly effortless to me. The words come, the ideas organize, the sentences form and the whole piece comes together with very little prompting on my part. I’m able to write, respond and moderate this page while maintaining two jobs and being an actively involved husband and dad to two young children. And I’m never that tired even though I barely sleep.

It may come across like I’m tooting my own horn but I’m not. The reason I can function like this is because I waste not an ounce of energy on bullshit. I don’t smile unless I feel like smiling, I’m not kind unless kindness is naturally forthcoming, I’m not polite or considerate unless I feel naturally polite or considerate in the moment. I don’t posture myself as anything other than what I am in any given moment. I spend little time worrying about things that are not part of my actual reality.

I don’t think we realize the immense amount of energy it takes to be “someone else”, even for an hour. It’s positively exhausting. And we’re doing it all day – making facial expressions that aren’t truly representative of the emotions we are feeling, holding our bodies taut and using body language that is constantly seeking validation from others, using words that are unfaithful to what we truly think. And now imagine doing all of this not only out in the open with others, but also within ourselves and to ourselves. It’s no wonder that we feel depleted, uninspired, disoriented and totally confused at the end of it. It takes incredible energy to sustain this web of insincerity that we weave around our lives and ourselves.

One person I chatted with recently, said that reading my stuff and watching me take the pants off all these elevated, enlightened types empowered them to really double down on their own sense of just being an ordinary everyday bloke and realizing just how special that feels. He said that he had been trying to become “enlightened” like his gurus because he always projected them as being these super confident, powerful, all knowing, all peaceful types while he was this mess of a human who didn’t have his shit together and in comparison he felt pathetic.

However, after reading my stuff he said he felt like he and I weren’t all that different. He didn’t feel like I was superior to him in any way. Yet, the clarity with which I express myself and the confidence that comes from my simply owning my mediocrity, my averageness, my own “unenlightenedness” made him feel like he had been barking up the wrong tree all along.

I’ve pondered on why this page has expanded from a readership of 1 to over 700 registered followers, and several more following silently, in the span of less than a year. It’s not because I’m projecting an image of enlightenment. Nor is any of the wisdom or philosophy I spout anything you haven’t heard before. I might have a unique delivery and engaging storytelling style but that’s not what’s drawing people.

I think what gets people is the honesty. Because while the rest of these clowns are all busy talking ABOUT the truth, I’m just sitting here telling the truth. And it doesn’t even matter what that truth is. It resonates with readers on one day. It doesn’t resonate on another day. It sounds incredibly profound on one day. It sounds quite shallow on another. It’s serious and inspiring on one day. It’s raunchy and offensive on another day. Half the time I’m contradicting what I’ve written in a previous post. It’s not the content that draws people, it’s the candidness. It’s not “what” I’m saying, it’s the “how”.

I’ve claimed no secret knowledge, no mastery, no great achievement, not even a remediated ego. I’ve left no room for a pedestal on which to be put on, and yet, I stand out. And the reason I do, has less to do with how special I am and more to do with how rotten and disingenuous this whole culture of spirituality is. The kinds of characters people have been subjected to in the forms of their gurus and teachers are some of the most disingenuous people you could meet.

Just because they are supposed to be talking about the truth doesn’t make them truthful. Lawyers are meant to help people get justice, but hardly anyone ever trusts them. And so, in a basketful of perfectly polished rotten apples, the one fresh apple stands out by default, even though it is just an ordinary apple. Because you can smell it.

Honesty supersedes any ideal of enlightenment one can come up with. Because while enlightenment has to do with “perceiving the truth”, honesty is the actual living of it.

And ironically, honesty is something everybody understands. It isn’t some vague, ambiguous or esoteric thing like enlightenment. It’s real. We know what it is. Honesty is down-to-earth and grounded in “what this is”. It isn’t something we elevate and put on a pedestal. A man who claims to be honest is not going to have devotees flocking to him like the man who claims to be enlightened.

Most of the readers on this page are seasoned seekers. They can spout philosophy as well as nisargadatta or ramana could. Yet, words only take us so far. What lies beyond the words is real life. And engaging with real life requires that we GET REAL.

When the search ends and all the spiritual shenanigans conclude is when you are left with nothing but yourself to face. No gurus, no community, no support structure, no culture, no garb, no Namastes, no drum circles, no satsangs, no quest for enlightenment, no words to satisfy your voracious appetite. Not even a farewell cake or pat on the back for all the time you spent. Just you alone on your own two feet and a vast, unknown landscape ahead.

That is when spirituality truly begins.

The Same You

Whatever happens or whatever doesn’t. Whatever works out in your favour or whatever breaks down. Whatever you end up winning or whatever you miss out on. It’s still the same you.

Whenever you’re up or whenever you’re down. Whenever it seems clear or whenever it’s all a haze. Whenever you feel driven or whenever you are at a loose end. It’s still the same you.

However you succeed or however you fail. However you make things work or however you struggle to. However life appears to hold meaning or however it seems to hold none. It’s still the same you.

Wherever the destination or wherever the road. Wherever life seems to take you or wherever it doesn’t. Wherever life flows effortlessly or wherever it gets stuck. It’s still the same you.

Whoever puts a smile on your face or whoever brings you down. Whoever thinks the world of you or whoever thinks you are scum. Whoever loves and cherishes you or whoever despises you and wishes the worst. It’s still the same you.

Whomever you place above yourself or whomever you place below. Whomever you admire and would fashion yourself after or whomever you abhor and would want to be nothing like. Whomever you value as being worthy of your love or whomever you value not. It’s still the same you.

Whichever path you take at the fork, whichever opportunity you miss. Whichever lens you use to look at the past whether with gratitude or regret, whichever lens you you use to perceive the future whether with hope or dread. Whichever thought consumes your mind, whichever emotion rifles through your body. It’s still the same you.

Whyever would you believe there is anything you need to justify, whyever would you think there is anything to prove? Whyever would you believe there is anyone to emulate, whyever would you think there is something left for you to find? Whyever would you believe you need to become “more” in order to truly “be”, whyever would you think that what you are worth is not enough? Have you ever been anyone but this very same you?

No matter the names you give yourself, no matter the identity changes. No matter the roles you play in your life, no matter the responsibilities you have or lack. No matter the myriad ways in which you suffer, no matter all the sophistications you use to escape it. It’s still the same you.

Yet, it is so obvious that it insults our intelligence for it to be so evident.

And so we invent the question: “what” am I? And lo and behold we create a world of infinitely complex forms.

We invent the question: “when” am I? And lo and behold we create a universe of time; with a past and future stretching on towards infinity and a present so minuscule as if it were meant to be completely ignored.

We invent the question: “where” am I? And lo and behold we create a world separated by great distances: physical, intellectual and emotional.

We invent the question: “how” have I come to be? And lo and behold we create a world of infinite cause and effect, reasons and rationalizations, theories and superstitions, science and religion.

We invent the question: “who” am I? And lo and behold we create layers and layers of identities and categories within which we box ourselves endlessly.

We invent the question: For “whom” do I exist? And we create the “others” in our lives to whom we are forever struggling to reach and relate.

We invent the question: “which” is my fate? And we create a world of good and bad, right and wrong, dark and light, suffering and liberation, samsara and nirvana that we are forever navigating as if standing on a tightrope.

We invent the question: “why” do I exist? And we create a world of language, belief, logic and reason in the hopes that if we invent just enough symbols and pointers they will lead us to where we are seeking to arrive.

Yet, no matter how many hoops you try and jump through, no matter how many twists and turns your life takes. No matter how complex you try and make things, no matter how much you try and simplify. No matter how enlightened you want to believe you are, no matter how ignorant you feel. No matter how many knots the snake ties itself into in order to find its own tail – the snake is still the snake.

And you are still the same you.

Clean Slate

“You are one of the most refreshing and insightful voices I’ve come across in recent years. What is the secret to your wisdom?”


I have a big ego.

Massive.

In fact, if egos were penises, I’d be a pornstar.

“What are you doing, precious? You’re supposed to be downplaying your ego. Hell, you’re supposed to be claiming not to even have one. A guy spouting wisdom while claiming to have an ego is like someone giving financial advice while being in massive debt. Don’t you know that, precious??”

So, says the little Gollum that lives in my head that I’ve learned to let talk, yet pay little heed to.

Yeah, so as I was saying. I have a huge pe… I mean, ego. And this may pose a bit of a paradox to some people. Because we are used to equating “wisdom” with a certain image in our heads. There is a certain personality type that one expects that sort of wisdom to come out of. Usually, it is someone gracious, magnanimous, kind and humble. I don’t come across as any of those things.

I swear profusely, crack dirty jokes like a juvenile, tell people to fuck off if they’re annoying me, get annoyed easily so tell people to fuck off even more, am excessively argumentative and arrogant yada yada yada…

“OMG, OMG! What are you doing! Say something nice about yourself! Big yourself up, precious! My precioussss!”

Uh huh. K, whatever. Anyways, I’m a bit scatterbrained this morning so you’ll have to bear with me if my transitions aren’t as smooth as usual. Where was I?

Right, Mozart.

If you’ve ever watched the academy award winning film Amadeus you might have a sense of what I’m talking about. Mozart’s character is the diametrical opposite of what one would expect of such a legendary classical music genius. He is a petulant youth, obsessed with drinking, gambling and sex. He basically comes across as a total superficial airhead. And yet, the music that he composes and the manner in which he sees it in his mind are beyond genius. And it is this paradox that is unbearable to his nemesis Salieri. Saileri is consumed with envy because he can’t believe that God has endowed such a worthless prick with such a musical gift, whereas he himself, who is a model of morality and manners, has been given only a mediocre talent.

“Nice! Nice precious! I see what you did there! Compared yourself to Mozart indirectly! Ooooh hoo hoo! Wonderful precious! Clever precious!”

No, fuck that. I’m no Mozart. But I do know that wisdom and egotism are not mutually exclusive. I know that one can find great happiness, can make peace with life, can live authentically, can live in truth DESPITE having a king sized ego. I know this because I am living proof of this “impossible” paradox.

So, I’ll let you in on a little secret that I’ve learned along the way: IT’S NOT THE SIZE THAT MATTERS, IT’S HOW YOU USE IT.

Contrary to what most people believe, no one has any control over the kind of ego they have. The ego is a function like memory.

Some people naturally have a fantastic memory and some people have an unreliable one. We can all do things to develop our memory but the effects of our efforts are minor when compared to the overall propensity to remember things, names, faces, places and so on that is innate to us.

Similarly, the ego one is born with is pretty much hardwired. And the experiences we go through life will further shape that to a certain extent, yet the basic structure of it remains intact. Age erodes it a little, just as it erodes the memory. And so people’s egos generally do become muted with age.

But beyond that little changes in the fundamental form of ones ego. Of course, one can CONTRIVE all sorts of things and seem like they are very different. I could quite easily pretend to be more humble than I am, or wiser that I am, or more loving than I am or whatever. This is something most people are doing pretty much all day. Making compensations for their egos so as to present an image to society that is quite different than what they actually are like.

So, the ego doesn’t really change all that much. However, what can and does change, sometimes drastically, is the manner in which we relate to our own egos. In other words, “how we use it”.

I know people who appear to have hardly any egos at all. They seem easygoing and agreeable and genuinely unflustered by things. And yet, when they feel offended by something they hold on to that offence for decades. I, on the other hand, explode like a volcano yet cool down just as fast. And in the aftermath there is hardly any residue leftover from the occurrence. It’s pretty much out of my system.

As a result, any suffering I cause or am caused tends to be extremely short lived. Because I let things go almost immediately after I first take hold of them. No matter what happens, my default mode is always to return to a clean slate.

In fact, any kind of buildup of negative emotional energy within me whatsoever causes an immediate and visceral allergic reaction. After a spat with the missus, if there is even a bit of residual negativity I am harbouring, it will make me feel sick to the point of throwing up. I can no longer keep it in. So, there is always this urgent imperative within me to let it go.

That wasn’t the case when I was younger. I held on to things forever. And I suffered madly and deeply as a result…

Our spiritual culture is a culture based on suppression because of this basic misunderstanding. We believe our egos are the problem. They are not. The problem stems from how seriously we take our own egos. How desperately we cling to them. From our inability to let things go.

So, what allowed me to change the way I “use it”?

Well, for one I got fed up of suffering so damn much. And second, I began to notice there was a reality beyond the world of my ego that seemed entirely unrelated and unconcerned with the drama that was going on inside me.

I could be pining for that girl who dumped me and lamenting how my life is over, meanwhile the mother robin hasn’t paused from building her nest outside my window. I could be bashing my own parents in my mind for fucking me up as a teenager and blaming them for what a fuckup I’ve become, meanwhile a grasshopper is desperately trying to mate but keeps falling off each time he tries to mount his beloved.

And it occurred to me, “man, these two realities are WAAAAAYYYY out of sync! It’s like two completely different channels playing at the same time!” One is the drama channel and the other is the nature channel. Which one do I want to watch?

And I found that whenever I switched channels, reality itself changed. When I switched to the drama channel in my head, all kinds of exciting, suspenseful, horrifying, romantic, inspiring, comic, heart wrenching stuff would unfold. But then I would switch to the nature channel and a dull voice in the background would say, “…behold the common sparrow as she bobs her head in search of a worm to eat…”

Seeing first hand, that what I gave attention to shaped my reality was what did it for me.

I also came to realize that what I had been trying to achieve as a seeker by subduing my ego was all wrong. I had been trying to dumb down the drama channel and make it more BORING like the nature channel. Why?? The beauty of the drama channel was that it was so dramatic! Hell, I had my own Netflix subscription in my head and I DIDN’T EVEN PAY FOR IT!

Ironically, leaving my ego be also gave me some freedom from it. It gave me the freedom to change the channel more effortlessly. Since I was no longer concerned with changing it, manipulating it or suppressing it in any way, my attention became freed up to turn towards other things. Like the nature channel.

Over time, I became fascinated with the nature channel to the point where I hardly watched the drama channel ever. Yet, that was also a phase. Now, I turn on whatever channel I’m in the mood for. And when I’m watching, I’m watching wholeheartedly.

This freedom to switch between objective and subjective realities without accepting either as being absolute is where my clarity and insight has emerged from. Not wholly nirvana, not wholly samara. Not wholly mind, not wholly world. Not wholly I, not wholly this.

Holding paradox in the palm of ones hand and keeping it front and centre is how wisdom arises.

Hope that answers your question.

“You did it! You did it, precious! I didn’t know where you were going with it! But you surprised me! Oh, you so sneaky preciousss! You so sneeeeakyyy!”

Yeah, whatever dude.

A Rational Death

My last post generated quite a bit of discussion on and offline on the topic of suicide, its prevalence among spiritual seekers and the general attitude of philosophical indifference many tend to fall into when confronted with the paradoxical nature of its reality. Seekers by nature, in searching for a deeper meaning in life’s occurrences, tend to try and look at things from a variety of philosophical angles.

Was there really a choice in the matter? Is it an act of free will? Is suicide really preventable? Should it be prevented? Is there any real choice in anything that happens? Is this really an end to consciousness at all? So on and so forth. These are important questions to inquire into. Suicide should NOT be a taboo subject by any means.

However, while these questions allow us to contemplate the nature of life, death and willful annihilation more deeply, there is a subliminal tendency to USE these questions as a means of escaping the inevitably painful nature of the subject matter. A stance of ambiguity (“I don’t really know”) is a necessary one in order to maintain an open and investigative frame of mind when introspecting on these things. Yet, that ambiguity needn’t translate into our humanity, our empathy and our basic human reactions to things.

Just because the questions remain open-ended from a philosophical perspective doesn’t mean WE need to be open-ended in our basic human responses to basic human events. Unless, one is psychopathic, it is NATURAL to feel dismay and sorrow upon witnessing the life of another being unceremoniously and prematurely snuffed out based on what could very well be a misunderstanding. There is no “sense” to any of it, nor does any sense need to be made of it. Philosophizing it away with some lofty understanding about the absolute nature of things, is nothing more than a protection mechanism you have developed within you in order to resolve the cognitive dissonance that results from confronting the paradoxical and often senselessly painful nature of life.

Responses to tragic events, especially within spiritual communities, are often bizarrely devoid of common sense and basic empathy. It’s almost as if, in emulating a transcended state of detachment from worldly things, we just end up becoming a bunch of pseudo-psychopathic wannabes.

Please don’t pretend as if you understand death. You don’t. Please don’t pretend like you understand the big picture of what this is all about. You don’t.

All you have is a tiny keyhole perspective on what is going on around you.

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Then, there is the philosophical idea that suicide can be a “rational event” chosen of one’s own free will rather than being some desperate reaction to intense suffering.

There were some readers who pointed out, that point #9 in my list of 10 truths was flawed, because one can rationally choose to end one’s life and such a choice is, therefore, not misguided.

It’s a fair point, but needs a certain maturity of perspective to contemplate. This idea can be very easily misconstrued and turned into some sort of glorification of the suicide ideal.

For example, in my own life, I long maintained that, barring some unforeseen accident or illness, I would choose my own time and manner of departure. Not out of a sense of desperation or suffering, but just as a matter of “leaving on my own terms.”

I maintained this position for a very long time and anyone I’d mention it to, was often freaked out by the thought. However, a few people who could go beyond their social programs on the idea of suicide, were able to appreciate the position I was offering. They were willing to consider that, in certain cases, suicide could be a perfectly rational choice.

Now, before I expand on this matter, I want to clarify that I am not talking about ritualistic suicide as was practiced in certain cultures around the world. For example, the practice of “Seppuku” (or hara-kiri as it is more commonly known) in Japan amongst the samurai was considered the ultimate sacrifice in order to regain one’s lost honor. On the flip side, the practice of “Sati” (or self-immolating upon one’s husband’s funeral pyre) by the women of Rajput royalty in India was designed to preserve a woman’s honor. When informed of their husbands’ murders on the battlefield and that the enemy would soon descend upon them to rape, plunder and eventually kill all the women, the Rajput women refusing to sacrifice their honor, would ceremoniously mount the burning pyres of their husbands.

While, in both these cases, the suicides seem rational enough (although the rationale of the culture that propagates the need for these scenarios to even exist can be surely questioned) there is no doubt that, had the circumstances been different, the individuals would have chosen to LIVE. In other words, had there been another means for the samurai to regain his honor he would have chosen it. Or if the Rajput kings had been victorious, their queens would have breathed a sigh of relief. In both cases, it is not “world weariness” that prompts one to kill themselves but rather the “preservation of life” as seen through the eyes of culture and tradition. Therefore, suicide in the case of Seppuku and Sati is really a form of life-affirmation. Not life denial.

However, in the case of what we are considering “rational suicide” we are talking about a purely individual choice. Not dictated by society, one’s culture, one’s traditions and so on. Can suicide be a purely rational choice?

One may talk about assisted-suicide for those severely ailing with incurable diseases. Again, while one’s choice to take this route might be a rational one the CAUSE is circumstantial. In other words, just as in the case of Sati or Seppuku, one isn’t choosing suicide because one doesn’t want to live. One is choosing it, because one has exhausted ALL options for having a life of reasonable quality.

All of the above cases including assisted-suicide, to me, are not suicide. No more than a soldier diving on a grenade for a buddy is suicide. In each case, one acts in such a manner ONLY because there are absolutely no alternatives available to continue living in any sane manner whatsoever. Each of these people would have chosen to live had the circumstances been even slightly different.

When I talk about rational suicide, I’m talking about a case in which someone who is not ailing physically or psychologically chooses to take their own life. As I already mentioned, for a long time I maintained that this is how I would eventually go.

So, suicide can be rational. But does that make it right?

Now, I say no.

The idea of rational suicide is, in my opinion, a grave form of intellectual arrogance. It presumes that reason supersedes life. It is an outcome of our cynical post-modern views of life being a lifeless process, barren of any real intelligence other than what we contribute to it with our own brains.

There are two fundamentally flawed assumptions in this perspective that lead to such a “rational choice” being made.

First, one assumes that BECAUSE one has no further meaningful reason to keep living, death is the rational choice to make. It is the lack of “reasons for living”, that makes death APPEAR rational. It’s something like retiring from a job – if one no longer enjoys it, has no responsibilities and doesn’t need the money, then why keep doing it? If one were to persist in living without any reason, then that would make the process of living “irrational”. And so one chooses death by default. Like retiring from a career, one retires from life.

The second assumption one makes, is that life is about “ME”. What I think about it, what I feel about it, what I want from it, what I detest about it, forms the totality of what this process is about and why I am alive. And when all those things become moot points, then the process feels stale. So, since nothing fresh seems imminent, then that staleness seems like a rational enough reason to end it. After all, if “I” want nothing more from it, then why deal with the hassle of keeping it going?

Both these assumptions are misunderstandings that emerge from a purely self-centric view of life. One that assumes that the intellect is the supreme determinant of meaning and choice: and by extension – life and death.

The first assumption is flawed, because it assumes “no meaningful reason to live” as an absolute truth. Just because one’s own perspective is limited in being able to see a purpose in continuing to live, doesn’t mean such purpose doesn’t exist. For one, the body has plenty of reason to continue living. It doesn’t give a shit about higher meaning, purpose and so on. At the very least, there will be another meal that will need to be cooked, another dish that will need washing. There will always be more wood to chop and more water to carry. This is all the “meaning” the body needs to justify its own prerogative to keep living.

Just because the intellect feels painted into a corner and out of reasons, doesn’t mean that it has run out of options. Rather than kill the body, a less violent choice could simply be to let one’s own intellectual position go and live for nothing else but the sake of living. And while, this may seem like a highly “irrational” choice, life doesn’t manifest to satisfy the intellect nor for solely rational reasons. It just happens.

Second, the presumption that our bodies exist solely to satisfy our whims and can be junked like a used vehicle when we are bored with it, is deeply misguided. The self is an anomaly that has emerged and evolved only over the last few hundred million years. The body is a far more ancient creature than that. A body can function and sustain itself even in the absence of said self. However, the self cannot function without the body. There is no such thing as a disembodied self (none that is evident. Not getting into any metaphysical arguments here).

Rather, the self is a perspective that emerges from the body’s brain as a result of its highly organized function. For the self to believe that it is in a position to choose to annihilate the body, is like humanity creating a form of AI that suddenly decides that it no longer needs (or is bored by) humanity and so decides to annihilate it.

Even the most rational thought has only an ABSTRACT reality. It is a best guess approximate of the truth. But it is NOT the truth.

Having a rational reason to die, is like having a rational reason to live. Good for us, but none of what is happening has anything to do with our rational reasons for anything. The process we appear to emerge from is beyond rational and irrational, as we understand it.

In fact, this is the whole reasoning behind the “ego-death” process that spiritual paths outline. It is meant to address this very mindset of the world-weary self, having lost all sense of meaning, purpose and desire for continuing onward. They offer an alternative where, if you no longer enjoy your stay, you are free to check out. No need to take the body down with you.

In fact, the rationale here is that when the self has really lost all its “oomph” it will subside into a passive state non-violently in and of itself with no real prompting. To kill the body in order to terminate the self, is in fact, a grievous misunderstanding because this is an act of self will. And this very act of will implies that the self still very much wishes to assert itself. In other words, it’s not REALLY done after all.

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In the end, regardless of whether one is compelled by a sense of desperation, one’s cultural mores or even a sense of rationality: suicide is a misguided act. Because it can only be prompted by a mind that claims to understand why one is alive in the first place. Yet, we don’t KNOW why we live. Nobody knows this. Then, how can we KNOW why we must die? We may “think” we know and this confusing of the thought for reality is what makes it a misguided act.

When one is connected to “what is”, rather than what “one thinks”, the reasons to keep living are literally endless. Regardless of the pain, misery, confusion or meaninglessness surrounding one’s circumstances; there will always be another dish that requires washing, another flower that calls to be smelled, another tree that wishes to provide its shade to us, another person whose life may be forever changed by our simply saying “hello”.

The death-wish, as I have come to see it through my own life and evolution, is nothing more than a deep existential desire to live and connect more authentically. And what causes people to truncate their existence prematurely is a fundamental lack of faith that they are indeed DESERVING of such an existence.

Staying Alive

I’m going to try and lay this down as simply as I can:

That spiritual “enlightenment” you’re searching for? Not gonna happen.

No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, no matter what you are willing to endure, no matter how much you sacrifice yourself in the hopes of one day “waking up” – every ounce of that effort is literally what is preventing you from seeing what is right in front of your eyes.

This ideal of the “awakened being”, the enlightened one, is an ideological poison that has infected so many brains and completely hijacked their functioning.

Now, I get why it’s so appealing. Society has done us no favors. Its excessive focus on wealth over wisdom, on progress over presence, on consumption over compassion, on “success” over self-knowledge has led to a horrid state of affairs in which we are all alienated from one another and especially from ourselves. We find ourselves in a dull, grey haze of meaninglessness that immediately wilts every form of life it comes upon.

Then, in the midst of such desolation, along comes a spiritual teaching that promises the exact opposite. It promises ecstatic bliss, boundless love for one another and ourselves, a feeling of oneness with all that exists, no more fear of the narrow self-interested ego. We begin to greet others with heartfelt hugs and namastes rather than rough handshakes. We begin to lose ourselves in songs of devotion and rhythmic drum circles under starlit skies and to the sounds of the waves lapping on the shore. We feel effusive love for everyone we meet and see the same reflected back in their eyes. And it seems we have finally found our home and our kin. We have left that grey miserable world behind and emerged into a parallel universe bursting with color, love and truth.

For a time.

Yet, unexpectedly, the old feelings of greyness begin seeping back in. At first we try and rationalize them away as just “having a bad day”. But then it happens more often. Our interactions begin to lack the luster they had before. We continue participating in the devotional songs, the drum circles yet it feels a bit contrived. We continue to greet one another with hugs and namastes but we also see how these shows of affection are somewhat superficial. We begin to see through others and the facades they are projecting because it is similar to the one we are projecting. We begin to see the greyness lurking behind their eyes, the fear behind their smiles, the quiet desperation with which they sing their songs of devotion, the anxiety concealed in every beat of the drum.

Spirituality is the art of pretending things are okay when they are not.

The more tormented a person is, the more complex the cover up. We will do everything in our power to surround ourselves with the things, the people, the teachings and the rituals that allow us to maintain that active state of denial in the most comprehensive manner possible. And when we ourselves ARE the problem then we will seek to deny our SELVES altogether. THAT’S what the appeal of non-duality is. Escape from the self. TOTAL ESCAPE.

Spiritual seekers are some of the most emotionally damaged and psychologically wounded people one will ever meet. And there is a reason why such an incredibly lofty goal such as “enlightenment” appeals to such a person. The solution is in proportion to the problem perceived. And nothing short of a complete overhaul of who we are will suffice to solve it.

This was the rationale feeding the mind of one of the readers of this page before he shot himself a couple of days ago. I had never had the opportunity to interact with him directly but I noticed he liked a few of my posts. I was informed of his death by his best friend who is also an active reader and with whom I have had a fair amount of interaction. He messaged me with the news because this is exactly the sort of thinking I have been criticizing through my writings on this page.

What I felt last night when I heard what had happened was a mixture of deep sadness and rage. I barely slept because the image of this boy, who felt compelled to throw his life away because he couldn’t “awaken”, kept haunting my thoughts. Believing himself to be a failure in life, that sense of failure was further compounded by his “spiritual failure” to awaken. He had been an avid follower of a certain fraudster in Portugal as well as a few others in the non-duality scene.

As a result of all the “enlightenment” propaganda he’d come to believe in, he became convinced that if he could only become awakened, like all his teachers seemed to be, his life would become radically different. That all his problems would go away.

He suffered long with depression, headaches, insomnia and ringing in his ears. But when his friend counselled him to seek help he refused. He chose instead to believe what the brainwashed neophytes of the New Age were echoing around him: that all these were signs of “awakening”…

What a fucking tragedy.

Spiritual propaganda is just another ideological poison, just another narcotic which may help you wean off the drug of materialism that most other people are hooked on to, but in the end will consume you from the inside and leave you a specter of your former self.

“Waking up” has nothing to do with any of this non-dual garbage about transcending the self that people are being fed, these idiotic songs of devotion people are singing to some invisible entity who doesn’t give a fuck about them. It is simply taking a look at what’s around right now and choosing to take responsibility of THAT over anything else the mind can envision as a “better” reality.

And “what’s around” INCLUDES the soaring debt, the relationship woes, the conflict with family, the crippling self-doubt, the uncertainty about the future – all those things that we are attempting to escape using our convoluted spiritual practices.

It also means that we are not seeking to define ourselves in either material or spiritual terms. There is no “success” and “failure”, no “loser” or “winner” in anything we choose to do in our lives. Some things we choose will hurt more than others. But that is all part of the learning process by which we calibrate our own responses.

Nature has programmed us with one job: STAYING ALIVE. Even the lowly amoeba understands this. The only failure is the premature ending of that process.

I’m fed up of this fucking bullshittery. This spiritual circus act with these larger-than-life troupes of performers led by greedy, disingenuous ring masters fleecing their audiences for every ounce of material and spiritual wealth they possess. And the gullible sheep who will willingly swallow whatever shit they are being fed because they are so used to being led out to pasture.

So, I’m going to lay down some truths right now that I am willing defend until the grave so that anyone who is thinking of walking down that road may have a moment to pause.

1. There is no such thing as an “awakened” or “enlightened” person. No such permanent state of consciousness exists. Everyone who has ever existed including the Buddha, Ramana, Nisargadatta and all the other “enlightened” peeps inhabit the same everyday ordinary kind of consciousness as you and I and all the other “average joes” do.

2. Some people have “awakening” or satori experiences which are TEMPORARY spiritual epiphanies. Sudden moments of clarity in which things appear to come together in a way that they previously hadn’t. NOBODY lives in a state of constant epiphany. Every epiphany, every insight, every heightened state of consciousness must eventually subside and give way to ordinary consciousness.

3. There is absolutely NO WAY to intentionally and accurately orchestrate such an awakening experience. Trying to do so is an effort in futility and a surefire recipe for great suffering.

4. Rarely, an awakening experience MAY follow a catastrophic nervous breakdown or a period of intense depression. But depression is NOT a symptom of awakening. It is a symptom that you need to seek professional help! (Just because some people emerge from car crashes with a new zest for life doesn’t mean car crashes are events one must glorify or aspire to experience).

5. Ordinary consciousness IS where the marrow of life exists.

6. No matter how many epiphanies one has had, one’s problems CANNOT simply vanish. They must be FACED. They must be taken RESPONSIBILITY for. They must be SOLVED by oneself and no one else. Otherwise, they simply remain and magnify over time.

7. Whatever you resist, persists. Whatever you suppress, festers. Whatever you deny, grows in the darkness of your ignorance.

8. If you truly are willing to take full responsibility for life AS IT IS, rather than as you wish it to be, you will find that all the tools you need to fulfill that responsibility are at your disposal.

9. NOTHING is worth ending one’s own life over. No suffering is too great. No hardship too difficult to endure. The human spirit is equipped with a power and an endurance that is truly supernatural. There is only ONE thing that can subvert it: IDEOLOGY. That is our kryptonite.

10. A single ordinary moment of being ALIVE is the highest spiritual achievement anyone can aspire to.

Allow all of this to really sink in. Forget what you’ve been taught by society. Forget all the dreams and promises you’ve been fed by your gurus. Watch the twin towers of materialism and spirituality crumble before your eyes. Plant your feet firmly on GROUND ZERO. Take your stand there. And say: NEVER AGAIN.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by life, by feelings of depression, by thoughts of suicidal ideation don’t glorify it as a sign of your spiritual transcendence. Speak to someone. A friend, a family member, a therapist, a counsellor, a physician. And if your adamance prevents you, then speak to me. You can reach me through this page via the personal messaging function.

I will listen to you no strings attached.

Spiritual Obesity

“I kinda see what you’re saying (in reference to the post “Holding On”). But would you say the same thing to someone in war ravaged Syria who has lost everything? Or to someone wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life? Some people need hope to survive. In a world in which there is so much suffering, how can you say hope is a mirage?”
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Because it is. But that’s not to say that it isn’t a useful mirage.

However, let me dial back a bit and clarify something. In the article you are referring to, the questioner wasn’t asking about “hope”. He was asking about “happiness”. And he was seeking to define happiness as “having something to look forward to”. That is the definition of hope. In other words, he was equating hope with happiness and inferring that those who have something to hope for are generally happy.

That’s typically how most people in society understand happiness even if they don’t explicitly admit to it. The day I graduate, the day I get married, the day I get promoted, the day I own my own business, the day I finally retire, the day I win the lottery, the day the kids finally move out, the day I finally divorce his worthless ass, the day I’m recognized for my talents, the day I am liberated, the day I become enlightened as the Buddha was…

Happiness is almost always projected as a “happily ever after”. And we are the Cinderellas, the Snow Whites and the Sleeping Beauties suffering our wretched lot awaiting the day when we will finally be seen for the diamonds-in-the-rough that we are, be awoken from our sleep and emerge into the lives we were truly destined to inhabit.

When one is pathologically looking towards the future to provide a solution to one’s present, one has no choice but to understand happiness in this manner. This is how hope distorts reality and shifts everything of substance into the future, leaving the present moment dry, hollow and something we are eagerly seeking to get past.

However, I mentioned in the beginning, that hope can be useful. In circumstances of extreme deprivation and duress, hope is often the coping mechanism that our minds use in order to protect our psyches from capitulating. So, in your example of war torn Syria, a woman who has been taken from her family and forced to become an ISIS bride may need to use hope in order for her to preserve some sense of sanity. Her circumstances, being as traumatic and extreme as they are, may need an equally extreme psychological mechanism to offset the impact.

Desperate times, as they say, call for desperate measures.

And so, hope certainly plays its part in the human drama. However if, rather than as a temporary measure, it becomes one’s standard mode of functioning, hope quickly becomes self-defeating and detrimental to its own cause.

Let’s take the case of the wrongfully convicted person who has been sentenced to life, that you brought up in your question:

In fact, this is the theme of the award winning drama series, “When They See Us”, which tells the true story of the Central Park Five; five black teenagers who were wrongly convicted of the rape of a white female jogger in Central Park. Of the five, four were sent to juvenile correctional facilities where they served sentences ranging from six to twelve years. But one boy, Korey Wise, the only one who had just turned 16, was sent to adult prison. The great irony being, that of the five he was the only one who hadn’t been charged with anything originally. He had simply gone down to the precinct to give his friend, who had been charged, moral support. And he was sentenced along with the others.

Korey, still a teen, spent his first few months in prison being brutally beaten and raped. Yet, he held on to the hope of seeing his mother on her prison visits. A sympathetic guard advised him to request solitary confinement in order to avoid the other prison inmates who wanted him dead. And so, he spent a large portion of his time served in solitary. Each time he was transferred to a new facility, he would request solitary confinement.

After serving a few years, he had his first parole hearing. He was informed by the parole board, that if he confessed to the crimes his parole would be considered. Yet, he refused to. Even though he had held onto the hope of being released so strongly, over the years, his sense of the injustice done to him and his insistence upon the truth was more powerful. And so, because he refused to confess, he was denied parole. This happened over and over through the years.

Eventually, he just stopped going to the parole hearings altogether. He found peace and acceptance in his circumstances even if they had been unjust. In other words, he had found his own happiness and meaning. While other inmates had turned to the Bible or the Koran in order to find that meaning, Korey found it in his own solitude and sense of being, regardless of how dire the outer circumstances were. It was only when the real rapist confessed, that the case was reopened and all the wrongful convictions overturned. And Korey was finally released 13 years after being imprisoned.

Hope is a temporary stopgap measure that is effective in offsetting a psychologically distressing reality. However, when it becomes pathological it has two very destructive side effects:

First, it projects a view of one’s circumstances as being perpetually distressing.

Second, it creates an identity of oneself as a perennial victim of one’s circumstances.

So, while one might say the ISIS bride in Syria or the wrongfully convicted teenager are justified in saying that they are victims of distressing circumstances, most of us living in our wealthy first world societies with all the freedoms and conveniences we enjoy, are not.

For most of us, suffering is psychologically, rather than circumstantially, generated. Thus the solutions to that suffering must also be psychological. Looking for circumstantially related solutions to psychologically generated suffering is like trying to feed a starving child with positive affirmations. As long as we continue seeking outwards for answers to the lacks we experience inside, we remain hopelessly alienated from ourselves.

So, we need to inquire,” why are we NOT happy?” We aren’t being imprisoned, we aren’t being brutally beaten, raped or degraded. (Of course, many have faced trauma at certain points in their lives and are attempting to cope with the aftermath of that. Yet, is that our present reality?). We live in relative comfort, in a society in which our needs for survival are being met, where we are afforded freedoms to choose, to express, to live and earn.

So, why do we struggle to be happy?

One core reason is that our societies are fuelled by the energies of hope. Hope, not happiness, is what drives us to seek “more”. Hope is what drives consumerism. It’s why we keep buying more and more crap we don’t need. Hope is also what drives the spiritual industry.

The spiritual industry, which is really supposed to be humanity’s domain of truth and, by extension, happiness, is really a giant factory for manufacturing hope.

Hope has a soothing effect but is spiritually empty. For the spiritually impoverished and suffering, it provides an immediate sense of relief. And this relief is confused with happiness. It’s like giving a malnutritioned child a chocolate bar or a bag of chips. It works as a great filler to curb their hunger. But at a certain point they will need a real meal.

There are certain tribes in sub-Saharan Africa where young women are intentionally “fattened” so that they may seem like eligible brides to their suitors. As soon as a girl comes of age, she is kept in a “fattening hut” where she is virtually imprisoned for a period of months or even years. Here the girls are supervised by “fatteners”: elderly women whose job it is to force feed them often against their own will. They are made to consume several thousand calories a day and restricted from any form of activity or exercise.

These communities, that have traditionally faced famine and starvation, project obesity as a symbol of beauty. A man with an obese wife is someone who must have access to copious amounts of food as well as help since his wife need not engage in any housework. Being grossly overweight in this society is a mark of success and prosperity.

While many of us may balk at such a culture, our own lives are not all that far removed. In fact, our own consumerism is just a sophisticated manifestation of the same phenomenon. Driven by a sense of existential famine, we seek to consume more and more resources in an effort to validate to ourselves and to others that we are indeed prosperous or happy.

It is the same phenomenon also predominant in spirituality. Our gurus and spiritual teachers act as our spiritual “fatteners” feeding us high calorie, nutritionally empty rhetoric and discouraging us from doing any real “work” of our own. A bloated image of bliss, serenity, peace and love is the outward show we are all encouraged to emulate. Rather than spiritual and psychological health, we are preoccupied with posturing; making fantastical shows of our own attainment, peace, equanimity and enlightenment.

Hope is that high calorie sentiment, empty of substance yet full of promise that we are being force fed oblivious to our own circumstances.

Yet, a truly healthy physique is neither malnutritioned nor obese. It is robust and able to interact with its environment in an optimal manner with little need for outside intervention for its normal operation.

Similarly, a healthy psyche is neither one that is defined by its sense of misery and deprivation nor is preoccupied with ostentatious shows of spiritual accomplishment or material excess. It is optimally responsive to its environment.

A healthy adult body is capable of securing its own nutrition; not requiring someone else to constantly feed it nor suffering when that feeding is withheld. It is equipped with everything it needs to procure it’s own nourishment.

Similarly, a healthy psyche needs no external guidance or advice in order for it to negotiate life. It does not require wisdom or teachings to constantly bolster it nor does it suffer when that guidance is withheld. It is equipped to procure all the psychological and spiritual nourishment it needs from its IMMEDIATE circumstances, whatever those may be.

“Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime”, so goes the famous proverb.

The vast majority of religion and contemporary spirituality, is nothing more than people being rationed a fish a day by their priests, their gurus and their teachers. None of these “keepers of spiritual truths” are interested in empowering any of us to learn how to fish. Rather, they have made a business out of keeping people coming back for more.

And so, there is one stark similarity between the fish market and the Spiritual Marketplace that hits you the moment you walk into either of one of these places.

The stench can be quite unbearable.

Holding On

“All this being in the moment stuff is well and good but hope is necessary for human beings to truly be happy IMO. Without a future to look forward to it’s all meaningless. I heard somewhere that “happiness is having something to look forward to”. I tend to agree with this statement.”
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Try walking into a hospice and selling that idea to a dying woman…

There is a reason the elderly are arguably the most ignored and invisible demographic in our progressive westernized societies. They stand in stark contradiction to this very ideal of happiness that progress puts forth. This is why we are all so terrified of aging in our culture. Contrary to what most believe, it isn’t our fear of wrinkles, saggy skin, shrinking bodies, reduced ability and so on that we are most afraid of. Our fear is that we will be shunned by society. That we will be rejected by the herd. That we will be silently excommunicated. We will have lost our value in the eyes of others.

Because what others will still have, that we won’t, is “hope”, “future”, “potential”, “ambition”. Our udders will have dried up and won’t be able to be milked anymore. And a cow that no longer provides milk is a liability rather than an asset.

The promise of a future happiness is the mirage of the oasis that keeps you moving thirstily forward in the arid desert of your mind.

The donkey, connected to a yoke that powers the wheel of progress, is driven by a simple carrot and stick apparatus. It keeps him moving in circles believing that his time will come. That is, until the donkey gets old and realizes that his time is up. And his time still hasn’t come.

In contrast, when one looks at indigenous cultures, one finds quite the opposite. Driven by a need to remain connected to their immediate environment in order to identify opportunities to hunt and forage, their needs are likewise immediate. The future, at best, is a mere season away. Progress is not a cumulative effect, but rather something one begins anew each day. And it is in these cultures that age is synonymous with wisdom rather than a diminished intellect or capacity.

Here, there are no “aged”, there are “elders”. Men and women who have lived through and seen much, whose experience is an invaluable asset. What little “future potential” these elders represent is of almost no consequence. The indigenous people are concerned only with how the elders can guide them in their present circumstances. How to hunt better, how to see more clearly, how to listen more carefully, how to read the environment more deeply, how to relate to one another more truthfully, how to resolve disagreements justly, how to deepen spiritually. Life has had the opportunity to express itself and reflect upon itself for numerous decades in their forms. What greater value can one expect to see in a human?

It is also no surprise that these cultures historically had great insight and a remarkable attitude towards death. Death was not something to be cloistered away in funeral homes and morgues. It was something everyone was well acquainted with, that everyone openly witnessed, including children. While the fear of death has always been a part of the human psyche, these cultures nevertheless revered the process. And this is implicit in the elaborate rituals and celebrations that surrounded the dying process. There was no such thing as letting a person die in isolation in some sterile sanitized environment. People died surrounded by entire villages.

We all bore witness.

Not anymore. Now, we turn our eyes away in disgust, shame and embarrassment. As if growing old were a crime. As if aging means becoming a loser.

This is the kind of desensitized mindset that emerges from a mind disconnected from its own present. Because no matter what anyone might say, HERE is where the substance of life lies. The future is an abstraction that only gains its substance once, it too, becomes the present.

“Happiness is having something to look forward to”. Can you see the implicit absurdity of this statement? Let’s say I’m looking forward to having “X”. Even if I were to get X there is no chance for me to be happy. Because I haven’t defined happiness as “having X”. I have defined it as “ALWAYS having something to look forward to”. Which means no matter what happens, no matter what I achieve, it will NEVER be the thing that I can look forward to.

It’s an insidious lie that we are fed, that infects our psyches and overrides every natural instinct for real happiness that we contain. Look around at the rest of the planet. Why is ours the only species confused about “how to be happy?”

It’s like asking “how does one breathe?” Imagine defining breathing as the “next breath you are going to take”. You’d end up spending your whole life just holding your breath. (Technically, you’d be dead in a few minutes, but you get what I mean).

And in a sense, when it comes to the “pursuit of happiness” that IS what everyone is doing. Holding their breath for their time to come. But what do you do, when you are at your last breath. Do you hold IT too?

Inhale. Exhale. That’s all there is to breathing.

Take things in, let shit go. That’s all it takes to be happy.

But if you hold on to shit. If you are forever looking forward to shit happening…

That’s the very definition of a constipated life.

Viva La Vida


“I sincerely hope you never stop writing. Your articles have been invaluable to me. I’m amazed at the pace at which you write. I can hardly keep up with your posts! How do you sustain this pace of writing? What drives you to write so passionately? What do you hope to achieve through your writing?”
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I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Almost invariably, once I finish and post an article, I feel like this is the last article I’m going to publish. What is there left to say? The idea of sitting down and writing another article tomorrow is unfathomable to me. From where is that inspiration and energy going to come? I have felt this way since the very start after almost every article I write. That’s it, I’m done. That’s the last one.

And yet, unexpectedly the inspiration comes and finds me the next day. And the next day. And the day after that. Each time it’s a surprise. Each time I have no idea what I’m going to say or how its going to all come together. Half of the time, the ideas I express are occurring to me for the very first time.

So, my writing is a means of organizing my own thoughts. Putting them down on paper, allows them to crystallize from the vague and amorphous forms in which they exist in my head into the clear structures in which I express them. I am just as much of a reader of my work as I am a writer of it. Many times as I’m writing, I’m also understanding with greater clarity.

So, as far as “never stop writing” is concerned, that is something I seem to have little control over.

I also have little control over the fact that I am drawn to write. You asked me what drives me and for once I am at a loss for words. I honestly don’t know. I could rationalize it in any number of ways, but in the end all those reasons only feel like half-truths. The best way I can express it is that it is an organic expression of who I am. Just like a stream flows down a mountain or a flower bud blooms, my words flow out of my mind, my ideas blossom after germinating for years. There is no real “reason” other than that is what seems to be the natural course of things.

There is also no real intention with regards to “hoping to achieve anything through my writing”. I have no idea what it will achieve. I know it will have all kinds of effects, some positive and others negative. There is no way for me to know what those effects will be nor to even understand the big picture of its impact. It may well turn out that this IS the last article on this page. In which case, a year from now most people will have forgotten this page even existed.

What I can tell you is that my writing isn’t about me. It isn’t about you either. It comes through me but isn’t FROM me, if that makes any sense. Similarly, it goes to you, but isn’t FOR you. It’s something inevitable. It belongs to life alone. You are I are merely the conducting and receiving instruments respectively.

A violin may make music and other violins may harmonize to its tune. But the violin cannot invent music. Music exists beyond the realm of violins.

So, many of the things that surprise you about my writing, surprise me too. I had no idea I could sustain such a pace or generate such a volume in such a short period of time. But it just so happens to be the case. I can hardly claim full credit for it.

Instead, I must be contented to, along with other readers of the page, watch with curiosity as the show unfolds. What will happen next is as much your guess as it is mine. The only thing I have control over is keeping my instrument in tune and receptive to that which is playing it.

Viva la vida.

Crossing The Abyss

“If we take full responsibility for everything that happens to us, does that mean nobody is to be held responsible? I’m thinking of children who have been abused or neglected by their parents, victims of rape and assault, those persecuted on account of their race, gender or sexuality, people who have been exploited by oppressive government and psychopathic corporations – is the burden only on the those who have suffered to have to deal with their suffering?”
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Thank you for asking this question. It’s an important matter to clarify.

Before I answer your question, here is something I want to share with you:

Dasha is a seven year old girl who came to Sweden with her parents. They are refugees from a former Soviet republic who had to flee because their lives were in serious danger. Both parents had been beaten and tortured, the mother had been raped and their lives were being perpetually threatened by authorities. Coming to Sweden, had allowed the family some breathing room. Dasha and her older sister were attending school. Yet, the family was under a lot of stress and uncertainty because their application for asylum was pending. After a year of living in Sweden their application was rejected.

They appealed the rejection and were waiting for the appeal to go through. This is when Dasha’s behavior suddenly began to change. She appeared tired and lethargic at school and at home. She began eating less and less. Eventually, she stopped eating altogether and slipped into a coma. The family, terrified she was dying, contacted a psychiatrist working with asylum seekers. The psychiatrist told them that this was something that she and her peers had been seeing at an alarming rate only in the last few years.

They called it Resignation Syndrome. And there had already been 200 documented cases of children from refugee families in Sweden who entered into this catatonic state. Almost invariably, this resulted when children, who had been exposed to trauma, were then placed in a situation of extreme uncertainty. She said that these children eventually came out of the coma when the families’ situations became more stabilized and optimistic.

Dasha remained in a coma for over a year. During this time she had a feeding tube inserted in her, her eyes remained closed and she was unresponsive. Her family massaged her limbs and stretched them to prevent atrophy, bathed her, spoke and sang to her, took her out for walks in a wheelchair. She remained unconscious through all of it.

Eventually, the family’s appeal was upheld and asylum was approved. The mood in the household changed and became optimistic. A few months later, Dasha showed signs of movement. She gradually regained consciousness a bit at a time. A few months on from there, she was back at school as the happy, bubbly child she had always been. She had absolutely no recollection of anything that had transpired during the past year.

The reason I shared this story is to highlight the innate intelligence of the body in response to trauma. For a child, healing from trauma can only result when there is a sense of security and stability in the environment. But when there is uncertainty and the possibility of being exposed again to the same traumatic circumstances, then the brain may decide (as in the case of Resignation Syndrome) to quarantine the child’s consciousness until the circumstance has stabilized.

In other words, the brain is biologically designed to respond in a manner that will preserve the child’s sanity. It “takes responsibility” for the child.
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EVENT AND AFTERMATH

There are two aspects to any trauma one experiences. One is the EVENT and the other is the AFTERMATH. And this is where the division of responsibility lies.

As a victim of a traumatic event, the responsibility for the action that caused the trauma lies with the person who caused it. (To keep things simple, I am just going to assume a very clear cut case where an innocent is traumatized by someone without any form of provocation.)

If I’m walking on the street and a drunk driver swerves off the road and hits me and I end up in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, I do not take responsibility for the action of the driver. That responsibility lies squarely on the driver. And so, justice dictates that the driver be penalized or punished for their actions.

However, what I do need to take responsibility for is HOW the incident affects me: in other words, the aftermath. Now, to be clear I am not saying I am to blame for feeling traumatized. None of this has to do with blame. I am saying I need to take responsibility for how I feel and how I evolve as a result of it. THAT part is no one else’s responsibility but mine.

Unfortunately, if I misunderstand this I may make one of two errors:

One: I may hold MYSELF responsible for both the event AND the aftermath. In this case, I will blame myself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I will feel deep shame about what a loser I am and how my life has been destroyed by my bad choices. This internalizing of the oppressive actions of others is something a lot of children who come from broken families tend to do. In order to maintain their image of their parents they take on the blame of being the root cause of what caused their family to fall apart. It’s also what some women (and men) who suffer abuse from their spouses do in order to resolve the cognitive dissonance they feel.

Or, two: I may hold OTHERS responsible for both the event AND the aftermath. In this case, not only do I blame the drunk driver for hitting me with the car, I also blame them for everything I feel, and that unfolds in my life, as a result. I see myself as the victim of not only the circumstance but also the aftermath. Thus, the trauma is kept alive by me and I constantly re-traumatize myself by keeping that inner rhetoric of blame alive.

“Blame” is simply the “shifting of responsibility”.

In the first case, by shifting the responsibility of the event onto myself, I blame myself for what has happened. Thus, there can be no resolution because since I am the cause, I have to face the punishment.

In the second case, by shifting the responsibility of the aftermath onto others, I blame them for everything that continues to happen in my life. Thus, there can be no resolution because since they are already being punished for the event, they cannot be punished any further.

In both cases, the trauma is kept alive and has no opportunity to heal because responsibility is not being taken for the healing process.
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THE ILLUSION OF “EMPOWERMENT”

Now, here is something else to consider. Let’s say I had been walking on the sidewalk and instead of a drunk driver hitting me, it was a tree that was randomly struck by lightning and fell on top of me. And let’s say I ended up in the exact same position as in the first example. Who can I assign responsibility to?

Clearly, it’s not my fault it happened. I was just walking along minding my own business. I can blame “god” and call him unfair. I can try and blame the city and try to hold them responsible for their own trees. But I am unlikely to find any real object on which to cast responsibility. Furthermore, the responsibility of the aftermath is STILL mine to take.

It may be easier for me to recover from such a trauma if there is no “one” to blame. After all the tree fell. It’s just incredibly unfortunate. But if it was a drunk driver that caused my situation. Then, I may struggle to face the aftermath in the same manner. Because, I harbor the belief that while the tree had no choice but to fall, the driver “could have” chosen not to drink.

While, that assigning of volition to the driver is important in order to hold them responsible for the event, it also has the unintended effect of preventing us from accepting the new reality we find ourselves in. That “could have” prevents us from facing up to our own trauma and taking responsibility for the aftermath in a way the falling tree may not.

“Bad things happen” is a statement that is far easier to accept in the case of a natural disaster than it is in the case of a human caused event. Yet, the fact remains that a large portion of what drives human behavior is mostly unconscious.

It comes as no surprise that most trauma is caused by humans who themselves have been traumatized. This is not an excuse or a justification. It is simply a telltale sign that we respond to trauma in an unconscious manner, either oppressing ourselves or others as a result of it since the trauma itself is so unbearable.

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Part of how a person evolves in their own understanding of trauma is by shifting from a stance of self-blame to a stance of blaming others. A case in point is the contemporary culture of political correctness, trigger warnings, microaggressions and offensive speech.

There are minorities of various ethnicity, race, gender and sexual orientation who have been traumatized by discrimination and social oppression for years as a result of the systemic prejudices in society. In the past, many suffered great shame by taking on the blame of their own circumstances onto themselves. Rather than assigning responsibility to those who were prejudiced against them, many instead dealt with the trauma by loathing themselves.

However, as the times have changed and society progresses, these systemic prejudices have become exposed and highlighted in society. This is an ongoing process as discrimination still happens.

Yet, in addition to bringing attention to the events that cause trauma, what there also seems prevalent now, is an attitude of holding others responsible for the aftermath. In other words, the event aside, anything that you say or do that could even remind me of my trauma is unacceptable and on par with causing the trauma. This could involve the choice of words you use, the subject matters you bring up in discussion or any viewpoint that remains ambiguous on matters that are sensitive to me.

In other words, the responsibility of not only the event, but also the aftermath, is now the domain of “other people”.

There is an unconscious rationale behind this. Just like the children in Sweden with Resignation Syndrome whose brains are quarantining their consciousness away from any harmful or potentially threatening input for fear that it may break their psyches, so also is this attitude, of “sanitizing society” of all kinds of negative inputs, a kind of quarantining of the collective psyche of the historically persecuted against.

The only problem is that this kind of “enforcement” has the unintended backlash effect of breeding resentment and defensive attitudes that creates a further sense of alienation.

Assigning responsibility to another for causing trauma is one thing. Assigning ONGOING responsibility to another for how you continue to feel as a result of that trauma is something else entirely. It means that the onus of dealing with the aftermath has been shifted away from oneself. Thus one has no choice but to keep that trauma alive.

The reason this behavior is unconscious is that the person who is dealing with the trauma actually believes that this will help them heal. Having shifted away from blaming themselves to blaming others makes them feel relatively “empowered”. But this is not real EMPOWERMENT.

Most of the social trends and movements that promote themselves as “empowering” today are in fact only promoting the ideal of empowerment while continuing to disempower its propagators by shifting responsibility away.
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RADICAL CHANGE

When we take a look at society, we find that the vast majority deal with trauma in one of these TWO WAYS. Blaming themselves or blaming others: i.e. blaming god, blaming other groups, blaming the government, blaming corporations for their lot in life.

For example, when people blame corporations for being exploitative and causing a massive wealth divide, it is a certain action that one is holding the corporation responsible for. Yet, when one continues to buy that corporation’s products and support that corporation as a consumer while simultaneously berating it, that is a demonstration of failure to take responsibility.

I have said this before: that monumental change can happen overnight when people take full accountability. This has already been demonstrated in India in the first half of the 20th century when the entire British Empire was forced to leave India when the majority of Indians simply decided enough was enough and stopped cooperating.

What the average consumer, what the average citizen doesn’t realize is that the locus of power and control actually resides within them.

If every consumer boycotted corporations, the corporations would go bankrupt overnight. If every driver stopped paying for gas, the auto industry would be forced to go electric in the span of just a few years. If every woman refused to work for any company without a transparent and equal pay structure, corporations would scramble to rectify. Even more extreme, if women decided to form female-only corporations and cooperatives that provided competitive pay and supportive environments, the entire system would have no choice but to recalibrate – and fast.

But that sort of path isn’t without challenges. It requires one to make significant changes of one’s own. It took the Indians a willingness to learn how to weave their own clothes from hemp, risk imprisonment by making their own salt from the sea and boycott all English products (which formed over 90% of the consumer market at the time) In order to make the Empire capitulate.

And the form of empowerment that resulted was freedom. Independence for the nation after more than 300 years of subjugation. It wasn’t war or violence that did it. The people simply stopped doing what their masters expected of them and took control of their own lives.

One may argue, “well that sort of thing is nearly impossible to organize. It doesn’t only depend on me, it depends on everyone doing it.” Yet, this is how social change has always occurred. It begins with a few outliers kicking things off until it snowballs into a wider trend. At a point a tipping point is reached when the entire collective becomes galvanized in that direction.

This can happen both in positive and negative ways. And it has already been happening in the various movements that have occurred since the turn of the century through Occupy, Black Lives Matter, MeToo and so on. Yet, the division of responsibility that I mentioned in the beginning, between the event and aftermath, has not happened so cleanly. These movements have been extremely successful at bringing systemic issues to light and holding people accountable for their actions. Yet, there has also been a general trend of shifting responsibility of both the event AND the aftermath onto the guilty parties.

Thus, the trauma is kept alive rather than healed. The individual’s disempowerment is actively maintained in order to justify the need for assigning responsibility on to others.
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LOVE NOT FEAR

The following was a letter written by Gandhi in response to a letter he received from a Kansas City resident:
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148, Russa Road,
Calcutta.
26th July 1925.

My dear young Friend,

I like your frank and sincere letter for which I thank you.

You seem to have taken it for granted that I hate the British. What makes you think so? I have hundreds of friends among the British people. I cannot love the Mussalmans and for that matter the Hindus if I hate the British. My love is not an exclusive affair. If I hate the British today, I would have to hate the Mohammedans tomorrow and the Hindus the day after. But what I do detest is the system of government that the British have set up in my country. It has almost brought the economic and moral ruin of the people of India. But just as I love my wife and children, in spite of their faults which are many, I love also the British in spite of the bad system for which they have unfortunately made themselves responsible. That love which is blind is no love, that love which shuts its eyes to the faults of loved ones is partial and even dangerous. You must write again if this letter does not satisfy you.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed, ‘MKGandhi’) “


This letter exemplifies the attitude of taking responsibility that I have been alluding to. Separating out the action from the person is essential. It is not the British he hates, it is the system of government they have instituted.

Fear seeks to segregate, to alienate and to divide. It seeks to focus on the differences rather than what is common. And a fear-based attitude towards trauma can never heal it. It can only exacerbate it. Love alone has that power. And that love must be directed not only at oneself but also towards the other if one is to bring the unconsciousness, prevalent in both, to light.

In the end, it is not people but ideologies that are at the root of the overwhelming majority of trauma that exists in human society. As long as we remain opposed to people instead of ideology, alienation is the only possible outcome.

And one cannot fight ideology with ideology. It is only by laying down one’s own ideological arms and facing the opponent in the battlefield can one hope to inspire them to do the same. Brandishing a more powerful ideological weapon may scare them into putting theirs aside, but it will not build trust or friendship. It will only fan the flame of resentment in their heart.

Isms are the schisms that keep us imprisoned. The mind creates the abyss, but it’s the heart that must cross it.

Hungry Ghosts

“How do you tell the difference between someone who is going with the flow of things and someone who is apathetic? Many spiritual people I know pretend to be flowing but to me it just looks like apathy. I see it happening with me as well. Sometimes I think, “Why bother? It is what it is.” But on the other hand the rest of the world is constantly trying to fix things. And that doesn’t seem to work either. It just seems to complicate things.

Part of me wants to act but part of me is not sure if any action is needed. Any ideas?”
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***
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“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” So, goes the Serenity Prayer.

Those spiritual folks you talk about who are stuck in perpetual “acceptance” mode are there because they are clinging to their sense of serenity. They are terrified of losing that peace and calm and so they will rationalize everything that happens in the world as “things that I cannot change”.

The rest of society on the other hand is stuck in perpetual “change things” mode, in the name of “progress”, because they are driven by a constant need to display courage in the face of a harsh reality that will swallow them whole if they stop for even a moment. They are terrified of the whole artifice collapsing and so they will attempt to gain a greater sense of control and security by rationalizing everything that happens in the world as “things I can change”.

The irony is that the “serenity” of the first group is an artificial serenity and is actually driven by a deep anxiety. And the “courage” of the second group is an artificial courage actually driven by a morbid fear.

Meanwhile, neither groups display any WISDOM. Because, in order to have the “wisdom to know the difference” one must first have, both the serenity to accept the things one cannot change AND the courage to change the things one can.

This is important to understand. Because wisdom is really the ability to grasp the paradoxical nature of life. And wisdom is not a feature of the human intellect. 
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WISDOM VS. INTELLECT

The intellect requires an ideological stance from which to interpret reality. And based on this stance, it has two ways in which to take action. One is by being proactive and the other is by being reactive.

A proactive intellect is preoccupied with forecasting how things will pan out in the future and organizes its actions accordingly. It is forever adjusting its current position based on how it seems to align with its projected future destination.

The reactive intellect, on the other hand, is responding to ripple effects from the past. Everything that it does is a sort of course corrective measure to offset what appears to have been a “wrong move” on its part or on the part of others.

If you watch how the world works you will find most people operate in these two ways, some more towards the proactive end of things and some more reactive. In any of the major issues facing us in the world: climate change, identity politics, women’s rights, populism, trade wars and so on, the majority of the reactions you will see are reactive : “Oh my God! We have to fix this!” and a minority of proactive reactions: “here are a list of measures we need to implement if we are going to achieve so and so by this date”.

But wisdom maintains no such ideological stance. It utilizes the information that the intellect provides: whether proactively or reactively, but does not itself maintain either a proactive or reactive stance. Instead, it is centered in the present and is purely responsive.

There is a reason why the intellect can never possess the power to know the difference between what can and cannot be changed. And that is because nothing is ever fixed. Everything is in flux. What can be changed in one moment may not be in the next. What cannot be changed in one moment may become free to be changed in the next. The intellect, however, projects a static worldview and thus needs to bucket things definitively. Ambiguity is the enemy of reason. Certainty is what the intellect requires before it can make clear decisions. Too many variables and the equation becomes untenable.

But the vast majority of life IS ambiguous no matter what the intellect may say. And it is precisely this ambiguity that wisdom is designed to parse. 
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APATHY VS. COMPULSIVE ACTION

Apathy is the enemy of wisdom. So is compulsive action.

Both apathy and compulsive action are forms of inertia. One is the inertia of rest and the other is the inertia of motion. Apathy is like a giant rock that won’t budge. Compulsive action is like an unstoppable boulder rolling down a hill wrecking everything that comes in its path.

Both forms of inertia are the result of emotional baggage: unresolved emotional energy and trauma that sits trapped beneath the surface generating anxiety and projecting a fear-based view of life. This pent up emotional energy sits like a giant weight either keeping us fixed and motionless in our comfort zones or careening us forward like a bull in a china shop.

This is why SERENITY is a prerequisite to wisdom. Because, until a certain amount of that pent up emotional energy is released, inertia is the default state. To be able to come to rest at a moment’s notice, to forgive as quickly as one is angered, to return to the baseline immediately following an ecstatic high or a devastating low is the mark of a serene mind. And that is only possible when one has faced oneself and taken responsibility for all that one feels.

It is also why COURAGE is a prerequisite to wisdom, since it takes courage to face and release that emotional baggage. Inertia doesn’t allow for the response that is able to move quickly into action from a state of rest if the circumstances require it. Only a courageous mind is capable of such action. To be able to leave everything of comfort at a moment’s notice is not how society has equipped us to operate.

Neither courage nor serenity are possible as long as one is moved by the momentum of one’s emotional baggage.

You can think of it as steering a shopping cart in the supermarket. When the cart is empty, control is effortless. You can accelerate, decelerate, stop and turn effortlessly; weaving through aisles, other shoppers and displays at will. However, when you pile up that shopping cart the equation changes. The heavier that cart gets, the less control you have over it. At a certain point the effort it takes to get it going or stopping it becomes huge.

So, we begin to compensate by “projecting” things. We start calculating our stopping distance because we know that the cart isn’t going to stop exactly when we want it to. And we calculate the starting lag, because we know the cart isn’t going to get going when we want it to either. Anyone who has ever moved furniture on a dolly will know what I’m talking about.

The less responsive one is able to be, the more one needs to be proactive or reactive in one’s approach. Thus, the intellect is what TAKES OVER when inertia debilitates us from acting in a sensitive manner to our environment. 
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***
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So, to return to your original question: “part of me wants to act but part of me is not sure if any action is needed” – this is really a non-dilemma. Because, it’s really your intellect wrestling with two forms of inertia. One is the inertia of rest that wants you to stay safe and passive, the other is the inertia of movement that wants you to do something for fear that, if you don’t, things will fall apart. Both are driven by fear and anxiety. And that fear and anxiety is the result of unresolved emotional energy.

In other words, neither “part of you” is right because they are seeking an intellectual solution: an ideological stance to provide a buffer against the anxiety that is driving them.

So, there is neither serenity, nor courage in this equation. Thus, no wisdom.
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SELF-RESPONSIBILITY

I’ll tell you how I have learned to approach life. Because I also wrestled with similar questions at a certain point of my life. I also was a compulsive actor for a time followed by being apathetic to the world driven by a false sense of serenity. And it is only by adopting a certain attitude towards myself and my circumstances that things gradually began to change.

First and foremost, I began by acknowledging a certain glaring fact that I had been avoiding my whole life:

I am completely alone in my subjective world.

No one can see the way I see. No one can see what I think, what I feel, the moods and attitudes that sweep over me. No one can feel the burden of my emotional baggage, no one can see the fear and anxiety fueling it. No one can see what arouses me, what gives me hope, how I feel inside when something wonderful happens. All of THAT forms the vast majority of my experience of life. And I am utterly alone in that experience.

I am like a prisoner in solitary confinement. All I can do is communicate with other prisoners in their own cells through the walls of the cells.

So, I am responsible for all of what happens inside me. It is no one else’s responsibility. My moods, my attitudes, my ups and downs, the fear and anxiety, the hope and wonder – all of that is happening within the borders of my solitary cell. It is my responsibility and mine alone to maintain that cell. Is it going to be messy and cluttered full of crap that only hems me in and makes me claustrophobic? Or can it be an open airy space that allows me room to breathe, to move, to think in a relaxed manner?

So, I began by taking total and complete responsibility for myself holding no one else responsible for anything that I think, see and feel.

Facing and releasing my emotional baggage, over time, opened me up to a more serene and courageous attitude towards life. Rather than perpetually remembering or calculating, more of my attention became freed up towards openly observing. (I talked about this in some length in my “MIRROR, MIRROR” article. How the intellectual mind cannot create any NEW DATA, only rehash the old. It is only an open, observing mind that can register new data because that information is only available in the present moment.)

And through this open and inquisitive orientation of my awareness, wisdom began to emerge as a guiding faculty of intelligence. Yet, there continued to be many times in which my reactive/proactive intellect would re-emerge. Any time an old trauma or unresolved emotional issue was triggered, my wisdom would subside and my intellect would dominate in order to resolve the inertia of fear and anxiety paralyzing me. I would start projecting problems and solutions and begin either taking action on things I hardly understood or failing to act on things that needed my attention.

Yet, it was all growing pains. Each time this tendency to take a rigid intellectual stance would emerge, I would introspect on the energy driving that stance. And it was inevitably fear and anxiety at the base of it. Facing the trigger courageously allowed its release leading to a greater sense of serenity. And thereby, in the newly cleared out space, wisdom would return as the default intelligence operating.

This an ongoing process that continues in my life even now. But it has become mostly automatic.

It was only by taking responsibility for myself, that the space to accommodate “others” could truly open up. And those “others” began with those in my immediate vicinity, those in my family, those I came in contact within either in daily life or online. That sphere of influence grows gradually and organically yet, the core of responsibility always lies in my own self-perception. That is what anchors all my other responsibilities.

And wisdom is what emerges when that anchor is set.
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BEGINNER’S MIND

There is a reason why “beginner’s mind” is considered the optimal state of awareness in Zen. To have beginner’s mind is not a judgment on one’s lack of spiritual advancement. Rather it is something even the most advanced practitioners aspire to.

Beginner’s mind simply points to a state of awareness that is open, receptive and highly responsive.

It is like the mind of a child that is fully centered in its present, absorbing information from its environment like a sponge and responding in an instinctual manner. However, unlike the child, we also bear the burden of experience. That experience provides additional information in the form of memories from the past as well as projections of the future. The information that experience provides is also vital.

Beginner’s mind then requires the skill to not only be present to one’s immediate circumstances, but to also be present to the information being provided by experience. In other words, one is present not only to the PRESENT but also to the PAST AND THE FUTURE.

A child is capable of being open and responsive but does not display wisdom because it has no experience. Most adults, on the other hand, have much experience but cannot display wisdom because their experiences have closed them off from life as it happens, opting instead for a proactive or reactive intellectual position on things.

Yet the intelligence that emerges from beginner’s mind is able to remain open and responsive to all of it. It is the kind of intelligence that brings the present, past and future together into a seamless whole. And it is from that holistic perspective that it takes action.

Not driven by the hungry ghosts of fear and anxiety, one reacts with neither apathy nor compulsive action. Instead, one is serene when one is at rest and one is courageous in one’s action. Yet, one also possesses the wisdom to rest when rest is required and act when action is.

“When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m tired, I sleep.”

Fabric Of Life

Made it 38 times around the sun today…
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Wake up to the squeals and laughter of my children and getting the wind knocked out of me as they hurl their bodies onto mine. I turn to see that smile I know so well and the kiss of the woman I love. She presents me with something she’s been working on for a couple of months with her Japanese calligraphy teacher. Several tens of drafts later, she has crafted it to her satisfaction.

A single framed kanji character: “silence”.

I can think of no greater gift. The single most meaningful word in my vocabulary. The single ambition that has driven my life. Either that, or she’s trying to tell me I need to shut up more.

My wife and older daughter are off to a craft event, so it’s my two year old and I for the morning. We sing along with The Police and Queen in our underwear. Then it’s off to the grocery store followed by a stop at the playground.

Lunch is just the two of us at the Udon shop. We slurp udon noodles noisily trying not to spray ourselves in the eyes with the fat, wriggling, worm like noodles. Each time one of us does, we both burst out laughing. Soon, we’re pretty much doing it on purpose. The whole restaurant is staring at us.

She falls asleep in the car on the ride home. I pull up on the hill behind our house which overlooks the river and the mountains. I lean against the hood of my car and watch the tall reeds yielding to the wind. The trees sway in concert, their rustling rising to a crescendo each time a strong gust blows.

Silence amidst the sound. Silence within and without.

Arriving home, I start setting up the BBQ in the backyard. Soon, a handful of friends are over: kids making mud pies in the garden, raucous laughter in the living room. The smell of yakitori fills the air. Beer, wine and sake all around.

A moment alone by the grill, I glance over at the scene. The sounds, the voices, the laughter, the squeals fade into a background hum. Time slows, then stands still:

Everything is as it must be.

Later, when everyone leaves, the girls eagerly wait for me to tell them their story for the evening. It’s got to be a special extra long one since it’s my birthday, they say. Tucking them into bed, holding them close, listening to their breath rising and falling, it returns once again. The silence. Connecting our heartbeats. Containing our love.

The girls are fast asleep, now. Cleaning up, my wife and I banter about the day. We laugh about the antics of each of the kids as we narrate how the day unfolded.

Exhausted, we settle down on the couch, my wife’s head nestled on my shoulder. We hold each other tight. It’s just the two of us now. Moments like these don’t come as often as they used to. I reach for the remote. What shall we watch tonight?

No answer comes. Just her deep rhythmic breathing and barely audible snores. I smile and turn off the television.

My eyelids begin to droop as well. I close them and listen. The silence comes to the fore again and fills the space inside. I open my eyes and the whole room is filled with it. Objects and space pulsing with it. My body and my senses too, pulsing with it.

Silence. The single fabric connecting each moment, each event, each person to the next. The blank page upon which the story of my life unfolds.

My eyes close. Consciousness fades. Silence takes over.

Good night.

Awakened Mutants

“Your reply to a reader’s comment got stuck in my mind:

You said: “(to say that it’s) “not in our hands” is a tricky statement because it assumes a “someone” who lacks agency. Either there is no one therefore no agency. Or there is a someone with agency. Both options are workable. The hybrid is not.”

While I understand what you are pointing at something is still not clear. How/why do we fall for the hybrid without noticing it?

What do you think of paying conscious attention to the I AM/ I know I am? Is being this knowing, the disappearance of self?”
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Self is a natural function of the brain just like memory. Both are necessary in order for a person to be functional in society and life.

However, there are many people who are perpetually recalling the past. Memory rather than a function has become an addiction for these people. Thus, they never experience “being present”. Their memory is dysfunctional.

A functional memory is one which arises when there is a need. It is a responsive memory not a reactive one. For example, my memory is not compulsive. I can be present in a relaxed state and not recall any past events for a while. However, at a certain point my memory HAS to kick back in. Otherwise, I will not be able to function. That’s essentially why people who suffer with Alzheimer’s are so hampered in their functioning.

Claiming that I live in some abiding state of no-memory is nothing to write home about. It is just as dysfunctional a state as that of a compulsive memory.

Similarly, the self in most people is an addiction and thus is perpetually “hyper functioning” without pause. Most people are constantly “selfing”. The self has become an addiction rather than a simple function. It is dysfunctional.

A functional self is one that arises when there is a need. It is a responsive self not a reactive one. But, if the self is completely disabled that is an equally dysfunctional state of affairs.

Claiming to live in some “abiding state” of no-self is like claiming Alzheimer’s is some pinnacle of consciousness. It’s mostly nonsense.
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FREE AGENT

From the natural self-centric model of perception, that forms our everyday experience, there IS a sense of self that appears to be separate from the rest. And so there is a natural sense of agency that emerges with it.

What does it mean to be “separate”? It means to be “not joined to”. It means to be “free from”. Thus, to sense a self is to feel that one is free to choose. To choose life, to choose death, to choose whatever we set our attention upon. “Self” is that part of us that is not “beholden to” the laws that govern the rest. The moment I find some part of me that is limited by certain laws, I begin to refer to it as “mine” rather than as “me”.

My body is “mine” because it is not free. My mind is also “mine” because it isn’t free. I take my personality to be “me” until I come to realize that it isn’t entirely unique either and is somewhat predictable, at which point I divorce myself from it as well and call it “mine” but not “me”. The sense of self is the perpetual assertion that I exist INDEPENDENT and free.

“Not this, not that, not this, not that” the self survives by shedding every identity that appears to it as being a burden to its independence. Eventually, all there is left to assert is “I AM”.

Knowing the self as I AM is not the disappearance of the self. Because that “I AM” IS the self in its nakedness. The I AM is the scaffolding around which all our thoughts and identities are built. There is ALWAYS conscious attention to this I AM. This isn’t something unique to spiritual seekers and meditators. Every single person you meet is actively focused on that very sense of I AM, 24/7. The only differences lie in how that I AM has been dressed up. Some perceive it in its naked form and others through layers of identity clothing. It’s still the same thing we are all looking at.

Self is I AM.
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HYBRID CONFUSION

As long as I AM, then I CAN. That’s the whole point of the self. Self is the sense of being a free agent. Thus, an agent must have AGENCY.

However, when one claims “it’s not in my hands” one is asserting a confused worldview in which there IS a self, but for some reason it is helpless to act in any meaningful way. An agent without agency.

This is an aberration. It is a contrivance.

The perspective that appears during an awakening or satori experience is that “this” is all just one process. There is no sense of there being a self that is separated from this process. Thus, there is no sense of agency because there is no sense of self. It is a temporary experience because the loss of the self-centric position that is experienced in satori is neither a functional state nor a sustainable state.

The self-centric position is REQUIRED from a purely survival point of view. Thus a self-centric worldview must be reverted back to when one is required to interact with one’s environment or in society in any way. This is perfectly natural. When that happens, one cannot maintain the satori perspective as being their living reality. One cannot claim to be a “no self”. Because one is clearly a self!

This bizarre hybrid position is what most of these so called “awakened” teachers purport. I have talked about this before.

There is no such thing as an “ABIDING” AWAKENING.

The reason this “hybrid” appeals to us is because we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to occupy the awakened perspective while simultaneously retaining a sense of self. A new hybrid mutant awakened-self! It doesn’t work that way. The two are mutually exclusive.

You can’t swim in the water and still keep dry. Either you immerse yourself in the water, in which case, you get wet. Or you stay in the boat separated from the water and keep dry. Claiming to be swimming and keeping dry at the same time is delusional and phoney.
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STARING AT THE SUN

Self is I AM.

That is what it means to be a self. And to be “self-aware” is to know that I AM. Then, how can a constant focus on this I AM lead to its disappearance? How can a heightened self-awareness lead to its absence? This hyper focus and chronic vigilance on the I AM in the belief that this will result in its dissolution is like staring at the sun and hoping to go blind.

The disappearance of the sense of self occurs only when there is no longer awareness of I AM. There is only suchness. Suchness is not something that can be arrived at by focus, sheer will or even intention. It is a perception that arises of itself when there is a complete relaxing of focus AND intention. It’s a perception that appears spontaneously at first in satori, but only becomes truly accessible when one organically matures into it over time.

Yet, it is always a short-lived, momentary perspective. It exists only until a self is required once again.

Just Look

Last night, I met with an old friend. At a certain point in the conversation he brought up the book “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse. And he said,

“You know I still have the copy you gave me…”

I had no recollection of this, but he reminded me that I had presented him with my own copy of the book nearly a decade ago. This was a copy I had first purchased 20 years ago when I was still a teen. And over the next few years, I would re-read the book more than seven times. I asked him if he still had the book with him and he immediately went to get it.

He brought it back and handed it to me. I held the little blue book in my hand, felt its weight, ruffled its pages. It felt strange. Not like a book but like some living creature. Holding it in my hand felt like holding the hand of a friend. Feeling it’s surface and ruffling through its pages felt like stroking the cheek and ruffling the hair of a loved one. I instinctively brought the book to my chest and pressed it there for a moment.

“Hello, old friend…”

I opened to the very first page and there was a note I’d penned when I was only 18.

“To ego:
Find me.
Spirit”

That was the gauntlet that had been laid down twenty years ago. I barely could remember writing it. But as I gazed at the words, all those memories came rushing back: the deep despair, the yearning to be free, the hopeless confusion, the emotional turmoil, the burden of expectation, the sense of dread for the future, the craving to know my destiny, the frustration of not knowing who I was.

And I reflected on what I feel now: no despair, no yearning to be free, no confusion, no emotional turmoil, no sense of burden, no feeling of dread, no frustration about who I am.

What has changed?

The expectations in my life haven’t diminished, they have increased significantly compared to when I was a teen. Back then I was responsible only for myself. Now I have a family, little children to take care of and parents who are growing old.

My future hasn’t become any clearer. In fact, back then, the possibilities had been limitless. The options for me to pursue any kind of career or lifestyle had been wide open. Now, my future is just as uncertain and yet the options are more limited.

What am I destined to do in my life? This question has become meaningless. I have no expectations of what I must do or achieve in this lifetime. Water will find its level if allowed to flow unimpeded. My only occupation is to clear those obstructions that impede the natural expression of my being. What I will “become” is a moment by moment revelation that I’m happy to discover as I go along.

It’s like reading the book of my life. Like any good book, I savor the story. I have no desire to ruin the fun by skipping to the end. Whatever the narrative arc, whatever the plot twists to come, however climatically or anticlimactically the story ends, none of that matters to me all that much. This book is strongly character driven. It’s the characters that I have come to love so much.

Most importantly of all, I STILL don’t know “who” I am. Yet, I have no desire to know. I have a name, a personality and a role that I play as protagonist. That is sufficient. The desire to be a “somebody” holds hardly any appeal for me now.

So what has changed? It would seem, both nothing and everything.

I reflected on that boy who stood separated from me by a gulf of twenty years. And I crossed that chasm and became him for a moment. I tried to envision his exact life, his circumstances, his moods, his thoughts, his frustrations, his yearnings and for a moment I BECAME him again. I felt what it felt to be him.

And it felt no different. It was the same self unchanged by the passage of time. Yet, there was something else there: beside him, behind him, above him, beneath him, around him and within him at all times like a toxic black cloud of oppression seeping into his mind, his veins, his bones, his heart and making him think, feel and act according to its own bidding.

Fear.

Fear was what was making him run away from himself, from the moment, from his home. Sent off on a fool’s errand each morning only to return exhausted and empty handed each night, his will utterly spent. Working him like a puppet chasing after this and that, promising him great peace, great comfort, great joy, great love, great understanding as his reward if he only did its bidding. He must prove himself worthy. But all he could prove was his unworthiness. And instead of being rewarded he was punished. Punished with great turmoil, great suffering, great sorrow, great loneliness, great confusion. So, he tried even harder to prove his worth.

Standing within him, as him, I can see the black cloud, I can see his mind struggling to comply and I whisper to him,

“look at it”

At first he doesn’t hear me. So, I repeat in a still small voice

“Don’t look away from it. Look at it”

He has never looked at it head on. He has never faced the black cloud of his fear. He has always looked away from it. He has always been driven by it.

He hesitates and turns to look, then turns away immediately in horror. No, he cannot! Absolutely not!

“Look at it. Don’t be afraid. Look at it”

He faces it more fully this time and the dark cloud grows darker and more menacing in response.

“Keep looking at it.
No matter what.
Keep your eye on it always.
No matter what it says.
No matter what it threatens.
Let it speak but never respond.
Just look at it.
IT CANNOT TOUCH YOU.”

He does as I tell him. He looks at it for days. He looks at it for weeks. He looks at it for months. He looks at it for years.

I see him cross the gulf between us, never taking his eye off the black cloud. And as he arrives at the other shore, the cloud is swallowed by the chasm of time…

“To ego:
Find me.
Spirit”

Still gazing at those words, I understood.

I closed the book. I looked at the book cover and the bronze statue of the inwardly smiling Gautama. And the words appeared in my mind,

“Am I holding the book of Siddhartha’s life?
Or is Siddhartha holding the book of mine?”

Mirror, Mirror

“Your posts always bring me back to the simplicity of this moment. You have a way of taking the air out of anything my mind can latch on to. But I still feel burdened by my thoughts. Why does the “inner world” have to be so complicated when the “outer one” is so simple? Why are there even two? Why do I need to see myself as a character in my mind? Why can’t I just BE without thinking of myself? Why is there even a mind? I know these are philosophical questions and there are no clear answers. I guess I’m just tied up in confusion…”
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About a year ago, my wife and I were gazing up at a full moon when I remarked, “Funny, how the phenomenon of tidal locking works. You always get to see the man in the moon.”

To which she responded, “What man?”

And I said, “You know. Like the man in the moon. The face in the moon.”

“What face? I don’t see a face,” she replied, puzzled.

“What do you mean you don’t see a face? Everyone sees a face,” I replied astonished. “Then what do you see?”

“Nothing in particular. Maybe something like a world map.”

I realized that, having grown up in Eastern Europe, the “man in the moon” association was not something she had grown up with. Many cultures, in fact, have different versions of what they see. The Japanese, for instance, see a rabbit making “mochi” (glutinous rice).

So, I showed her the man in the moon and it took her a few seconds to see what I was talking about. But then she saw it.

A couple of weeks ago, we were standing on the driveway looking up at the full moon and she goes, “You know, you’ve ruined the moon for me. Now, every time I look at the moon all I can see is that ridiculous face!”
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WHY IS THERE EVEN A MIND?

Because without one, there would be no form of organization to the reality we perceive. Everything would be as it is: flux. There would be no objects, no events, no people, no space, no time – nothing but incessant emergence, transformation and dissolution. It would be like staring into a cosmic stew. Yet, the mind creates forms out of flux, events out of entropy, people out of phenomena, time out of the timeless, space out of emptiness. Without a mind to organize it, reality would be an incomprehensible soup.

It’s like looking up a starry night sky. There was a time when all I saw were incomprehensible clusters of stars. Now when I look up, I see specific constellations. My mind has learned to organize the night sky into a format that makes it more familiar, recognizable and comprehendible.

That is the basic function the mind serves. To organize reality into something that can be interacted with.

But all minds do this. Even the minds of animals.

What makes our human minds different is that we possess the power of imagination. And what that word “imagination” means is that we are able to SIMULATE scenarios that do not exist in our immediate present. That simulation may take the form of a past experience that we are recreating. Or it may take the form of a projected scenario that we may encounter in the future.

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WHY SIMULATE AT ALL?

What’s the purpose? All this thinking and fantasizing seems to generate a lot of suffering…

The simple reason is that: Simulation allows for an accelerated evolution.

Think of space travel for instance. Recall when NASA wanted to put a man in outer space? Think of the countless variables and risks they had to consider in order to achieve that objective. How does zero gravity affect the human body? What kinds of conditions exist in outer space? What temperatures can the external shell of the craft withstand? What kind of heat does the friction of the atmosphere create at speeds that approach escape velocity?

Now, imagine NASA had no simulators. No means of creating similar conditions in the lab to that of outer space. Their astronauts did not spend hours in swimming pools learning to function within zero gravity. No one was trained on flight simulators to test every kind of exit and re-entry scenario imaginable. What would have been the odds of success?

If NASA had no choice but to figure it out by trial and error they would literally have to build a new space shuttle every single time for every scenario they would need to test. The financial costs of this, not to mention the loss of human life, would be so astronomical that space travel would simply be unviable. Even if they persisted with this approach of trial and error, how many millennia more would it have taken until man could finally enter space?

The mind is the body’s SIMULATOR.

Its job is to envision multiple scenarios which have either transpired or are yet to transpire and analyze these scenarios in such a way that if any one of them were to ever become a reality, the body would know JUST what to do in that scenario. It’s the same with an astronaut or an airline pilot who uses their training to crash land a plane safely. Obviously they have never had to train on a plane that is actually crashing. But they have simulated these scenarios sufficiently that when it actually happens, their automatic response is one that is suited to the event even if it’s the first time they’ve ever encountered it.

In order to simulate any scenario, the mind has to create a second version of you IN that simulation. This is your virtual avatar. Your doppelganger. And through each simulation this simulated version of you is going through scenario after scenario: some that end well and some that end badly, even as the “real you” is sitting in relative comfort and safety. This is like the astronaut who, while sitting in the safety of the NASA lab, is projecting his virtual self into all kinds of dangerous flight based scenarios.

That virtual version, that is the protagonist of the mind’s simulations, is what we commonly tend to refer to as “me”.

Now, none of what I’ve outlined so far is really the cause of any of our problems. In fact, they are evolutionary mechanisms that have evolved as SOLUTIONS to the natural challenges that life poses to all organisms.

The problem and root of our existential angst really comes down to two factors:

The first is that, the simulations that our minds create are structurally limited. The second is that, the simulation is mistaken for reality and thereby the virtual self in the simulation is taken to be the real self.

These two glitches exacerbate each other in a number of ways through an endless feedback loop.

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WHY ARE SOME SIMULATIONS FLAWED?

I’ll give you an example. When my daughter was four she learned that one puts out a fire by throwing water on it. This made a lot of sense to her since fire was hot and dry and water was cold and wet. Then one day one of our electrical appliances began sparking and, before I knew it, I saw her running with an empty cup to the sink to fill it with water. So, I stopped her and explained to her that an electrical fire is different from a regular fire. And water is the one thing that she absolutely should not be using to put it out. Her mind had incorrectly simulated what would happen when she threw that cup of water on the fire. Her imagined scenario had been one in which the fire would have been put out. Whereas, in reality, she would have been electrocuted.

The limit of a simulation is that it can ONLY use data that it is already familiar with in order to project a simulated scenario. All a simulation does is re-organize that data into different permutations and combinations. But it cannot create NEW DATA.

That new data only comes from the PRESENT MOMENT and our immediate reality. So, either one needs to be electrocuted or one needs to know that someone somewhere has been electrocuted in order to understand that one does not throw water on an electrical fire.

So, for example, if you’re trying to figure out how to beat traffic to get to work, you may accurately envision a whole number of alternate routes because your mind is already familiar with the layout of the city. Whereas, when you are travelling in a foreign city with no map, your simulations are going to lack data and therefore accuracy.

Thus, the natural stance of a mind needs to be one of “data gathering”. Rather than actively simulating, it must be actively observing and registering. For a mind to effectively simulate, it must absorb as many data points from its environment, in REAL TIME, as possible. The more keenly observant it is, the more accurate its own simulations are bound to be.

All this is common sense.

However, this is not how most of our minds operate.

Most of our minds are actually perpetually focused on simulating and only minimally observing. Rather than actively absorbing data points, they are simply rehashing scenarios based on the limited data they already have.

The mind is limited in its ability to do two things at once. Its attention cannot be fully dedicated to the act of simulating and observing at the same time. Thus, when it is simulating it is hardly observing.

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WHY DO WE COMPULSIVELY SIMULATE?

One of the reasons for this tendency to compulsively simulate is what I mentioned earlier. Mistaking the simulated self as the PRIMARY self, we have no choice but to favor the simulated reality in the mind as being the FUNDAMENTAL reality we inhabit OVER the reality our bodies do. And so the entire equation turns backwards. (This is the ONLY reason a phenomenon such as suicide can occur.)

Rather than adapting our simulations to the physical reality we inhabit, we instead begin to do the opposite. We try and change physical reality to line up with our simulations. Concurrently, we begin modifying our natural self to match the simulated self.

An extreme example of this, is those who undergo compulsive plastic surgery in order to embody a certain ideal of beauty. The distorted and almost inhuman appearance they end up creating is a reflection of how distorted their simulated self is in the mind. But even though most of us are not nearly this extreme, almost everyone is doing it to some extent.

Yet, beyond body image, the very choices we make in our lives: where we live, what work we do, what we believe, our political opinions, our self-esteem and so on, all have that same cumulative effect of stuffing a square peg into a round hole. Or in this case, stuffing a self into a “me”-shaped hole.

What we call the “ego” is nothing more than a flexible and fluid self, forced into a rigid identity container.

So, this is the fundamental error. This is why most of the suffering we perceive in the world exists. Simulators running amuck, trying to structure reality into whatever distorted hierarchy they are projecting onto it. Our perception has flipped backwards.

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WHY HAS OUR PERCEPTION FLIPPED?

Why is there this tendency to mistake the simulated self for the real self in the first place?

Simply put: awareness is attracted to change.

To illustrate what I mean by this, let me tell you about my kids again. In our family, screen time is strongly regulated. The girls get exactly one hour of television in the evenings when they can watch their cartoons. And it’s always fascinating to watch them watch their cartoons. Because the moment that TV comes on, they go from being bubbly, enthusiastic kids into absolute zombies.

It is almost impossible to get their attention while they are watching their cartoons. And that’s because their awareness favors the TV reality over the reality they are inhabiting, because things are happening at a much faster rate in that reality.

Not much is happening in the living room reality. The cat is stretching and strolling across the carpet. Dad is clearing up some dishes. Mom is setting out the clothes for their school tomorrow. Whereas, in the TV reality all kinds of amazing, terrifying, exciting things are happening on a moment by moment basis.

In other words, the RATE OF CHANGE in the reality on the screen is much higher than that of the reality around them. And thus, they are fixated on that reality over this one.

This is also why we are so immersed in our own simulated scenarios in the mind over the one we inhabit.

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WHAT KINDS OF SCENARIOS DO OUR MINDS SIMULATE?

This is a good question to ask. Rarely do we ever simulate mundane scenarios. Most of what we simulate are RISK or REWARD scenarios. In other words, we imagine scenarios in which either good things or bad things are happening to us.

In our minds, we are either getting praised or put down. We are either appreciated or misunderstood. People are either out to get us or love us. We are winning or losing. We are succeeding or failing. We are triumphing or being vanquished. Over and over, these are the kinds of scenarios we are projecting. Because THAT is the whole point of a simulation. It is to anticipate scenarios of threat or reward in an attempt to maximize our chances of survival.

But it’s precisely because these simulations are designed to focus more on the “dramatic moments” that our awareness is naturally drawn to the simulated reality over the physical one. Dramatic moments cause all sorts of chemical reactions in our bodies and chemicals are addictive. The fact that one could be standing in a kitchen making a cup of tea and at the same time be experiencing great grief or joy or terror or heart-warming feelings, based on whatever simulated script is playing out in the mind, is both miraculous and ominous.

Simulation is STIMULATION. And when one becomes addicted to feelings of stimulation (i.e. arousal) then one will go looking for more of it.

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IS THIS WHY WE SEEK TECHNOLOGICAL STIMULATION?

Stimulation seeks greater stimulation.

This is why our rapid technological progress also represents an existential crisis for our species. Because all technology does, is it augments the power of the human mind. It magnifies our ability to analyze, organize and simulate, exponentially.

Yet, precisely because simulation is STIMULATION, the cumulative effect of this outcome is levels of stimulation that are reaching near critical levels. The addiction is full blown and all consuming.

And since the backwards orientation of our perception is already a source of suffering, this further technological augmentation only creates an exponential increase in that suffering.

The more we simulate, the more versions of our self we create, the more identities we begin to proliferate, the more those identities begin to seem like “reality” over the simple sense of BEING. This is more than apparent in the political climate that most countries of the world are now immersed in.

For a mind that is not stable and grounded in the reality our bodies inhabit, technology is just a PLAIN BAD IDEA. Because it exacerbates every error and magnifies every distortion by several orders of magnitude. And the fact is, of the 7.5 billion of us, only a negligible percentage actually function in a grounded manner. The vast majority are completely absorbed in their simulations.

If a child hasn’t learned how to ride a bicycle correctly, the last thing they need is a motorcycle.

Dominated by a misunderstanding of what this mind is and what we ourselves are, we immerse ourselves further and further into that labyrinth of simulated realties, further textured and complicated by technology.

The Matrix.

And that simulated self, remains forever lost in that labyrinth screaming for a way out.

But there is no way out. Because you were never in.
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“Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the fairest one of all?”

My kids are watching Snow White and that familiar refrain from my own childhood causes me to reflect.

Why is the mirror magical? It doesn’t seem all that intelligent. If it had been, it would have told the queen something that she did not already have the ability to know. It would have provided her with data that she didn’t already possess. It would have told her that beauty is subjective and in the eyes of those who perceive it and, further, goes deeper than superficial appearances. But the mirror does not possess any intelligence. So, its own responses are limited by the queen’s limited understanding of what beauty is. Thus, it can only give her black or white answers.

Similarly, seeking life, seeking self, seeking solutions to suffering, in the mind, is like the queen looking at her magic mirror and asking for solutions. There are simply no solutions to be found because there is no new intelligence there.

What is required is a reorientation of perspective. A return of the natural homeostasis that results when the mind resumes its primary function of observing and data-gathering and only simulating when necessary, as a secondary function.

Yet, that reorientation also cannot be forced. It happens organically with time, understanding and experience. At a certain point, one may simply outgrow the need to constantly stimulate, just like every teen outgrows the need to constantly check their hair in the mirror. When that happens, awareness returns to the reality at hand rather than the simulations being projected.

And the suffering identity in the simulation is seen for the artifice that it is. And the self returns to simply doing what it does best:

Being itself.

Bombs Away!

Let me set the record straight, because you may be confused as to what I am about.

I’m not here to prove anything to you. I’m not here to be liked or validated by you. And I’m certainly not here to convince you to be anything like ME. You couldn’t even if you tried. Your best case scenario, in this life, is if you ended up being something like yourself.

I’m also not here to claim anything. What’s there to claim? I have a body. So, do you. I have a brain. So, do you. I have a penis. Half of you do. And the other half are lucky to have dodged THAT bullet. I get hungry when I haven’t eaten. I get cranky when I haven’t slept. I get frustrated, when things don’t work out for me. I feel good, when things do.

No surprises there. What’s there to claim?

Anything else I say is just a perspective. A perspective on reality, a perspective on myself. I can share my perspective with you. But YOU can never share my perspective. All you can do is share your own. It’s all just food for thought, nothing more. Take what I say with a grain of salt. If it’s edible to you then welcome to this free buffet. If it’s not, there’s plenty of other places you can find a meal. Or better yet, just learn to cook for yourself and you’ll never go hungry again.

But whatever nonsense it is that you want to project on me is your own business.

If you’re looking for perfection, you sure as hell ain’t gonna find it here. So, let me save you a lot of disappointment.

“Shiv, are you enlightened?” No, there is no such thing.

“Shiv, are you 100% truthful?” No, there is no such thing.

“Shiv, are you happy all the time?” No, there is no such thing.

“Shiv, have you attained permanent inner peace?” No, there is no such thing.

“Shiv, are you free from suffering?” No, there is no such thing.

“Shiv, are you motivated by a need to enlighten others?” No, I’m motivated by a need to do what I need to do in order to make this experience of life worthwhile for me.

“Shiv, are you motivated by a need to help others?” No, others need to take accountability for their own issues and help themselves. Not my business.

“Shiv, then why the hell am I listening to anything you have to say?” I honestly have no fucking idea. But just maybe, you want to listen to an average schmuck OWN his mediocre existence without apology.

Because make no mistake. I AM MEDIOCRE. Better at some things than I am at others. But net-net, not worth emulating in the least.

I wear my mediocrity like a fucking badge. I’m happy to give 75% effort in all that I do and spend 25% of the time slacking off. I have volumes of unrealized potential within me that I have no intention of ever realizing. I can imagine no greater form of anxiety than having to fulfill my “passionate purpose” day in and day out and give it my 100%.

FUCK. THAT. SHIT.

I have no insider’s information on the secrets of the universe. I can barely remember what I ate for breakfast this morning. I have no special knowledge. I barely know ten percent of what is already out there as proven scientific fact. I am NOT an intellectual by any means. Put me in a room full of them and this will become rapidly apparent.

I’m just a guy using his limited brain and common sense to reflect on his own conscious experience and reporting what he has seen and understood as a result of that reflection. It’s quite possible that I am COMPLETELY delusional. There is no way for you to really know that. All you can do is compare your own perspective with mine and perform a gap analysis in order to determine how out of sync the two are. The closer they align, the more “on the level” I will seem. The more out of phase they are, the more delusional I will sound to you.

I don’t give two fornications.

The only reason you should want to emulate me is if you’re the world’s biggest loser and can’t even aspire to your own mediocrity. But other than that, you’re better off looking for other role models.

Still, don’t despair. You won’t have to look far. All you need to do is look at the list of other “pages like this” suggested on the side panel of this Facebook page. A whole list of experts will appear with an antidote to every one of your woes. They’ll teach you to heal, to excel, to elevate, to actualize. All kinds of KOOL solutions to elevate you from your own average existence into the:

*** BESTEST *** COOLESTLOVINGESTMOST ENLIGHTENED***VERSION OF YOURSELF ***

Not here. Here you get your own shitty mediocrity rubbed in your face and “mirrored” back to you ad nauseam.

But hey, some people like that. Some people have a fetish for “ordinary” things. Some people have a hard on for the mundane. Folks be kinky like that. Don’t judge, you prude!

Some people don’t want to reach some higher place of consciousness, transcend their own suffering, realize their most passionate purpose, break the wheel of samsara or even solve the world’s crises. None of those awesome prizes other contestants in the game of life seem to be gunning for.

Some people are just sitting here going: “So, let’s see. I have another ten, twenty, thirty, forty odd years on this planet? Ok, I can either waste my time moaning about my lot. Or I could just enjoy whatever the hell this is until the party’s over.”

Let the NEXT fucking incarnation deal with getting me off the “wheel of samsara”! I’ve got no time for that shit.

Did I mention procrastination? There’s something I absolutely excel at.

This page isn’t about “enlightenment”. It’s about LIGHTENING UP. If 7.5 billion people, in this very moment, stopped taking themselves so fucking seriously, a lot of things would change very fast.

But that’s not going to happen and that’s ok because that’s really none of my business either. The only business I have, that I am responsible for, is making it through this lifetime without totally fucking things up.

And this is easier said than done, because we are hardcoded to fuck things up. Which is why old Buddha talked about sticking to the middle path. Be average! Be mediocre! That way at least when you fuck up, it’ll just be an average kind of mess you create. And with a mediocre effort, you’ll learn to clean it up.

Not enlightenment. But ENTITLEMENT. That’s our fucking problem.

Actually believing, that ME: MY problems, MY suffering, MY passion, MY realization, MY actualization is what any of this is about.

The other day I got a flat tire and, as I sweated and swore while changing it, a passing crow took a shit on my shoulder. THAT is how much sympathy life actually has for what any of us are going through.

And I looked at that steaming turd and laughed. Because I had, in my frustration and irritation at the flat tire, actually for a moment believed that I was some special entity who didn’t deserve for such things to happen to him. I had taken my own existence seriously enough to feel a sense of injustice about a flat tire.

“TAKE THAT!” The moment the shit bomb hit my shoulder, the feeling of injustice turned into a mushroom cloud of hopeless despair for an instant, before the sheer absurdity of it all freed me from my own sense of self-importance. Laughter was all there was left.

As long as I AM the joke, there’s an endless supply of laughs to be had…

So, lighten up a little. I’m not some enlightened dude here to teach you to liberate yourself.

Best-case scenario: I’m just a crow taking a shit on your shoulder.

Child’s Play

It’s right in front of you.

Everything you need, everything you’ve been in search of. Anything and everything you can imagine for yourself.

It’s right there. In front of you.

There is no where else you need to go. No place else you need to look. No one else you need to be. Nothing else you need to get in order for you to find exactly what you’ve been looking for.

It’s been right under your nose all along. It’s never left your sight. There hasn’t been a moment when you’ve looked away from it.

This is not a metaphor. This is not some koan or profound riddle for you to ponder. I’m spelling it out to you as literally as I would to a five year old. It’s ALL right in front of you.

The problem isn’t that you don’t see it. You see it alright. You see it all the time. The problem is HOW you see it. That’s the only issue here. Quit pretending like there is something else you need to see. There isn’t. This is all there is. This little moment you’re having right now and whatever insignificant thing is going on in it – is ALL there is to it.

The problem isn’t that we don’t see. The problem is that we simply can’t seem to accept that, this is it.

“That’s it?”

That’s the sound of an anti-climax.

And the truth is profoundly anti-climactic. So, anti-climactic it’s bizarre. It’s slap-you-in-the-face kind of anti-climactic. It’s what-the-hell-were-you-even-thinking kind of anti-climactic.

It’s too obvious to even admit to. We’d feel too sheepish confessing to it. After everything we’ve done? After all the effort, energy and emotion we’ve put in? After all the blood, sweat and tears, burned bridges, lost opportunities, opinions defended to the death, broken promises, shattered hopes, rock-bottom lows, triumphant struggles and heroic journeys to claw our way back up : after all that melodrama – THIS??? This mundane, middling, mediocre mess of a moment is “IT”?

Not WHAT, but HOW. Never what, only how. That’s all this is about.

You’ve been in search of a different “what”. Think about how ridiculous that is. Just think for a moment at the sheer absurdity of trying to get somewhere other than you are. And further, thinking that this imaginary “other place” is going to be qualitatively different than where you are right now. And exponentially more absurd: the desire to be someone or some version other than exactly what you are right now.

But we do. We all do. I certainly did for years. It felt so normal. It’s so trivial to simply think that any other reality than this one could be possible and any other version of me, other than this one, is imminently available.

The things we can convince ourselves of in order to avoid the obvious…And the cherry on top is that, sensing something missing in our perspectives, we seek out “experts” to show reality to us.

Let this sink in just a moment.

We are asking “other people” to tell us where to look for what we are already looking at.

Enlightenment is a game for children.

I watch my little girls play make believe with their dolls and stuffed animals, weaving fantastical tales of adventure, intrigue, peril and eventual triumph. It’s a great way to pass a dull and rainy Sunday afternoon. And it strikes me that the human endeavour for enlightenment is no different. When whittled down to the very bare bones of the intention driving it : it’s nothing more than a strategy to pass the time.

Escape into a fantasy world where the impossible becomes possible. Embark on an epic quest to find the key that unlocks the puzzle of the universe. Discover the elixir that instantaneously resolves all suffering. Uncover the holy grail that liberates the soul from samsara.

Anything, absolutely ANYTHING, to escape the glaring and mind bogglingly simple obviousness of the matter.

And those gurus and experts will oblige us. Why the hell not? A fool and his money are soon parted. And all the schmucks seem absolutely determined to part with their money, so why not give them a helping hand? They’re just suckers starving at the buffet. Fools suffocating in the fresh air. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink!

You’ve been had. We’ve all been had. Been lied to from the very beginning by all those whom we trusted and who said there’s something ”more” to this thing called “life” than what we can see.

And in the quest for that “something more”, we miss out on the “everything” that is in front of us. Yet, the “more” is contained in the all, not outside of it. The more is discovered through immersing oneself in what’s right in front of us. Not escaping from it. That kind of “more” one seeks elsewhere is not really a “more”, it’s a less. Because it takes you away from “what exists”, into a realm of “what doesn’t”.

The human quest for: love, perfection, wealth, beauty, goodness, justice, enlightenment – it’s all a child’s play. Making a whole lot of somethings out of nothing. And in the process ending up with nothing to show for it, despite being given everything. Right from the get go.

Everything I ever wanted. Everything I ever needed. Everything I ever craved to know, to love, to experience, to discover was always right in front of me. I just couldn’t see it, because I was always looking for it elsewhere. Looking for it in the countless places it wasn’t, instead of the one place it had always been.

Right here. In front of me.

Placebo Effect

I often had stomach problems as a kid. I contracted gastroenteritis fairly often and was hospitalized for it a handful of times. I remember those experiences vividly because the pain I’d feel was excruciating. It would come in waves of intensity and would consume my whole consciousness. No amount of medication, massage or herbal teas would take the pain away.

That is until I discovered the Purple Plate.

It was my father who introduced me to this mystical object. It was a small, flat and rectangular object slightly larger than a card holder. Yet, what was mesmerizing about it was its brilliant purple sheen and incredibly smooth surface. It was one of those objects that you just love feeling in your hands for its texture.

I first found it peeking out of my dad’s shirt pocket once when I had terrible stomach cramps. I asked my dad about it and he seemed surprised I had seen it. He brought it out of his pocket and showed it to me and asked me if I could keep a secret. I nodded, eyes wide with anticipation. And he said that it was a magical object with healing powers. I told him he was kidding, but he said he wasn’t. If I didn’t believe him I could hold it against my stomach and see.

I held the plate up to the light and it’s metallic sheen appeared almost otherworldly. I rubbed it with my hands and it felt remarkably cool to the touch. Finally, I placed it on my stomach and waited. I began to feel my abdomen relax and to my surprise the cramps began to ease, gradually becoming more and more bearable with each moment that passed. After a while, the cramps stopped altogether.

I was convinced.

I asked my dad if I could use it all the time and he said no. Magical objects such as these were only effective when they were used sparingly. Only in times of absolute need must one turn to magic. And so, the purple plate became my talisman. It never failed me. It was always my absolute last resort. But when the pain became unbearable, I’d ask my dad for the Purple Plate and he’d nod and produce it from a box like some sacred object. And I would thank my stars that I had the Purple Plate in my life.

By the time I became a teen, my stomach issues were gone and I never saw the Purple Plate again. When I think about it today, I don’t believe the plate has the kind of power I imagined it did as a child. But what I do know is that the healing effect that resulted was very real.

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The placebo effect is a medical phenomenon in which patients provided with a placebo (usually a sugar pill with no medicinal properties) will demonstrate a similar healing response as patients who were provided with the actual medicine. The human mind when presented with a reality, which it fully accepts, has the capacity to then orchestrate that same reality into existence. In the case of the placebo effect, that “orchestration of reality” is the healing process.

Yet, beyond the world of medicine, the placebo effect is something that is a dominant aspect of most of our lives. I’m referring to the ideological placebos known as “beliefs”. And beliefs have the power to shape realities not only in our minds, but also in our circumstances.

We live in a hyper-rational world which is becoming increasingly allergic to “beliefs”. Beliefs are seen as the enemy of rational scientific inquiry. They are relegated to the realm of supernatural and woo-woo. Even spirituality today, is becoming increasingly divested of beliefs, relying on empirical and immediate experience rather than dogmatic systems of unqualified beliefs.

I’m on board with all of this. To question the veracity of everything is paramount if one is to approach the truth and see one’s reality with greater clarity. Unquestioned beliefs swallowed wholesale do nothing to further us in that direction.

And yet, there is something to be said for the placebo effect.

I’m not on the anti-belief bandwagon either. Because although I am averse to the “content” of what people believe, I have to be willing to admit that the act of believing in itself is a powerful shaper of reality.

I’ve talked about the following story in an interview I did with Robert Saltzman last year. But I’ll repeat it here for those who haven’t watched it.

There’s this documentary on Netflix called “Fearless”, that I highly recommend watching, about the world of Professional Bull Riding. It is a brutally unforgiving sport and few make it far into their careers because of the high risk of injury and even death. Now, this is a sport which is predominantly American and most of the professional championships happen in the United States. As a result of this, most bull riding professionals tend to be American. However, there exists a minority pool of Brazilian bull riders on the professional circuit. And in the last decade or so, they have absolutely dominated the sport with most of the championship titles being won by the Brazilians almost exclusively year after year.

Why? Why do these riders, who grow up with next to nothing compared to their American peers, with far fewer opportunities and facilities, come to dominate the sport in this way? One could say, well since they grow up with so little, perhaps they are hungrier to win. That’s a valid argument, but it doesn’t capture the whole of it, in my opinion.

The one thing that I found was almost unanimous in all of the Brazilian riders, showcased in this documentary series, was their staunch Catholic belief. Every single one is a devout catholic. And so they have this narrative always running in their head that allows them to entrust their fate in the hands of god. Many times, when badly injured, they learn to push past the pain as they believe that they are being called to something greater than themselves. And it is that extra inch that they are willing to push themselves past their American rivals that seems to make the difference. Winning title after title, then becomes proof of their faith. And a positive feedback cycle is created, whereby they elevate the sport to levels previously unfathomable.

So, while the content of their beliefs I.e. their scripture may be questionable to some, what cannot be questioned is the incredible effect it appears to have.

Which begs the question: Is there a way one can harness the power of belief without in fact “believing” something?

To answer this, we need to understand what belief does to the mind.

The way I see it, a belief organizes and focuses the awareness of the mind towards something. It eliminates ambiguity and thereby optimizes output. It streamlines the mind’s thinking, feeling and perception thereby making it highly efficient in a particular regard.

If you think of our everyday consciousness, there is so much wasted energy in the things we attempt to focus on. Doubts, distractions, renegotiating terms, revisiting our intentions, inner debates and arguments and so on. You can think of all of these as a kind of office politics being played by all the different voices in your head. And so at the end of the day, just as in any corporation, only about ten per cent of all the effort expended gets converted into any real work. The rest is just dissipated energy.

However, when a belief is driving an endeavour, there is an inner regimentation of the mind. Rather than a corporate office, the mind begins to appear more like a military battalion with all the troops lined up and following orders. The stronger the belief, the greater the regimentation. As a result, the output is highly efficient. Things like doubt and distraction are weakened by the unifying vision of the belief. Things like renegotiating terms and revisiting intentions are virtually non-existent since the terms and intentions are already hardcoded into the belief. Inner debates and arguments will be mostly superficial.

So, it seems evident, that belief tends to neutralize the forces of inertia that typically prevent us from acting in an effective manner. This is the positive aspect of belief.

The negative aspect, of course, lies in the fact that all those agents of inertia that we just mentioned (doubt, distraction, renegotiation, revisiting intentions, inner debates and arguments) are not really negative things. If they become compulsive in a person then they can certainly be paralyzing. Yet, they also serve the very vital function of questioning reality, questioning our assumptions in a bid to arrive at a more nuanced truth.

So, while the Brazilian bull-rider may push himself to the absolute edge believing that his life will be guided by god’s hand, another bull-rider may stop at that cusp and ask the question, “Is this worth it? Is there something else I could be doing with my time that may be worthwhile?”

This other rider, in asking that question, may be presented with the option to evolve in a whole new direction that the Brazilian rider may not.

Is there a way then, to have the best of both worlds? To harness the organizing power of belief and yet to retain the course correcting effect of doubt when it is necessary?

These are the kinds of questions I’ve been reflecting on for years. I started out as a believer of many things, supernatural and otherwise, before going through a long phase of complete skepticism about anything that wasn’t rational and verifiable including all forms of spirituality. And through my experiences, I came upon that essential ingredient that needs no ideology built upon it and does not stand in opposition to doubt.

That ingredient is “faith”.

Faith is the essence of a belief but it isn’t the belief itself. It is an undeniable sense of an organizational structure to life that is not only intelligent but also responsive to our own intelligence. It emerges from a deep intimacy with life.

For example, I can say I have faith in my wife and daughters. Because I know them intimately. I know the stuff they are made of. I know their strengths, I know their flaws, I know where the rise and where they falter. And it is this familiarity and intimacy that provides me with the faith I have in them. I have absolutely no doubt about it. Yet, these aren’t beliefs. This is not some set of rules or guidelines or ideological image I have created of them. It is based in reality and experience.

Similarly, I can say I have faith in myself. Because I am intimate with myself, the inner workings of my mind. I know my strengths, my limitations. I know my capacity to rise and where I tend to falter. I know my darkness and my light. I am intimate with both and have respect for the whole of it. This invokes a sense of great faith within me. Yet, this faith has nothing to do with infallibility. Rather it is an ever evolving understanding of just how fallible I am.

And so faith is a kind of knowing. It is a knowing of a different flavour altogether than the knowing of the rational mind. It is a feeling, resonating, intuiting kind of knowing.

The mind of the hardline skeptic or fundamentalist atheist claims, “if I cannot see it then it cannot be said to exist”. Yet, when walking in darkness you still bump into things you can’t see. Pretending they are not there just because you can’t see them isn’t very wise.

The believer, on the other hand, claims to be certain about what those things are. He claims to be able to “see” things that he evidently can’t. Thus, the skeptic and the believer are at eternal loggerheads with one another because the ludicrousness of the other’s position seems sufficient proof of their own stance.

Faith, on the other hand, neither claims to see what it can’t nor claims that what it can’t see cannot exist. Instead, it acknowledges the things that it bumps into and tries to explore them in a different way.

Faith is the hand that feels and familiarizes itself in the dark, when the eyes have been rendered useless. It lacks the big picture view that the eyes provide, yet it learns to become intimate with what it encounters in each moment. Each curve, each edge, each texture is felt and acknowledged in a way that the eyes never can. In this way, a different kind of understanding dawns.

When one is guided by faith, ones awareness is organized in a manner much like the person of belief. Yet, this organization is not the result of a regimentation of thought but rather by an immediacy of focus. One is entirely preoccupied with observing, listening, gleaning, sensing. There is little doubt because there is no ideological position to doubt. There is little distraction, because one has learned from experience that when one becomes distracted, the finger slips from the pulse of the moment.

Yet, precisely because one is navigating one’s environment in a sensitive manner, one is alert to potential red flags. One is ready to question one’s assumptions in a heartbeat if something feels off. Just like a stag, strolling through the woods suddenly stops at the sound of a twig snapping.

In my own life, faith has played a powerful role in how life has played out for me. It has taught me to operate in an entirely different way than the world taught me I should operate. It has taught me how to be in communion with life and build an intimacy with it. How to learn what is needed of me, how to request what I authentically desire in a way that it is inevitably granted. This has nothing to do with “grace” or any such notion. Nor does it have to do with life being compassionate or all-loving. Life has done me no favours.

But it has been fair. It has responded in kind. It has given to me what I have given to it. It has entrusted to me what I have entrusted to it. It has revealed to me in the measure that I have allowed myself to BE revealed.

The Greater Good

My grandfather was an officer in the British Indian Army when the Second World War happened. As children we would sit around him in the evenings and listen to his war stories. We were all fascinated by the war and would often quiz each other about various battles that took place.

Even as a child two aspects of the war severely disturbed me. The first was the holocaust. And the second was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I struggled to understand how either of these tragedies could have happened. I’d sometimes debate with my cousins about it.

But for them, it was only the holocaust that was unfathomable. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the other hand were “justified”. When I expressed incredulity towards how they could think that way, they said even though it was tragic, it had been for the “greater good”.

This kept me pondering for a long time. What was this “greater good”? Was there actually such a thing? Even if there is, how do we know we are capable of perceiving that “greater good”?

Didn’t the Nazis also believe that what they were doing in the camps was for the “greater good”? Or how else could an entire modern nation and its citizens be convinced to act in such heinous ways? We often assume it is the ignorant and the gullible who are brainwashed into such ideologies. But here were also great intellectuals, scientists, composers and poets – people of deep reflection and conscience, people who were kind, generous and magnanimous in their normal lives – who also bought into that ideology. So, what allows people, who are just ordinary and decent citizens in their daily lives, to perpetuate suffering of such magnitude?

Is the “greater good” a reality? Or does it exist only in our minds?

I began reflecting upon every great act of suffering that had been inflicted upon the world. When the British colonized my country it was for the “greater good” of bringing civilization to the savages. When Christianity spread across the globe and claimed lives in the holy wars, it was for the “greater good” of saving souls even if it meant sacrificing the mortal forms of those they “saved”. I began to see that the “greater good” was the unanimous tool for justifying despicable actions.

The end that justifies the means.

The thing is no one can really come to any consensus on what that “greater good” is. To a liberal, “diversity, inclusion and politically correct speech” may serve their idea of a “greater good”. To a conservative, “preserving traditions and christian values” may serve their idea of a “greater good”. To a radical muslim, “Sharia law and abiding by the words of the Koran over the human laws of man” may represent the “greater good”. To an American “freedom of speech and action” may represent the “greater good”.

As long as each one is convinced, that what they believe is the “greater good” is fact rather than simply one’s personal viewpoint, then they will have no choice but to act in a manner that ensures that “greater good” spreads and comes to fruition. And the greater the opposition they face, the more “evil” they will perceive in the other. Thus, their need to establish the “greater good” will only increase exponentially. And their reasons for acting in increasingly horrifying ways will appear more and more justified.

One can argue that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only inevitable way to put an end to axis aggression. One could say, well the Nazis started it. It’s their fault. Another could argue, that well, after the demilitarization of Germany by Imperialist England following World War I and the great Depression that followed, the circumstances were ripe for such chaos and havoc to unleash in the first place. If it wasn’t Hitler, it would have been someone else. So, it was England’s fault. Still another could argue, well if European imperial nations including England, Spain, France, Germany and so on hadn’t been so greedy and opportunistic and hadn’t gone around conquering the world for so many centuries they wouldn’t have been competing for resources in the first place and so the First World War wouldn’t have happened. So, it’s the fault of the Royal Families. Yet, another could say, well if these countries hadn’t been infected with the virus of Christianity for so many centuries prior to that they wouldn’t have even gone looking for other countries and people to save. So, it’s the fault of the Church. Still someone else could say, well if the Jews hadn’t crucified Christ then we wouldn’t even have had a Christian religion in the first place. So, it’s the fault of the Jews.….YIKES.

It is incredible how the “greater good” is nothing more than a log book of endless cycles of suffering that have been perpetuated since the dawn of civilization.

(PAUSE)

But what if we, just for a moment, removed this idea of a “greater good” from our minds. And instead focused on simply what is “good”. This is something more tangible. Each person will have varying reactions to this depending on how they are wired. Some will feel like “more money is good”, some will feel that “ambition is good”, some will feel “time with loved ones is good”, some will feel the “pursuit of truth” is good. But all of this has to do with what is good FOR ME. We do not presume what is good for anyone else, and especially not what is good for HUMANITY (as if we can even grasp what that is).

We are dialing back our own perspectives to a more realistic understanding of what we can grasp. What is real and tangible in front of us. We will still suffer, of course. Because even our understanding of what is “good” is flawed. Yet, that suffering is miniscule compared to the suffering perpetuated by the “greater good”.

And if you look at Nature: that is how every organism functions. Each one is occupied in ensuring what is “good for itself”. As a result, you will still find some amount of suffering in the form of lions devouring zebras and bacteria consuming carcasses. Yet, there remains an overall balance because every single thing is equally motivated by the SAME GOOD.

However, what ideology does, is it takes that “good for me” and distorts it into “good for all” thereby magnifying the intention and the action by 7.5 billion fold. As a result, the lion is no longer devouring the zebra, he is annihilating the entire zebra population of Kenya. And the zebra is engaging the impala’s help to release a bio-toxin into the lion pride that will decimate every lion pride that roams the savannah. If that was the kind of stuff wild life shows showed us, we would truly believe the world had gone insane.

Yet, there is one species of the natural world that does, in fact, behave in this manner. Precisely because it is convinced it KNOWS WHAT IS GOOD for the collective. And in this manner it has become cancerous in its influence. It has consumed the collective and virtually annihilated it.

How to break that cycle? Of combating “great evil” with “greater good”?
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How does one stop a boat from rocking on choppy waters?

Rocking in the opposite direction will not achieve anything but more rocking. Only sitting still and allowing the waves to subside will do.

And if there are others in the same boat that keep rocking it?

Well, then one may share one’s perspectives on what may be the best approach for the boat to come to a standstill, with no expectations that others will want to listen.

Because even believing that the “rocking of this boat” is unnecessary is another version of projecting a “greater good” belief.

Believing that the suffering in the world is unnecessary and must be rectified is another “greater good” belief.

This is the spiritual “greater good” that every seeker is in pursuit of and that every teacher promises is possible.

Yet, even here, one must have the courage to admit one doesn’t know. The suffering of the world appears to be in direct proportion to the ignorance that exists in it. It seems right that we stub our toes in the dark. It seems appropriate that a world of drunk drivers will be a world with many car accidents.

The only reasonable approach, the way I see it, is to deeply introspect into “what is good for me”. And one may eventually realize that simply becoming sober in a world full of delusional minds is the best outcome one can hope for.

Gateless Gate

“A teacher I follow defines awakening as: “A sudden awareness that whatever you feel, think and see you are”. What are your thoughts on this? How does this relate with your own experience?”

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I would say the essence of what he/she is pointing to is correct. The wording I find a bit problematic. Because in my experience, when an awakening occurs, there is really no “you” left in the equation that is aware of being “whatever is felt, thought and seen”. There is simply awareness AS feeling, thinking and seeing. There is no subject being reconciled with object. No “you” to reconcile with a “whatever”.

In my opinion, this is a problem with many teachings in non-duality. There is an attempt at a reconciliation where none is necessary. An attempt to fuse subject and object together instead of doing away with both entirely.

Part of this problem is created by language itself which requires the subject-object dichotomy linked by the verb that serves to unite the two in some kind of relationship. When I taught English grammar to people in Japan, this basic sentence structure is one of the first things they learned.

In one’s subjective experience, the “self” is the eternal subject and experiences that happen to, within and around it are its objects. But the moment awakening occurs, that reference point of the self, itself collapses. There is no longer a subject and therefore no awareness of “objects” in the traditional sense of how we view them. What remains is only awareness in the form of thought, emotion and sensation.

So, it’s not a “You” that discovers it is “Whatever is perceived”. Rather it is a dissipation of both the “You” and the “whatever is perceived” simultaneously. What emerges is the thing that exists in the first place: AWARENESS, untethered at both ends of the process.

In the end, all there is, is process.

What we call “subject and object” are freeze-frame point-in-time entities which really have no independent existence outside of the process itself. The verb is the only thing in the sentence that is truly happening. What we call “you” is just a single instance of a process, frozen in time, and mistaken to be an independent entity.

Now, although this kind of sudden non-dual perspective may dawn in an awakening experience, it is not sustainable. At a certain point, a self-centric reference point MUST be reverted to in order for a person to be functional within society. And if you doubt the veracity of this statement try the following exercise:

Go out into the world and try speaking to people in sentences that contain only verbs. It won’t get you very far. And if we can’t even speak from that non-dual perspective then actually living in society, day to day, from that perspective is practically impossible.

Everyone’s brain will eventually revert to a self-centric subject-object duality based perspective because it makes sense to, purely from a survival and operational standpoint. Just like going out and getting a meal when you are hungry makes sense to. Yet, when people try and claim the non-dual perspective, briefly revealed in an awakening, as their modus operandi, then you get the “awakened” perspective which is an aberration in my opinion.

This is the problem with neo-advaitic culture. It attempts to reinvent the self as a “non-dual and awakened self”. There is no such self. Self IS the source from which duality emerges.

You get people claiming things like “I am the universe” or “I am life” or “I am love” or, worst of all, “I am awareness”.

That’s nonsense.

What they don’t understand is that this duality of subject and object is like a seesaw that hinges on the fulcrum of the verb. “Self” and “world” exist juxtaposed around the fulcrum of awareness.

The non-dual perspective is NOT the object and subject uniting to become one, like a seesaw folding back onto itself. It is not some new super awakened self being born. It is the collapse of both arms of the seesaw simultaneously until the only thing left is the fulcrum. Awareness alone.

Thus, there simply is no such thing as an “awakened self”. That’s an oxymoron.

Either there is ONLY awareness. This is the true non-dual perspective revealed in a satori experience. Or there is subject-aware-of-object type awareness which is our everyday normal functioning awareness AS A SELF.

There is no “I-am-awareness” type awareness. Ever. That is a made up story that gurus will sell you in order to try and co-opt their point-in-time awakening experience and sell it to you as their consistent normal daily functioning awareness. It simply is not true. It is bullshit.

And if you are still struggling to wrap your head around this, consider this analogy.

You can think of a satori as a great orgasm. Let’s say you’ve never had sex and I have. Let’s even say that I orgasm fairly frequently. That still doesn’t mean that I live in a permanently orgasmic state. If I did, how could I ever function in society? Imagine me coming all over the boardroom or in the marketplace or at the PTA meeting?

But if I can convince you that such a permanent orgasm is possible, especially to poor you who is still a virgin, then as long as I keep you massaging that hard on of yours waiting for the glorious moment to come, I can keep you captivated and listening to me.

That heightened awareness that many devotees claim in the presence of their guru is nothing more than an arousal response. It’s no different than the sexual arousal one feels when watching a sexy woman or man. It is the charisma of the guru, coupled with an atmosphere pregnant with anticipation, which creates that sense of arousal in a follower and the heightened awareness.

However, if I simply told you the truth: Hey listen, an awakening is just a temporary experience of blowing your existential load after which you go right back to being who you are and doing what you do – well, that might sound somewhat interesting but it’s unlikely to convert into a lifelong obsession for you.

In the end, all this hoopla about awakening is really a whole lot of hype. It’s like a bunch of nerds in high school fantasizing about what it would be like to finally have sex. Waiting for that fateful day when they may finally enter that “gateless gate”.

But the view from the other side is always one of, “well, that was fun but no real biggie. Back to life, back to reality.” Certainly not worth writing home about.

That is, if one is being truthful, of course.

Skid Row

Someone tagged me in a video yesterday of a prominent non-duality teacher in a well known conference taking questions from audience members.

One audience member spoke breathily into the microphone: slowly, deliberately and emphatically: “You seem so happy….I want to know what that feels like…..what does it feel like to be you?”

The room was dead silent as everyone waited for him to begin speaking. He sat there gazing at the crowd like an enlightened zombie for a while. Then his voice came out in a low illegible garble.

(Clear your fuckin’ throat man, I thought to myself)

“Depends on what “me” is,” he said mysteriously. “If me is the body then the body feels up sometimes and down sometimes. If me is not the body, then I feel good!” He grins moronically.

“Wow…” the questioner sighs and sits down.

He goes back to robotically gazing at the crowd waiting to bestow another answer on some clueless questioner.

That’s about as much of the video as I could make it through before I closed it.

I can watch near death encounter videos, videos of people eating nasty bugs, I’ve even watched a couple of ISIS beheading videos. I have a strong stomach and capacity to watch dark or disturbing content without chucking up my lunch. But watching non-dual teachers speak is where I absolutely draw the line. That’s a kind of carnage and disease that even my steel-rimmed stomach can’t handle.

Now, I know some of you are going, “oh, that Shiv is such an exaggerator!” You’re thinking I’m doing this for comedic effect. But I’m actually not.

For me watching the soul sickness so evident in both these teachers and their hapless students is something akin to walking through a burn ward. It is devastatingly tragic to me. It reeks of hypocrisy, low-self esteem, narcissism, co-dependency, paranoid delusion and just plain lies.

To what extent is a teacher willing to misrepresent themselves in order to feel a sense of self-worth? To what degree are they willing to exploit others in order to feel like they’ve received enough: money, attention, admiration, whatever?

To what extent is a student willing to sell themselves short in order to seek validation and favour? To what degree are they willing to allow themselves to be misused and manipulated in order to feel like they are worthy of something better?

It is a never ending vicious cycle. A veritable prostitution ring of the psyche.

But this wasn’t always how I reacted to these sorts of videos. There once was a time I lived and breathed them.

Every time I felt lost, confused, alienated, anxious, depressed, doubtful or just like a plain loser, I’d pop one of those videos on and literally feel transformed. Watching the guru <insert any name> seated up on stage: calm, poised perfection, I’d feel a similar calm wash over me. My attention would be completely arrested by their countenance. I’d be watching their body language: how perfectly they sat, how deeply they gazed, how deliberately they spoke, how lovingly they smiled, how gently they blinked…

In short, I was obsessed with the ideal of the “enlightened person”. Because it presented me with the exact antithesis of how I experienced myself. Everything I lacked is exactly what these gurus seemed to possess. So, naturally I became convinced that in order to feel like them, I had to BE like them.

“What does it feel like to be you?”

Was the same question I would silently ask over and over again watching those videos. And just like the questioner in the video I mentioned about in the beginning of the article, I would feel my breath being snatched away from me whenever any of these guys talked about how perfect, how liberated, how awakened they were.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that although watching those videos felt like a soothing balm on my aggravated soul, in the aftermath they only served to aggravate it even further. I always ended each video feeling more deflated, more confused, more longing, more lost, more like a loser than I had been when I started it.

And so, to counter this despairing feeling I’d move on to the next video.

This is how substance abuse and addiction works. Your baseline is so unbearable that you need an “upper” to boost you to a feeling of normalcy. But when that upper wears off, you come crashing down hard and usually sink lower than before. So, the next time you’ll need an even bigger dose to elevate you.

That’s how the vicious cycle of hope and despair also works. This is why relationships of gurus and their students are co-dependent by nature and that co-dependency only evolves to greater extremes over time.

Addiction is a psychologically destructive phenomenon. And the culture surrounding spirituality is specifically designed to perpetuate that addiction.

The guru can no more liberate a student than a drug dealer can liberate his customers. The guru can give you a temporary “sense” of liberation, a fleeting sense of bliss. But so does the drug dealer provide a sense of liberation in a vial of Heroin, a sense of euphoria in a pill of Ecstasy. Yet, the price you pay for those short term hits is a lifetime of remaining a junkie.

The satsang circuit is, for me, like taking a stroll down skid row. You have a few pimped-out looking characters dealing out a whole apothecary of ideological poisons. And then you have the spiritually impoverished reaching out, arms outstretched, for handouts. Anything that will make the next moment just a little more tolerable.

Except, unlike skid row, on the satsang circuit the torment is masked by knowing smiles. The misery is masked by loving gazes. The inner screams are masked by an outward show of silence. The suffering is masked by verbose and impractical rhetoric about matters that absolutely no one really understands.

In a way those junkies on skid row have a slight advantage. At least the tragedy of their circumstances is evident to everyone. At least, it evokes empathy. At least they are free to wear their suffering on their sleeves.

Junkies on the satsang circuit on the other hand, in their unwillingness to fess up to the reality of their circumstances are a particularly tragic bunch. Because their tragedy is masked by a show of serenity. They are shackled by their hypocritical need to appear “other” than they are.

Rather than empathy, all this hypocrisy evokes, is pity.

Dark Night Of The Soul

The light from the streetlamps streamed in pools of pale yellow on the snow covered side walk. The night was the coldest it had been all winter. A fine layer of ice encased everything: trees, railings, trash cans, hydrants and power lines. The crunch of my boots on the frosted sidewalk echoed through the silence of a city fast asleep.

3 A.M.

An icy gust of wind stopped me dead in my tracks. For a second, I considered doubling back since minus 40 degrees was probably where one ought to draw the line. But it was seeing Jerry’s cheerful face at the usual spot that kept me going.

“Don’t you have somewhere else you’ve gotta be?” he greeted, cracking a toothless grin.

“Nope. Don’t you?” I quipped back.

“I would. But my wheelchair’s frozen solid…” he laughed, extending his arm for a fist pump.

I gave it a bit of a jiggle then wheeled him into the twenty-four hour convenience store right around the corner. The turbaned man behind the counter frowned as we came in but I put my hand up,

“He’s going to be a paying customer tonight.”

He shrugged and went back to reading his magazine.

“Sandwich?” I asked.

“Just coffee…” responded Jerry.

“You know you’ve gotta eat…”

“Not much of a body left to feed, son…” he grinned.

Jerry was a war veteran who had had both his legs amputated after Vietnam. Having been failed by the American system and after falling in love with a Canadian woman, he’d made his way up to Canada nearly 30 years prior. Years later, when his wife died, he got to drinking heavily and eventually ended up on the streets. Now, he was in his mid-sixties but looked closer to eighty.

I picked up a sandwich and coffee for Jerry and paid. Then, I slipped the cashier a ten.

“Just a couple of hours, until the sun comes out,” I said in Hindi. The man nodded and motioned to Jerry to park himself in the back of the store.

“You gonna head to the shelter in the morning?” I asked.

“Probably…” Jerry replied in his usual nonchalant manner.

“Jer…” I looked at him dead straight.

“Yeah, I know. I will,” he sighed.

“Get there before eight if you want breakfast…”

Jerry nodded. Then he fidgeted nervously and his eyes, dark and hollow, inquired,
“Hey, son. You got something else for me?”

I glanced at the empty bottle in the brown paper bag that he was clutching on the seat beside him and knew what he meant.

“Nah, Jer. But there’s more where THAT came from,” I pointed to the coffee cup in his other hand.

He smiled and seemed to relax, “thanks kid.”

“Who else is crazy enough to be out on a night like this, right?” I laughed.

“Monique is,” he grinned.

Standing motionless in the streaming street light, wearing a thick fur coat and nine inch stilettoes, she seemed like something out of a graphic novel. Her legs, mostly bare, were pink from the cold exposure. Yet, her body language communicated not an ounce of discomfort. Her shoulders seemed relaxed, rather than hunched. On a night that would make even the hardiest of people shiver, she seemed to have completely surrendered to the cold.

She turned her head and smiled as she watched me approach.

“I was willing to bet I’d see you out tonight,” she said.

“Yeah, well it’s a bit cooler than usual that’s for sure. How you holding up?”

“Montreal’s a colder bitch,” she smiled.

Monique was the same age as I was. She’d been raised in Quebec in a well-respected family and her father was a Judge. But being a black sheep and having struggled to feel accepted she’d left home at fifteen and had made her way to Toronto. She got into college but struggled to make ends meet. So she dropped out and became a prostitute so she could save up money to pay for the rest of her school.

“I saw Jerry roll by about an hour ago,” she added.

“Yeah, I know. I just parked his ass in the Rabba’s before he fuses to that chair for good…” I grinned. “Do I need to do the same for you? Who the hell is even coming on a night like this?”

“My regulars…” she replied. I looked both ways down the street and saw not a car in sight.

“Smoke?” I offered her my open pack. She smiled and accepted.

We talked mostly about sports, she being an avid Maple Leafs and Raptors fan. By the time we stubbed out our cigarettes, a white minivan pulled up to the curb and the passenger window came down revealing the nervous face of a balding, middle-aged man in a suit.

“Regular?” I asked.

She nodded, “Thanks for the company, dude.”

“No worries. Stay safe, yeah?”

“Always,” she smiled and got into the passenger side. The man shifted nervously under my glare and seemed thankful to peal away. I’d never been a pimp, but I could certainly play the part if it meant protecting my friends.

I cut through the park and found a park bench that had completely iced over. I sat up on the backrest with my feet planted on the seat and remained for the next hour simply watching the world hibernate in darkness…

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In my final year of university, this was my nightly ritual. I’d read or study in my room all night until the clock struck three. Then, I’d set off for a walk through the city to see what I could see. This was the city’s “other face”, one that most people largely ignored or were oblivious to. This was the time those, that many considered the “dregs of society”, emerged from their concealed spaces to show themselves. The junkies, the pimps, the gangbangers, the dealers, the hookers, the bums. The deep night, was when people’s skeletons came out of their closets.

And I’d walk until dawn broke. I’d witness the city’s transformation from depravity to respectability. From despair to hope. As shutters went up and markets began to open, the smell of fresh fruit and flowers would gradually take over the stench of alcohol and vomit. The aroma of freshly baked bread would overwhelm the odor of cheap perfume and cigarettes. Observing the world transition from night to day was a priceless kind of education.

Still, I loved the night more. Despite the seediness, the wretchedness, the danger of it all, it had a certain innocence about it. It was raw and uncensored, with no veneer of sophistication. What you saw was what you got. There was no dressing it up and pretending it was anything other than what it was. Crime, addiction, prostitution, homelessness, intoxication, fetish: every darker instinct within a human being on abject display without apology, without shame. There was a freedom in being able to witness the world express itself in this regard. The day-time pretenses, social niceties and illusions of respectability we all indulged in felt insincere in comparison…

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What motivates most people towards spirituality is the desire to transcend suffering. We are convinced that a way of life is possible in which our experiences will be wholly positive, that our interactions can be free from conflict, that the natural state in which our circumstances appear can be one of peace and harmony. Isn’t that what most people want? Peace in the world? Peace of mind?

And so, we invent a spirituality of “love and light” in an effort to escape the shadows. We want our spirituality to be respectable, moral, ethical and admirable. We want our ashrams to smell like fresh flowers and fruit. We want our homes to waft with the aromas of freshly baked bread.

Wholesome, harmonious, connected living.

But it’s all a veneer. Because beneath the white linen façade is an underbelly of forgotten pain, seething aggression, molten lust, morbid fear and wild desire. This is the space of darkness and shadow concealed within us that many are too terrified to even acknowledge. It is the soul’s “dark night”.

And a spirituality that is afraid or unwilling to venture into this space, is a sham spirituality.

Many of you are familiar with the phrase “The Dark Night of the Soul”, the title of the famous poem by the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, and later popularized by Eckhart Tolle in his book the Power of Now. The phrase is representative of the narrative arc of the spiritual seeker who must traverse through the darkness of his/her own ignorance in order to finally emerge into the light. It is an archetypal story that holds a lot of appeal for those who are suffering because it provides them with the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”.

But, it is an oversimplification that is ultimately misleading. Because none of this is a linear process. Nor is it meant to be.

The dark night of the soul, the way I have come to see it, is not some phase of our journey, it is a part of our being. The “dark night” is OF the soul. It belongs to it. A part of its very nature.

Just as the Earth always exists with one face exposed to the sun while the other remains in darkness, so also do we exist at all times in both light and in shadow. Just as the city thrives not only on the respectable and acceptable enterprises of the daytime, but also the clandestine, nefarious dealings of the night – so also, is a human being the product of all their motivations, both conscientious and ulterior.

While we may convince ourselves that it is, in fact, possible to bring all of it above board, to illuminate and purify all that is base and undesirable within us – that is a flawed narrative.

Those who struggle to understand and refuse to accept the inherent darkness that exists within themselves, have yet to truly embark on their spiritual search. There is a fundamental difference between exploring the wilderness of a forest and pruning trees in your garden. One may call either of them “being in Nature” but they are not the same thing. What most people call spirituality, is the latter parading as the former.

A philosophy of love and light, seeks to tame that wilderness within us so that we may feel safe and secure in ourselves. It seeks to soothe our anxieties and provide us certainties where none exist. And all of this becomes abundantly clear the very first time one ventures into one’s own dark places.

Seeing this was a complete game changer for me. Up until that point, I was always searching for something to move me closer towards the light. I felt the darkness of my suffering always gnawing at my heels, threatening to envelope me and I had spent a lifetime fleeing from it towards that pinpoint of hope at the end of my tunnel. I hoped for deliverance, salvation, nirvana: to emerge into a world of light and to leave that darkness behind for good.

Yet, when I finally ran out of steam and was forced to stop, I began to see, for the first time, that this wasn’t a “search” I had been on all along, it was an escape.

When one searches for anything, even a set of car keys, where does one look? Does one restrict one’s search only to the lofty spaces? The tops of dressers or tables? Or does one also look at the baser places, the dark nooks under the couch, the dusty spaces behind the bed where things often remain concealed?

Then, why was I running in a beeline?

It struck me that to know myself fully, I had to be willing to be exactly as I was and to explore it all, including all the darkness. And through venturing into the dark night of my own soul, over and over, I came to recognize some of the characters that resided there. The same Jerrys and Moniques, whom I had once encountered in the city and befriended, lived within me as well. The same malevolence and aggression, that I had perceived in the eyes of some of the thugs and dealers I would pass, lived within me. The same desperation and vacant despair, that filtered through the hollowed eyes of the crackheads I’d find strewn on the sidewalk, lived within me. The same cruelty and exploitativeness, that some of the pimps exhibited, lived within me.

I began to see that my soul was an embodiment of every human desire, fear, hope, cruelty, triumph and suffering. That it was capable of anything and everything. And seeing it all within myself, I resisted the urge to recoil in disgust and instead allowed my natural curiosity to take over the exploration.

In this way, I stopped running altogether. As the fear subsided, what emerged was an acceptance of the human condition as a whole. And in that acceptance, I myself became whole.

Today, when I look out at the world and its events I understand and identify with everything that I see happening. I understand and identify with the progressive voices desperately attempting to bring a spiraling world into the light. I understand and identify with the voices of regression resisting in order to draw it back into darkness. Each one feeling misunderstood by the other. Each one feeling neglected by the other. Each one believing that to give in would be to succumb to chaos and the destruction of everything familiar, everything that is of worth.

I know because that is what I have lived through within myself.

Yet, there is no heroic emergence into permanent light. And there is no apocalyptic spiraling into permanent darkness. There is only constant movement from darkness to light to darkness to light.

A worldview that projects love as its ideal, ignores the hate that also naturally resides within. A worldview that projects knowledge as its ideal, ignores the ignorance that also naturally resides within. A worldview that projects peace as its ideal, ignores the aggression that also naturally resides within. A worldview that projects compassion as its ideal, ignores the cruelty that also naturally resides within.

And if you think you are incapable of hatred, ignorance, aggression and cruelty you do not know yourself.

All you have successfully done is orchestrate a life in which none of these aspects have an opportunity to show themselves. And you may or may not have the opportunity to get acquainted with them in your lifetime. But if and when they eventually emerge, they will blindside you in a way you never knew possible and change the landscape of your life completely.

A spirituality of “love and light” is really a spirituality driven by fear. Whereas a spirituality that willingly explores the dark underbelly of the soul is really a spirituality driven by love. That is the paradox.

Because only by accepting what we consider truly “other” than us, do we discover that that “other” is also a part of us.

In this way the light of day and the dark of night are brought together in one seamless full circle.

I only learned love, when I came to accept the hatred I am capable of.

I only began to understand, when I came to accept that I can never really know.

I only found peace, when I came to accept that I am fundamentally a dangerous creature.

X-Factor

“You use this word “spiritual” quite a bit. How do you know there is something such as “spirit” in the first place? Sounds like just another metaphysical belief to me…”

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Yes, I suppose if you looked at it through the narrow lens of how that word has been used in the religious context you might assume it’s just another belief. But that’s not how I use it.

The word “spirit”, for me, is not some metaphysical or incorporeal entity akin to a soul or anything like that. It is simply the ESSENCE of a phenomenon. That phenomenon could be a person or it could be a place, an event, a movement or an era.

Every phenomenon that exists has two aspects to its existence. Form and essence. And while form is something measurable and quantifiable by objective means, essence is entirely subjective. But that’s not to say it is any less real.

For example, when one talks about the “spirit of the 60’s” one is referring to a certain essence that that decade had that differentiated it from other decades. Of course, we are all aware of the events that took place at the time, the cultural landscape, the political upheaval and so on. But beyond that, there is a distinct sense one gets, a certain flavour that that era exudes that is unique to it.

In philosophy there is a word for this: QUALIA. It points to this essence of experience.

You can try and explain to a person, who has been blind since birth, what the “redness” of an apple is like. And no matter how expertly you approach it and how much information you provide, what you cannot give them is the actual experience of that redness. At best, you can give them some ideas by which to model it in their mind’s eye.

Thus, what separates “redness” from the “idea of redness” is qualia. Essence. Spirit.

In other words, it isn’t form that makes something real. Because form can easily be modelled in the mind through ideas. Even a blind person can imagine some form called “red” even if it isn’t very accurate. However, what cannot be modelled is the essence of the experience. The redness itself. That is what brings the form of the apple to life. That is its spirit.

If an apple can have such a remarkably unique spirit that no amount of information could effectively convey it, then what about a human being?

I could talk to you for hours about my wife and two daughters, describe them to you in such detail that you might feel like you’ve known them for years. But meeting them in the flesh will make all that information feel insignificant and inconsequential. Even a single moment listening to my wife’s full throated laugh or watching the sparkle in my older daughter’s eye or the mischievous grin on the younger one’s face will convey more to you about them than reading tomes of information ever could.

As a father, I can attest to the fact, that that uniqueness of spirit is present right from the start. Each human being carries a distinct vibe, a unique energy signature that has nothing to do with their intellect or their personality although those may develop to compliment it. It is this indescribable x-factor that cannot be put into words any more than the redness of an apple can be put into words for a blind person.

Again, none of this is metaphysical. I’m not saying anything about where that unique energy signature has come from nor where it is destined to go, if anywhere. It’s simply about what is present for anyone to experience with their own two human eyes.

Everyone knows that there is much more to an apple than what can be said about it. In the same way, there is much more to a person than can be said about them. There is much more to humanity than can be said about it. There is much more to the Earth than can be said about it. There is much more to life than can be said about it.

And that “much more” is the delta that cannot be grasped by the rational mind nor by conceptual thought. But it CAN be effortlessly experienced when it is present before us in the moment. That delta is what I refer to as “spirit”. It is the animator of form.

You could call it qualia or essence, if you prefer. They all point to the same thing.

“Spirituality” then, is nothing more than the observation and contemplation of this qualia, this essence of experience in whatever form it may take (whether a person, a landscape, an event, a silence). It is the discipline of immersing oneself into the essence of experiences, rather than limiting oneself to the boundaries of their forms.

It is the difference between admiring an attractive man or woman from a distance versus actually going up to them and getting to know them over a lifetime. It is the difference between giving a thesis on roses for your botany major versus actually walking up to one and smelling it and admiring it.

Spirituality is not something you need to BELIEVE in. It’s something you are actively engaged in from moment to moment. It is what brings your world to life.

Sure, a lot of foolish people have gone and tried to build institutions and compile doctrine based on different ways of trying to explain what it is. But that’s like making a religion based on the “redness of apples”. Even if that religion is bogus it doesn’t change the fact that redness is as real an experience as it can get.

Similarly, just because people do all kinds of dumb shit in order to try and capitalize, institutionalize, monetize or canonize the spirit of human experience doesn’t mean that no such spirit exists. Denying or questioning qualia is to deny or question one’s own conscious experience altogether.

If the bath water is dirty feel free to toss it out. Just make sure the baby isn’t following in the same trajectory.

So no, the “spirituality” I’m interested in has absolutely nothing to do with what happens when we die. Instead, it has absolutely everything to do with what brings all of THIS to life.

Spiritual Pyramid Scheme

“I think what you write about and what you share on this page is great and completely unlike anything out there. It’s down to earth and relatable in a way that anyone can see what you are talking about in their own experience. But, if I’m being honest, I do have a bone to pick with you. There is a part of me that goes, “oh yeah, it’s easy for you to have this clarity of perspective. You’ve HAD that awakening experience.” It’s like part of me needs that experience. I get what you are talking about intellectually. But it feels like if I haven’t had it then I won’t really be able to live life with the kind of understanding that you have.”
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Yes, I can appreciate where you’re coming from. And all I can say is that you are greatly mistaken.

You don’t need to have any such awakening experience to get clear on your own life. All you need is a real willingness and that can’t be forced. What you can do is rectify some of the misconceptions and hangups keeping you from developing that willingness. And that’s what my writing on this page attempts to inspire people to do.

You have to understand that this whole enlightenment/awakening rhetoric is just a spiritual version of the “Get Rich Quick” scheme.

Think about who the readers of those get-rich books are. They are usually people who are struggling financially in their own lives and have exhausted every avenue they can think of to try and generate a substantial income. Along comes a book by some billionaire who seems to have made his money by defying all the odds and rules that govern most of us. He promises that the secret to being like him is actually quite simple. Anyone can do it. Absolutely anyone can become a billionaire in a matter of a few years or even months if one applies the simple techniques he has outlined for them.

So, what do his readers do? They invest their hard earned dollars in his books, merchandise, seminars, workshops and so on for years. Pretty soon those “basic techniques” have turned into an obsession at the end of which those readers will find themselves not a dollar richer for the time they’ve put in. Because there is one technique he left out in his books: the simplest and most obvious one staring everyone in the face. And that is – there is no such thing as simply “getting rich”. Everyone who gets rich does so AT THE EXPENSE of someone else. And the kicker is that you, his reader, ARE the “someone else” he is getting rich off. He isn’t reaching out to you so that he can uplift you. He is casting his line so he can reel you in.

The same is true of the spiritually impoverished: those consumed by their existential trials and tribulations seeking that one individual who has struck the spiritual goldmine of enlightenment. And that guru is going to do exactly what he needs to to reel you in and make you believe that you too can have what he has. You too can experience the kind of spiritual vision he does. You too can put an end to your suffering and finally enjoy the abundance and joy of what life has to offer. Who can resist such an offer?

So, you buy this guy’s books, attend his retreats and satsangs, subscribe to his online channel and so on. And the more you hanker for what he has to offer the more he reels you in.

Whether you are chasing a get rich scheme or an enlightenment scheme, the dynamics are essentially the same.

But take a moment to think for a second. What was this “get rich” scheme really about for you before it became about getting rich? It was about wealth. And wealth is just another word for value. In other words, even though you may not be able to see it that way, what you are really in search of is learning how to perceive “greater value” in things. And that has unfortunately been translated by your mind as “getting more dollars”.

It’s because you feel that your life is lacking in some way that you think that it is the money that is lacking. Yet, what may be truly lacking here, even if financial hardship is the case, is your perspective. Because if you can’t see the value in the 10 dollars you have to your name, there is no guaranteeing you will see the value in it even if that 10 dollars became 100 dollars, 1000 dollars or even a million dollars.

Wealth and abundance have little to do with one’s circumstances. They are a mindset. It is possible to have only a few grand in the bank and feel rich. It is also possible to have hundreds of thousands and feel like one is scraping the bottom of the barrel. I know people like this.

The same is the case with awakening or enlightenment, whatever you want to call it. Take a moment to think about what “getting enlightened” really was about for you before it became about “enlightenment”. Before it became about oneness, transcendence, no doership and all that nonsense. It was simply about wanting to know what the fuck was going on with you. Why the hell are you suffering so much?
Why is it all so foggy and unclear?

In other words, you wanted to get clear on yourself. It wasn’t about transcendence of awakening or any of those things at first. You probably didn’t even know what any of those words meant. It was just this basic desire to see things more clearly.

Yet, your mind came in contact with spiritual teachings and culture and began to think that because it was lacking in clarity what it needed was something external, something extraordinary to happen. Yet, here also, what is lacking is not your experience, mystical or otherwise. It is your perspective that is lacking. Because if you can’t see the value in the awareness you have today, no matter how limited, there is no guaranteeing you will see the value in the awareness you have after one, ten or even a hundred awakening experiences.

Clarity does not result from accumulating spiritual or mystical revelations. Clarity is the direct result of a mindset that is open and inquisitive. It is quite possible to have had zero spiritual revelations or earth shattering insights and develop a crystal clarity on oneself. It is equally possible to have had staggering satoris and still be totally delusional.

On this page, I have been open about my own awakening experience because I have no reason to pretend like it didn’t happen. At the same time, I have never held it as some badge of achievement because I simply don’t see it as one. Hitting the jackpot at the slot machine may make you temporarily rich but it sure as hell isn’t going to teach you the value of money. Similarly, awakening is a spiritually enriching experience but it does not, in the long run, reveal anything of how to live a life of value.

Only clarity can do that. And clarity NEVER comes all at once. It is an ever refining process.

So, (if you can bear with me stretching this analogy just a bit further), rather than telling people how to “get rich”, what is essential is showing people how to understand the value of the wealth one already possesses. The experience of being “rich” lies more in your perspective than it does in your circumstances. HOW you value what you have is several orders of magnitude more essential than what you have.

The same is true of clarity and understanding. And that is what I write about on this page. Forget about any kinds of experiences others are having that you could also have. Start with reality exactly the way it appears for you. That is ALL you will ever need. Everything that you are in search of is laid out in front of you plain as the light of day, right under your nose. You just can’t see it because you haven’t learned how to “value” reality. You feel that reality, the truth, needs to be something “more”: more profound, more spiritual, more liberating.

But I can guarantee you no matter how many profound, spiritual or liberating experiences you have you will be no closer to seeing yourself and your circumstances with any greater clarity.

Because the very mechanism that keeps you seeking is what prevents you from seeing. It is what prevents you from being open to life as it is happening because you are focused on life as it should happen.

As I mentioned in the beginning, all one needs is a real willingness to look. And that willingness only emerges when every pyramid scheme our minds are infatuated with reveal themselves as the hollow enterprises they really are.

The Irreverent


The experience of high school I had was quite unlike the experiences most have had.

It was at the age of thirteen that my mother, with no idea how to deal with me any longer, put me on a plane and sent me to live with my grandmother in South India. I was enrolled in a school with a strong Hindu religious leaning, staffed and attended by mostly those of the Tamil Brahmin community. The Brahmin caste, especially in South India, still maintains significant stature and representation especially in the arts and sciences. They are considered by many, and especially themselves, as the cultural and intellectual elite of the South.

Typically fair skinned, they trace their roots to the Aryans who populated the Indus Valley eons ago and this claimed heritage allows them to psychologically segregate themselves from other Tamilians of Dravidian descent. In fact, to this day, marrying outside of ones caste (or even sub-castes within the same caste) is something highly frowned upon.

For instance, two of my closest friends in high school who dated each other for years after and eventually announced their decision to marry to their parents were immediately ostracized by their communities. They were both Brahmins but from different sub-castes. Eventually, they had to break off the relationship because the stigmatization was too much to bear.

The Brahmins have also historically been the keepers and sole readers of spiritual doctrine. When you think the Vedas, when you think the Upanishads, realize that before the British came to India and finally began to translate these texts into English, the only people who had ever read them were those of the Brahmin caste. As a result, there is a strong sentiment, even till this day, that the spiritual heritage of India has been kept alive and must continue to be maintained by members of this caste.

Every Brahmin boy who comes to age, has a “thread ceremony” where a sacred white thread is worn diagonally across the torso. That thread will then be worn for the rest of the individual’s life. From that moment on, the Brahmin is a spiritual scholar. They must learn to recite all the “Shlokas”, the myriad mantras and incantations in the sacred texts. They must learn meditation, pranayama, contemplation and intellectual fortitude. They must engage in the arts, music and scientific rigor. Discipline of body and mind is held in higher regard here than I have encountered anywhere else in the world.

The guru-disciple relationship is a sacred one which forms the heart of the Brahmin culture. At a time when the written word was scarce, spiritual teachings were handed down from generation to generation via word of mouth. It was therefore imperative that one took the guru’s word as absolute truth and refrained from inserting one’s own interpretation into it. And to this day, this unquestioning reverence of teachers continues within Brahmin communities. And I don’t mean just spiritual teachers. I’m referring to teachers from all walks of life. Your school teacher, your art teacher, your music teacher and so on. Reverence is the absolute requirement.

It was into this sort of school and community that I had been unwittingly sent to live. I don’t think you could have picked a blacker sheep to insert into the herd.

Right from the start, the friction became apparent. For instance, on my very first day of school, my homeroom teacher introduced me to my new class of forty students. She then asked me to pick my seat, which would be my regular seat for the rest of the year. I picked the one next to the prettiest girl in class.

In all fairness, having attended exclusively all-boys schools until that point, sitting next to someone of the opposite sex was a novelty for me. Besides, there had only been two available seats and my choices had been to either sit next to the prettiest girl in class or the hairiest guy in class. A no brainer at the time. Still, I had broken an unwritten rule. And this was abundantly apparent by the horribly pained expression on the teacher’s face.

Relationships between the two sexes were expected to be purely platonic and maintained at a cordial arm’s length at all times. Dating was strictly forbidden. Sex was one hundred per cent taboo. The rationale behind this attitude again stems from the traditional Brahmin viewpoint of the stages of an individual’s life: Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retiree) and Sannyasa (renunciate). According to tradition, one’s spiritual development must be strictly ordered into these stages if it is to develop in a wholesome manner. As a Brahmacharya, one’s sole focus is to study and gain knowledge. Therefore sexuality, which is the domain of the Grihastha, is strictly forbidden.

This was the last thing on the mind of yours truly as he sat ignoring the teacher he was supposed to be revering and attempted to flirt with the classmate he was supposed to be developing a cordial and platonic relationship with.

Three months after I was enrolled in the school, my mother came to visit me for a few weeks. She decided to come by my school and speak with my teachers about how I was coming along. That day as I sat in class, an announcement was made on the intercom,

“All subject teachers of Shiv Sengupta’s class please come to the principal’s office after school…”

After class, I crept down the hallway that led to the principal’s office and peeked around the corner. Standing in the middle of the hallway, was my mother with a deer-in-the-headlights expression on her face surrounded by a group of teachers furiously frothing at the mouth and literally yelling over each other to tell her what a demon she had spawned in her womb.

That was the last time my mother ever set foot in any educational institution that I attended.

After four years came graduation day. And the graduation ceremony in this school was unlike anything you’ve seen in the West (or any other part of the East, for that matter). Ours was a “Candle Lighting” ceremony. Each student of the graduating class held a candle burning with the “flame of knowledge” and walked onto the stage to greet their teachers, the principal and school founder. And they would ask for the blessings of their elders by prostrating in front of the school founder.

For those who aren’t familiar, bowing to touch the feet of an elder is a traditional show of reverence in India (now rarely practiced). In the South, however, it is taken to the extreme with an all-out prostration where one lies down flat in front of the elder and touches one’s forehead to their feet.

This was the expectation of the students at the candle lighting ceremony: an all-out prostration at the feet of the founder, followed by a few cursory bows to the remaining string of teachers. I couldn’t have imagined anything more demeaning at the time.

However, I should mention here that I had two older cousins who had graduated from the same school, eight years and six years respectively, prior. Despite being stellar students and even school president, they had famously refused to prostrate in front of the school founder at the candle lighting ceremony. They had instead shook her hand. And legend of this act of defiance had passed down through the years until all eyes were on me to see what I would do.

In fact, there had been quite a buzz about it. My cousins had been dignified in their refusal but had shown reverence all the same. But, how would “Shiv the Irreverent” act? I imagine it was a hotly debated topic in the staff room with all sorts of contingencies and disaster recovery plans being put in place.

The day of the ceremony arrived. I lined up with my classmates and ascended the stairs with my candle. One by one I watched as each placed their candle down, prostrated respectfully to the founder then bowed to their teachers and exited the stage. A couple of my friends refused to bend the knee and instead offered their hand for a shake instead. A few gasps and scattered claps of solidarity broke the silence but the overall sanctity of the ceremony remained intact.

Then it was my turn. I approached the founder, set my candle aside. She looked at me and extended her hand by default as if to say, “Let me save you the trouble”.

Yet, to her surprise I dropped like a sack of potatoes on the floor in full prostration. I grabbed her legs around her ankles and buried my face in her sari.

“Bless you, bless you my child…” she stammered, but I remained holding onto her feet for dear life.

“Good, good my child. Here get up now…”

“Please, I need your blessings! I want to remain here at your feet my guru, my liege!” I proclaimed.

“Alright, you have my blessings. Of course, you have them my child. Come, come….”

I stood up reluctantly and she sort of shoved me onward towards the line of teachers. They were looking at me in bewilderment and a collective groan emerged from them as I dropped in full prostration in front of the first teacher. Then I prostrated in front of the next one. Then the next. And the next. After fifteen full prostrations and having out-revered any student who had ever attended that school, I exited the stage to a raucous and roaring applause from the crowd.

But the show didn’t end there. For the remainder of the day, I prostrated every time I encountered a teacher anywhere on the school premises: in the school ground, in the lunch room, in the stairwell, in front of the bathrooms. In fact, no teacher could get past me until I had been blessed. Sometimes, seeing me coming down a hallway, they’d attempt to take a detour but I’d sprint and cut them off at the pass with a prostration that they had no choice but to accept and bless. By the end of the day, I was doing so many prostrations in succession they began to look like pushups.

A close buddy of mine remarked to me after school that everyone in school would be talking about this for years to come. That I had outdone my cousins’ legacy with my show of irreverence. But how was someone, who found the whole tradition of prostrating so demeaning, able to do it all day long?

To which I responded, “You can’t be truly irreverent until you are willing to be irreverent to yourself. If you take yourself too seriously, you have no choice but to take others seriously too.”
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Since beginning this page, I have received messages from people saying that, though they appreciate my writings, they find that I am excessively disrespectful towards teachers, spiritual traditions and teachings. That I am rude and overly critical of opinions and attitudes within the culture surrounding spirituality today: what people believe, how they interact and the rituals and practices they adopt and so on.

And to them I say, be thankful I’m not prostrating!

An attitude of irreverence, can be seen through two different lenses. It can be seen as an effort to establish one’s own superiority. And this we call arrogance. Or it can be seen as an effort to equalize a systemic plague of stubborn value hierarchies. For me, my motivation has always been the latter. My intention is never to disrespect the person, but to absolutely disrespect the position of power they are attempting to assert.

I am contrarian by nature. Any lumps that I see in the fabric, I attempt to bang down. Any divots I see in the surface, I attempt to prop up. That has always been my way.

Truth has been the sole motivating factor in my life since I can remember. And my relationship with it has been historic, intimate and the most significant thing by far in my life. Yet, when I see an entire culture that presents the same truth as being its sacred goal and yet distorts it and convolutes it to suit its own agendas by creating hierarchies of power and ritual, something deep and ancient within me wants to don blue war paint, put on my kilt with no undies on and start swinging my battleax like a berserker.

Every priest who stands on that pulpit, every sanctimonious sage who beams from their lofty pedestal is, to me, nothing more than a turd who wants to float to the top.

Pardon me if I can’t take the stench and need to perform a courtesy flush.

And even among their followers, the culture is rife with floaters. Everyone attempting to rise above the other: to out-do, out-wit, out-love, out-meditate, out-merge, out-aware or out-enlighten the other. It is utterly infantile and insecure behavior. Yet, that infantilism and insecurity is a necessary requirement for the culture to thrive.

What we call spirituality today is a veritable toilet bowl of self-absorption.

And so, I have no agenda here but to scrub. My words are my hard-bristled toilet brush and my attitude is the caustic solution that is necessary in order to dissolve those persistent stains of ideological shit that have accumulated on the clear porcelain surface of our minds for generations. And if you think that I could achieve the same result with a feather duster and some aromatic oils, think again.

Everybody secretly thanks the guy who cleans the public bathroom stalls, but no one wants to be seen hanging out with that guy. Its bad form.

That’s quite alright.

Because that guy isn’t here to win a popularity contest or win friends.

I hold the perennially contrarian position. What this means is that my own position is not fixed in any way or form. I have no real strong ideas or beliefs about anything. My words adapt in opposition to what I see is a hang-up or an overemphasis in my environment. So, when I talk about love, for example, I have no real personal opinion about love. Yet, when I speak about it on this page, it is to normalize a skew I see in the culture.

Similarly, when I talk about “reality”, I have no fixed idea of what it is, or if it EVEN is. Yet, how I present it in my writing is meant to offset, challenge or negate what is swallowed as dogmatic truth within spiritual culture. And when I criticize teachers, I have nothing personal against them whatsoever. I have no moral objections to even the most rascally of the lot (it takes one to know one). And yet, the moment they assume that pulpit of authority they are ripe in my mind for a take down.

I am hopelessly irreverent. That is what results from a lifetime of intimacy with truth.

Everything else is a façade. Anyone presuming to teach or preach is a shill. Just another shit stain on the toilet bowl of humanity. It doesn’t matter if it takes the form of a Buddhist, an Advaita Vedantist, a Sufi, a Christian or a no-name self-proprietary kind of spiritual teaching.

The smell of shit is universal.

It transcends all boundaries of ethnicity, culture, race, caste, gender and spiritual belief.

And wherever that smell prevails, Shiv The Irreverent will hasten to the scene, armed with his toilet brush and caustic cleaner to hand out his own personal brand of vigilante justice.

Namaste, motherfuckers! 😆

What Are You Waiting For?

Everybody’s waiting for something.

Getting rich, getting hitched, getting name and fame, getting power and status, getting better, getting secure, getting love, getting free. Or simply just “getting it”.

Whatever it is that you’re waiting for is based on a fundamental feeling of lack. And whatever flavour that feeling of lack takes on, that is the scaffolding around which your entire worldview has become organized.

It’s like that magnetic drawing board my kids play with. The board is filled with metal filings scattered in no particular order. But you take a magnetic pen and, as you draw, the metal filings on the board begin to organize themselves in a pattern in alignment with the pen.

What you lack is what consumes your thought. What consumes your thought is what utilizes most of your attention. What utilizes your attention is what shapes your reality. The shape your reality takes reinforces your feeling of lack.

Awareness acts like the magnetic pen and reality responds like the metal fillings.

Those who seek security are motivated by a feeling of fear. Thus their world takes on the form of a perilous place filled with imminent threats. They have no choice but to act in offensive or defensive ways and thereby they become a threat to others or to themselves. In this way, their worldview is validated as reality begins to shape itself into a world of chaos and havoc.

Those who seek love are motivated by a feeling of unworthiness. Thus their world takes the form of a place where value must be earned rather than it being something inherent. They have no choice but to value others and themselves in a hierarchy of self-worth. In this way, their worldview is validated as reality begins to shape itself into a world devoid of intrinsic value.

Those who seek wealth are motivated by a feeling of “not enough”. Thus their world takes the form of a place where things require constant improvement or else everything will collapse and devolve into chaos. They have no choice but to keep pushing forward because to stop even for a moment is to admit that, at least for that one moment, this IS enough. In this way, their worldview is validated as reality begins to shape itself into a world that is damaged and broken.

Those who seek enlightenment are motivated by a fear of meaninglessness and death. “Is this it?” “Is this all there is?” These are the thoughts lurking just beneath the surface that they are desperately attempting to deny. Thus their world takes the form of a place with infinite layers of meaning that require constant seeking and probing to penetrate. They have no choice but to invent higher and more rarefied states of understanding and experience in an effort to immortalize themselves. In this way, their worldview is validated as reality begins to shape itself into a world of darkness and ignorance.

Lack shapes reality, just like an empty vessel shapes the water one pours into it.

It seems almost cruel that life would feed our sense of lack in this way. That it would shape itself to validate whatever insecurities we might have. But this is not an act of cruelty.

Life fills the void that the mind creates. It breathes oxygen into the vacuum of that emptiness. It enters into the hollowed out spaces in our hearts and heals them from the inside. And it remains there until the lesson is learned, no matter how much trial and error, disappointment and heartache it may require.

When the scar finally heals, the hollow spaces of lack are fused shut once again. Then reality reshapes itself in accordance with the new topography of our hearts and minds.

It is an inside out progression.

Which is why simply saying the right words and attempting to believe them won’t do. Attempting to artificially contrive a reality of abundance isn’t going to give you a sense of “enough”. Attempting to brainwash yourself into believing “this is it” isn’t going to fill that void of meaninglessness within you.

Words are bandaids.

They are great at covering up the wounds. But they won’t heal them.

Awareness alone has that power. And it is by turning towards the lack rather than towards whatever goal we think is going to fulfill us, that healing begins.

The wound of insecurity when healed reveals a world worthy of trust.

The wound of unworthiness when healed reveals a world of inherent value.

The wound of “not enough” when healed reveals a world of abundance.

The wound of “meaninglessness and death” when healed reveals a world brimming with truth and aliveness.

When there is no sense of waiting…then you have arrived at the space you’ve been standing in all along.

Baseline Happiness

Someone recently asked me if I consider myself as being “happy”.

And I responded that I do. He said that he considers himself happy as well.

I asked him what his criteria for happiness are and how he has established this happy state of affairs for himself. He responded that he endeavors to elevate his consciousness and conscious experience at all times.

I asked him what he means by that. If he could provide me with a few examples and he was glad to oblige me.

He said that in his day to day, he attempts to see the best in any given situation. He attempts to maximize his opportunities. When he meets people, even strangers, he attempts to connect with them from a place of pure being. He attempts to see the being in them as a reflection of his own essence and he feels a genuine love for them as a result of doing this.

I asked him if he feels like this consistently. And he responded that some days it is more natural than others. Some days requires greater effort because the mindset of separation keeps dragging him back into his “old conditioning”.

He said he meditates twice a day in order to reconnect with the spaciousness and each time he finds his mind slipping back into habitual thinking he takes a few moments to sit and return to that space of stillness. He makes it a point to practice gratitude for all the things he has, for the people he meets, for nature. He stops on his walks often and gives thanks to the trees and the birds. This fills him with a sense of well-being.

When with family or friends, he tries not to get sucked into the drama that they get lost in. He can clearly see people’s “pain bodies” and even see how his own pain-body is easily activated by them. And so he remains vigilant so as not to get drawn into conflict and thereby maintains a peace of mind even in the midst of it all.

When he is by himself, he is always aware of his own mind and thoughts. He is careful not to allow his mind to wander too much into negative thinking cycles. Each time he finds his thoughts deviating from the present circumstance, he gently draws his attention back to where he is at in the moment. And in this way, he is able to remain present, calm and happy.

So, I remarked that that sounded great. And that he had achieved what many people struggle to. He was pleased to hear me say that. And asked me if I wanted to share my own “secret to happiness” with him.

I laughed and said that my secret was that I do exactly the opposite. He smiled in bewilderment and then probed me to tell him more.

So, I said, well I don’t try and see the best in situations. Sometimes what I see is good sometimes what I see is downright rotten. I know a lot of it is my own projection and may not be accurately reflective of the situation itself, but I’m ok with that. My perspective will naturally improve as my vision improves and that has been on an upward trajectory for years now, so I have little to worry about.

When I meet people, I don’t attempt to connect with them. I only connect if I feel an inspiration to and then that connection happens by itself without my wanting or not wanting. It’s always a special experience when that happens, but what makes it extra special is that it happens when I’m not expecting it.

Other than that, to me a stranger is just a stranger, a cashier is just a cashier. Of course, I know there is so much more to them, but for my own purposes as I move through the world that is all I need them to be. Every once in a while, the circumstances will suddenly require a stranger to reveal more of themselves to me or for me to suddenly strike an unexpected connection with a cashier over something as random as a shared milk allergy. And when that happens I am always grateful for the fortuitous turn of events. But I don’t seek such experiences.

I almost never meditate anymore. I have no draw to connect with that sense of spaciousness or silence. I did for many years sit in meditation for that express purpose. Now, that spaciousness seeks me out when I least expect it. I may be standing in line at the supermarket and in the midst of a crowd and fluorescent lights, the whole room empties out and I’m standing in vast space. I enjoy that experience thoroughly, but then it’s back to being in line among impatient grumbling customers and I’m fine with that too. Those moments of unexpected spaciousness feel like your favorite song suddenly coming on the radio. There is a certain joy that brings which isn’t quite present when you intentionally play that song off a CD.

When with family and friends I often get sucked into drama, gossip, conflict, shenanigans and whatnot. In the midst of drama I am well aware of the pain conditioning (“pain body” as he called it) in others as well as myself coming up but I don’t impede it from doing its thing. The way I see it, the pain has to resolve itself, I am not equipped to resolve it. And it will resolve itself by seeking scenarios that provoke it and bring it up to the surface to be witnessed again and again. My only job is to be present to witness it when it does. Not to tamper with it in any way.

When I am by myself, my mind wanders like a wild animal wherever it desires to roam. Whether laying down to rest in silence, exploring some dark alley of my psyche, gnawing restlessly on a single bone of thought over and over, simply daydreaming, strategizing about things that will become inconsequential in the next moment, complaining about something, somewhere, someone or simply humoring itself with nonsensical existential paradoxes (some of which make their way to this page) – my mind is its own animal, a beast that does not do well when caged. In fact, our relationship of trust has been built over decades after I showed an initial willingness to set it free. It has since always returned without fail and has never let me down.

It is the dire wolf to my Jon Snow.

And so I told him that although, I am far from being a peaceful and calm person, I am happy nonetheless. In fact, happiness is pretty much my standard modus operandi.

On hearing this he seemed a bit perturbed. He then asked me what I thought was the basic difference between his happiness and mine.

I remarked that his happiness seemed to require constant maintenance whereas mine pretty much maintained itself.

Then unexpectedly, his face began to quiver, and tears began streaming down his face.

I put an arm around him and asked him what he was feeling.

And he confessed that he was absolutely fatigued. That the constant vigilance that he had been maintaining for all these years against his own mind had practically wiped him out. His happiness, he explained, was always driven by a deeper sense of anxiety. That his peace and serenity were always contingent on whether he was able to cope with the darkness and frustration always lurking just beneath the surface waiting to swallow him whole.

The dire wolf example I’d given him had been especially striking. He didn’t have the same relationship with his own mind. His mind was something he couldn’t trust and so he was always attempting to tame it, guide it, domesticate it, teach it a way of being that it didn’t gravitate towards naturally. And he felt cruel as a result of it.

I told him that I understood. Because that’s also how I’d operated for many years.

Then what changed? He asked me.

And I said, I realized that there are two kinds of happiness: one is a peak experience and the other is a baseline experience. And I’d gotten really good at hitting the peaks, but my baseline whenever I did come down to it, was unacceptable to me.

Yet, the reality was that the peaks were short-lived and reached only by effort, whereas the baseline is where I naturally returned to when I was at rest. So, I asked myself – which one is more reliable? Should I focus on elevating my highest self or should I instead focus on the lowest version of me?

And so I shifted my perspective. And I found that the lowest version of me was the lowest for a reason. There was no perfecting it, or elevating it. Who I got to be on my absolutely worst day, was the person I needed to accept. He was a horrendous little shit of a human and being him is what I’d avoided pretty much every waking hour using meditation, positive thinking and so on.

That version of me was far from happy. He was a miserable sod, unloved by everyone including myself. Alienated, misunderstood and alone – no wonder he was so damn unhappy. Stewing in his own misery and darkness for decades like a Gollum, his concerns were purely for himself, purely survival driven.

The moment I understood this, then the whole equation of happiness for me changed. Peak experiences became meaningless to me. I didn’t care how many moments of pure joy I could successfully string together. If there were still aspects of me living in darkness and alienation then happiness was not the case.

It’s like when I look at India, the country I was born in. And there is all this hype about the economic progress and wealth that is being generated there. But then I look at how that wealth is distributed and the disparity is appalling. While the top 1% easily fall within the richest in the world the bottom 50% easily fall within the poorest of the world. That to me is not a sign of a prosperous nation. A prosperous nation is one in which the bar on the lowest income demographics itself has been raised to a standard of living that is prosperous. A number of Scandinavian countries come to mind as an example.

So, the moment I began thinking of myself as less of a person and more of an ecosystem, the glaring imbalances became unavoidable. The word “happiness” took on a new meaning then. A “happy” ecosystem is a “balanced” ecosystem.

Whereas previously my understanding of happiness was limited to “feel good” experiences, this new understanding could accept that all kinds of experiences had their place. A balanced ecosystem still manifests aggression and violence. The wolf still hunts the deer. Bacteria still annihilate entire herds. But it all happens in proportion, so that the ecosystem itself remains stable. Thus, there is an intelligence that transcends our ideas of “good” and “bad” behavior and experiences that is able to create that sort of an exquisite order.

So, also within myself, there were several competing and conflicting elements that nevertheless had the potential to manifest an exquisite order and experience of harmony if only it was guided by an intelligence beyond the one that my binary rational brain, which thought in terms of black or white, was capable of.

I learned to let it all be.

I learned to view myself through the eyes of a wildlife filmmaker. Observing, curious, fascinated, learning but never intervening in the dynamics as they were manifesting. Allowing it all to play itself out, the good parts and the shit.

And over time, the ecosystem did regain its balance like I had thought it would. And the end result was an overarching sense of well-being, harmony and happiness without needing to expend a single ounce of effort to achieve it.

He sat looking at me silently and smiled. I asked him why he was smiling. And he responded,

“It’s like I’ve been waiting my whole life for someone to tell me what you just said.”

Golden Standard

“What are your thoughts on self actualization? According to Maslow’s theory self-actualization forms the pinnacle of the pyramid of human needs once other needs like physical and emotional needs have been met. I have a hard time telling the difference between self-realization and self-actualization. Is there a difference?”
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I’m only slightly familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, to be honest. And as far as I know, it has been criticized a fair amount for oversimplifying things. So, I won’t comment on that here since I’m sure, with a bit of digging, you’ll be able to find a number of well researched critiques of his theories.

But I will give you my perspective on the whole self-realization versus self-actualization thing, since these terms can be so confusing to many.

To put it in the simplest way possible:

Self-realization is the DISCOVERY of what you ARE. Self-actualization is the DEVELOPMENT of what you CAN BE.

And so the former has to do with “being” – seeing with clarity the state of things as they actually exist. Whereas the latter has to do with “becoming” – creating with intention a state of things that could potentially exist.

Thus, while self-realization is a present moment centric effort, self-actualization is future focused, driven by goals and targets one sets one’s sights on achieving.

The important thing to understand is that both of these movements are necessary aspects of an individual’s evolution. They are not mutually exclusive from one another, nor are they opposed to each other. In fact, when understood in the right light, they are perfectly complimentary movements.

The problem is that the way society is structured today, there is very little understanding of this dynamic. Ours is a civilization almost wholly focused on the task of self-actualization. Self-realization is neglected, an afterthought to most.

A child in primary school will often be asked, “what do you want to become when you grow up?” This is just another way of saying, “how do you want to actualize yourself?” But how many of those same kids are being asked, “who are you?” “What is this self you feel yourself to be?”

Those kinds of questions would seem almost nonsensical to the vast majority. Only people in isolated spiritual communities or those of a more philosophical bent of mind will endeavour to inquire in this manner. And so we have billions of children the world over being set the impossible task of actualizing a self that they have no idea about.

As a result, rather than actualizing their authentic selves they end up actualizing an ideal self. A version of a self that is upheld as some golden standard. Such a self may be completely divorced from the reality of who they are. Yet, with almost no insight into that reality they have no choice but to actualize the imposter identity.

Over time, this false actualization turns pathological until we have entire populations of grown adults who are living in a state of existential alienation within themselves. Because, who they have ”become” bears very little resemblance to who they are. And the effort it takes, on a near daily basis, to bridge that growing chasm is exhausting. It breeds anxiety, fatigue, depression and a sense of frustration or apathy with one’s surroundings.

Putting the cart before a horse and making it push the cart with its head is a backwards way of going about things.

In fact most books you read, even in the self-help and spirituality genres, are really books about self-actualization rather than self-realization. How to become rich, become happy, become positive, become peaceful, become enlightened. Because frankly, the promise of a brighter future is an infinitely better marketing strategy than the recognition of things as they are.

And so, even among the non-dual and Buddhist crowd who claim that all they are really interested in is self-realization, that is only how things appear on the surface. When one understands the deeper motivations of what most of these spiritual seekers are in search of it is ALWAYS for some other version of themselves.

The golden standard.

And so you have people actualizing themselves into all kinds of spiritual identities. In fact, that is how spiritual culture even emerges. That is how the roles, the rituals, the hierarchies, the gurus, the disciples and the whole structure of spiritual institutions emerge. By those desperately actualizing some standard they have decided they want to embody.

Imposters teaching imposters how to be imposters.

When you see through it, the whole thing appears very confused and comical.

Consider this example. Let’s say my wife is working late and so asks me to cook dinner for the girls. She tells me that everything I need is in the fridge. And that she had a specific dish in mind that she wanted to make. The recipe for it (a family secret handed down to her by her grandma) is somewhere in the house, but she doesn’t remember where. So, she asks me to find the recipe first and then cook that dish for dinner tonight.

Now, being the lazy person I am, I decide that I’ll be able to figure out what she wanted to cook just by looking at what is in the fridge. So, I open the fridge and see all kinds of things in there. There are hundreds of possible dishes I could make. Problem is, I’m not a cook. So, I start going through some online recipes based on the ingredients I have in the fridge. I find one generic recipe and cook it for dinner.

My wife comes home, takes one look at dinner and goes, “what the hell is this? This isn’t what I asked you to make?”

From the example, it’s evident that no matter how many different generic recipes I may have found online, no matter how many different dishes I could have tried to produce using the ingredients that I had in the fridge, the odds of me coming up with my wife’s grandma’s secret family recipe would have been next to none. If I don’t even know “what to cook” in the first place then “how to cook it” becomes a moot point.

And that is essentially what happens when one jumps ahead and tries to actualize themselves before they even know what it is they are trying to actualize. We are a world of 7.5 billion amateur cooks in the kitchen with no clue what to make. Everyone is going off some generic cookbook based on a limited view of some of the ingredients we have in our inner pantries.

Some of us may luck out and end up actualizing a certain portion of ourselves authentically. Some may find an authentic expression in creating art or in raising a family. But even that is only a partial actualization. Which is why so many artists are depressed and suicidal. So many homemakers feel like despite having the family they always dreamed of something vital of themselves is missing.

Self-realization is primary. Only when one has invested in the discovery of things AS THEY ARE can one have any sense of authentic purpose of how things CAN BE. Only when one has realized the whole of oneself, can one embark upon actualizing that whole.

Yet, although self-realization IS primary, it MUST be followed through into actualization.

This lack of follow through is the bane of the spiritually awakened. Having seen into the nature of themselves, there is the sense of “nothing to do” about anything now. And so they sink into a sort of existential emptiness – devoid of intention, devoid of desire, devoid of any real interest or concern. This is a spiritual apathy.

If a cart placed before a horse seems like a comical sight to you, then a horse sitting in the cart is an equally bizarre sight. While pushing the cart with its head is idiotic, plonking it’s backside in the cart is equally ridiculous. The horse’s job is to pull that cart.

The self’s job is to carry the body and the mind across the terrain of human experience.

Yet, a society obsessed with materialism and productivity doesn’t care for that self to realize it’s essential nature. All it cares about is that that self starts pushing that cart as soon as possible. Self-realization has no short term rewards, no measurable performance indicators, no identifiable returns on investment of time or energy.

And so we have these two limited streams of thinking – the spiritual, which claims that realization of self is the be all and end all. And the material, which claims that actualization of the self is the immediate and absolute imperative from the moment a child is old enough to speak, think and act.

Yet, even a small dose of common sense and clarity will reveal that the two are far from being mutually exclusive. They are complimentary. They complete each other and provide context for the other.

The progression for the authentic evolution and development of a self is simple and straightforward in my mind:

Inquire, discover, realize, design, build, actualize.

Insight Is Fundamental

A conversation I recently had with a reader of this page that touches upon several relevant questions:

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P: I read it (the post entitled DEPRESSION AND ENLIGHTENMENT) twice but I still don’t get what one then does … just let it all be?
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AA: Be open be observant. Understanding the dynamic clearly is the first step. Misunderstanding leads to doing all kinds of things that turn counterproductive.
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P: Oh yeah.. been there🙃 Ok.. be open and observant.. I actually like that answer very much.
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AA: All the insight that I provide in my posts has not resulted from me doing anything in particular. Constant openness and being observant has allowed my mind to naturally arrive at its own understanding organically over time.
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P: Ok.. but are insights enough for everything?
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AA: A necessary first step. Until you are aware that you are actively harming yourself you will feel no motivation to stop that behaviour. Until you know how and why that harm is being caused you won’t have any recourse to do anything about it. Naturally over time you will simply stop that behaviour.

In my youth I used to be quite addictive as a personality. Gambling was one of those addictions. Of course I knew it was “bad” intellectually. But it’s only after I suffered through its consequences and saw how it affected myself and those around me first hand did I naturally shift away from that need.

Just a rudimentary example.

So the insight I’m talking about is not intellectual. It wouldn’t be called “IN “sight if it was only intellectual. Insight is fundamental.

P: No short-cut..? Did u really have to suffer consequences before it became an insight?
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AA: Yes I did. Doesn’t mean someone else will. Tons of people have no draw towards gambling. I did. That was my brand of suffering.

Everyone has their own brand. And there is no shortcut to it Only way out is through. But the speed with which we move through depends on the degree of openness and curiosity we display.

Of course I could fake the insight based on what someone else has told me. Most of spiritual literature today is that. That’s why everyone “sounds like” everyone else.

P: True… very boring. And then there are many who go back to their addictions like drugs/drinks despite knowing it is harming them.. repeatedly.. So the insights you speak of are not guaranteed by mere sufferings

AA: No, the going back is part of it. Going back is part of “going through”.

P: Oh…

AA: lol do you think the first time I suffered a loss gambling, I had this massive insight and quit cold turkey?

You suffer over and over….that’s what suffering is. Otherwise it’s not really suffering.

But you can’t force insight either. It comes in and of itself.

P: But why not… why don’t we get it insightfully enough the first time?

AA: Did you learn to ride a bicycle on your first try? Repetitively losing your balance taught you balance.

I’m assuming you know how to ride a bike here lol.

P: 😁.. yeah I used to fall every single time I turned a bend. But that can be questioned.. that suffering needs be repeated…

AA: Its not suffering that needs to be repeated…..suffering is what results FROM the repetition.

I can have a negative thought…..but if it only occurs once in my mind I’m not going to suffer. But if that thought repeats over and over…..then I suffer.
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P: Yes.. tiresome.. get tired of it.. like “enough already”.. feels like I was born tired

AA: Yes, world weariness is the mark of a seeker. Without it no spiritual journey can begin. Everything that feels wrong about any of this is actually what’s right about it …. If you know what I mean.
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P: So you are saying it will all pan out only when it is ready to and nothing that can be done…

AA: Everything one can do is already being done.

Nothing MORE can be done.

P: I wish my faith in that was 100%…

AA: Faith comes with insight. Seeing is believing.

P: It wavers…

AA: It wavers because it is reaching to stabilize. Like wobbling on a bicycle. The wavering is also necessary.

P: And falling at the bends?.. a lot more acute than mere wobbles…

AA: Everyone falls at some point or another. Even those so called experts among us.

P: So I can chill?

AA: That’s up to you…

P: Meaning?

AA; Meaning that’s something you have to decide for yourself

P: I guess… can’t have intellectually contrived “chills”

AA: Whatever you “do” is going to impede the process not one bit. If you resist it, the pressure will continue to build. Eventually it all flows whether we like it or not.

P: Feels kinda sadistic at times🙃.. this thing we call life or the never-ending journey of enlightenment.

AA: It can be seen that way if one is opposed to the natural frustration that is part and parcel of the learning process.

P: Yes.. I am so done with frustrations.. wanna be over with it and its friends

AA: My 5 year old never believed she’d ever be able to take the training wheels off her bike. But I helped her see the frustration as character-building and that shift in her perspective allowed her to get to that point last summer.

What “feels good” and what “is good” are from two different dimensions. Of course, frustration doesn’t feel good. It’s not supposed to. But it develops us in a way that we couldn’t if we were just complacent and comfortable.

P: Do you think accepting her frustration made her get there faster.. or just in a happier state?

AA: If she hadn’t accepted the frustration she would have given up on the bicycle.

P: And yet you say we can’t help it even if we were complacent?

AA: No, complacency maintains the status quo. It doesn’t help one progress.

P: So she had a choice?

AA: Apparent choice, yes. It was also in her nature not to give up easily.

Without frustration and inner conflict all our experiences are only superficial. That was essentially what i was pointing to in the “love” post. The love in spiritual circles is all about complacency and comfort zones. It is about keeping each other safe.

But that sort of love only goes skin deep.

P: So the pep talk you gave her.. Perhaps just a reminder of what was in her nature?.. and if she was not receptive to it nothing you could have said to make it happen…

AA: Wasn’t so much a pep talk….more of telling her that its ok if she wants to give up on the bicycle as long as she understands that means not being able to ride it without trainers.

The realization that she wouldn’t be able to ride was too much of an indignation for her.

Similarly for me. The suffering was unbearable. But the prospect that I would have to spend my whole life not truly knowing myself was way more frightening.

In comparison, the suffering was a piece of cake.

P: Ok wait… that is kinda contradicting yourself…If one can only do what is in their nature to do, then how is love a way of making people complacent. If anything love holds our hand reassuringly for living to the full without self-doubt

AA: I never said love makes people complacent.

P: You said that is what spiritual community does…

AA: I said the kind of love that spiritual communities promote is a superficial kind.

P: Oh… well we don’t know…Same with intimate relationships…

AA: Of course….most relationships are superficial for that reason. A human being can only love to the extent that they know themselves.

If their self awareness is limited so is their love.

Like art. A layman can look at a painting and find it beautiful. But an art connoisseur will see many more layers of beauty in it.

P: So what did you do.. when the prospect of wanting to know yourself became too scary… Was it when you sat with it… Is that why I am not knowing how to “sit with it”.. cause I am complacent? For me it feels like i am already doing it.. albeit in my own quiet way.

AA: Yeah if you’re doing it then you’re doing it…i haven’t said there is anything wrong with what you are doing or not.

Btw, I said : the prospect of NOT KNOWING myself had become too scary…

P: Yes that is wat I meant too😅

AA: ok good.

P: Wrongly worded it.

AA: It’s like being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

At some point the devil of ignorance is just too terrifying and we take the plunge…

P: I remember someone telling me similar stuff.. to sit with my grief and be genuinely okay with it. I said that is what I do.. but they said if I was it would have morphed into something else.. that nothing remains the same with that kind of attention. So have always felt I was missing something.. that I didn’t get it…

AA: I would say the first part of their advice was good…the sitting with the grief….being genuinely okay with it is not something you can do…..that’s what happens at the end when it morphs…

P: Makes sense

AA: Its not grief if its ok lol. That just becomes a repression mechanism

Pretending to be ok in order to live in some safe space of denial parading as transcendence.

Grief has to feel like your heart being torn to pieces.

P: True… But I do feel a kind of intimacy with my grief.. being ok in the sense I see it as a friend…But anxiety feels like a foreigner…Not sure if either matters

AA: That’s ok….grief is a “friend” because it is related to the loss of something familiar…..Your anxiety on the other hand is related to something unseen and therefore alien.

P: Yes!!! Exactly!

AA: Every stranger is a forgotten friend…

P: Ah..

AA: So anxiety gives the opportunity to get reacquainted.

P: Nice😊😊.. I like that!

AA: That is the part of the article that talks about the subconscious/unconscious becoming conscious.

Enlightenment.

P: I see… and grief plays no part?

AA: of course it does. Everything plays a part.

P: A trigger?

AA: An opportunity.

P: So the movement is from grief to anxiety? Is that the direction?

AA: They needn’t be related.

P: Yes.. I do see that.

AA: In the end they are all flavors of the same. Some form of ignorance making itself apparent and tormenting us with its darkness.

P: But I mean which comes first… though they repeat.

AA: Depends from person to person. Its not a linear thing.

P: Spiral?

AA: Yes, that’s why it’s called “spiralling into darkness”. Grief may trigger an unrelated anxiety even….or vice versa

P: Yes have seen that…

Once I was literally spiralling into the void… scary.. the effects lasted 3 days

And then I had phases where I was merging with inanimate objects that caught my fancy… pen, yoga mat, matchbox, white silk… it was fun but weird

I wish I could have taken the leap when it happened so viscerally.. it was many years ago… hope it comes back now that I understand it better.

And there were nicer experiences too… where breathing stops but there us no gasping for air.. before one can make sense of it mind also gets knocked off.. then there is nothing… but when I come off it there is only ecstasy.. I know there is a space of extreme joy…

AA: What leap? And what’s the point? Your problems would still be here.

P: I guess I would no longer care about the problems… that 100% faith?

AA: Yes but you would still act those problems out.

That’s why these so called enlightened guru types cause so much suffering to their followers.

P: Hmmm… so no spontaneous integration I guess. Though, that is what is peddled…

AA; hahah WELLLLL there is this magic red button in a secret cave somewhere in the pacific that will do all of it for you when you press it.

But you have to find it first.

P: Oh.. really or sarcasm?😅

AA: Really.

P: 😁… okay!

AA: Never heard of the red button?

P: See now you making fun of me🙃🙃🙃🤣 Oh dear.. I actually fell for it

AA: Yes, just messing with you. You can see how absurd it sounds….yet if I say “mahasamadhi” instead of “red button” suddenly it sounds more believable for some reason.

P: Spiritual development and mundane development.. neither better than the other.. just that spirituality seems a novelty to most.. only reason it feels a bit more special

AA: They aren’t two things….to me they are one and the same.

P: True. But one is more carefree than the other.. feels lighter…

AA: Only if you make them two things

P: Interesting…How to see them as one… One feels expansive… the other pierces you

AA: You may have two legs but the process of walking is one.

You can’t say one leg is walking more than the other. Each propels the other….they operate in tandem.

P: I like that….So no special synergizing required? The polarities are already working together perfectly?

AA; Wellll, if you are hell bent on hopping on one leg I would say that’s a waste of energy.

P: 😂 😂

AA: Polarities have to work perfectly otherwise they would cease to exist

P: I mean nothing one needs to do.. like balancing or creating a magical 3rd out of the 2

AA: Having a third leg doesn’t make you more human. It makes you a stool.

P: 😂 😂 😂 😂

Depression And Enlightenment

“I find depression is a common experience for many on the path. It certainly has been for me. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the relationship between enlightenment and depression? Is there one?” 

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This is a great question. But first, we need to ensure we are using the word enlightenment in the same sense. Enlightenment, the way I use it, doesn’t point to some pinnacle state of human consciousness as it is put forth by various spiritual teachings. Instead, it is a PROCESS of evolving consciousness that every sentient being is on. And the process is continuous and limitless.

What is happening in this process exactly? Awareness is being made conscious. Awareness itself has no need to evolve. Awareness is simply aware of “what is”. Awareness never changes. However, every sentient being has a “mind”. And the mind essentially works to channel awareness into one of three buckets: the unconscious, the subconscious and the conscious.

In animals, the unconscious and the subconscious buckets are the primary sectors in which awareness resides. What is “conscious” forms a narrow spectrum of experience. And so the evolution of consciousness within animals is extremely slow. It happens over millennia in a slow trickle.

In humans, however, the process is highly accelerated. The slow trickle is superseded by this tool of SELF-AWARENESS we possess. Self-awareness acts as a cup that allows us to scoop greater quantities of awareness out of the “subconscious or unconscious bucket” and into the “conscious bucket” at a time. Thus, we gradually become more conscious. Awareness is made conscious IN the mind.

This is essentially what enlightenment is.
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WHAT CAUSES DEPRESSION

What does depression have to do with any of this?

What we call depression is really a pressure buildup in the subconscious or unconscious buckets. Although, depression often can feel like an external unseen weight crushing down on us, it is really the opposite. An internal pressure pushing outwards from the inside. 

One of the fundamental features of depression is that it almost invariably feels uncaused. Most depressives couldn’t tell you exactly why they feel this way, they just do. Some may be able to try and rationalize it by tying it to seeming causes but those often don’t capture the whole of it. Depression can sometimes result after a specific event happens, such as birth, death, retirement and so on yet often the event isn’t the real cause but only a catalyst. The cause is something deeper and hidden that can only be released if uncovered. Until then the internal pressure remains.

What most people, including the medical community, seem to misunderstand is that depression isn’t an illness. It is the system seeking to find a new normal.

It’s like if there were a build up of water pressure in a dam after the winter thaw. And if the buildup is reaching critical levels threatening to burst the walls of the dam, this doesn’t imply that there is anything wrong with the dam. Nor is there anything wrong with the river. These are simply the natural physics of the situation. The solution then is not to reinforce the dam to contain the pressure nor find ways to deviate the river. The solution is to release the pressure.

In treating depression as an illness, whether psychological or neurological (by calling it the result of a chemical imbalance) we are essentially saying that the solution is to reinforce the dam. 

Personally, I’m not against the use of anti-depressants but I consider them a stop-gap solution rather than a long term cure. If the engineers are trying to figure out how to release the water pressure then it makes sense that they try and reinforce the dam temporarily to buy themselves a bit more time. Yet, eventually, releasing the water pressure is the only and obvious option to maintaining not only the integrity of the dam but also the normal flow of the river.

From a spiritual point of view, depression is an inner push to “level up” in one’s conscious awareness. The pressure in the subconscious or unconscious buckets have reached a critical level and the spill over is imminent. Whether you like it or not, you are being forced into becoming conscious of a whole lot of things you were not conscious of before. You might try and hold that pressure at bay by reinforcing the barriers in your mind either by self-help techniques or by medication. But eventually, that spill over will happen.

In that sense, not only is depression related to enlightenment, it is a critical aspect of enlightenment. It is an indication that nothing can stop the flow of the enlightenment process. The moment mental barriers are erected, the pressure build up begins immediately.

Then, either there is going to be a massive blowout of the very structure of the dam, sometimes leading to irrevocable changes. This we call an “awakening” because it feels like a drastic shift in the contents of our conscious minds. Or there is going to be some release valve that opens up and allows the steady flow of awareness to filter into the conscious mind thereby regaining equilibrium. This results in the same effect without there being any structural damage to the mind and its self-concept called the ego.

The latter option is always the more desirable one even if less sensational from a seeker’s point of view, because contrary to what we believe, the ego is not the enemy. It is a useful construct that facilitates social interaction. And so having an intact ego as opposed to a disabled one is important. A broken dam may allow the flow of water without resistance but it’s also a useless dam. A functional dam with all release valves smoothly functioning can equally allow the flow of water, yet it can satisfy its functioning as a dam.
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REPRESSION OF THE SUBCONSCIOUS

What we call the ego is an internalization of the cultural and social environment we exist in. A feral child raised by wolves has an underdeveloped ego that responds to the rudimentary social dynamics of the pack. A civilized child, however, has an incredibly complex ego that mirrors every rule of engagement, code of ethics and cultural expectation that exists around it. And it is through THAT lens that the child learns to perceive itself.

However, just as society is filled with contradictions: with some rules of engagement negating other rules of engagement, some ethical codes contradicting other ethical codes, that inherent conflict is also internalized within the ego. The conflicts and contradictions translate into self-conflict and self-contradiction. And these self-conflicts act as “blockages” in the system. And wherever there is a blockage there will be a buildup of pressure.

So, lets for example say, I am a Catholic but I am also gay. My identity as a Catholic and sense of camaraderie with other members of my tribe may stand in conflict with my sexual identity and sense of shared experience with other people who identify as gay. This conflict within me is further exacerbated by some members of my catholic tribe, whom I love and identify with, who dismiss gays as heathens and sinners. On the flip side, some of my gay friends scoff at those of those of the catholic faith as brainwashed perverts. On the inside, my catholic self is at war with my homosexual self. And this has caused an impasse. 

Now this in itself may not cause me to become depressed. But let’s say that, in an attempt to resolve the cognitive dissonance, I repress my sexual identity. And over years and decades, my life on the outside seems fairly normal – I have a family, a church, a community, yet there is this unseen burden that weighs down on me at all times. And that burden increases to the point that I feel debilitated. I might not even ascribe this depression to my repressed sexuality that I feel I’d dealt with years ago. 

Eventually, something will have to give. And when it does, it will lead to a sexual awakening. I will have to acknowledge my sexuality and accept its coexistence with my religious beliefs. And in the process I will have become more enlightened about who I am. I will realize that I am neither defined by my sexuality nor my religion and therefore am free to express both even if they do contradict each other.

Yet, I may go even a step further. Since, every identity I possess is intricately linked to some social or cultural more, this sexual awakening will further reveal to me how the rules of engagement are messed up and are set up to cause suffering. I may be motivated to spread an awareness of how this happens and, in doing so, I may allow others who are experiencing similar self-conflict to resolve it within themselves in a less harmful manner. 

This is how the process of enlightenment works. It’s always inner revelation to outer revelation which causes inner revelation in others and so on back and forth. This is why human beings need each other. All our egos are derived from the same superstructure that we call human civilization and it’s only by resolving the conflicts we have within that we can understand the conflicts that exist outside. 
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REPRESSION OF THE UNCONSCIOUS

Repressing a sense of identity and relegating it to the subconscious in an attempt to regain psychological homeostasis is one kind of repression. It’s the repression we are all the most familiar with. We have all done it. Everyone has faced childhood trauma in one form or another and has had to bifurcate themselves in an attempt to deal with it. 

So, that is repression of the “subconscious” kind. Subconscious meaning, just beneath the surface. And through psychotherapy, it is possible to access these kinds of repressed experiences and bring them to the forefront.

However, there is also that bucket of the “unconscious” we talked about. And the phenomenon of repression happens here as well. In fact, unconscious repression is a universal phenomenon. It happens to everyone. This kind of repression is not easily accessed or even understood by psychotherapy. All psychotherapy can deal with is the repression of subconscious identities.

But there is a self that is much more fundamental than the identities we build upon it. And that self is tuned into the essence of reality. 

There are those who suffer from an unexplainable existential angst that has little to do with repressed identities or memories. For them it is far more fundamental than that. I was one of those people. There is a sense of alienation that is almost unbearable yet this is not an alienation of the social kind. It is not closeness with other humans we crave but it is a closeness with creation.

This ennui goes beyond just our human identities, it is a spiritual ennui. The sense of feeling separate from life itself creates an existential pressure that can be utterly debilitating. And the depression that ensues is deep, dark and not easily understood. Here anti-depressants can often be completely ineffective and therapy may provide only temporary relief. It is this kind of depression that drives one to truly introspect into the very fundamentals of oneself and one’s experience.

And when what was unconscious becomes conscious this is a spiritual awakening. It is not a revelation of some aspect of our identity, as in the example of the sexual awakening I gave above. It is a revelation of our very self. 
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ENLIGHTENMENT IS ENDLESS

The process of making the subconscious conscious and the unconscious conscious are two independent if similar processes. 

Which is why someone who has done therapy and delved into their subconscious and learned to release a lot of their past traumas may present as a very balanced individual yet may possess very little spiritual insight. 

On the other hand, someone who has had a great spiritual awakening and may have incredible spiritual insight may still continue to act out their subconscious and repressed traumas. 

That is why psychotherapists often seem far more knowledgeable about the human subconscious and often ignorant about the unconscious. Whereas gurus and mystics seem knowledgeable about the unconscious but oblivious about the subconscious. This is also why psychotherapists, in general, are a much more socially adapted lot than gurus are. 

Rare is the individual who has both psychological and spiritual insight. Carl Jung is one of the handful of such names that comes to mind. 

Thus, even the spiritually insightful individual has much left to learn and the same is true for the psychologically gifted individual. That is why enlightenment never ends. There is an endless movement of awareness to become conscious.

That is also why depression is a necessary feature of the process. Because as long as the contradictions exist, impasses will be created. The impasses over time will lead to a buildup of the flow of awareness. And the buildup will lead to an existential pressure that will feel like depression. 

When you understand the dynamics of it, nothing is out of place.

The Road To Hell

The fundamental difference between an idea and an ideology is this:

The former is one of many models through which reality can be viewed. The latter is a belief that reality actually exists in that way.

It’s not so easy to tell an idea apart from an ideology because on the surface they seem fairly identical. When laid out on a piece of paper there is no telling them apart. The difference lies in the manner in which they are adopted by people.

And the difference is this. I could develop a model on reality that I think is quite robust. And I could even defend that model intellectually against those who try and poke holes in it or challenge it in some way. Such a defence is not driven by a need to believe in anything, but rather by a means of testing the robustness of the model.

The industry term for this is “stress testing”. When you go to Ikea and see the chair in a showcase being pushed on repeatedly by pistons hour after hour, they are testing the durability of that particular design. They are by no means suggesting that that design is the only one in which a chair can exist.

Similarly, by debating an idea and challenging it or defending it we can put the idea to the test to see if it holds up to criticism. And if it does, then one can attest to the “rightness” of the idea. Right, meaning, not prone to error or breaking down under duress.

Ideology, however, does not welcome similar criticism. Nor does it consider its viewpoint to be one of other equally valid viewpoints on reality. It considers itself as the ONLY viewpoint on reality. And from that perspective it’s “rightness” exists by default. There is no point or even tolerance for having that assumption challenged. And such an attitude of “rightness” without a willingness to consider any other model of thought leads to a particularly insidious human trait : “righteousness”.

And so the difference between those who defends ideas versus those who defend ideologies is that the former are sure of the rightness of their idea whereas the latter are convinced of the rightness of their REALITY. And when you believe yourself to be on the “right side” you have no choice but to be righteous.

Alan Watts was famous for pointing this out in his talks. We don’t need saving from “evil men”, he said, but rather from the “do-gooders” who believe they know what is good and right for everyone.

In fact, it is no coincidence that the greatest tyrants in the world have always seen themselves as liberators. As bringers of goodness, justice, peace and freedom. It is the same sentiment that has led the United States into every war it has had no business being in. It is what led the Catholic Church to declare non-believers as heretics. It is what leads Islamic fundamentalist clerics to issue fatwas on any who dare criticize sharia law. None of these are driven by a desire to do evil. They are convinced that they stand on the side of good and right and must protect the world and others from falling into chaos and depravity.

The same phenomenon is highly evident in the political chasm in the west. Ideology has gripped both the left and the right and the proponents on both sides are absolutely convinced of the rightness of, NOT their ideas, but their realities. And so the MAGA sycophants and the sycophants of the liberal left have much in common. They are locked in a historic struggle to see whose righteousness will prevail.

Very few nowadays are even willing to question the fundamental assumptions upon which our progressive societies were based.

The American constitution which states that “All men are created equal and endowed by their creator with unalienable rights…”. Is this not an ideology inherited from Christian thought? What creator? Who endows? We live in a time when we have learned to be highly critical of religion and yet are unable to detect how it has already contaminated our social institutions with its assumptions on reality.

Are all men equal? Are men and women equal? Are all races equal? Here the answer is not the point, but is there a willingness within us to revisit some of these assumptions and decide: are these “realities” or only models of reality?

One can say, for instance, well we’ve tried and tested various models of society: we’ve had monarchy where one family is superior to the rest, we’ve had imperialism where one nation is superior to the rest, we’ve had facism where one race is superior to the rest and through this all society has been mostly patriarchal and so one sex has always been seen as superior to the other. So, we’ve tried various permutations and combinations of treating humans as “unequal” and they haven’t worked out so well in the long term.

But then we tried this democratic system of equal rights and this capitalistic system of equal opportunity and it has seemed by far the most robust model we’ve developed so far.

This is a sound defence of an idea. A model of society that is standing up to the “stress testing” that natural social evolution is providing it.

It still says absolutely nothing about what reality IS. Just because equality “works” doesn’t mean we ARE equal. It doesn’t mean we are unequal either. Equal and unequal are just two different ways we can build this thing. One structure is more sound than the other.

And so as a result of subscribing to this model of reality, one might then say that equal opportunities for men and women, for ethnic majority and minorities so on and so forth is the best path forward for us as a society. It’s like your doctor telling you that your best strategy is to quit smoking, eat less carbs and exercise more. However, you could still decide that, “hey, I might live longer that way but it sounds like no fun. I’d rather party it up and make an early exit.” That is an equally valid choice albeit a less optimal one.

Similarly, the doctor may prescribe that society would fare better in the long run if it adopted a model of diversity and inclusion, open borders and open minds. However, there may be those who feel, “well that sounds like no fun and waaaay too much work to wrap my head around. I’d rather stick with the kind of lifestyle and people I’m comfortable with.” And that is an equally valid choice albeit a less optimal one as well.

Yet, when both choices are seen as valid choices, some better than others but neither of them absolutely right or wrong, then ideas are all they remain. Maybe through some miracle and good genes the guy smoking and eating a quarter pounder a day outlives the guy who works out and watches his calories. It doesn’t really matter.

However, when they are no longer seen as choices but rather as imperatives. Not “you can do” but “you have to”. That’s when shit starts going haywire.

Ask a Trump sycophant if their worldview is simply “one model of reality” through which the matter can be considered and they’ll call you insane. Ask a liberal sycophant if their worldview is simply “one model of reality” and they’ll call you a fool.

The reason the political divide is an uncrossable chasm is because both parties are standing on the “right side” of it. Who in their right mind would ever feel motivated to attempting to reach what they believe is the “wrong side”? Each is simply waiting for the other to come around.

If not in time, then by coercion.

Righteousness leaves us no choice but to resort to coercion when no other options seem available to us. And the coercion is already happening in the form of the president’s policies on the right and in the form of the identity politics on the left. Those in the middle are left with no choice but to witness and silently comply for fear of being forcibly silenced.

I banned only the third ever person I’ve ever banned on this page, yesterday. It began with a subtle accusation of sexism, masked as an academic “pointing out”, of something I wrote in the “TAO OF ME” article.

In it I mentioned a list of writers, composers and spiritual teachers in my life who influenced me in my youth. This commentor, whom I’ve never seen before, pointed out that my list contained only the names of men. So, therefore I must be subliminally implying that women are not influential.

At first, I revisited my list and thought,” isn’t that interesting?” And I decided to do a critical examination of why this list contained only men’s names. After all, in my personal life which has been dominated mostly by women, women far more than men have influenced me. And yet, in my reading material this didn’t seem to be the case. Why was that?

And I found that most of my influences came from the classical era, a time when women had virtually no representation in the arts. For example, I was influenced by classical German and Russian works of literature, but I can think of no famous women German or Russian authors from that era. Similarly, not many female classical composers from the Baroque or Romantic era come to mind. Same goes for Japanese Zen poets. And the same is true of the transcendentalists (Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau et al). And finally, even among the spiritual teachers of the Krishnamurti heyday, not a single woman’s name comes to mind.

So, I explained this all very clearly to the commentor. And I drew a parallel by asking the question, “who is your favourite Renaissance era painter?” Virtually anyone would be hard pressed to come up with names other than Michaelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci and so on. Does this mean they are being sexist? And if they were to somehow name one of a handful of relatively obscure female artists of the age, I could then spin around and say, “but I see no people of color in your list.” So, are you being pathologically racist?

Ideology seeks not to understand “what is” but to dictate “what is what”. To the commentor, none of my explanations were of any use whatsoever. She saw a “list of men” and therefore she saw sexism. Plain and simple.

If it’s red and round and can be eaten it’s an apple. But could it be a tomato? No. No. It’s an apple.

If you go searching for a problem you are bound to find it.

It takes very little intelligence to believe something. Virtually anyone can be made to do it. I watched a viral video the other day of a chimpanzee using Instagram on a smartphone and it was kind of revelatory of how few degrees of separation actually exist between us and our primate cousins. If a chimp could develop its vocal chords it could be taught to similarly spout the teachings of the bible, or pretty much any ideology out there, quite convincingly. But that doesn’t mean it has learned to THINK. All it means is that it has perfected the art of “monkey see monkey do”.

Intelligence requires the ability to discern between an apple and a tomato even if they look identical from a distance. It requires the ability to take an idea and hold it as just that without needing it to become anything more than that. It understands that while it can choose to interpret reality in any number of ways, it is limited in its ability to actually grasp that reality and say anything truly meaningful about. At best it can say, I do not know.

This sort of intelligence is woefully lacking in society. It is woefully lacking in politics. It is woefully lacking in the interest groups pushing forward their viewpoints on how society should move forward from both the left and the right side of the spectrum. It is woefully lacking in social media as well as the mainstream media and journalism as a whole. It is lacking in the universities, the bedrock of rational and progressive thought. It is lacking among the educators teaching young inquisitive minds about the nature of the world they inhabit. It is even, and especially, lacking in contemporary spiritual teaching and writing.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Righteousness and not “evil” has been at the root of almost every upheaval, turmoil, coup and genocide that has befallen society. And it will continue to on an endless cycle of wash, rinse and repeat.

Until the moment we finally wake up and acknowledge that it might just be possible that we don’t really know what the fuck we are talking about.

The Tao Of Me

It was a surreal time in my life.

All the anchors I’d once believed as reliable were being uprooted one by one. My grandfather’s sudden death was followed by my parents’ messy separation. This was a time of great upheaval and turmoil for all involved. I found myself leaving a place I’d learned to call home, leaving friends whom I would never meet again without even a goodbye. I watched my family fall apart. From an eleven year old boy, I turned into an eleven year old man overnight.

In a new city and school things went south quickly. I went from being a grade-A student to an academic delinquent. I got in with the wrong crowd and joined a gang. Other angry and confused souls like me who believed righteous aggression was the path of salvation. We picked fights with other gangs. We armed ourselves with anything we could find: bats, bicycle chains, metal rods, field hockey sticks or just our plain fists. There was so much rage within us, we needed an outlet for it. And the moment right before a gang war, or the moment right after, were the ones we lived for. Most of us weren’t even teenagers yet.

Father Joe Fernandez, the principal of the school, was the only thing keeping me from getting expelled. He had had a rough childhood as well. And he saw something of himself in me.

One afternoon, I was hauled into the principal’s office for breaking a kid’s nose. This boy, a few years senior, and his buddies had thought I’d make an easy target. They’d cornered me and taunted me. When I’d remarked that they were cowards because they outnumbered me, one of them had stepped right up to my face and told me to give it my best shot. So, I head-butted him.

When I walked into Father Joe’s office, I was sullen and stared at the ground, my hands thrust defiantly in my pockets. A table fan whirred in the corner only slightly cooling the room. Summers in Bombay were brutally humid. Father Joe was fiddling with his stereo. He picked a tape and began playing it.

“And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain…” a smooth vocal crooned in the background. Father Joe motioned to me to have a seat.

“Know who this is, son?” he asked leaning over.

I shook my head.

“Only one of the greatest singers of all time. Ever heard of the name Frank Sinatra?”

“No,” I replied flatly.

“He was a lot like you. Bright and angry all at the same time…”

“Oh yeah?”

One half of my brain was listening to him yet the other half seemed strangely curious about what the singer was singing about. The chorus in particular caught my attention. What was that? “My way”?

Father Joe noticed my interest and he turned off the stereo, took the cassette out and handed it to me.

“Give it a listen. And if you like, you can make a copy and bring this back to me next week.”

The first time I played the tape that evening, I listened to the lyrics intently. Then I played the song again. Then again. And again. Over and over all through the night. Never had a song spoken to me in such a manner. It was a song that was written for me and by me. It described my deepest yearning. A kindred soul, at the end of his journey standing testament to a life lived on his own terms, reaching out to me across space and time and validating my deepest desire with the words:

“I did it my way”.

I had watched the world that others built around me, to support me, collapse. And I knew then that nothing and no one was ever going to be reliable enough to create my reality for me. I wanted to live life on my own terms, to see myself and reality through my own eyes. I wanted to stand on my own feet. But I was afraid. And my rage was a mask for that terrible hopelessness and trembling I felt inside. Under the hardened exterior, I was still a child whose world was crumbling around him.

I was afraid of what being alone meant. Afraid of what would befall me if I took hold of the reins of my own life. Yet, here was this voice – soulful, smooth, honest speaking of a life lived doing exactly that. A life that was far from perfect, yet was priceless just the same. A lifetime in which both the joys and the suffering were equally converted into a wholly positive sense of gratitude and a feeling of self-assurance that the choice to obey one’s own soul never fails.

I had never really allowed myself to cry when the chaos had struck our family. But that night I cried through the whole night as I listened to Ol’ Blue Eyes sing “My Way” to me on repeat.

After that, I stopped fighting at school. I became more approachable, my grades went up. I bought Father Joe a brand new copy of the tape since I had frayed his own by playing it so many times. While the rebelliousness in me never subsided, the rage did. Defiance, which was my natural stance, shifted from an outward show to an inner curiosity and desire to question every single assumption I had ever held about self, society and reality.

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Within each and every human being there exists a homing device. It is a sixth sense designed to guide one forward. Even to call it a “sixth sense” is a misnomer. It is far more fundamental than that. It is our “first sense”, the primary sense by which we orient ourselves in the world. The other senses: of sight, hearing, sensation, taste and smell are more like auxiliary senses that one can still learn to function without if one of them were to fail. But, when the primary sense is dormant or dead, then one is sleepwalking through the world. Being led this way and that by powers and influences they can neither see nor understand.

Recent research suggests that birds can actually “see” the lines of the Earth’s magnetic field, not with their physical eyes but with a particular sense that allows them to orient themselves very precisely. This explains why they can migrate over entire continents and arrive for a meal at the very same patch of field that they return to every year. This sounds fascinating to us because our own directional faculties seem woefully inferior in comparison. But this isn’t entirely true.

While we may lack the ability to perceive magnetic fields our powers of intuition are far more capable than we think.

The Polynesian wayfinders, who navigated thousands of miles of the Pacific well before any navigational instruments had been invented, are a testament to that fact. Relying purely on their observations of the stars, the movement of ocean currents and wave patterns, the air and sea interference patterns caused by islands and atolls, the flight of birds, the winds and the weather, they were able to pinpoint tiny islands in the vast and empty ocean: literally the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack.

Today, we have no need for such wayfinding techniques because we have the technology to achieve the desired result. But what about navigating the uncharted waters of our own minds: our unconscious motivations, our subconscious desires, our shadow identities, our existential thirst?

When it comes to understanding the human soul, we live in primitive times. And like the ancients, we have only crude and unreliable maps drawn by others: patchy, discontinuous and often misleading. They may work as reference material, but they are useless in guiding us forward.

There is a reason every truly influential person in the world: whether in politics, spirituality, business, social service, science or art has had a pioneering mindset. They have always stood in stark contrast with the cultural mores and ideologies of the time. They have defied every expectation society holds of how a human being should think, feel and act. Because, one can only be an agent of transformation when one has become familiar with the process of transformation in one’s own life.

Embracing the unknown and becoming familiar with uncertainty are necessary ingredients of transformation. Change can never happen within the boundaries of the known. Within the known all one can hope to do is maintain the status quo. Change only happens when we reach beyond our comfort zones into uncharted waters and set sail to see what we may encounter. Will there be deadly storms ahead that will submerge our flimsy canoes? Will we drift for weeks and run out of water to drink? Will we be consumed by some terrible aquatic monster? Or will we discover some new haven previously unknown?

These may have been the kinds of questions the wayfinders of Polynesia pondered upon as they looked out into the blue beyond. What compelled them to leave the safety of firm land, the comfort of their families, their children, their communities? What inspires a man or a woman to leave behind every shred of what is familiar and dear to them and set out into vast emptiness that could consume them at a moment’s notice?

It is a calling.

One doesn’t “choose” to do something so irrational. One is pulled towards it.

There is a drive so powerful that it can override every survival instinct and rational thought process that screams to maintain the status quo: “STAY IN THE COMFORT ZONE! The comfort zone is safe!” That is the same pull the migrating crane feels from the Earth’s magnetic field that causes it to leave its familiar home.

There is within this reality an unseen field of intelligence according to which each of us have the capacity to orient ourselves, if only that capacity is not dormant. And the draw of that force is undeniable. It supersedes our own individual wants, drives, proclivities and survival concerns. When one is “plugged in”, all of those become secondary.

Then the dictates of others, the cultural mores, the rules of engagement, the moral codes, the direction of authority figures, the laws of man sound like nothing more than background static. When one feels the “hum of life” every cell reverberates in resonance like a tuning fork. What we call the intellect, that faculty of rational thought, becomes a subservient player. It is relegated to a tactical position, with only logistical matters to concern itself over. All matters of existential significance are freed from its jurisdiction.

Frank Sinatra, Hermann Hesse, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoevsky, J.Krishnamurti, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Albert Camus, Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, Rudyard Kipling, Matsuo Basho, Alfred Tennyson, Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau were some wayfinders who inspired me to calibrate my own inner compass. Not a perfect soul among them. Each limited in their own way. Yet, the pull to ceaselessly explore and chart the open seas of their own existence remained relentless.

Today, if I could speak to my childhood self, who stands at that cusp, with fear and trembling masked as rage, I would reassure him that I did, in fact, do it my way. And it all works out. Not perfectly. But perfectly for me. Every detour, every dead end, every triumph and every loss that occurs is all part of “the way”.

The tao of me.

I would gently whisper into his ear and embolden him. I would hold him by the shoulders and stand him up firm on his own legs. I would place my hand on his chest and draw his heart boldly into the unknown. I would urge him on forwards every time he stumbled, hesitated or turned around to glance at the dry land of safety that he left behind…

Perhaps, that is what has already happened.

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***
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My Way (by Frank Sinatra)

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
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Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
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Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all, and I stood tall
And did it my way
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I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me
I did it my way
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For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
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Yes, it was my way

Faces Of Truth

Are you a Bhakti? Are you a Jnani? Is Karma yoga your preferred path or is it Raja yoga?

These are the kinds of questions many seekers are pondering as they try and get a handle on who they are and what their brand of seeking requires. To me, it’s no different than a high school freshman wondering if they should hang out with the jocks, the nerds, the stoners or the goths.

Bhakti yoga – the path of realization through devotion to the Divine
Jnana yoga – the path of realization through philosophical introspection
Karma yoga – the path of realization through the fruits of ones labor
Raja yoga – the path of realization through mystical experiences

So what’s it going to be? Have to pick your path if you’re going to be serious about the self-realization business! Waffling simply won’t do…

Growing up in India as a high school student I often heard a similar refrain. What line of study do you want to pick? Is it going to be engineering? Medicine? Law? Business? No, don’t say literature! For the love of god, pick something you can make a living from! You don’t know? You want to figure it out as you go along?! Why don’t you just put in for welfare already?

In hindsight, of course, that sort of thinking is terribly myopic. Still, when the whole culture operates that way, there is a tremendous pressure one feels to pigeonhole oneself for fear of what may happen if things are left open ended.

Similarly, in spiritual culture it is common for people to use these labels and descriptors when they attempt to describe the “kind of seeker” they are. They believe that the journey to realization begins by picking a path, sticking to it and then further specializing within it just as one would a career.

But what are these four yogic paths in reality? When you filter away all the mystique, the religiosity, the centuries of revision and interpretation and the fact that any text written thousands of years ago exists in a cultural context radically different from our own and therefore must only be taken metaphorically: when you filter away all that, you are left with some rather ordinary truths.

The fact is that almost every human is already a jnani, a bhakti, a karma yogi and a mystic to some extent or another. We have no choice but to be. Those are simply the dimensions in which awareness exists. Those are the forms in which the human experience of life exists.

When I am immersed in thought or reflection of any kind – whether that be a mundane thought or a philosophical one, in that moment I am engaged in Jnana yoga – which is simply the movement of awareness to “know”. And all forms of thinking are essentially attempts at grasping something intellectually no matter how successful or misguided those attempts may be.

When I am at home with my family, whether hanging out with my kids or cooking with my wife, I am engaged in Bhakti yoga. This is a devotional act I am engaged in with my family. All my actions are designed with the purpose of serving the ones I love.

When I am at work or writing or doing housework or mending something, I am a karma yogi. In that moment, my entire universe is defined by my physical efforts and the fruits of their outcomes.

When I am sitting in silence watching the clouds pass or listening to the crow alert it’s friends of a potential meal, I am a raja yogi. I am immersed in silently witnessing the greater mystery of what is around me.

All of this sounds very ordinary and humdrum. I can hear advocates of Bhakti yoga objecting and claiming that a normal day with the family looks nothing like losing oneself in devotional hymns to the “beloved”.

But your devotional hymns are no different than my antics at home. Your “beloved” is no different than my beloveds.

We want to romanticize reality and make it something holy and unattainable and then we devise these extraordinary techniques of getting there. Singing songs all day to some imaginary entity, in my mind, is nothing more special than helping your child with their homework. In fact the latter, being far more grounded in reality, is likely a more direct path.

As a human being there are certain basic fundamental experiences we are all engaged in:

Thought, relationship, work and witnessing.

And each of these experiences acts as one leg on the chair upon which our reality sits. So, when the Hindu texts talk about the four basic forms of yoga, this is essentially what they are alluding to. Yoga is not a “choice” one has to make or a path one has to take. It is what is already happening. Whether one knows it or not one is engaged in jnana (knowledge), bhakti (relationship), karma (work) and raja (witnessing) all one’s waking hours.

Now, one could try and make a specialization out of one of these activities in an effort to further hone them. That’s like a person taking up running as a sport. Running is a basic function every human being is not only capable of but is already doing in some form or another in their everyday lives. Making it a sport doesn’t mean you have invented the action. Nor is it the only way to stay fit and active.

The ultimate goal of yoga is “union”. Now, with this word union again, many seekers take this as some mystical occurrence. Some glorious merging into the “divine”, whatever that means.

Yet, union is also an ordinary occurrence that is happening several times a day in your life. Any moment in which you become fully absorbed and forget yourself is a moment of such “union”.

Union is just the collapse of subject and object, and the sole experience of “what is happening” in the moment. That is essentially what the experience of FLOW is.

And flow can be experienced in any of the four aspects of experience.

When I’m immersed in washing the dishes, there is no experience of “me being there”. My attention is completely absorbed by the warm water, the clatter of the dishes and the soapy suds. This is the union of the karma yogi.

When I’m hanging out with the girls I’m completely absorbed in their little make believe games. This is the union of the Bhakti yogi.

When I’m lost in reflecting on some of the ideas that make their way to this page, that is the union of the Jnana Yogi.

When I’m just chilling with my cat and watching the trees sway in the breeze, that is the union of the Raja Yogi.

In fact, this “union” is nothing more than the experience of being fully present in one’s reality. And the experience that generates is one of effortless flow. That is ALL yoga is ever pointing to. One can only “know” reality if one is connected to it from one moment to the next.

So, it is counter intuitive to me to even desire to restrict one’s experience of reality to an narrowband of experience: such as ONLY Bhakti or ONLY karma. Because that’s not how life works. Life is the whole of it. And focusing on a singular aspect leads to an imbalance in a human being.

I could be extremely devoted to my career and love my job. Working hours in the office could be the greatest experience of flow. Yet, if that causes me to neglect my wife and my kids that is a lop-sided way of developing. And that imbalance is bound to generate suffering.

Or I could love writing my philosophical musings out on this page, but if that means the dishes continue remaining piled up in the sink, that’s a whole different kind of suffering that awaits me.

Flow is the experience of union with life AS IT HAPPENS not as we “want it to happen”. And if I can only feel flow in certain aspects of my life and not others then I am still out of sync with reality.

Union (flow) being the point of yoga, it makes no sense to limit how one is going to experience that flow. Life doesn’t limit itself. It blooms like a flower with each petal unfolding simultaneously from one moment to the next.

How to strike the right balance is really the whole art of it.

I can sense it viscerally when I’ve spent too much time with family and not enough silent time just witnessing. It feels like frustration.

I can feel it viscerally when I’ve spent too much time just sitting and not enough time attending to errands. It feels like lethargy.

I can feel it viscerally when I’ve spent too much time working but not enough time with wife just shooting the shit or watching our favourite sitcoms. It feels like depression.

Every imbalance manifests itself as a form of inner resistance. And so flow not only requires the capacity to become completely absorbed but also the capacity to shift gears out of that absorption into different dimensions of daily experience. In my life, absorption has never been my challenge. It’s the switching gears that has always been difficult for me.

And yet, this flexibility is a prerequisite if we are going to be able to adapt with the moment as it transforms from one frame of reference to another. Flow as dad, flow as philosopher, flow as employee, flow as witness. Back and forth, switch, switch.

That sort of adaptability only results when one’s identity is not glued to any one form of experience. When one isn’t “seeking oneself” in the activity. When I am not addicted to my image as a dad, or a writer, or a worker or a mystic. When I am free of my “attachments” to these identities then I am free to become absorbed and to re-emerge from those experiences as the moment requires.

To fixate upon ONE branch of life experience and say “I am a Jnana Yogi” is to deny that very flexibility. In pigeonholing oneself, one is reaffirming the very attachment yoga seeks to release.

In the end it’s really quite ordinary.

I think, I act, I love and I witness. Jnana, Karma, Bhakti, Raja.

And on that note, I must bring this piece to an abrupt end. Because I’ve over indulged myself…

…and the dishes, they are a-callin’…

Blank Canvas

“This seems to be a challenging post for many of us, Shiv. It puts me (and I’m guessing I’m not alone in this) in touch with my desperate need to feel safe in this unfathomable mystery of existence I find myself in, and how I attempt to do that by describing whatever this is as somehow fundamentally loving, caring and benign. Of course I really do know that no descriptions of mine could possibly say anything truly meaningful about what life actually is, and when I let go of them and simply feel into the desperation behind them I rediscover, as Alan Watts said, that the need for security and the feeling of insecurity are one and the same thing. And paradoxically, though it may not feel “safe” in the traditional sense, there’s a sense of lightness and expansiveness in not knowing and having nothing to defend that seems to leave me feeling more present and sensitive to myself and my surroundings – a feeling for which I could imagine using the words loving or kind or benign.”

(This was a poignant comment I wanted to share with you made by Russel on my previous post : “WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?”)


A: Russell, yes, we project onto the world what we fail to fully embody within ourselves. Everyone does it to a certain extent. Children especially do it. But reality is a blank canvas on which we spill our art. It allows for every kind of colour, shape and form to be painted upon it yet it fundamentally has no color, shape or form.

Think about it, if the canvas was red you’d never know what the colour red was. You’d never be able to express the colour red in your painting. If life was love, you’d never be able to know what love is. You’d never be able to express it.

Love, hate, joy, fear, freedom and suffering – all of these can exist, can be experienced and be expressed precisely because they happen against the backdrop of a blank canvas.

Ask an artist what kind of canvas she would like to paint on and she would choose a blank one. Our human brains have yet to catch up to the fact that what our hearts really crave is for the world to be empty of form yet infinite in potential. Only blankness can provide that.

Love is what hearts do. Life’s fundamental structure is to provide the space in which that can happen…

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

I don’t love you.

Don’t take this personally. I’ve got nothing against you. It’s just that I barely know you. As you are reading this it’s quite possible that I don’t even know you exist.

Love, to me, is not some abstract concept. Nor is it something I conflate with “life”, “the universe” or “god” (god forbid). It is a very real emotion I feel for only a select few. Those I have come to know and deeply appreciate over the course of a lifetime: my children, my wife, my parents and a handful of friends. For me to say I love you would be to equate you with them.

But there is no comparison. If I had to choose one of their lives over yours I would choose theirs every time. Like I said, it’s nothing personal. You would do the same. I barely know you. This is purely a selfish choice.

There is another kind of love I feel: the love of nature and its manifestations. But here also there is a hierarchy. For instance, I love flowers more than I do weeds. I love animals more than I do insects. I love forests and mountains more than I do swamps. Humans rate high on that index but are nowhere near the top. I’d much rather spend an afternoon listening to a mountain stream than to someone spouting their political viewpoint.

So, I do love the humanity in you but please don’t conflate that humanity with your identity. Like I said, I don’t know who you are. My love for you is not for you, it is for the human aspect of you.

And finally, there is still another kind of love that I feel: the love of existence itself. I love life and the absurdity of its presence in its myriad forms. Here there is no hierarchy. There is no object to my love. I love – Period. And anything that falls into that bucket of “what exists now” is automatically included. And if you happen to be part of “what exists now” then I love you by default. But again, this you isn’t “you” as your identity or even your humanity. It is the essence that you share with everything else that exists.

When I use the words, “I LOVE YOU” they hold a very specific meaning for me. I’m not talking about the humanity in someone, nor the essence of their existence, I’m talking about their identity. Because identity is what is truly unique.

It’s like someone who loves food. No matter how much they love food there are going to be certain kinds of food they like and certain kinds of food they don’t. If that person were to look at a buffet and make a statement “I love each and every one of these dishes because I love food” they are most likely being dishonest. No matter how much they love food in general there are always going to be specific foods they don’t love. And if they’ve never tried a dish to simply state, “I love this food” is nonsense.

Similarly, if we barely know each other for you to tell me you love me just because I’m “human” is nonsense. You’ve never “tasted” this dish! Come hang around with me and you’ll change your mind before you know it!

Conflating the general with the specific, confusing essence with identity is the oldest game in the spiritual book. Everyone you meet in spiritual circles is doing it. People professing their love for one another deeply, gazing into each other’s bliss filled eyes and saying how much they love each other. It’s all nonsense. I don’t deny they may have deep emotions of affection for humanity. They may have a natural sense of compassion for others. But when you say “I love you” there is a clear subject and object differentiation. The “I” and the “You” are references to the unique identities rather than the shared humanity.

Which is why it is highly amusing to see the same people who confessed their love for one another just a moment ago, bickering like chickens the moment there is a disagreement. You see this happening over and over again in spiritual forums where all-loving people are forced to resort to passive aggressive backhanded put downs in order to maintain the moral high ground. It’s juvenile behaviour.

Love is one of the drugs that the advaitaholic must learn to wean off of. Bliss, idealism, beliefs, transcendence are some others. So, if you come peddling your drugs in a place of recovery you’ll have to pardon me if I tell you to go sell your crap elsewhere.

Finally, what is this love anyways? To me it’s a certain way I feel. Outside of that subjective experience, the word has no meaning to me. So to make blanket statements like “life is love” or the “universe is love” is just some arbitrary shit you are making up as far as I’m concerned. That you feel love for a lot of things says nothing about what those things are. Asserting your subjective viewpoint as the fundamental nature of the universe is a delusional kind of thinking. Again, on this page we are attempting to “wean off” that sort of thinking. But if that’s not your cup of tea then maybe rehab isn’t for you.

Love is the fundamental projection of those who desire a romantic view of life. And there is nothing wrong with this. I’ve held plenty of romantic views in my own life. But, there comes a point when the desire for “what is” begins to supersede the desire for “what I want it to be”. And when a human being reaches that point all romantic viewpoints begin to appear hollow and lacking in substance.

It is a terrible grief to let go of all that one once projected that is beautiful, loving and noble about the world “that could be” in favour of the stark, paradoxical and at times dark truth of what the world is. And it is for those people who are at that cusp of letting go of their rose-tinted glasses and are getting accustomed to the “shades of grey” reality of the world that this page exists.

Here love is the least of our concerns.

Clarity, honesty, courage. That’s the stuff we deal in.

Individuus

“In your last article “Demon of Doubt”, which I enjoyed reading immensely btw, you wrote towards the end: “And the locus of the self shifts from the ideological constructs of individualism to the true experience of what it means to be individual…” This sentence intrigued me greatly. Could you expand upon this in a future article if you feel so inspired?”
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Having lived in Japan for the better part of a decade now, the contrasts between society here and that of North America are quite clear. Whether in the schools, the workplace or just society in general the hierarchy is evident – the individual’s needs are always secondary to that of the group. One of the positive outcomes of this is a level of social cohesion that is almost unparalleled by any other country I’ve visited. Violent crime rates are some of the lowest in the world.

There is a degree of civic pride and public trust among its citizens (not towards the government however) to the extent that it isn’t uncommon for mothers to leave their sleeping babies in air conditioned cars still running in the parking lot while they pop into the grocery store. Starting elementary school, children are required to walk or commute to school without parental assistance.

In an urban jungle like Tokyo, it’s incredible to see kids as young as six and seven navigating the complex subway routes in order to get to school. Yet, there is this unwritten rule that responsible citizens have a duty to watch over minors and make sure that they have the assistance they need if they need it. Here, far from being wary of strangers, there is a sense that strangers also can be relied upon to come to your aid.

The flip side of this social cohesion, however, is a sense of alienation people experience in their individual lives. Bonds between people even within families are mostly superficial, driven more by a sense of duty than any real depth of understanding. In fact, speaking about one’s own troubles and emotional challenges is something largely frowned upon here. It is seen as an imposition on another’s harmony. As a result, social harmony is arrived at more as a matter of widespread emotional repression rather than from having resolved emotional turmoil.

I have, in my years living here, had random strangers confess their deepest secrets and frustrations to me simply because they see me as an “outsider” and thus not limited by the rules of engagement that other Japanese are bound to. Some of these are people in their seventies and eighties who have never spoken a word of any of these matters to another soul: not even their own spouses, parents or children.

“Uniformity” and “harmony” are seen as somewhat synonymous here. And this sentiment is evident in the wide variety of uniforms that people wear from all walks of life. Every job you can think of comes with a specific uniform that anyone employed in that profession is required to wear. And further, every company has its own colors and emblem that they use to customize that uniform. Walk into any place of business and you will see every member of the staff turned out in impeccable and similar fashion. This regimentation of people that we, in the west, are only accustomed to seeing in the military is a common feature of civilian life.

Contrast this with our societies of the west where the hierarchy is a little different. Here the freedom and expression of the individual is upheld as the pinnacle of social progress. As a result, we are encouraged to express ourselves – emotionally, intellectually and spiritually however we may see fit as long as that expression doesn’t cause active harm. We abhor uniformity and seek to stand out from the crowd by some means or the other. We are taught that uniqueness rather than uniformity is the true expression of freedom. Thus, “harmony” and “freedom” are seen as being synonymous.

Yet, our myriad avenues of individual expression mean that society is less predictable. Social cohesion is tentative and is shaken often by the demands and interests of individuals and groups who don’t feel like they have been adequately represented within the social milieu. Conflicts and standoffs are inevitable and this form of social setup, unlike that of Japan’s, requires a constant dialogue and renegotiation as to what our terms of engagement must be.
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SCRAPBOOK IDENTITY

I’ve drawn the contrast above not only to show what the cultural and philosophical differences between the east and the west are but to point to something deeper. And it’s something that I’ve come to realize after having lived in not only Japan and North America but also having grown up in India and the Middle East as well.

No matter what brand of “individualism” a society may uphold as the golden standard, no matter where on the hierarchy of social priorities that individualism falls, none of that has anything to do with what it really means to be an individual.

And so in that sense, I see no more individuals in North America than I see in Japan or in India or the Middle East for that matter. Because being an individual has nothing to do with the ideas you hold about yourself.

To illustrate this point, try and imagine every human being has a scrap book.

And at first this scrapbook is blank. Through a lifetime, each individual will have various experiences and each of these events will feature as a scrap that is pasted into their scrap book. Some of these experiences will be repetitive and will occupy larger portions of the scrap book, while others will be relatively rare and will feature only infrequently.

This scrapbook is your identity. And in the beginning it is fairly fluid as scraps of experience of all kinds begin to be inserted into it. Yet, over time as your focus begins to narrow and you begin to specialize yourself into certain roles: in your career, in your family, in society those scraps of experience start becoming repetitive and similar and the overall identity begins to crystallize as a certain type.

The difference between the identities of someone growing up in the western world versus someone growing up in a place like Japan lies in the variety of scraps available to the person to experience and how those scraps will be organized.

So, an American, say, driven by the doctrine of individualism and a desire to be seen as unique will attempt to order their scrapbook in a manner that appears to set them apart when compared to the scrapbooks of others. They will choose to insert certain scraps that stand out, they will try to organize it in an original manner, they will attempt to highlight those pages of their scrapbooks that they feel are truly worth showcasing.

A Japanese person, on the other hand, driven by the doctrine of harmony by conformity and a desire to be seen as a team player will order their scrap book in a manner that features small flashes of individuality but never at the cost of setting themselves apart. They will particularly highlight those scraps that stand in common with the experiences of others and they will organize it in a hierarchical socially sanctioned manner.

And so if one were to look at a pile of American scrap books it would look like a mish mash of attempts to gain the observer’s attention whereas a pile of Japanese scrap books would look like similar copies of the same kind of book that only reveal their unique aspects once you delve deeper into them.

Still, whether you are picking from the pile of “individualism” or the pile of “uniformity” one thing remains evident. While the outward presentation, the organization and the choice of scraps that have been inserted may be unique – what isn’t unique is the scraps themselves.

Those scraps are essentially the building blocks of the scrap book. And the building blocks being used are of a wholly standard variety. Like a set of lego pieces. Whether you follow the instruction manual and assemble something predetermined or use your own creativity and assemble something from your own imagination, what remains unavoidable is that yours is a lego structure. And it is limited by the very shape, dimensions and limited fitting options of the basic pieces themselves. No matter what you create, no matter how intricate, it will always be something purely artificial.

Thus the identity is an artificial construct regardless of how it has been constructed. Whether constructed in a step by step prescribed manner to represent uniformity with other identities or constructed in a creative manner in order to stand out, when seeing beyond the outward form to the fundamental basis of its structure, all identities are essentially identical.

Thus the form of individuality that “individualism” puts forth is nothing more than a surface phenomenon. It has to do with form rather than essence, it has to do with the artificial construct of the identity and so is only an artificial individuality. Putting pearls on a pig doesn’t make it any less of a pig.

There is another aspect of the identity that is universal. And that is the fact that it is incomplete.

No matter whether you are looking at a western scrapbook or an eastern scrapbook one thing is certain, there are still many blank spaces left to fill. And as those pages get filled the identity continues to evolve.

So, it bears to reason that “incompleteness” is a necessary feature of what it means to have an identity. And those who find their sense of self IN that identity also find that incompleteness is a glaring aspect of “who they are”.

This existential void and feeling of something missing, of incompleteness, of unworthiness, is not a culture specific phenomenon. It is a universal one. Regardless of whether a society promotes individualism or demotes it, the very act of seeking one’s self in the scraps of identity is to be acutely aware that something is missing.
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INDIVIDUATION VS. INDIVIDUALISM

In the model of the individual that individualism puts forth, a person is something one gradually “becomes”. The value of a child lies in the potential they represent TO become something in the future. And the value of an adult lies in what they HAVE become. In other words, value is something that one accumulates over a lifetime rather than something one is seen as inherently possessing. Everyone starts out with a certain amount of value tokens because of that future potential they represent. However, whether they accumulate more tokens or squander what they have is something that depends on how they choose to build their own identities and the life choices they make.

Thus a criminal, a hooker, a homeless man or a drug addict is perceived as being of lower value than say a politician, a captain of industry, an athlete or an entertainer. Starting from a basic assumption of incompleteness we have no choice but to value those who can contribute to our efforts to complete ourselves rather than those who threaten to deplete us of our tokens.

We value those with wealth, power, knowledge, fame, popularity, spiritual accomplishment and so on precisely because we hold the unconscious belief that they have something to offer us that we desperately need. That these people can complete us in some way that we are unable to (or at least provide a technique of how). The poor, the needy, the morally depraved, the criminal types, the damaged and broken, the ill and aging on the other hand represent very little in terms of helping us along towards that goal. If anything they act as a stark reminder of what could happen if we took our eyes off the ball for even a moment.

The model of the individual that individualism puts forth is a fear-based one designed to perpetuate existential anxiety. In confusing the artificial construct of identity with essence, it robs one of the very marrow of existence.

But what does it really mean to be “unique”? The word has come to embody a sense of standing apart separated from the rest. Yet, the word derives from the Latin “Unicus” or “Unus” meaning ONE.

What does it mean to be an “individual”? Individualism would have us believe it has something to do with our freedoms to act and express as we feel fit. But the word individual derives from the Latin “individuus” meaning INDIVISIBLE.

In other words, to be a unique individual has nearly nothing to do with the outward representation of one’s personality, form, fashion or political opinions. It has to do first and foremost with the experience of being WHOLE.

This is the viewpoint of the individual from the perspective of “Individuation”. It sees the individual as being a fundamentally whole and complete entity from the get go. Yet, through the process of living the events of one’s life, experiencing oneself as whole becomes increasingly more challenging because all those experiences have yet to become fully absorbed and integrated into one’s sense of self. They stand out like jagged edges waiting to be rounded off and until they are they distract our attention away from that holistic experience of being that is fundamental.

Individuation, as opposed to individualism, finds the self not in the scraps of identity that are added to the book through the process of a lifetime but in the book itself. And the book remains the same book no matter what has been added or subtracted from it. Its form, its function never changes.

When the sense of self is centered in the constancy of the book rather than the flux of its scraps, then wholeness and oneness are the obvious features of it. The book is always whole no matter what experiences it acquires and it is always the same book no matter how many or how few experiences are crammed into its pages.

The model of the individual that individuation puts forth is a reality-based one designed to perpetuate a sense of existential security and a feeling of belonging to this world. The self is sought in being yet the identity is not ignored.

While incompleteness of the identity is unavoidable, this is not an existential matter but a cosmetic one. It is a work in progress, the work of the self but it is not the self. And through the process of individuation the self uses its own fundamental reality of being whole and one as the benchmark and guiding principle of how it will fashion the identity. Thus every effort is one of reconciliation – bringing to completion everything one has begun within oneself. Every experience is on a full circle journey back to oneself.

The only goal of the individual then, is not to seek completeness but to return to it. Over and over again, in everything one does. From the mundane to the mystical.
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INDIVISIBLE

We are moving towards a deeper understanding of what it means to be an individual.

Having penetrated the surface of individualism that confuses the self with the identity scraps one acquires over a lifetime we arrived at individuation that sees the human being as the whole book itself. Here rather than being incomplete, the individual is complete. Rather than being an accumulation of infinite fragments, an individual is one.

Yet, even to think of an individual as ONE is to create a sort of dilemma. If I am one, then I can be halved, I can be quartered, I can even be doubled or quadrupled. The scrapbook could, arguably, have pages torn out of it by the vicissitudes of fate. It could be damaged in some way or another, even destroyed. Or perhaps through some spiritual miracle or supernatural achievement can be made into a super-scrapbook double the size and with double the pages of an ordinary one. The experience of being one does not somehow eliminate the desire to become more nor the fear of being less.

While a self, grounded in a sense of being whole, is not driven by the anxiety of completing itself, it can nevertheless still feel like it must be developed upon and be enhanced. And further, its sense of being whole still allows for the experience of separation FROM the whole.

Earlier, I mentioned that the etymological origin of the word “individual” comes from the Latin: “individuus” meaning INDIVISIBLE. While ONE is a unique number it is still mathematically divisible. The only number that cannot be divided and is, in fact, truly indivisible is ZERO.

And so we arrive at the core of what it means to be individual. It is non-existence as a separate form. It is the sense of wholeness with no border of separation between inside and out. Rather than the scraps of experience animating its pages, rather than the form of the book itself, one finds the only unifying reality in the blankness of the pages. It is the only fact that cannot be obscured, cannot be denied and cannot be destroyed. Even if one scrapbook is reduced to ashes, the blankness continues to remain evident in the pages of others.

And that blank page while seemingly empty of all structure and purpose is nevertheless the fundamental basis without which there could not even be a book or any space to place the scraps in the first place.

Upon the emptiness of essence is built the singularity of self. Upon the singularity of self, is built the rainbow of identity.

An individual in the truest sense of the word is the embodiment of this entire hierarchy.

Empty in essence, whole in self, evolving as an identity.

Demon Of Doubt

Squatting huddled beneath the scorching sun, the three tribesmen plot their exit strategy. Moans and howls carry far on the Savannah winds. There isn’t much time. It’s now or never. The oldest of them is sixty-five and he instructs the others patiently as to what must happen next. He is clad in nothing more than a plaid shawl that hangs down to his knees from his skeletal frame. He carries a walking staff and has a small dagger concealed in his shorts. The wind blows briskly parting the tawny grass and revealing their figures for a moment. The elder gives the signal and the three men stand in unison.

They rise to meet a gruesome sight. Less than a hundred meters away is a scene of raw carnage. The fresh carcass of a wildebeest lays steaming in the sun enveloped almost entirely by fifteen ravenous heads. One tawny head rises, panting and blood soaked, a strand of sinew dangling from a massive canine. Its unblinking gaze fixes on the three unwanted spectators. A low growl rumbles from its cavernous throat.

Immediately the other fourteen heads rise, some maned the others not, all of them soaked in blood and bone. The men know that to hesitate is suicide.

On the elder’s prompt, the three begin to stride confidently forward shoulder- to-shoulder as one. Their gaze is fixed on the fifteen pairs of eyes staring back at them. One of the beasts moans terrifyingly, but the defiant march forward doesn’t miss a beat. A moment of utter incomprehension follows. The eyes of one of the lions widens and suddenly it bolts and finds shelter behind a grove of trees.

As the men proceed in step, another lion loses its nerve and follows the path of the first. After that the others scatter in quick succession, abandoning their hard earned kill to the bizarre three-headed-twelve-limbed creature approaching them.

Panting and confused they watch from the safety of their grove as the elder whips out his dagger, bends over the carcass and within mere seconds cleanly butchers the hind leg of the dead wildebeest and tosses it over his shoulder. Wasting no time, the three rise together once more and march away with their backs turned towards the fifteen perplexed predators. Never hesitating, never turning around even once to see if they are being charged at from behind, the tribesman keep walking until they make it all the way back to their home in the village…
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The scene above was from an episode of the BBC documentary: The Human Planet. It is a hunting tradition that has been handed down the generations within the Dorobo tribe of Southern Kenya. It is the art of feigning absolute self-certainty in order to inspire a moment of doubt in the hearts of the most powerful predators on the planet and create an opportunity to steal the kill…


What we call doubt and certainty are two sides of the same coin. Together they form the boundary between two mutually exclusive domains: the known and the unknown. And the two are forever negotiating where that boundary line lies. One can think of them as hostile neighboring countries attempting to procure more territory for themselves by stealing it from the other. Doubt attempts to assert what is unknown and certainty attempts to establish what is known.

Within an individual, doubt when introverted towards one’s sense of self has a diminishing effect. And when self-doubt becomes pathological the effect is debilitating. The only means of respite then is to offset this sense of diminishment by seeking external sources of certainty. The greater the sense of self-doubt the more robust the certainty one seeks.

It is why spiritual seekers flock to “enlightened gurus”. It is why the disgruntled and disenfranchised masses flock to demagogues. The worldviews these authority figures represent seem tremendously secure and straightforward. When one is plagued by intense doubt one will seek to alleviate it in equal measure.

A complimentary strategy in dealing with self-doubt is to deny it altogether and instead project it outwards onto others. By projecting an extreme suspicion of anyone and anything that doesn’t line up with one’s own worldview and view of self, one keeps cognitive dissonance at bay and maintains psychological homeostasis.

This can be witnessed in all forms of extreme thinking and ideologies.

It doesn’t matter which extreme one falls into. Whether a religious fundamentalist or a fundamental atheist – the mechanism of projecting extreme suspicion onto anyone who doesn’t align with one’s own views is the same. Whether a primitive conservative or a bleeding heart liberal, the vehement mistrust of worldviews that don’t fit the model of reality one believes to be the right one is universal across both sides of the ideological chasm.

Doubting others is an effective strategy in alleviating self-doubt.

Yet, the sort of certainty this provides is short-lived and easily depleted. It requires constant upkeep. It requires a perpetual nemesis to project its unresolved frustrations onto.

Most fundamental atheists are content portraying anyone who harbors any kind of spiritual beliefs as being rabid evangelical type zombies. They are not interested in recognizing an entire middle section of people who don’t hold such primitive notions as a bearded man in the sky, divine miracles and the genesis, yet have a sense of some form of intelligence beyond what can be explained away by our current scientific understanding.

Similarly, religious fundamentalists are content portraying anyone who doesn’t align with their own code of ethics and beliefs as being morally depraved and hedonistic. They fail to recognize the vast numbers of ethical, morally responsible people who just so happen not to hold the same beliefs and lifestyles as they do.

This same trend is abundantly evident in the political climate of North America and Western Europe. The center is the new silent majority – or rather the “silenced” majority. Both the left and the right have little energy to spend on any viewpoint that doesn’t fall squarely within one of the two worldviews being put forth.

This “for or against” atmosphere leaves very little room for any doubt to remain in anyone’s mind. Certainty about which camp one wants to belong to is the absolute requirement here. Any stragglers, fence-sitters, drifters in no-man’s land are simply reduced to invisible entities not worth acknowledging.

Like the Dorobo tribesmen everyone is occupied with feigning confidence in order to induce doubt in the hearts of those they are opposed to. And in that interval and the confusion that ensues lies the opportunity to steal the kill…

Ideological certainty is an outward manifestation of existential doubt. The more concrete one’s world view the more unstable one’s experience of self. The more rigid one’s opinions, the more fragile one’s own understanding. The more forceful one’s assertions the more fear one feels one may be proved wrong.

Yet, it is also true that when one is secure in one’s own sense of self, one has very little need for ideology. The greater one’s existential certainty the more one doubts all forms of ideology. There is an openness to varying viewpoints and an acknowledgment of drastically differing worldviews. There is a capacity to occupy any one of these perspectives and to “feel the rightness” it projects without believing in its absolute rightness.


There was a time in my life when I was plagued by intense feelings of self-doubt. I doubted who I was, what I was capable of, whether I was worthy or deserving. The sense of certainty others around me were projecting only served to enhance those feelings of doubt.

At the same time, I found myself mimicking that sort of behavior by presenting an overly confident exterior. Earning attention, popularity and admiration only helped reinforce this “bluffing” strategy. Yet, in my solitary moments the brooding sensations and the existential miasma would come screaming to the surface. And the same guy who had spent the whole day pretending to be the absolute shit, would now be lying in a pile on the floor feeling like absolute shit.

Still, there remained an instinct within me that this intense self-doubt was not some kind of disease but was the cure to some hidden ailment. And using this intuition as my compass I began to work my way backwards.

I accepted the assumption that I wasn’t worthy, I wasn’t deserving, I wasn’t capable and so on. But what WAS I? I searched for the only thing that I could be certain of in my experience. And I found it in the fact of existence itself.

No matter what else could be doubted, the only thing I couldn’t doubt was the fact that THIS exists. Even to call it “my existence” seemed unnecessary. Even to assert “I am” felt like a bit of a stretch because it created a self I couldn’t be certain of.

All I found to be absolutely certain was that – what exists, exists in exactly the way in which it does and absolutely no other way. As bizarre and convoluted as this statement might sound it points to something absurdly simple. The Buddhists have a word for it: TATHATA.

Suchness.

It is a simple realization but it completely transformed my sense of self and the locus of where my identity lay. It shifted my identity out of that abstract ideological headspace and placed it squarely in the reality of the present moment.

And ever since, I haven’t been able to relate to myself in ideological terms. The lenses of gender, nationality, race, religion, political orientation, ethnicity and so on hold no water with me. Even the roles I function in: of father, husband, son, employee, writer and so on feel more like verbs than nouns. They are things that I do rather than things that I am. In other words, “I father”, “I husband”, “I son”, “I write” but I am not a “father”, “a husband”, “a son” or “a writer”.

Self-doubt which once felt debilitating was the key that ultimately released the shackles of false certainty that I’d spent all my time trying to wear.

Yet, the world doesn’t understand it in this way. It is self-doubt that is seen as the illness rather than the façade that it attempts to question. And thus one is encouraged to develop a healthier more robust façade which will be resistant to the demon of doubt. Like the three little pigs building their flimsy houses, one is encouraged to build an identity made of brick and mortar that will stand strong when the wolf of doubt comes huffing and puffing.

But eventually all facades no matter how robust are destined to collapse. And when they do, chaos and misery ensues until efforts to rebuild once again get underway.

So it is with the self. So it is with society.

When rightness is the guiding principle, resistance is the only option.

Yet, when doubt is allowed to run its course a deeper form of understanding, not encapsulated by any form of thought, emerges. Resistance gives way to acceptance. Rightness becomes replaced by suchness as the fundamental guiding principle. And the locus of the self shifts from the ideological constructs of individualism to the true experience of what it means to be individual:

Whole and indivisible.

Nothing To Learn

“There is nothing anyone can teach me about life.”

This was a statement I made to a close friend of mine the other day. To which she responded that it sounded like an arrogant statement to make. After all how could I presume that there was nothing more to learn? Did I believe that I know everything there is to know about life?

No, I clarified, this was not about me “knowing” everything about life. Nor was this about an unwillingness to be open to learning new things.

For one, I have plenty to learn: I’d like to learn how to build my own house, I have a lot more to learn about being a parent, I could learn to communicate better within my relationships, I’d like to learn how to manage my time and priorities better. In fact, the list is quite endless. And I always look forward to learning more about those things. There is always someone who may have something to teach me about any one of them.

But to me, all of that has to do with “living”, not LIFE. Living has to do with process and life has to do with essence. And processes are never ending, always changing, always adapting, always being improved upon.

What we call “living” is simply a series of these processes both biological and societal. How to eat, how to survive, how to communicate, how to work, how to abide by the law, how to express oneself, how to be ethical, how to raise children, how to deal with conflict and so on.

All another human being can teach me is about process: the HOW TO. What we call “human society” is nothing more than hundreds of thousands of these how-to processes linked together in an intricate mesh of reality.

But what no human can teach me is the “what” of life. That is a matter of essence. And essence has nothing to do with process. Essence remains the same regardless of the kind of processes taking place in any given moment. One could approach this moment with a million different “how to’s” yet the “what” of it would remain essentially unchanged.

Living deals with the “how to”. Life is the “what”.

All the philosophical questions of life are essentially “what” questions. WHAT is the meaning of life? WHAT is truth? WHAT is beauty? WHAT is the source of all life? WHAT is love?

No human being can answer any of these questions for me. I can’t answer any of these questions for anyone else either. In fact, these questions are essentially unanswerable in words, using language. Essence cannot be abstracted in any way. Yet, the answer is always evident to me in every moment. It is the most evident thing there is. And it is never any MORE or LESS evident from one moment to another. To me, it is absolutely evident all the time.

The how-to questions that deal with living, on the other hand, are far from evident. Those are learned responses which are acquired whether unconsciously or consciously.

The confusion emerges when “living” is confused with “life”. When “process” is confused with “essence”. When the “how to” is confused with the “what”.

It is an unconscious belief we hold that life is merely the sum of all the processes that go into living. In other words, if I can master processes: physical processes, emotional processes, social processes and so on then I will arrive at the ultimate goal of mastering “life”. If I can learn “how to” do everything perfectly then that perfection will reveal to me the essence of reality.

This is the rationale that guides people not only in their material pursuits but spiritual ones as well. If I can earn enough money, find a good partner, raise a healthy family and be a fine upstanding citizen THEN I will find success and happiness: the essence of life from the material perspective.

Or alternatively, if I meditate, learn to still my mind, find inner peace, release my negativity, see beyond the veil of separation, develop compassion and wisdom THEN I will find enlightenment: the essence of life from the spiritual perspective.

This idea that perfecting the process will lead to the essence, that perfecting the art of living will lead to the truth of life is a misconception that is present in almost everyone’s thinking.

Yet, no number of “how-to’s” can ever add up to a “what”. You may know how to be a parent, how to be a spouse, how to be an employee, how to be a teacher, how to be a student, how to be a boss, how to be a leader, how to be a citizen yet no matter how well you have perfected all of these functions in your life you are no closer to knowing the truth of what you are. None of those roles have added or subtracted an iota from your essence. That has remained unchanged.

The same is true of life. No matter what form living may take, the essence of it remains the same. And further the essence of me and the essence of life are no different even though our forms might be.

Yet, one cannot “know” any of this in the sense that one can know how to do things. One can acquire knowledge about the “how to’s” but knowledge of “what” is purely open source. One can tap into it, one can observe it readily in any moment, yet one cannot have it. Nor can one dispense it to another.

Spirituality in its truest sense is not self-help, is not about the art of living or perfecting the human experience. It is predominantly about essence. Seeing life for WHAT it is.

“Spirit” is just another word for essence. It cannot be taught or learned.

It is always evident.

Nothing To Fix

What makes the universe so perfect is that it has no centre.

There is no fixed point of reference around which the universe unfolds. Rather, every point in the universe expands in unison with every other other point. And every position occupied in one moment changes in the very next.

Thus, movement is continuous and there is no such thing as standing still. Flux is the only constant and there is no such thing as certainty.

In fact, this is the very essence of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle which says that at the fundamental level, “the position and momentum of a particle cannot be simultaneously determined with any precision.”

In other words, if you were to take a snapshot of a particle flying through space, you may be able to pinpoint its position at that specific point of time but you will not be able to accurately determine its momentum. And vice versa, if you were to film a particle flying through space you may be able to determine its momentum but you will not be able to determine exactly where it is at the same time.

What this means is that there is NEVER a case in which any particle is ever in the same position from one moment to the next. Literally nothing in this universe ever stays the same.

This is what makes the universe perfect. It is never static. It is brilliantly alive.

But let’s imagine there was a universe that did have a centre. What would such a universe look like?

Such a universe would be imperfect in many ways since everything about it would be relative. There would be places that were “further” from the centre and places that would be “closer”. There would be parts that expanded “faster” and others that expanded “slower”. There would be positions that remained “static” and others that were “dynamic”. The laws that governed the universe would be far from uniform, rather they would become increasingly chaotic the further from the centre you went.

What would the centre of such a universe look like?

It would look like a self.

What we call the “self” is really an imaginary point of view that projects itself as the centre of the universe. Which is why the self lives in a relative universe where everything that happens only happens in relation to it. And the further one moves from its own frame of reference, the more chaotic the existence of the universe seems to get.

The experience of being a self is the experience of absolute constancy. It is the experience of being the single fixed point around which everything else moves. Which is why the self is constantly preoccupied with fixation. Fixing things in place relative to its own position. Change and flux are its antithesis.

As a self, one operates according to the “Certainty Principle” – I.e. that since I am constant I can influence other things to also be. Since I can identify my own position and momentum, I can lock down the position and momentum of everything within my sphere of influence.

What that “sphere of influence” is may differ from self to self. For one it may be their immediate surroundings such as their personal life and relationships. For another it may be the community. For another the nation. For someone else, the environment and all of humanity.

We are convinced that because “I am” then “this must also be”. And from this viewpoint existence is far from perfect. Everything is broken. Everything needs to be fixed. How could it be any other way?

Society must be fixed. The environment must be fixed. People must be fixed. Human nature must be fixed. The planet must be fixed. Flux is not an option. Because flux is the very evidence that nothing can ever be fixed.

Control is the only option from the viewpoint of a self, because if I am the only stable point in this universe then it falls upon me to stabilize the universe. Chaos is unacceptable because chaos is proof of my incapacity to control.

This is the root of all human struggle, effort and suffering. Imagining a centre to a centreless universe. Imagining a fixed reference point around which everything MUST evolve.

Human existence, human evolution, human society, human principles, human laws and morals are seen as the benchmark around which we evaluate everything that transpires as either “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”. We fail to recognize that none of these have evolved from any fixed starting point either. They too have always been in perpetual flux.

And further, that self that feels like the single constant of experience also has not evolved from any fixed starting point. It also has always been in perpetual flux.

The beauty of our universe lies in the fact that any single point within it can “act” as the centre of the universe yet no single point “is” the actual centre. All points expand in perfect unison and in relation to one another.

Herein lies exquisite order.

In the seeming imperfection of the world lies it’s very perfection. In the imagined constancy of the self lies it’s very absence.

In a universe where nothing is fixed, there simply is nothing to fix.

Be As You Are

“All these spiritual teachings have me tied up in knots man…It’s hard to tell what’s up or down these days…is this all an illusion?….is there any choice here?…I’m struggling to move forward cuz these questions make me second guess myself.

Going through a custody battle right now…I want to see my kids so bad….but then it’s like, is there really a choice in all this?.. do I give up and just see what happens?…do I fight for them?…does it matter?…am I just clinging to attachments?…is this just my ego?

I feel paralyzed by the confusion…”
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All the wisdom teachings in the world absolutely pale in comparison to the wisdom of your own intuition. It sounds to me like you’ve lost touch with that because you’ve gotten into the habit of replacing your inner compass with ready-made mass-produced maps.

It so happened the other day that a friend and I were driving in his car in an area we were unfamiliar with when his phone, which he’d been using as a GPS, suddenly died. And he began freaking out because he had no idea where he was and how we were going to get back. And I asked him how he had functioned when things like GPS were not easily available.

And so I watched as some ancient faculty in his brain gradually awoke and began to use his native intelligence: identifying things like landmarks, spatial orientation with respect to the mountains, the arc of the sun and his memory of familiar looking paths, to bring us back to where we were staying. And at the end he was quite astonished at how this latent ability within him had become completely dormant because he had learned to rely on external guidance systems to direct him.

What you need to understand is that all these questions you are asking at the moment are ultimately nonsensical: Is this an illusion? Is there any choice? Does it matter? Are you clinging? Is this ego? There is absolutely no practical value whatsoever to asking these questions.

There is an introspective value to them, however. Yet, the introspective value lies NOT in answering the questions but in that they get you to probe more deeply into yourself. The question is not even the point. The motivation it stirs within you is the point. The question itself is more of a rhetorical one.

Is this an illusion? The answer to this question is: “what does it feel like to you?” That is what the question is driving towards – not some stupid generic answer for you to swallow like some willing sheep. Forget about what it “is” according to some ancient text or some neuroscientific discovery. Does it FEEL like an illusion? Because remember – your body and majority of your brain are responding to what reality FEELS like, not what reality is.

If I tell you that this chair is made up of trillions of atoms which are in turn mostly made up of space, how is this information useful to you if all you need is something solid to sit on? And if you were to take this information and become paralyzed about whether to sit or not to sit based on what the true nature of that chair is, how absurd would that be?

No matter what your rational brain thinks of the chair, your ass is going to think it’s a solid reliable surface to rest on every single time.

So, forget all the bullshit philosophizing about the nature of what reality is and so on and get down to the bare bones of what it is you FEEL most strongly in your gut. THAT, and not some dead sage’s teachings, is what is going to help you navigate this challenging personal situation that you and your ex-wife are in with regards to the custody of your kids.

To me the only statement that contained any shred of certainty and confidence in your question was: “I want to see my kids so bad.” Out of the mess of confusion that one statement rings out like a bell. Why second guess the only thing you are clear about?

Is this just clinging to attachments? Is this just your ego? So, what if it is?

If your kids grow up knowing that their father fought to stay in their lives do you think they’re really going to care if you “had attachments”? Or if “your ego made you do it”?

Don’t discount the wisdom of your body. It’s much smarter than we give it credit for. While our rational brains are great at working in abstract spaces of theory and possibility, nothing understands the reality of the situation better than the body. It ALREADY KNOWS what needs to be done.

That’s why we use phrases like “gut feeling” and “feeling it in the bones”. Its raw, native intelligence is much more grounded than all the advanced mental strategies and thought processes we indulge in that we give far too much credit to.

I once watched a mother duck fight off a fucking cobra because of that one sentiment of: “I want to see my kids so bad”. This is an intelligence hardwired into you at the genetic level. If you want to follow scripture, read THAT code.

Now, I’m not saying that the wisdom of all these spiritual teachings and so on are hogwash. But they must be arrived at organically, not enforced upon a person’s life.

Something like the “giving up of attachments” must happen as organically as an apple falls by itself from the tree when it has ripened in its own juices and grown too heavy for the tree to bear. Until that point, its “attachment” to the tree is NECESSARY in order for nature to take its course. Plucking it preemptively kills that process.

Where I live in Northern Japan, I am surrounded by rice paddies. Its spring now and all the farmers are out wading into the fields planting little shoots into the soil and submerging them under water. In other words, they are out “creating attachments”.

And as spring turns into summer, the water levels in the fields will go down and the rice plants will emerge taller, stronger and lusher. Their attachments to the soil will be stronger than ever.

But by the time autumn comes around, those same rice plants will have turned yellow. And the same farmers will go out into the fields with their scythes and “sever all those attachments” in order to harvest the grain.

And in winter, these fields will be bare and covered in pristine snow, devoid of all attachments altogether. They will also be devoid of much life and vibrancy.

The farmers understand this.

Only a foolish farmer would go out into the fields in the summer with his scythe and start hacking at his rice plants before they have even had a chance to develop any grain. Only a misguided farmer would go tramping in the snow in the winter trying to plant tender shoots of rice into frozen ground.

There is a time for everything.

The dropping away of attachments is something that organically happens at a certain stage in a person’s maturity. To try and make it happen preemptively is to misunderstand the wisdom of the process entirely.

So, if some sage is talking about the illusory nature of life and his lack of attachments then THAT’S where HE is at in his own process. It may be of some relevance if you find yourself at a similar place in your own life. Otherwise, it is nothing more than academic.

It could be a blistering hot day in the Northern Hemisphere where you are. Meanwhile, some wise dude living in New Zealand, where its winter, might be dressed in a winter jacket. Does that mean you need to become confused about what attire to wear? Whether you also should be bundling up? That’s absurd.

A cold winter in New Zealand is NOT where you are at. That’s where he is at. You are in the midst of a blistering summer. Shorts and a t shirt are what you need. And if there is any question about it, check with your body and it will illustrate the solution quite accurately for you.

Be as you are.

And operate from there. Through the process of living, those other profound questions will start becoming apparent and revealing themselves to you in their own time. And even if they don’t, what does it matter? There is no finish line. No award to receive for your efforts. No one is going to pat you on the back for having answered them.

The only reward you ever get to enjoy is this single space and moment of where you are right now. Sit your ass on that seat. Own it. And then command your path forward from there.

When it comes to this big show we call life:

It’s better to have your own seat, even if it’s up in the nose bleeds, than to spend your time in the front row sitting on someone else’s lap.

Happily Never After

“I appreciate your efforts to try and demystify this whole enlightenment deal. But part of me remains unconvinced. Part of me is going, “Yeah, yeah, easy for you to say! You’ve already had the big fireworks awakening. I want that too!” I’m not saying I’m justified in feeling this way. It’s something that I’ve been craving for a long time. I can’t seem to get it out of system!”
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Right now, there are literally hundreds of thousands of women out there who have been dreaming all their lives of their wedding day. They’ve envisioned it hundreds of times in their heads. The person, the place, the pastor, the procession, the presents, the guests, the aisle, the food, the cake, the dress. It is the single most significant event that they imagine they will experience.

For these women, the wedding day signifies a specific moment in time where an old life ends and a new one begins. A life of struggle and loneliness ends and happily-ever-after begins. And as hard as it may be to believe that this sentiment is still prevalent in the 21st century, it absolutely is. The wedding is the big fireworks type event that separates the ones who’ve “made it” from the ones still struggling to get there. And once the wedding has happened, well then the actual experience of being married is just something one figures out. But according to this mindset, happiness MUST be the default by virtue of the very fact that one is now “married” as opposed to “single”.

Replace the word “single” with “seeking”, “wedding” with “awakening” and “married” with “enlightened” and you’ve basically captured the spiritual seeker’s situation in a nutshell.

Except, that’s not how it actually works and those women are in for a real rough road ahead if they believe otherwise.

A wedding could be a big blowout type affair or a quiet and intimate event. Regardless, the kind of wedding one has has absolutely no bearing on how the marriage will unfold. And if one is actually of the belief that one is destined for happiness simply by virtue of the fact that they have gotten married, then a world of pain awaits.

Similarly, awakening can be a big fireworks type event that lasts for days, weeks or months (like a big fat Indian wedding) or a brief, subtle and intimate revelation. But if there is any conviction that simply by virtue of having said awakening one is now destined for a life of inner peace and enlightenment, then a world of pain awaits.

Just as a relationship of commitment between two people has little to do with the kind of party they have thrown in order to commemorate it. So also, ones “process of enlightenment” (enlightenment is the process of evolution of consciousness that every sentient being is involved in, not some mythic state) has little to do with the kind of awakening experience one has had. Crucially, there are plenty of people who haven’t even had that sort of profound experience yet are enlightening into the nature of reality and self all the same. Just like two people can commit to one another and grow in relationship for years without even getting married in the first place.

What those young women dreaming of a happily-ever-after don’t realize is that such a place only exists in fairytales. There is no handsome prince who is going to whisk them away. Similarly, the seeker doesn’t realize that “enlightenment” is a place that exists only in mythology. There is no enlightened guru who is going to whisk them away to the blissful self-realized state. Yet, the fantasy persists in both cases.

Because fantasies fascinate us. And fantasies can be capitalized upon and monetized. Which is why the wedding industry, like the spiritual industry, is a multi billion dollar market. It is always the fantasy and not the reality of the situation that is advertised. Because that is what people want.

Escape.

The reality, however, is what you hear from couples who have been happily married for decades. While many may remember their wedding days fondly, it is hardly of any significance when compared to the decades of mundane everyday living that ensued immediately after. The marriages that they built required tremendous honesty, intimacy, challenge, doubt, conflict, despair, camaraderie, trust, loss, grief, fear, frustration, laughter and a willingness to transcend their individual egos in order for a greater synthesis to emerge between them. These couples will confess that there was never a sense of “resting on any laurels”. Only a perpetual sense of learning, growth, error and challenge in endless cycles of repetition. And the love that emerges from this sort of bond is several orders of magnitude more substantial than the giddy love of newlyweds.

The same is true of people who have realized the nature of self and reality. The honest ones will be forthright in saying that even if the awakening experience is a treasured memory for them, it pales in comparison to the day-to-day mundane process of gradually clarifying the view over a lifetime, removing one obstruction at a time. Such a process requires tremendous self-honesty, openness with ones own fears, intense periods of doubt and confusion, conflict, despair, faith, trust, courage, error, relapse, grief at the piece-by-piece loss of ones identity, acceptance, fulfillment, conviction, uncertainty and a willingness to be guided despite every desire to control.

These individuals will confess that there is never any sense of having “arrived”. Only a sense of perpetual learning, growth, error and understanding in endless cycles. And the clarity that emerges from this sort of process is several orders of magnitude more substantial than that sudden flash of awakening, no matter how revelatory…

…But don’t take my word for it. I sound like a boring old uncle at the wedding giving dull “realistic” advice to the eager couple on their wedding day. Instead, tell me:

What you planning to wear on the big day?! Is it an indoor or outdoor awakening? Will there be others present or just an intimate affair? Do you think you’ll go for the whole awakening package of oneness, no self and bliss or just the lite version?

Oooooh I’m so excited! I’m totally coming to the after party where you announce your enlightenment to everyone!

Shit’s gonna be ennnnn-LIT!

Universal Dilemma

“Seen within a broader metaphysical context, the evolution of consciousness makes sense to me. I happen to believe that we all are souls experiencing a human incarnation. This is more than a belief to me. I have experienced and know others who have glimpsed something of this reality. I am not interested in getting into a debate about it. I know you don’t like to speculate on these matters. But for me, without that broader reality nothing in this reality is really worthwhile giving attention to. If there is no point to our human suffering, then why bother?”

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Why bother?

This is a crucial question everyone must ask. Until you have asked this question, you haven’t really begun inquiring into your own existence in any serious way.

However, this question also contains a hidden implication that we have a choice about whether to bother or not. Bothering, as I see it, is far from something we choose to do. It just happens. So there is no real why, because there is no real choice. You are designed to bother about life. Its part and parcel of how you have been programmed to operate. At the very least you will bother about your own survival, your own pleasures and avoiding your own pain.

Now, you are right in saying that I don’t like speculating about metaphysics. This doesn’t mean that I think it’s nonsensical. To me metaphysics is just a set of hypotheses about the nature of reality that may well be true except I have no way of actually knowing that they are. And so for me, hypotheses are what they remain. While there has been a lot of compelling data and reports from numerous people, much of it even corroborated, the vast majority remains anecdotal. So, I take it with a grain of salt and allow it to remain in that infinite grey zone of “I don’t know” in my mind.

However, for you it seems that this isn’t a “grey zone”. This metaphysical world of souls seems to be within the domain of the “known” for you, as you claim. I’m going to take that at face value and address your query accordingly.

So for the purposes of what I’m writing here, I am going to ASSUME this metaphysical reality is actually the case. And starting from that assumption I’m going to expand upon your hypothesis. And there’s a reason I’m doing this, which you’ll understand as you follow.

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The belief in a life beyond this one in which we exist as souls is a common one and spans many cultures and religious traditions. Whether a soul is incarnating just once as per the Abrahamic religions (and certain sects of Buddhism) or multiple times as per Hindu philosophy, we believe that there is an individualized form of consciousness that transmigrates from one realm of reality to another. And the purpose for this great transmigration is “learning”.

Earth is considered a sort of school in which the soul learns some very important lessons. The human condition is the curriculum and we are here to learn love, compassion, forgiveness, transcend our egos and become enlightened.

This is all very clearly laid out and there are a number of books written by past life regression therapists and those who specialize in “life between life” regression. In fact, there is such a vast body of this kind of literature out there that it is quite difficult to dismiss all of it as bogus. But that’s not what I’m concerned with here. I want to get to the heart of that, “why bother?” question and show you why, even if such a metaphysical reality were true, the fundamental basis of asking that question wouldn’t change…

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If you think of yourself as a soul taking on a human incarnation, then knowing that this is one (of many) lives, you may feel like there is a meaning to your mortal existence. It makes sense. You come down here, you learn a little, make some mistakes, learn from them, go back to the soul realm and reassess. After some time, you come back down again to Earth, learn a little more, make more mistakes, go back to the soul realm and so forth. Through these cycles of reincarnation your soul grows in wisdom and compassion and finally having experienced the human condition sufficiently transcends human suffering.

That’s all well and good. But let’s now consider life at the level of that soul within the reality IT inhabits while it isn’t incarnating i.e. within the soul realm.

Everyone assumes paradise is this place where it’s all hunky dory. So let’s consider. What is the existence of a soul like? After all if it is an individual and chooses its incarnations of its own accord, then it must have an individual mind, an individual personality, an individual (non-physical) form i.e. body. If it has an individual existence then it must have been created at some point. And if it was created at some point, its individual form must also be destroyed at some point. Everything that is born must also die.

Further, the soul must be oblivious as to the conditions of its own creation. Just as human beings are oblivious as to where we came from and where we will go, souls too must be equally in the dark about their own origins. Or else what could serve as their impetus to learn? Ignorance must be the starting point if they are to seek new experiences. A soul that already knows that it is a divine spark, already knows it is love and compassion – what need does it have to go through the rigmarole of incarnating numerous times over? What need does it have to enlighten if it isn’t ignorant in the first place?

Next, if there is ignorance about its origins, ignorance about its own end and lack of self-knowledge, then fear must also be an aspect of its nature. Fear of ignorance, fear of failure, fear of death: these must also be real experiences within the soul realm. And since fear forms the basis of the “ego” – the sense of being a separate self – then in order for a soul to perceive its own individuality and be motivated by its own path of learning, every soul must have an ego.

What we call reincarnation then, is none other than a soul’s own journey through the darkness of ignorance in order to reconcile its own feelings of separation from the source of its creation. Is this all that different than what a human being experiences in their own lifetime?

We tend to think that the metaphysical reality beyond is a place where our human dilemmas, confusions and feelings of alienation don’t exist. But when one truly looks into it, this rationale holds no water. There must be some impetus propelling metaphysical endeavors. A profound desire of some kind to discover something lost.

Now imagine a soul sitting in the soul realm, after incarnating multiple times, having an existential crisis wondering what the point of all this is?

“Why bother?” The soul might wonder.

In order to settle this cognitive dissonance, this soul might imagine another reality meta to even the soul realm. Let’s call it the “OVERSOUL” realm. This despondent soul might convince itself that there is a purpose to its existence in the soul realm. It might believe that it is really an “oversoul” incarnating as a soul over and over again in order to learn and grow.

Ok. So, now what?

We can repeat the whole analysis we’ve done above and we will end up at an Oversoul sitting in the oversoul-realm having an existential crisis and asking the same question:

“Why bother?”

What’s the point to being an oversoul and just incarnating as different souls over and over again? Maybe the oversoul rationalizes this conundrum by imagining still another reality meta to even its own. To what end? Perhaps, it thinks of itself as an incarnation of the “one creator consciousness” – the Source of “all-that-is”. And its purpose as an oversoul is to learn and grow so that the divine Source can become conscious of ITSELF.

So, now let’s imagine this Source: God, if you want to call it that, the Divine whatever. And this Source is sitting there incarnating over and over in these endless nested iterations of oversouls and souls and humans and lesser forms of sentience and then suddenly one day He (She? It?) has a massive existential crisis and goes: what’s the point of this whole thing? This whole universe, consciousness, all these infinite realms of existence I have been creating over an eternity? WHY BOTHER?

Perhaps, with no way of actually answering this question, this Source, the God of our universe, imagines a realm meta to even it – a Super God realm…

***

Ask any parent who has young kids and they will tell you point blank: there is no end to “why”?

Imagining metaphysical realities that purport to answer that question for us is no more than a stop gap measure that falls apart the moment one inquires with any seriousness into the matter. I’m not saying those metaphysical worlds don’t exist. Reality could very well be “turtles all the way down!”

What I’m saying is that the basic dilemma that you are alluding to is universal and applicable to every one of those realms of reality one can envision. The juxtaposition of the darkness of ignorance and the light of realization must form the fundamental basis of the dynamics of consciousness regardless of whether you are a Super God or a troglodyte. And the experience of darkness must be that of suffering if there is to be any motivation to move out of it towards understanding.

In other words, enlightenment is the process of evolution of consciousness at every level of existence imaginable. And on every level it is this “sense of separation” that forms the abyss that one is seeking to cross.

If you think you’re going to graduate to your metaphysical reality after this lifetime and get all cozy up there, I’d say you’re sadly mistaken. Why do you think you keep choosing to come down here, if life was so damn rosy up in paradise?

Why bother?

This question is the root of the dilemma of existence no matter what form that existence might take: physical, metaphysical or divine.

Meanwhile, the process and opportunity for resolving that question must remain the same and just as available at each and every one of these planes.

Wherever you go, there you are.

So, quit procrastinating!

How To Die

“Is awakening an instant event? Is it gradual? Or both? I know these questions have been debated in many cultures even to the point of creating different schools of thought within the same religion (eg. The Soto and Rinzai sects of Zen Buddhism come to mind). But I’d like to get your own take on it…”
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How many ways are there to die?

One can die a slow, painful death over a protracted period of time due to some illness or disease. One can die suddenly before one even has the chance to become aware of what is happening, as in a car accident. Or one can die a short yet gruesome, terrifying death as in a violent murder. One can die peacefully, gradually and gracefully at a ripe old age surrounded by loved ones.

It seems like there are almost as many ways to die as there are to live.

What we refer to as awakening is a sort of death in itself. The death of an artificial sense of identity – the imagined self. Whereas the former kind of death refers to the dissolution of something physical, this kind of death is the disintegration of something psychological. It is the demise of the “imagined person” leaving only the real one to live out the rest of one’s life.

It is also possible to have an awakening experience and yet not have a complete dissolution happen. This is somewhat like a near-death experience (which is a misnomer since a “near-death experience” is really a DEATH experience one gets to live through). It’s possible and quite common for a person to experience a temporary disintegration of the imagined self and to see life for the first time without that lens. Yet, given some time, a portion of that construct may build itself back up.

In my own case, this is how it happened. My awakening happened suddenly when I least expected it. A “car crash” type of event. And my “death experience” lasted for four months. But my imagined self DID return following that period, although only a shadow of what it formerly had been.

After that, mine became a slow and protracted painful death of the diseased kind for almost a decade, where I wrestled and resisted, tooth and nail, against the gradual disintegration of some of the more stubborn and entrenched aspects of my imagined self. Yet, even that eventually transformed into that graceful kind of death when the being had ripened with age and was filled with acceptance for the inevitable hour surrounded by all whom I loved.

And one day, that fruit fell from the tree in and of itself.

So was it instant? Was it gradual? Was it both?

Does it even matter?

Looking back it all seems so ordinary and inevitable, just like the night gives way to the day.

The physical body appears to grow in size, stature and strength until it is weakened prematurely by injury or eventually by old age. The imagined self is no different. In both cases, the physical and the psychological, death is the certain destination. Does it matter how the destination is reached?

And why should one want to awaken? Does one wish for physical death in the same way?

One may argue that the evils of the world are caused by egos run amuck. If only we could awaken then there would be no more war, no murder, no hate and violence. But one could argue that the same would be true if all the physical bodies on the planet were weak, injured or aging. Sick people don’t kill others nearly as much. Old people don’t go to war. The injured don’t have the strength to do violence. So should we then consider that the solution to the world’s evils is to somehow arrive at a state in which we are all either old, sick or injured?

That sounds absurd. Then why is it any different for the imagined self? Why wish to debilitate or destroy something that nature has developed within us as a creative spark. Just because we often end up creating flawed or unattractive creations, does that mean we must seek to stifle that creative spark altogether?

Injury, sickness, old age and eventually death are an inevitability for both the physical body and the imagined self. But why wish for these things to come sooner than they naturally do?

Isn’t this a kind of perversion? Isn’t this a sort of death-wish? A denial of the very impulse of life?

Seeking awakening, seeking liberation from the suffering the imagined self causes is like a person suffering from illness wanting a quick end to their physical body. It’s a rational choice yet there is something tragic about it nevertheless.

However, glorifying awakening and building it into some holy grail kind of experience that one goes in search of is like glorifying euthanasia and lining up at the hospital to be euthanized even when one’s illness doesn’t warrant anything more than a simple prescription. There is something bizarre about it.

It reveals a deeply confused state of affairs.

The Last Hour

In the end, it’s very simple.

You have only one more hour to live. The end is imminent. There is a meteor or some kind of unprecedented natural disaster about to strike. There is no escape. The only choice remaining is what you are going to do with this last hour…

So, what do you do?

Do you reach for your meditation cushion? Do you sit with a teacher and listen to them pontificate about the illusory nature of self? Do you engage in a philosophical debate about the nature of existence? Do you intensify your search and seek to awaken even more intensely now that you’ve all but run out of time?

Or do you instead gather around with loved ones? Do you laugh, cry, hold one another and express gratitude for this opportunity you’ve had to share a story together? Do you go for a walk in nature in silence? Do you breathe in the air more fully and with appreciation for this fact of being alive? Do you brew a last cup of coffee or tea and sip it slowly? Do you read your child a story book? Do you kiss your partner and make love to them one last time?

The strange irony is that the meaning we spend a lifetime seeking becomes incredibly evident when there is no time left to seek it. When there is no future state to arrive at, no future point in time to project, everything becomes profoundly obvious and simplified.

This is as good as it gets. And what we see, what we have, what we are surrounded with suddenly begins to brim with meaning and essence.

And all those things that once preoccupied our attention: the seeking, the yearning, the endless philosophical conversations and debates, the practices, the books, the talks, the retreats suddenly begin to pale in comparison. All our striving and our seeming achievement appears perfectly hollow when faced with the significance of what the final hour of being alive has to offer.

In that final hour, the whistle of the teapot piercing through the silence sounds more profound than the wisest words ever spoken. Your partner’s smile brings a greater ecstasy than the greatest insight or revelation. Taking a deep breath is more fulfilling than any imagined state of peace you could ever hope to achieve. Feeling the ground beneath your feet is infinitely more reassuring than the promise of enlightenment.

Yet, in our everyday lives, we live as if this isn’t the case. The final hour is something that only exists in our imaginations. Death is an abstraction at best. Something that happens to “other people”. And so, by robbing ourselves of the reality of death we rob ourselves of what is meaningful. We take for granted the very things that are of essence and instead seek that essence in places it doesn’t exist.

We fail to see that the fulfilment we have been seeking all along is already inherent in the very fact of our being alive. That the enlightenment we have been seeking all our lives is already inherent in the very fact of our being aware.

Fake Experts, Expert Fakes

Originally posted on FB on May 1, 2019

“What I find so refreshing about your writing is that it’s free of spiritual jargon….that really helps brings it home for me…It’s not like you’re saying something new but the way you say it makes this whole spiritual deal feel REAL and down to earth…I don’t know if I’m explaining this right…It feels like someone has taken these ideas out of my head and made them come alive…”
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When I was a student in high school, I had a math teacher who did the same for me.

Up until that point, I’d always been a good math student. I could solve most problems you could throw at me. I could prove theorems that were more advanced than most high school curriculums required. I was studying partial differentiation and triple integration when many kids my age were just getting introduced to calculus. Yet, the missing piece for me was that it was all abstract. No matter how good I got at math, it seemed completely disconnected from real life.

My real life was one in which I had girl problems, was sneaking out of the house to drink beer with my friends, was struggling to see eye to eye with most members of my family, was trying to figure out who I was and what meaning life had, if any. What did the world of advanced calculus have to do with life? What was the whole point of assimilating all this theoretical knowledge and problem solving skill if it didn’t impact my everyday life one bit?

Yet, from the moment I set foot in her class she transformed my understanding of mathematics. My teacher, whom I’ll call Mrs. S, was one of those people who oozed genius. From the moment she opened her mouth you knew immediately that this was a rare kind of intellect. And yet, the language she used was profoundly ordinary. Her approach to explaining concepts was radically simple and straightforward. In fact, she avoided using anything but the very bare minimum of jargon. I remember thinking then, that she could probably teach this stuff to a five year old. She had the ability to take some of the most abstract and heady mathematical concepts and bring it down to the level of understanding of a layman.

And the thing is that she needn’t have. We may well have understood her even if she’d kept her teaching in the more rarefied realms of abstract mathematical thinking. We were, after all, the advanced class. And yet, she didn’t do that. Instead she helped connect our heads to our hearts. She helped the abstractions come to life in a way they never had for me before. In the Indian national examinations that year, three of her students won the highest marks in the country for mathematics and I was one of them. To date she is one of the greatest and only spiritual teachers I’ve ever had and she said not one thing to me about spirituality…


I read an article on the news about a recent social study that researchers conducted across nine English speaking countries in order to try and measure one of the most salient features of society today – the ability to bullshit. And based on their findings they were able to establish that people who are in positions of power bullshit exponentially more than those who aren’t. And further, as subject matter expertise drastically declined in this group of “bullshitters” what did increase was the prolific use of complicated jargon.

In other words, people is power are the LEAST LIKELY to actually know what they are talking about, and yet, are likely to appear to others around them as the MOST KNOWLEDGEABLE on the matter.

And when I read that article, I couldn’t help but crack a smile because this describes the world of spirituality to a T.

All these gurus and experts that people flock to are some of the biggest grade A bullshitters one can encounter. And yet, it’s precisely because they are so adept at it that most people, even the not-very-gullible ones, are taken in by their seeming depth of experience and knowledge.

But for me, there is always one glaring red flag that is easy to pinpoint. And it’s something that has already been mentioned in the findings of that research study I just mentioned above. And that is “jargon”.

Jargon to me is the one big indicator that the person may not really know what they are talking about. They may understand it intellectually to some extent. But it tells me that they are just regurgitating what they have heard from others. Their own direct experience, thought, reflection and insight informs a very small portion of what eventually tumbles out of their mouths.

In Neo-advaita especially, this sort of thing is rampant. When people use words like “doership”, “awakeness”, “no-thing-ness” and so on they may believe that they have to invent new words in order to capture the incredible nuance of what they think they know, but all they end up doing is obscuring rather than clarifying.

The English language has one of the largest vocabularies in the world. And while words are only pointers and the map isn’t the territory and all that jazz, the latitudes and longitudes we’ve been provided with present us sufficient coordinates to roughly triangulate pretty much any experience we can think of including the esoteric, the ephemeral and the profound.

And yet, when we use abstract jargon that would find almost no place in a real world conversation we are attempting create a sense of mystique, an otherworldliness about it. We are conveying that we are privy to hidden knowledge that others cannot even comprehend.

Mastering the rhetoric creates an illusion of authority and expertise for many, but to me, it reeks of shallowness and unoriginality. You haven’t even delved into it enough to put it into your own words. That’s not expert. That’s just fucking lazy.

There are two places that I’ve personally witnessed this culture thrive. One is the corporate world and the other is the spiritual marketplace.

As a young consultant just starting out in the corporate world, I was trained specifically in the art of saying absolutely nothing worthwhile while using a whole lot of words to do it. It’s how the consulting firms made money. If, as a consultant hired by your organization to fix a certain problem, I were to just come in, identify the problem and tell you what needs to be fixed in a straightforward manner, that would earn me a fairly poor performance review. Because my “billable hours” would be paltry. The engagement would have finished before it had barely begun.

But if I could instead make it seem like the problem was much more complex than it actually was. If I could drown the client in business jargon; which produced two effects: first, it made the client feel insecure in their own knowledge and more likely to hand authority in the matter over to me, and second, it terrified the client because a relatively known problem had now become this huge unknown (and we all know how the unknown scares us). Then my aptitude as a consultant would be demonstrable.

Take the known and make it unknown while claiming to help make the unknown known.

Yeah that’s the kind of bullshit we were being trained to be masters of.

And when I survey the landscape of spirituality today, most spiritual teachers are busy doing much the same thing. Creating confusion under the guise of clarity. Assuming authority while claiming to relinquish it. Propounding regurgitated hyperbole parading as profound insight. And just as we entry level consultants were taught, the goal is not to provide a straightforward solution to anyone’s existential conundrums. The goal is to obfuscate to such an extent that the client (seeker) becomes profoundly paralyzed by their own inability to comprehend what is being said. And driven by that fear, they surrender their own critical thinking faculties in favour of that sublime and nuanced logic the teacher appears to be expounding.

In the corporate and spiritual business, this is how you RETAIN your clients. Because retention and not turnover is the name of the game here.

Yet, simplicity is of a higher order of aesthetics than complexity. And if one is truly knowledgeable then one must be able to express it in simple terms. Truth is universally present and therefore MUST be universally comprehendible.

While life can certainly be complex, subtle and nuanced what is needed is not complex, subtle and nuanced rhetoric if we are to grasp it. All that serves to do is obscure it and abstract it to a realm almost inaccessible to most people. Instead, what is necessary is a language that awakens that faculty of intelligence within us that deals in matters of complexity, subtlety and nuance. And I’m not talking about the intellect.

It’s the human heart that “gets it” on a far deeper level than the intellect ever can. And the language of the heart is the language of everyday experiences and encounters, of relationship, of humour, of anger, of empathy, of beauty and of passion. And when Mrs. S taught me differential and integral calculus her equations were filled with beauty, her manner with humour, her theorems with empathy, her proofs with passion.

Through her I was able to see that my whole life was a sort of existential calculus. My story was a process of the differentiation of this identity followed by an eventual integration back into a singular whole.

A Fundamental Acceptance

Originally posted on FB on April 28, 2019

“Your last two articles have really hit home for me. They’ve helped me understand trauma better. I’ve been doing a lot of work around healing my traumas. And I’ve learned a lot of acceptance for myself. I’m interested in this “fundamental acceptance” you talked about. How is it different from the acceptance you get once a trauma heals? Is it different?”
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What does it mean to “heal a trauma”?

One way to look at it is to consider “trauma” to be the effect of some terrible or violent experience. When considered through this perspective trauma belongs to the victim. It is something that has been caused by one person or group to another person or group.

Children are traumatized by negligent or abusive parents. Some women are traumatized by abusive partners (and vice versa). Historically certain ethnic peoples have been traumatized through the control and colonization of their lands by foreign powers. Soldiers are traumatized by the horrors of war. The setup is more or less the same.

And in each of these cases our prescribed response is two fold: justice for the victims through proportionate punishment of the oppressing parties. Followed by a healing process for these victims, so that their trauma can be met, healed and eventually resolved.

Sometimes that trauma may indeed feel resolved and the individual may finally feel some acceptance around their own pain and what was done to them. Yet, this kind of acceptance is only partial. And that is because our understanding of trauma is only partial.

There is another way to look at trauma. Rather than the effect of what has been done by one person to another, we can think of trauma as the entire process. Trauma then includes the oppressor, the victim AND the act of oppression, exploitation or violence. The entire cycle is the traumatic experience.

And it is revelatory to see trauma this way because trauma IS cyclical. Trauma has no choice but to cause more trauma unless the cycle is FULLY resolved, not just partially. In other words, the healing process has just as much to do with the oppressor and the traumatic act as it has to do with the victim. And resolution can happen only when all three have been met with understanding and finally acceptance. Only then can acceptance be complete.

Typically victims of trauma suffer from deep feelings of shame and self-loathing. This shame is debilitating and so a lot of trauma therapy centres around addressing these feelings of shame. Shame is quite a common human experience. And shame is quite different from guilt.

To put it simply, guilt is a sense of “what I’ve DONE is wrong”. While, shame is a sense of “who I AM is wrong”. They are fundamentally different things because guilt relates to our deeds whereas shame relates to our being. It is far simpler to change one’s behaviour than to change one’s self. Which is why shame is such an insidious feeling. It is amorphous and hard to pin down.

Guilt is resolved in a much more straightforward manner. One can show remorse, one can atone, one can rectify one’s behaviour and make amends. But shame is not easily resolved this way. In fact, even after a lifetime spent atoning and doing good deeds the feeling of shame can still be just as pervasive. Ask any good catholic what that feels like and they won’t hesitate to share.

Which is why in lieu of a clear strategy on how to deal with shame we resort to the next best thing. Shifting “shame to blame”.

This is how a lot of trauma victims learn to cope. Having taken a psychological beating not only from their oppressors but also from themselves, they come to a point where they realize that they shouldn’t be holding themselves responsible for what happened to them. This is certainly a crucial realization. But the next question is: then who IS responsible?

And the clear candidate then becomes the oppressing person or group that was responsible for the act in the first place. This shifting of shame to blame can feel extremely liberating for the victim because they feel free of the burden of “there is something wrong with me”. Now it’s a sense of “there is something wrong with THEM”. And this can be a motivating feeling especially when one receives the support of others who share in the sentiment.

And so, one may “feel” one has resolved their own trauma and learned to accept themselves but this isn’t entirely true. The trauma hasn’t been resolved. It still exists within us. We have just redirected it now. And that trauma is kept alive by a sense of “seeking justice”.

This is the energy that drives most of the Social Justice Warrior culture so prevalent in society today. It is this feeling of “I was traumatized. I’ve learned to deal with that fact. And now I’m going to make sure no one is ever traumatized in that way again.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. When unjust acts happen, justice must be served. This is the basis of a just society. Yet, there is a difference between assigning guilt and assigning blame. It is essentially the same as the difference between feeling guilt and feeling shame.

If I say you are guilty of something, I am judging your deed. And it is imperative that we judge these deeds correctly. Yet, when I blame you, I am judging who you are. Rather than holding you responsible for your actions I am now holding you responsible for your very existence.

Which is why SJWs are not merely content with demanding justice be served. They are obsessed with labeling people as bigots, racists, mysoginists, homophobes, transphobes, fascists, rape apologists and so on. As if the entire existence of a human being could be summed up in a single act.

And yet, that is what they have learned to do with themselves when they originally bore the burden of their traumas. They saw themselves through the lens of shame: the lens that seeks to reduce the being to a mere label, symbol or identifier. And so, that shame is just redirected in the form of blame. And it seeks retribution by reducing other beings to nothing more than labels, symbols and identifiers.

Trauma begets more trauma.

The only way to break that cycle is to see the entire cycle as the experience of trauma. And if acceptance must be found it must seek to resolve the dynamic as a whole.

This means we develop a compassionate understanding of ourselves as the victims but also of the other as the oppressor. We understand that if this is a cycle then the oppressor was once a victim too. And if it is a cycle then we victims will one day be the oppressors as well. The only way the cycle ends is when there are no longer any victims or oppressors. There is only the traumatic act. And that also must be then be reflected upon with compassion and understanding.

That is when acceptance becomes total. Then there is no further fuel that burns within us requiring a sacrificial scapegoat. We are willing to sacrifice neither ourselves nor our oppressors to that fire. The rule of law is something else entirely. But I’m referring to spiritual law here.

While total acceptance relates to specific traumas, it is not the “fundamental acceptance” I referred to in my post THE FUNDAMENTAL ANXIETY.

The “fundamental acceptance” is seeing that ALL of life is a traumatic experience. Simply put, life is suffering. And there are cycles of trauma within cycles of trauma, from the personal to the global level, which feed into each other in endless tides. This is the human condition in a nutshell.

And this fundamental acceptance dawns when one understands that the we are not the victims of some unforgiving fate, nor is there some invisible oppressing force that threatens to cause us misery and suffering. There is only life. And it can be painful, but that pain is, and always has been, a necessary part of it. There is no shame in one’s existence nor is there blame to assign elsewhere.

There is total responsibility for life JUST as it is.

The fundamental acceptance is no less than a compassionate understanding of the very root mechanism of the trauma cycle. And from it a total acceptance of trauma of all kinds is simply the default stance.

The Fundamental Anxiety

“Can you say something about existential angst? What is it and why do we feel it?”


The scene is a familiar one.

Our protagonist, the action hero, finds himself on a rickety old rope bridge suspended miles above a great chasm in some exotic land. He is being pursued by a foreign enemy and he must make it across to the other side to safety. As he gingerly steps across the creaking planks he holds firmly onto its ropes as the bridge sways perilously in the wind. He glances down at the yawning maw below him that threatens to consume him in short order.

The direness of his situation is further compounded as portions of the bridge behind him begin to collapse. He realizes standing still isn’t an option and he begins to move forward with a great sense of urgency. Suddenly, one of the planks beneath his feet cracks and gives way and he stumbles, holding on for dear life. He leaps forward steadying himself and proceeds even quicker.

Another crash. He turns around rapidly to see a companion of his fall through and disappear into the chasm. The look of abject terror in his companion’s eyes is the last thing he sees. With his adrenaline pumping and his heart racing, he runs forward in a desperate last ditch effort to survive…
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This all sounds highly dramatic and entertaining as a film scene. Yet, we feel comforted in knowing that our own lives are not THAT precarious.

But is this really true?

When I look at my own life, I find myself momentarily suspended on this platform of the present moment that I have very little control over. And as I move forward the past collapses behind me, leaving me with no option to turn around and retrace my steps. Every once in a while, the strong winds of circumstance will come out of nowhere and sway me this way and that. Every now and then, my foot will crash through what I’d assumed was a firm foothold and I catch myself just in time to steady myself. All the while, there is the great void of unknowability waiting right beneath my feet. The only difference that I find between myself and the action hero in the film is that he has a real hope of making it to the other side. Whereas I know it is just a matter of time before the whole structure collapses. There is no place of safety to get to…

What we call “civilization” is man’s desperate attempt to distract himself from this glaring fact. We have spent six millennia shoring up the bridge and reinforcing the planks in the belief that we can somehow provide ourselves a firmer foothold on reality. Yet, when the foundation itself is shaky, no amount of building upon its surface changes the basic precariousness of the situation. What it does do quite successfully however, is provide us with a false sense of security.

We have done, and can do, nothing to alter the fundamental structure of the bridge. It is designed to collapse. Yet, we have overlaid it with a sophisticated facade. The highest quality concrete and steel has been used to pave a surface that appears incredibly robust and durable. And yet, the planks behind us still invariably collapse as we move forward. And the bridge sways just as easily in the breeze. And every now and then, our legs still break through a weak point in the bridge. Companions of ours still suddenly disappear over the edge.

This veneer of security and reliability has disoriented us, drawing our attention away from the facts that we are faced with. Which is why we don’t feel the precariousness of our own situation as acutely as the action hero on the bridge does. Everyone knows what the situation is “intellectually” but not many really “feel” this is the case.

Yet there is a more primitive part of us that sees through the facade very clearly. It is not taken in by the artifice because it cannot comprehend abstractions. It is designed to only perceive what is real. And so it reacts in a way our conscious brains are confused by. It generates anxiety within us when we can find no perceivable reason why such an anxiety should exist.

Ours is a society plagued with myriad brands of anxiety. Somehow all our progress, culture, wealth and technology hasn’t freed us from that feeling of doom and dread. When we compare ourselves to our counterparts in third world nations – countries that are poorer, lacking in the kinds of resources and comforts we enjoy, we are struck by the fact that they don’t seem, when all is said and done, all that different from us. We see children in their villages beaming with ready smiles, elderly people bent over with age yet contentedly labouring in the fields, people with far less than we have inviting one another over for modest meals.

We see much suffering as well, of course. Yet, when we turn our glance towards our own societies we see much suffering here as well. So what has all this progress really won us on the level of an individual person living a life? Not a whole lot in proportion to all that has been invested. The math just doesn’t seem to add up.

Anxiety over relationships, anxiety over being single, anxiety over our careers, anxiety over our spiritual searches, anxiety over the government, anxiety over what others think of us, anxiety over our responsibilities, anxiety over the money in the bank, anxiety over ordinary social interactions, anxieties over health concerns. We seem to be plagued with a far wider variety of anxieties than our counterparts in the third world. Why?

Their anxieties seem fairly straightforward in comparison. Food, shelter, clean water, physical safety, good medicine, basic power generation and such. At least the solutions to those seem fairly clear even if the resources and access may be limited. But our own anxieties seem amorphous in comparison. We can hardly put a finger on it. We see therapists, spiritual teachers, priests, psychiatrists, coaches – all in a bid to try and identify what this anxiety is and what we can do to address it. Is it spiritual, is it caused by some traumatic event, is it neurological – what is it? We desperately want to know. We want it diagnosed.

And it may be diagnosed in several different ways depending on whom you consult with. You may be diagnosed with some anxiety disorder or another by a psychiatrist. A priest may claim you have lost your faith. A guru may claim you are clinging to attachments. A therapist may claim that you have trauma that needs to be faced. So on and so forth, hundreds of ways we can try and approach it. Yet, none of it gets to the root of where this anxiety emerges from.

The clue lies in the difference between you and your third world counterpart. He also has trauma, he also clings to attachments, he also has loss of faith, yet his anxieties aren’t as complex as yours. And that is because the precariousness of his own situation is much more evident to him that yours is to you. That is the fundamental difference between you two.

Your bridge has been overlaid with so much artifice that your connection to the reality of your own situation is far less grounded than is his. Yet, something inside you already knows this which is why it clings so strongly to the artifice. And the anxiety you feel is unconsciously redirected towards the protection of that artifice. Because every time a piece of that artifice falls away, the glaring reality of the precariousness of your circumstance comes rushing to the fore.

The loss of a job, the breakup of a marriage, the loss of an investment, the crumbling of institutions, the loss of faith, the loss of face. Each time a piece of steel and concrete breaks away, we are suddenly shown the rickety planks that sit just beneath that seemingly robust facade. And this terrifies us.

Thus, the plethora of anxieties of the civilized man are simply derivative of the one root anxiety. They are all fears that the facade will collapse and the obviousness of our circumstance will be revealed. My marriage will collapse, my health will collapse, the government will collapse, my finances will collapse, the markets will collapse. And when that happens we will be forced to face the REAL fear that is driving us. That fundamental anxiety at the heart of all anxieties.

Annihilation.

That is the root fear. And every other anxiety in the world is just a coverup distracting us from this root fact.

The survival instinct is really the “death denial” instinct. The instinct to deny death is programmed within the DNA of each and every living organism on the planet. And so it stands to reason that the more sophisticated an organism’s intelligence the more sophisticated its death denial strategy.

What we call the “human ego” is really that death denial strategy on an individual level. And what we call “society” is that death denial strategy on a collective level. Thus ego and civilization go hand in hand and evolve in sophistication together. They are designed to reinforce one another. Robust egos build robust societies. Fragile egos build fragile societies.

And so it comes as no surprise that a crack in the artifice of one impacts the artifice of the other. When institutions collapse individual identities take a hit. When individual identities in turn are fractured the social fabric begins to fall apart.

Thus everything we do from the individual to the collective becomes an effort to seal over those cracks and fissures in the facade. To shore up that artificial overlay and regain a sense of “business as usual”. And business as usual, as far as we are concerned, is a sense of feeling secure in the concreteness and reliability of the realities we inhabit.

And still, the fundamental anxiety remains.

It works its way insidiously through the cracks and fissures, manifesting in a thousand different forms from the serious to the trivial. Every fear, from the overarching to the mundane, is essentially retraceable to the fear of annihilation.

The lyrics of Jim Morrison capture the reality of our circumstance:

This is the end,
Beautiful friend
This is the end,
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes again.

The end is already contained within the nugget of every moment. The inevitable collapse is inherent in every form that defies all odds by existing.

And when one grasps this scenario fully, one has no choice but to react with great anxiety at the sheer futility of all struggle – at the absolute hopelessness of the circumstance. The realization that there is absolutely nothing we can do to avoid the inevitable is profoundly defeating.

Yet, paradoxically, from this very sense of defeat comes liberation. The fundamental anxiety when fully perceived and felt unimpeded, ravages like a forest fire through every sense of identity we harbour and every artifice we have erected. And what emerges from the smouldering ashes is it’s counterpart.

A fundamental acceptance.

Like a Phoenix reborn, absolutely nothing has changed in the reality of the circumstance and yet absolutely everything has changed in our perspective of it.

There can be no other resolution.

All other resolutions – of trauma, of phobia, of grief, fear, loss, circumstance, purpose, meaning, relationships, self esteem – address only ONE branch of that tree of the self-identity which is rooted in a fundamental denial of death. No matter how many branches one attends to and repairs, the root of one’s anxiety will find another avenue through which to weed it’s way through the cracks in the artifices of self and society.

Nothing less than a fundamental acceptance of THIS reality as it IS, rather than what we want it to be or what we have made it to be, will suffice.

The fundamental acceptance requires that we tear the steel and concrete away. We expose that rickety, flimsy, decaying structure propping us up miles in the air above a gaping chasm. And once we are face to face with the real precariousness of our circumstance, rather than glancing away in fear, we stare down that void for as long as it takes.

Staring down the void, the root becomes exposed. Our fundamental anxiety flares and rages, no longer seething beneath the surface like a molten mass. And we burn like a Phoenix in its flames.

To burst into flames or to plunge into the chasm, no other choice remains.

And when all is said and done, the fire abates. And we find ourselves still here. Yet, that anxiety is no longer with us. We are not motivated by it.

Then there are only the mountains around us. There is only the breeze gently rocking the bridge. There is only the creak of the flimsy planks under our feet.

And there is this step. It is all the meaning we need.

Just this one step…

In The Shape Of A Self

“There was an interesting phrase you used in your last post. It was a biblical reference – “the lion lays down with the lamb”. I think everyone harbors a secret belief that such a utopia can exist. Every culture seems to have some version of this. New agers talk about a “consciousness shift” happening on the planet. Seems like given the current state of affairs we need it now more than ever. I’d like to get your take on this. Can such a utopia exist? Is a world possible in which all beings are enlightened?”
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Yes, it’s possible. That’s the world I see.

Except my utopia is one in which the lion DEVOURS the lamb and in turn in devoured by the Earth. It’s a magical world in which life appears from the earth then feeds on the earth and is eventually fed TO the earth with not one single particle of matter or code of consciousness being destroyed in the process. And through these cycles of birthing, devouring and decaying, new forms emerge in an eternal creative play.

The kind of world in which the lion lays down with the lamb is a dystopian world to me. If both the lion and the lamb are peaceful and satiated, then at what or who’s cost? If they are simply content to take and sacrifice nothing of themselves in the process, then that kind of life is linear rather than cyclical. It means it starts and ends. It means it is finite. And if there are no cycles of learning and evolution, then the creative impulse is virtually non-existent. This sounds like a dead and barren world to me lacking any spark.

In the world I see, all beings are enlightened. How could it be any other way? When standing in the sun are you illuminated any less by it whether you are looking towards it or away? You are aware, I am aware, we are all aware. What we are aware of may differ. But we are all aware in equal measure. Our minds are illuminated by this awareness. Our minds are “enlightened” by it.

Yet, every person on whom the sunlight falls must cast a shadow. This shadow is simply the result of the physics of light. And it is similarly the physics of consciousness that determines that every being illuminated by awareness must cast a shadow. That shadow is a space of darkness. A space where the light doesn’t reach. And the shadow is the shape in which we ourselves exist. It takes the shape of the self.

A person staring at the shadow on the ground and perceiving only its unfathomable darkness may cry out, “Oh what a tragic state of affairs! I wish I could be enlightened!” And if by some fortunate event he were to turn around to face the sun and perceive its brilliant light, he may exclaim, “Oh glory be! I am finally enlightened!”

But what has really changed? Was he any less illuminated by the sun when he was staring at his shadow than when he turned to face it? His perspective has shifted yet the reality of his position has not. He was enlightened before, he is enlightened now. The only difference is he wasn’t aware of it before, he is aware of it now.

And further, now that he is facing towards the sun, does this mean that he will no longer cast a shadow? Does being aware of the sun’s rays allow him to orient himself in a way that exempts him from casting a shadow?

Fixated towards the light, he may forget that there is a darkness right behind him that continues to exist in the shape of his self. And as his eyes track the sun across the sky, unbeknownst to him, his shadow is growing in size. Yet, he may ignore it believing that what is behind him is of no consequence. But is this shadow not also a reality?

As with the human individual so with the collective.

As the Earth rotates on its axis and daylight dawns on one half of humanity, night falls on the other half. Just as those who seek progress, understanding and liberation appear to be making headway, new kinds of regress, ignorance and bondage emerge. Yet, this very regress, ignorance and bondage forms the context of a new kind of progress, understanding and liberation yet to come. It is only from the darkness of night that a new day can emerge.

Then how can one dispel ignorance altogether? Why would one even want to? Can the earth exist without one half being cast in shadow?

What we call ignorance is that shadow that is cast. Those who live in the darkness of ignorance exist in the shadow of those crowding for the light. We who consider ourselves awake, knowledgeable, progressive are unaware that there are others who live in the very shadow we have cast. And, when tired of living in those shadows, they finally mutiny and overwhelm us, it will be they who face the sunlight and we who are forced into their shadows. Glance back at the history of civilization and you will see this has always been so.

As horrific as this sounds, is this not simply the dynamic of the earth spinning on its axis; as one half of the world casts the other into darkness in order to face the light?

Now you may ask: “is this crowding for the light while casting others into shadow really necessary? Couldn’t we all just face the light together?”

If we did, who would ever tend to our shadows? If we ourselves are oblivious and there are no others forced to face and overcome them, then those shadows would grow unchecked. And further, what would be our impetus to grow and evolve?

The rainforest with its lofty canopy can only exist because of this very phenomenon of “crowding for the light”. As great trees aspire to face the sun, others unable to keep up are forced to adapt various other strategies to survive. And from this basic premise one of the world’s richest ecosystems with more than ten million unique life forms are born. Would I deny the very impetus that would drive such a creative effort?

You speak of utopia in terms of perfection but what does that “perfection” mean to you? Does it signify an ending where nothing more must change? Does it signify a completion? To me when something is completed, it has ended. That is death.

To me, perfection is not within the process but IS the process itself. There is only incompletion.

It is perfect, to me, that the lion would devour the lamb.

It is perfect, to me, that as society progresses in certain aspects it also regresses in others.

It is perfect, to me, that as we grow in scientific knowledge there is a growing resistance towards it.

It is perfect, to me, that as medicine evolves, strains of viruses and bacteria that threaten our well-being proliferate.

It is perfect, to me, that just as the liberal progressive view gains a firm foothold in world politics, conservative populist thinking resurges to shake that foothold.

It is perfect, to me, that great mystics and spiritual teachers turn out to be abusive and exploitative people and shake people’s faith in external authority figures.

It is perfect, to me, that the oppressed minorities of the past have shifted into the role of oppressing our freedoms in the name of tolerance.

It is perfect, to me, that every version of utopia man has ever created has eventually devolved into a dystopian reality.

To quote Alanis Morissette: “Isn’t it Ironic? Don’t ya think?”

To me the irony is proof of life’s impeccability. The paradox is evidence of its perfection.

All this is perfect to me because the process is flawless. And I know that it is flawless because when I open my eyes every morning the universe is still there. This incredible complexity with infinite moving parts and relationships exists without a glitch.

Yet, what we still haven’t figured out after all these years of civilization is that if shit isn’t broken then there is no need to fix it.

Placing ourselves at the center of the universe and at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of sentience we’ve come to believe that WE are the purpose for which life has come into existence. We believe WE are the chosen ones who must safeguard all of this bounty we see. And it is this self-fulfilling prophecy of our own extraordinariness as a species that causes us to resist the inevitable laws that govern the rest of life.

It is why we struggle against aging, struggle against disease, struggle against death. It’s why we refuse to accept that we are merely mortal like the other lesser creatures that inhabit the planet. It is why we are convinced of our own freedom of will. It is why we believe we possess an agency that can override that of Nature’s.

We assume that there is something broken. We believe that we have broken it. We believe that it now falls upon us to fix it. Because, from where we stand, it MUST be all about us.

Yet, in the world I see, there are no exceptions to the rule. Even aberrations and anomalies have a very precise design. Every disease, every virus or bacteria has a very specific role to play. And in that sense: humanity with our sentience, self-awareness, emotion and intellect are evolutions of nature designed to establish a certain outcome.

And perhaps the eventual purpose of this design is annihilation. Perhaps, nature seeks a clean slate and humanity is the eraser it has developed for that very purpose. Perhaps, instead of creating an algae that emits excessive methane and warms the planet, nature decided to create “humans” that would use industries to do it. “Algae”, “human” these are only words. One could very well conclude that “humans ARE that algae”. Plagues can exist in various forms.

Or perhaps there is some other utility we have. Regardless, for us to believe that we have the power or agency to choose the destiny of all life, is a bizarre illusion. And yet, even that illusion of agency is just another mechanism that nature has developed within us in order to motivate us towards achieving a specific outcome.

Amphibians were the first creatures to emerge from the ocean and bring sentient life to land. And even today every tadpole must make that ancient journey from water to land, that its ancestors first made, in order to emerge into their adult selves. The history of the universe exists within each and every one of us. The same cycles of creation, destruction and evolution play out on every scale of the universe from the subatomic to the galactic. Everything obeys the same impulse.

What could be more perfect?

But, this isn’t good enough for you.

You want a world which has no shadow. You want a world without darkness, without ignorance, without suffering. And feeling convinced of this, you have no choice but to try and eliminate that darkness and the suffering from the world.

But in the process you are really seeking to eliminate half the world.

And when each half of the world living in fear of darkness seeks to eliminate the other half, what we get is total erasure.

Perhaps, that is nature’s strategy after all.

Spiritual Infants

“Being from the yoga world I can totally relate to the flavoured vapidity that comes out of the mouths in my circle. I have to say I can’t take it anymore. I know everyone needs to be validated and their trauma seen but is it just me or what happened to “pick yourself up and dust yourself off”? This is what I taught my kids- our phrase was “no biggie” whenever something didn’t turn out as expected. If I see one more article on “being vulnerable” I’m going to puke. Do you think society has swung too far to the snowflake side?”


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This is the million dollar question isn’t it?

Because it points to that widening chasm between the “suck it up” bootstraps culture of the old guard and the “validate me” easy-to-take-offence culture of the millennial generation. In spirituality as well, we have seen a similar arc – where the brutally unforgiving austerities of the ascetic cultures have given way to self-indulgent sentimentality of the new age.

What gives?

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CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

In this, the century of the self, we have been led to believe that everything revolves around our own individual existence. Beginning with the establishment of the democratic system which places the individual front and center in determining who will govern. To the emergence of the fields of marketing and advertising which identify the individual consumer as being the ultimate decider on what will be produced, what will be consumed and what will be invented. To the emergence of financial markets in which individual stock and shareholder unanimously determines how the markets react and how the economy will be impacted.

None of this seems unusual to us until we realize that it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, for most of recorded history it was entirely the opposite. The ordinary individual’s impact on society was almost negligible – restricted to a few personal relationships and one’s standing within the local community. The idea that “one person” has the power to dictate how the nation would be governed, how industries would produce, how the economy would fare would be the equivalent of telling someone that “one person” could dictate how fast the moon could revolve, or how high the waves could swell or what time the sun could rise.

We don’t fully fathom what kind of power we have been endowed with. And with the advent of the internet and the proliferation of social media, an individual’s impact on the whole has magnified exponentially. We’ve arrived at a point when a troll can rile a president and a hacker can influence an election while still in their underwear. All of this only serves to validate repeatedly to us that the world does indeed revolve around us.

And we are not wrong to assume this because human society has been constructed to cater for this very kind of thinking. Because if a person is given the “illusion of control” they become predictable and easily controlled. If a person is allowed to believe that every little idiosyncrasy and petty concern of theirs is of monumental importance then they will likely lose themselves in their own trivialities and surrender the “bigger decisions” that concern the collective to authorities outside themselves.

What we call “culture” is really a power play. It is the strategy that those in power use to control the masses. And culture evolves because the control strategy is always changing. Before people were ruled with an iron fist, now they are ruled with a pat on the back. Before the masses were deprived and heavily censored in order to get them to obey, now they are indulged with every form of pleasure imaginable.

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AN ETERNAL INFANCY

“There are two kinds of suffering. Not getting what you want. And getting everything you want.” Deprivation when taken to an extreme creates poverty which is a terrible brand of suffering. Yet, “decadence” is the other extreme in which everything one wants is provided for with nearly no limitations. And decadence brings a more insidious and almost invisible brand of suffering. A “soul sickness” in which the body is fed and the brain stimulated yet the spirit is impoverished.

And so we see that decadence is the malaise of our first world cultures. And it is precisely in these cultures that we see the widespread phenomenon of the “infantalization” of the adult individual. In other words, in the absence of any real obstacles or challenges growing up, most adults today never really end up growing up at all. They remain stunted, in many ways, in a narcissistic self-centered view of life and the world.

We are all born narcissists. An infant’s only concern is with their own needs and wants. Yet, the process of maturing is one in which the locus of one’s attention gradually shifts beyond the individual’s own personal world to a wider perspective of the collective and of the whole. And what motivates an individual to “step out of themselves” is the experience of deprivation. When what I want is not provided for I am forced to seek it in creative ways. And in that process of seeking, I inevitably encounter obstacles and challenges that allow me to grow in awareness of who I am and what I am capable of. And further through that process I come to understand who others are and what they are capable of. The eventual outcome of all this is the realization that we are all essentially the same and we are all capable of essentially the same things in different measure.

Yet, a person who has hardly been deprived has no motivation to undertake such a journey. They remain stunted in their growth. With no obstacles to overcome or challenges to face they come to believe that who they are is merely the sum of their own wants and needs. And further that the purpose of the world is to satisfy those wants and needs. They remain infants in adult bodies.

And if you look at society today everything in our consumerist culture is designed to promote and maintain that “infantilized” state. What do you want to wear? What do you want to play? What do your friends say about you? What things do you like? What things do you hate? These are the sorts of questions marketing companies are asking of grown adults in order to determine the kinds of products and trends that will dominate our societies. These are the kinds of questions I ask my five year old.

So, it isn’t surprising in the least that we have an entire generation that now believes that every whim and fancy, every opinion and frustration must not only be catered for but taken very, very seriously. After all if marketing companies and now even governments are doing it, then it must be very important indeed.

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JUNGLE LAW

Yet, beyond the dynamics of human society there is this other thing called “life”. And many tend to conflate the two because we are so immersed in the human game we lose sight of the fact that not all of life is “human”. In fact, “human” is a small subset of it. Our morals, our ethics, our wants and desires, our frustrations and our emotional hurts only have context within the boundaries of the scaffolding of society we have rigged up over the last six thousand years. But nature’s laws are different entirely.

In nature, justice, fairness, equality, ethics and such have no relevance whatsoever. Here there are no perpetrators and victims – only predators and prey. And there are no restraining orders or justice one can seek in a court of law. There is only jungle law. And jungle law states that only the fittest survive and the ones that perish are shown not an ounce of mercy. It is a ruthless reality that we have spent the last six millennia trying to find a way out of. And we have succeeded quite well in building an artifice of civilization and sophistication.

Now, we can claim to live in a world where fairness can exist. Where justice can be upheld. Where predators are perpetrators and the prey are indeed victims. And we can offset these behaviours with various punishments and austerities so as to approach an increasingly idyllic existence where the lion does, indeed finally, lay down with the lamb.

Yet, we forget that our bodies are far too ancient. And while the prefrontal cortex has learned to quickly dominate and override the rest of the brain, there are still entire portions to us that only respond to jungle law. No amount of sensitivity training, socialization and indoctrination is ever going to change that. Any efforts to suppress that wildness within us only leads to bizarre and unexpected backlash effects.

The older generation, still has some sense of this. They understand that while society may be designed to be fair, “life” isn’t fair. While society can be designed to care, “life” doesn’t give a shit. While society can be setup to cater to our whims and pleasures, “life” only rewards those who challenge and seek. While society may create an environment where all are provided for, in “life” only to the victor go the spoils.

And precisely because “life” is the foundation and society is only the scaffolding one must first and foremost be equipped to respond to jungle law BEFORE one upholds the laws of man. Yet, when we lose sight of this and begin to align ourselves only to our ideals, neglecting the worldview that our bodies and a large portion of our brains inhabit, then we effectively create an alienation within ourselves.

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PARADOX OF CHAOS

This alienation lies at the heart of the epidemic of anxiety and depression that has swept the world. Having every want and whim granted to us, we have developed practically no survival skills. We have not been encouraged to face our fears or take responsibility for our own suffering. All that is projected outwards and made someone else’s job. We have outsourced our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being to third party agents and thus live in perpetual anxiety that that well-being will not be taken care of. We are like children looking towards our parents for approval, for permission, for validation, for recognition and when we fail to receive it we feel deeply hurt. So, in order to ensure that those terms and conditions are met we create new laws and campaign for new legislation that dictates how people should treat us and what they must or cannot say to us.

There was a time when a man or woman learned to navigate perilous territory and face fearsome predators on a near daily basis in order to find sustenance. Now, we live in morbid fear that someone on the subway train might actually say “hi”. This bizarre turn of events is not the result of some biological overhaul to our brains. The physiology of the human brain has remained mostly identical over thousands of years. What has changed is our self-perception and our expectations of what “should” happen.

And what we call “spirituality” is designed to be the antidote for precisely this sort of phenomenon. The spiritual perspective is one in which we seek to align with life as it is, rather than life as we “want it to be”. We learn to see the “impermanence” in things even as society strives to provide us with certainty and security. We learn to see that the “self is an artifice” even as society seeks to double down on our self-images and pander to our self-indulgences. Yet, there is plenty that goes below the radar because the cognitive dissonance it creates is too much to bear.

We don’t want to accept that the predator and prey dynamic is programmed deep within our psyches and is in alignment with the way the natural world works. That eliminating predatory behaviour altogether from society is not what spurns evolution. In fact, trillions of species on this planet have evolved and proliferated precisely because they have needed to develop creative strategies to avoid these threats. Without the predator-prey dynamic the creative impulse simply dies.

We don’t want to accept that deprivation is just as necessary as fulfilment if we are to evolve. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and if there is no necessity then there can be no invention. Or rather if the necessities become focused on trivialities so do the inventions.

We don’t want to accept that without fear, learning courage is impossible; without hate learning love is impossible; without ignorance developing understanding is impossible; without aggression, peace is impossible. And a “progress” which is based upon the elimination of the agents of chaos altogether is not progress at all. It is the process of anesthetizing the human spirit. It is a form of palliative care for the vanquishing soul.

Society today is entirely preoccupied with maximizing the individual’s pleasure while minimizing their discomforts. Our laws, our products, our lifestyles are all geared in this way. Yet, this leads to a spiritual impoverishment because the spirit thrives on experience, challenge and adversity. What seems like an increasing order on the outside leads to greater chaos on the inside.

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THE QUESTION

Now, to address the original question.

I’m sorry to say but this “yoga world” you are from has nothing to do with yoga. The performing of asanas no more makes one a “yogi” than the ability to speak the Chinese language makes one Chinese. Yoga is infinitely more than the “culture” that surrounds it.

There is something to be said for the willingness to be “vulnerable”. However, almost no one seems to understand exactly how powerful a stance this is. So let’s talk about that for a second.

To be vulnerable doesn’t mean being “weak”.

It means to open oneself up to the vicissitudes of fate. To lay down one’s armor and defenses and stand in the open battlefield unprotected. There are two kinds of people who would do this – the insane and the fearless.

To be vulnerable means to stand and face one’s own fears in a no-holds-barred kind of way. It’s like the free soloist climbing the rock without ropes. Being vulnerable has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with changing how others should be treating us or creating external safety nets that prevent us from getting hurt. And if one isn’t prepared for absolutely any outcome to happen then being intentionally vulnerable is the most foolish thing one can do.

Yet, this refrain of “being vulnerable” has been taken up as some standard of evoking understanding and sympathy from others. It has been misunderstood as some moral imperative to forcibly order society into a more compassionate orientation. “Look! I’ve taken off my armor so now you can’t attack me! How dare someone attack another who has laid down their weapons?”

What we fail to recognize is that this brand of “vulnerability” is not vulnerability at all. It’s just another kind of DEFENSIVENESS. Rather than taking the responsibility of defending ourselves, we have now outsourced it to society. Now, we are incapable of even defending ourselves against the words and verbal barbs of others and so we develop legislation that restricts and remands those words from ever reaching us.

None of this has anything to do with vulnerability. Vulnerability simply means to maintain an open stance as opposed to a defensive or offensive one. It doesn’t imply becoming incapable of defending oneself if the need arises. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean becoming infant-like. It means becoming a warrior who no longer has the need to brandish their weapon.

While previous generations heavily armored themselves they also suffered inner wounds in silence. Wounds that would have healed had they been allowed to be exposed to the air. We understand that now and so we have tried to create an environment in which it may be safe to lay down that armor from time to time. To expose one’s hurts and allow those scars to heal.

Yet, that sentiment has been taken to the other extreme. One in which we have forgotten how to fight, how to stand up for ourselves, how to wrestle with fate and circumstance with our own two hands and standing on our own two feet. Imagine a battlefield on which a warrior when struck were to respond, “how dare you strike me?”

Yet, in life, being struck is inevitable. And if we don’t have the skills to defend, to strike back or bounce back when knocked down, we have become severely impaired. Creating an environment where no one will ever strike us is not the solution, as far as I’m concerned.

One final thought on vulnerability. What I do on this page is an example of vulnerability. I am an open book here. I share myself, my thoughts, my life, personal events and history in a transparent manner. And I do this knowing full well that I am opening myself to criticism, to judgment and even to attack. But I’m not afraid of it. This is a conscious decision I have made BECAUSE I know I can deal with it. I can deal with the criticism, the judgment and the personal attacks. If I couldn’t deal with it I have no business being vulnerable. Because then, I would be paranoid about making sure no one said anything critical or judgmental of me.

When an infant ventures out into the world it needs all forms of barriers and buffers to protect it. Society has grown deeply infantilized. Spiritual culture today is just an extension of that. It comes as no surprise then to me, that safety rather than truth has emerged as our guiding principle.

Straight Talk


“You don’t sound like someone who should be giving ANY KIND of advice let alone spiritual advice. You come across to me as ignorant and arrogant. Sorry if this is harsh but in my opinion you lack the intelligence to take on a subject like this without any real insight. Take off those big boy boots and go right back to the beginning and start over. You need it. You don’t know what you’re talking about 😂”

AND

“I’ve been reading through your posts in chronological order and boy are they fantastic! Every single one gives me a little better insight into where you are coming from. Also, a little more clarity on the words you used in our conversations. I fucking love you man. I used to think you were a bit of an asshole… a brilliant asshole. But now I see where the words are coming from. They’re coming from clarity and tenderness. Yes you may “seem” harsh or ornery at times… but it is only seemingly so. You say what needs to be said. The way it needs to be said. I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m starting to actually “hear” you more and more clearly…”

AND

“This back and forth with you over the last two weeks has been revolutionary. I gotta ask – why do you do it? You don’t know me from adam. I’m just some guy. Why help me out with my dilemmas? It’s not money then what is it? Is it altruism? Do you have a desire to do good and help people? I’m really curious. It feels weird to me that a total stranger would put himself out for me like that?! Not sure what to make of it….”

AND

“I love your publications, it is not easy to find someone who having experienced the nature of reality, expresses how he deals with the dilemmas of life .. You feel the authenticity. Thank you”


This page has been controversial since it first began. From the very first post, there were many who loved what was being written and there were some who hated it. Especially in those early days, there were a few verbal battles that played out in the comments section between various critics and defenders of the page. One or two people got banned from the page when things got out of hand. But for the most part I’ve been very open to all kinds of points of view, both positive and negative, about what I write here. To date only two people were ever banned. One of whom was a troll with no real interest in the page. And the other was an individual given fair warning on multiple occasions to keep it civil.

Of course, I continue to receive personal messages where people feel like they can express themselves a bit more openly or explicitly as the case may be. The four quotes above were messages sent to me within the past day. It reveals a whole spectrum of how people respond to my posts.

However, the majority of responses on this page have been overwhelmingly positive. And this despite the “asshole” persona I apparently project in my writing. Why is that?

It’s because people are sick and tired of having shit sugar coated for them. This entire industry runs on substanceless, fluffy or feel-good rhetoric. Either the words people are hearing are so esoteric that it sounds like some alien being has descended from a planet called “enlightenment” and is speaking to them in tongues. Or every syllable is being dipped into a vat of caramel flavoured vapidity and then sprinkled with a fragrant frosting of heartfulness. Whether one is drawn to the more “heady” stuff of the former kind or the more “heart-based” stuff of the latter, very little of it is relatable in an everyday sense.

Listening to these spiritual teachers, few seekers ever feel like the teachers are really “accessible” as human beings. There is an “otherworldliness” about them. Even their attempts to be “real” feel forced. No matter what, these teachers will NEVER sound like your mailman or the next door neighbour. There is something fundamentally unrelatable about this kind of spirituality. And that is because when spirituality is “separated out” from the mundane experience of being human and made to stand on its own it becomes something utterly empty of substance. It becomes nothing more than fancy vacant words and convoluted mental gymnastics.

I once watched a single mother, with four young kids all under the age of five and working two jobs, ask Eckhart Tolle how she could stay more aware and present instead of giving in to the constant stress and exhaustion she was in. His response to her was so devoid of any real practical application it was laughable. Something about “watching the pain body arise and being aware of the stillness” as the kids are yelling and tantrumming. I honestly believe you could program an AI to spit out Eckhart-witticisms and no one would be able to tell the difference. That’s how vague and generic they are.

I was watching this (a father of a newborn infant at the time on barely more that eight hours of sleep in a week) thinking, “What the fuck is he even talking about?”

And the biggest irony to me was seeing this woman, who was already displaying superhuman patience by pulling off this incredible juggling act of working two jobs and raising a big family, asking this dude who sits all day next to a vase of flowers and has almost no practical demands on him, to teach her how to be patient. It was a classic case of an individual, worn out by life and feeling powerless to their circumstances, projecting all their latent power onto some “authority figure” who hardly deserved it.

I’m not a teacher and I don’t pretend to be. But through my writing I have inevitably ended up in a position where people reach out to me for counsel. And I don’t dare presume to tell them what they should be doing with their lives. I may probe them, question them, even challenge them if it’s evident to me that there is something that they are getting hung up on. Still, who am I to know what they really need? And when people begin to use me as a crutch my reflex response is to push them backwards onto their own feet.

My willingness to respond to these personal queries has nothing to do with altruism. I’m not downplaying this when I say : I haven’t a charitable bone in my body. It has to do with me being slightly obsessive compulsive by nature. For example, I have this close friend who is a neat freak. When she visits people’s houses she does things like straighten paintings or tidy up the cushions or lay out coasters for people with drinks. And she does it because she has an aesthetic need for order in a home environment.

I’m kind of like that except instead of homes, for me it’s people’s minds. However, it’s intrusive to walk into someone’s house and start tidying it up for them. Similarly, I respect a person’s own mess of confusion and recognize that it is a necessary aspect of their development. So, when someone approaches me with a dilemma it’s kind of like your partner asking you a crossword clue. I won’t offer an answer but I’ll attempt to tease what they already know out of them. People may feel like the interaction is helpful (or sometimes not) but that’s only a side effect. It’s not what it’s about for me.

When I write a post on this page, I speak as I would to a familiar friend. And my close friends know all too well that with me what you see is what you get. So, I skip the niceties. Got no time for that. And go for the heart of the matter. Whatever that may be. I share my experiences, my insights, my lucidity and my darkness. I am far from a perfect being and never portray myself that way. It is my ordinariness that I value most of all over anything else. Why would I try and conceal it? I see no benefit in appearing “extraordinary”.

I had one person message me saying that they thought I was an absolute genius. To which I responded, “you have no idea how stupid I can be.” I was not feigning humility. I was laughing because if only they knew! To myself, I am mediocre. Brilliant in some regards and daft in others. Like everyone else.

And I always speak in the manner and measure that the circumstance requires. I can be deeply empathetic and heartfelt at times and at times I can seem overly brash, aloof and dismissive. I’m a parent to two kids and I know that both tough love and tender love have their place. Neither is better than the other. Each is necessary in a certain kind of context. Regardless, love is the constant. Toughness and tenderness are two means of expressing the same love.

Through my writing, I attempt to snap people out of this stupor of spirituality they get lost within. In search of the miraculous they lose sight of the mundane. In search of the extraordinary enlightened perspective they neglect or take for granted the ordinary everyday one.

Yet, it is ordinary life that is the real miracle here. The mundane IS the miraculous. Just the very fact that I am sitting here typing this is an event so bizarre and unexplainable that we have had to invent six thousand years of civilization and distraction in order to cope with the absurdity of this fact. If the ordinariness of a single moment were fully allowed and witnessed it would blow the mind wide open.

Who in their right mind would ever go searching for life’s bounty in the mediocre, the mundane and the messy? Who wants to go hunting for a treasure that everyone already has in equal measure?

In a world obsessed with excellence, extraordinariness and perfection the real mystery easily slips beneath the radar.

It’s All About You


Just understand this. I reject your version of me completely.

Don’t get me wrong. I accept that you have it. But it’s none of my business. What you think of me is as inconsequential to me as what your favourite colour is.

You like green? Good for you. Hate it? No problem. Don’t give a shit either way.

You think I’m the cat’s whiskers? Enjoy that version of me. Think I’m an idiot? Have fun getting riled up about that. It holds no weight with me.

You need to understand that you simply cannot know me. I am unknowable to you. What you like, what you admire, what you dislike, what you despise has everything to do with you and nothing to do with me.

If only your guru or your teacher treated you this way. If only they rejected your love, rejected your hate, rejected your reverence and your desperation. Perhaps then, having nowhere left to direct it, you’d direct it towards yourself.

“But I do hate myself! I do despise myself! That’s the problem!” You might say.

So hate yourself. Despise yourself. But do you also love and cherish yourself? If you are saving that love for another then that’s your missing piece.

Or another might say, “Well, I do love myself. I do admire myself! It’s certain other people that I disdain and criticize.”

So love yourself. Admire yourself. But if you are saving that disdain and criticism for another then that’s your missing piece.

It’s all about you and only ever about you.

What you think about another, what you think about the world, about events and circumstances – everything that filters in through your awareness and registers in your mind has passed through the lens of your own self-perception.

Every skew or bias in your view of these external agents is the result of a distortion in that lens of self perception.

And further every positive bias you see in the world must be offset by a negative bias you have of your own image. Every prejudice you hold towards another is offset by some inflated view you have of yourself.

It’s all about you and only ever about you.

And this “YOU” I’m referring to is neither the self-image nor the external environment. It is the lens that can’t perceive itself. But can only know itself in relation to the world it sees beyond and the image of self it reflects back.

So when you revere or put your teacher on a pedestal, you have no choice but to simultaneously diminish yourself. Magnifying their importance goes hand in hand with a diminished sense of your own significance.

When you inflate your own self importance in comparison to the common man whom you dismiss as being petty and lost in material trivialities, that self-importance can only exist by diminishing someone else. The two go hand in hand.

Yet, you have no control over the lens either. You cannot choose the distortions it creates nor can you choose to undo them. All you can “do” is become aware of how the lens interprets. And in the simple act of awareness, the distortions reveal themselves and eventually resolve themselves. Yet, these physics of awareness are no more within our control than the physics of the material universe.

The lens that is undistorted sees everything in the proportion in which it actually exists. There is no magnification nor diminishment. I see you and I see me in the proportions that we exist. The world through the lens is in proportion to the image being reflected back.

Then I am free to love, admire, dislike and criticize – but it is never a one way street. It is always in equal proportion outwards and inwards.

What I dislike in others is what I equally dislike in myself. What I love about others is what I equally love about myself. What I admire in others is what I equally admire about myself. What I criticize in others is what I equally criticize in myself.

And since I see both you and me in proportion, I can neither diminish you in order to inflate myself nor can I inflate you in order to diminish myself. Then, I am free of you and you are free of me.

When the world exists in proportion it becomes ordinary. Incredibly ordinary. There are no “giants” among us, there are no “goddesses” among us, there are no “saints” among us, there are no “demons” among us. There are people. Just ordinary people. With a wide variety of lenses.

And sometimes those lenses are terribly distorted. And when enough people with distorted lenses get together they can do terrible things. Yet, life is a kaleidoscope, and inevitably, the light that enters a kaleidoscope can never be lost.

No matter how many times it may be distorted and diffracted, reflected and refracted, it remains the same and emerges as the very same light it was that first entered.

Which means that the net effect of all the distorted perspectives in the world remains unchanged. Times may change, events may change, opinions may change, regimes may change but in essence nothing changes.

What is IS what is. And what could be, should be, must be, could’ve been, should’ve been, must’ve been affects it not in the least.

I am what I am. And what you THINK I am is what YOU are.

I am unknowable to you.

It’s all about you. And only ever about you.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

“It’s no secret that you are against all kinds of spiritual teachers. But I’m curious what you think about the whole idea of a lineage? There are teachers who claim they were instructed to teach by their own gurus. People who are quite famous and well known. What are your thoughts? Is there any credibility to these people over just some guy on YouTube spouting wisdom?”
.

***
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The murmur of voices reverberated through the industrial steampunk interior of the coffee shop. An espresso machine hissed noisily in the background and ceramic mugs clattered in the metallic sink behind the bar. Patrons squeezed past one another through the narrow aisle, eyes scanning searchingly for a vacant table or seat in some dingy nook somewhere. Seated on a bar stool by the front window that overlooked a busy street, I sat listening in amusement to a man I’m going to call Hal.

Hal was a curious character: lean, in his late forties, with an overgrown mustache and striking gaze. He barely ever blinked, which had a sort of hypnotic effect on anyone who spent more than a minute listening to him speak. His shirt, with its sleeves rolled up roughly until his elbows, was a size too large and he wore sandals even though it was the middle of winter. His nose, more of a beak, was the most prominent thing on his face and it protruded proudly towards the one listening as if to command one’s immediate attention. He spoke in soft measured tones and always seemed to be inwardly smiling in a most self-conscious manner. It was clear that he enjoyed listening to himself speak immensely.

Hal was a guru, self-appointed, although he didn’t admit to it. Instead, he claimed he had been sanctioned to “teach” by his own guru – another no-name brand character who claimed to have been sanctioned to teach by his own guru and so on until we arrived at the big kahuna – Ramana Maharishi himself. This claim to non-dual royalty had been exceedingly successful in fetching Hal a significant following of students and a striking bevy of attractive hipsters who formed his “inner circle”. There were always one or two of them present with him whenever he frequented the coffee shop. They fawned and giggled over his profundities. And at times, even offered a few of their own shattering insights that I may have learned something from had I not been busy spewing my coffee all over the coffee shop window in incredulity.

Today’s arm candy, ironically, went by the name “Candy”. And as Hal attempted to convince me of his spiritual privilege, Candy nodded mechanically like an overgrown PEZ dispenser.

“You see, the fact is that even though Ramana spoke about being one’s own guru, he nevertheless believed that a human being cannot truly evolve without instruction. In fact, he secretly sanctioned a number of individuals to teach for him. But this was all done very hush hush and not spoken about in public,” his voice wafted like a song on a summer breeze.

“I see. And how long did your guru spend with him?” I asked.

“Not my guru. HIS guru….” he corrected.

“Oh that’s right, my bad. Your great-guru?” I chuckled.

“That’s right!” he laughed like a mountain brook skipping over pebbles.

“How long did HIS guru spend with Ramana?”

“Not long,” he sighed with a faint smile at my obvious ignorance of how these spiritual dynamics work, “but you understand: a transmission is immediate.”

“A transmission?” I looked at Candy and caught her mid nod.

“Yeah, you know,” she spoke glancing sideways at her master as if for approval, “when like the guru communicates wisdom without words?”

Hal shifted in his chair demonstrating discomfort that his own efforts at transmission with Candy had obviously flubbed.

“Well, it’s a bit more than that,” he laughed with the merriment of an infant kangaroo making its first foray beyond the borders of its mother’s pouch. “A transmission is an immediate reordering of a person’s awareness. In that moment, one sees with the eyes of the guru. And one’s consciousness is forever changed.”

“Sounds dope…” I remarked.

Candy’s nodding became more vociferous as if to say, “oooh, ooooh, I knew that! I knew that!”

“So, I assume then your great-guru did the same thing with your guru?” I probed.

“That’s right,” he agreed. “And that is how my guru initiated me. By impregnating my consciousness with the seed of realization from which the flower of my enlightenment has bloomed…”

Candy’s eyes teared and she cupped his hands in her own affectionately. Glancing at the two of them I couldn’t help but wonder how many seeds of enlightenment he had planted in her.

“So, how does one know if the transmission is going to work?” I inquired. “Is there an optimal time, or receptiveness that is required from the vessel?”

“Of course!” his eyes twinkled like a diamond-crusted night sky. “Only the rarest of individuals can receive such a gift.”

I glanced at Candy. She glanced at him. And he glanced avoidantly out the window.

“Awkward….” I muttered under my breath.

“What was that?”

“Awesome, this whole transmission thing. It’s like your spiritual ancestry, innit?” I remarked.

“That’s exactly what it is. This is my spiritual heritage. And I have pictures of my gurus with me at all times. In my home, when I teach. Look, I even have them in my wallet?” he displayed a B&W pic of pot-bellied Ramana and a couple of equally out-of-shape indian yogis as proudly as if he were showing me his own kids. A single shimmering drop birthed from his tear duct and journeyed down the enormous escarpment that was his nose and hung over its precipice for what seemed like an eternity.

“You’ve fallen for it,” I said.

“Pardon?”

“For him. You’ve fallen for him, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” he smiled wiping his nose much to my relief. “When it grips you, there’s no escaping it. You are hopelessly caught. Surrender is the only choice!”

“Hook, line and sinker…” I said.

He frowned, a little unsure, then smiled pleasantly and said he had to leave but was giving satsang that afternoon that I was welcome to attend. I thanked him for the invite but said I had an appointment with the dentist and if I wanted to be anesthetized I preferred doing it in a reclined position.

That’s the last I saw of Hal. 
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***
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The spiritual industry is a sheep farm where eager seekers flock from teacher to teacher in the hopes of finding a “true shepherd”. But there isn’t one to be found. All one finds is more sheep pretending to be shepherds. Sheep shearing other sheep for their wool and believing that the act of shearing others cements their role as a shepherd.

View the online profile of any spiritual teacher and you will find two kinds of information. One is a list of spiritual experiences they have had that culminated in awakening and realization of self. This is sort of like the “work experience” part of a job candidate’s resume. And then, you will find a list of teachers they have studied under. This forms the “educational experience” portion of their spiritual curriculum vitae.

And like any resume, the educational institution from which one has graduated holds a lot of water. It points to one’s “breeding” in a sense. It is a testament to one’s intellectual fortitude and gumption.

One’s spiritual resume is no different. The “lineage” acts as one’s alma mater. Those without a lineage are the self-taught riff raff. But those who can trace their own instruction, no matter how dubiously, back to some legendary fountainhead of wisdom, are the cream of the crop – prime candidates to take on the mantle of “guru” for the spiritually starved masses.

Here, reverence to one’s teacher is upheld as something most sacred. Putting up pictures of one’s gurus adorned with malas and sandalwood paste in the ashram is the equivalent of a doctor or lawyer putting up their graduation certificate on the wall of their office. They are one’s spiritual credentials.

Yet, wisdom cannot be regurgitated. And insight cannot be acquired.

The moment wisdom is repeated it is reduced to mere information. The moment an insight is received it turns into inspiration at best.

So, while a teacher can certainly inform another, they cannot make them wise. While a teacher can inspire another to inquire more deeply they cannot give them insight.

Any teacher who claims that they have been endorsed to teach by someone else is a fool. Anyone claiming to have received their spiritual authority (or worse, spiritual transmission) from another is deeply misguided as to what spiritual authority is. The very act of bestowing authority on another is to take it away entirely. Because you are replacing something that is a birthright in favor of an artifice based on power, propaganda and manipulation.

This happens in all facets of society of course – in corporations, in government, in military, in law enforcement, in the justice system and so on. These are hierarchies of power that place the sovereignty of the individual as secondary to that of the institution and exercise control and governance over one’s freedom. Authority, in this paradigm, is not something one is considered born with but rather is something one first inherits by virtue of one’s allegiances and then enhances through the fruits of one’s labor, one’s willingness to conform and promote the institutional agenda and through endorsement by other figures of authority.

Yet, spirituality relates primarily to essence. And a spirituality that emulates a hierarchical or institutional paradigm is one that is automatically self-defeating. It negates the very essence it claims to illuminate. It cripples the very spirit it seeks to enable. It shackles the very being it seeks to liberate.

What credentials? What lineage? What authority?

To know that your body still contains the dust of the first stars that illuminated the skies billions of years ago. What credentials could be more prestigious?

To know that your brain is the product of evolution of more than one hundred trillion unique sentient species both living and extinct. What greater lineage can you claim?

To stand firmly on the ground and breathe in the air, to have the entire world laid out in front of you as reward, what greater power or authority can someone bestow upon you?

Why would you trade that inner currency for the wisdom of the sages or an emperor’s gold?

The spiritual market is a slave trade and one’s lineage is nothing more than a laundry list of past masters. A ledger that documents to whom, when and where we have given away our freedom.

Buyer beware.

Spoiler Alert

So, I’m going to tell you about this incredible movie I watched. But wait. Before I tell you what the story is about let me give away the ending:

It was all just made up! It was only his dream! Can you believe it? In the end it was all just about nothing!

What would this mean to you if you have no idea what I’m talking about? If you have barely just begun the film, the ending is nonsensical. If you haven’t fallen in love with the story, haven’t followed all the twists and turns in the plot, haven’t invested yourself in the narratives of the various characters and gone through your own emotional roller coaster with them – finding out, that in the end it was all make believe, is absolutely meaningless.

And if you were to say, “HAH! It’s all make believe anyways so no point in even watching the film!” then you have not realized what someone who actually sat through the whole film has realized.

Some of the stuff I write about on this page is relevant to certain people and not so relevant for others. Someone who is just setting off on the search, reading what I’ve said and feeling convinced by it, is not going to really understand what I’m talking about. In fact, it’s probably the last thing they need to read. It’s really the people who have already gone through the whole wash, rinse and repeat cycle of endlessly chasing their tails and are at a point of absolute exhaustion who will understand what it is I’m referring to.

“There is nothing to seek” only applies to a person who has thoroughly sought and found jack, over and over again. But for the person who hasn’t searched for anything beyond the superficial versions of reality they have been presented with, there is EVERYTHING to seek.

Realizing that “enlightenment is nothing” is really the eventual realization this search is leading to. And what leads to this realization is the cumulative result of other essential realizations along the way: the realization that politics is nothing, religion is nothing, culture is nothing, government is nothing, wealth is nothing, authority is nothing, identity is nothing, language is nothing, personal opinion is nothing, public opinion is nothing, knowledge is nothing and on and on. That IS what the process of enlightenment is. It is the process of reducing EVERYTHING, that we believed was a “something”, to ashes. And I don’t mean just intellectually. I mean seeing this through repeated experiences of frustration, disappointment and failure a.k.a suffering.

Seeing that enlightenment itself is nothing is that final “fuck you” life gives you AFTER you have been turned away from every other sanctuary imaginable in which you sought refuge. There is no home for you. Not even in enlightenment.

Yet, unless you’ve actually walked that road. Unless you’ve actually spent a lifetime going door to door seeking refuge, seeking a home in culture, in ethnicity, in sexuality, in politics, in social justice, in belief, in opinion, in relationships, in science, in religion, in external authority, in self-help, in spirituality, in medicine, in faith, in love, in group dynamics, in personal identity and have been turned away mercilessly and watched each of these places of refuge burn to the ground in front of your very eyes – unless all THAT has turned to nothing, the search is still on.

I see so many people who claim that they are no longer seeking. “Spiritually” that is. And yet, they are campaigning to save the environment or campaigning against the anti-Christ president or campaigning against organized religion or to save this or that. And what they don’t realize is that “the search” comes in many flavours. The spiritual search is just one such flavour. They are still seeking deliverance – for the environment, for the country, for humanity, for the community, for themselves. They are seeking to be saved.

Even if you “think” you’re not a seeker, in the spiritual sense of the word – you are still seeking something. And enlightenment is still your goal even if you don’t verbalize it as such. But reality is a series of artifices and until you have seen through each facade and watched it collapse in front of your very eyes, that search has not ended. It CANNOT end. The seeking energy works entirely independently of you and your awareness of it. You are STILL seeking enlightenment I.e. a clarity that cuts through the senseless confusion. No matter what form that confusion may take.

For enlightenment is the greatest act of arson imaginable. It is the act of setting the whole world ablaze. To “enlight” means to light a fire. And only once everything has burned away, will the flame consume itself as there is no more fuel for it to consume.

Then AND ONLY THEN can one truthfully say, “Enlightenment is nothing”.

Until then, it is just parroting the words of another because it “sounds true”. Or attempting to assert an intuition that is intellectual at best.

If you haven’t sat through the whole film, don’t laugh at the ending. It will only make you seem ridiculous. You have no clue what you are laughing at. Because you haven’t understood that the joke’s on you.

Realizing its all make believe is as soul crushing as it is liberating. And if you don’t emerge from the theater reeling and disoriented by it, both defeated and relieved to be out, I’m sorry to say but you haven’t really watched the film.

What you thought was the movie was only the trailer.

On The Edge of Enlightenment

“Sometimes when I sit for long enough… relax enough/let go enough/surrender enough… (or whatever other words you want to use) I get to a point where I’m scared to let go any more. Like if I let go any further I will be consumed by something unknown. It freaks me out and I can’t help but stop. It’s almost like dying…. This isn’t some “die before you die” spiritual bullshit I read. It really feels like a point of no return of some sort…. which is ridiculous… Cuz what could possibly happen? I’m sitting on my couch for fucks sake! And yet it feels terminal somehow. Like something could go seriously fucking wrong if I continue…Any thoughts?”

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***
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I remember sitting under a tree at Queen’s Park in Toronto years ago feeling exactly what you are feeling now. And man! How close I felt to that edge! I literally felt like I was dangling from a precipice over this yawning abyss holding on for dear life with just the edges of my fingertips! I felt terrified to let go. But I knew that it was just a matter of time before I either let go willingly or my grip slipped. And the panic that gripped me was paralyzing. I was frightened beyond belief!

And then one day the unthinkable happened…

I realized that I was just playing games with myself in my head.

And I can tell you now that it’s all a game. The holding on, the letting go, the fear of what will happen, the desire to surrender, the feeling of dying and never coming back, the confusion, the desperation – it’s all mind games.

You are desperately attempting to get ahead of yourself. To win some unwinnable match against yourself that exists only in your imagination. You may deny it and say that this isn’t what you are doing. But it’s happening whether you are aware of it or not. You are spinning at a furious pace attempting to catch your own tail. And sure, you might end up feeling dizzy and disoriented at the end of all that spinning. You may even see some stars. But that is nothing to write home about.

All these words we use like “holding on”, “surrender”, “ego”, “awareness”, “asleep”, “awake” – just remember these are meaningless words. They are designed to help our minds make sense of life. But they are NOT life. Just like the words “east”, “west”, “north” and “south” may help us orient ourselves on the globe but they are arbitrary terms we created. The Earth has no fixed cardinal directions.

Every experience you speak about can only have meaning IN RELATION to another experience you’ve already had. This experience right now that you are having only feels extraordinary or significant because it is different than how you are used to feeling.

What is “letting go” exactly? It can only be defined in relation to “holding on”. Then what is “holding on”?

Everything is defined in terms of something else in an endless web of ideas about what is/could/should be happening.

None of this is of any relevance to life itself. Awareness is always present and undiminished regardless of the shape or form your personal experience may take. It’s not like “surrendering” makes one any more aware than “holding on”. Just the contents of awareness may shift.

It’s like an airplane experiencing turbulence and the contents in the overhead cabins have shifted at the end of the flight. So what? It’s still the same plane, same contents, same passengers, same everything. All that has shifted is the “position” of things. Other than that, nothing has really changed.

Similarly, all that may shift is the perspective you see through. But those shifts are just a natural outcome of living a life. Every human being on this planet experiences shifts in perspectives. Certain events have a tendency to shift our outlook more drastically – injury, death of a loved one, divorce, the sudden end of a career, loss of finances and certain spiritual revelations. But in the end nothing about reality is any different. It’s just that you are now seeing it from a slightly different angle.

And like I said, that reorientation whether sudden or gradual happens to everybody regardless of how spiritually or otherwise oriented they may be. In fact, rather than reaching for an elevated perspective on life, the most prudent thing one can do is remain open to life as it comes. Rather than trying to get the “inside track” on this whole reality deal in the hopes that it’ll give you the edge you need to get ahead, staying open to life as it happens allows for a person to occupy multiple angles on reality. It gives you the freedom to view life from different positions.

By remaining open, I mean not fixating on one particular experience we are having. Because the moment we fixate, awareness narrows down its attention into a tunnel vision view of only that experience at the expense of everything else happening around us. Hyper focusing on that “inside track” we lose sight of the whole road.

And even if, arguably, you were to get onto that inside track – even if the dog were to succeed in catching its own tail – then what? What has changed other than the fact that you now occupy a different perspective than you did? Even if you become like the next Ramana or Buddha. Is this something to celebrate? What has really changed? Take a look at the trees and ask them if they give a fuck for how enlightened you’ve become.

People may give a fuck. But then people seem to give a fuck about a lot of things not worth giving a fuck about. A whole lot of people seem to really care what Kanye West has to say about politics. So what? What has really changed about anything other than the fact that some misguided people now look at you a bit different?

It’s all games in the mind. And what we call spirituality and the whole guru world is just those same mind games played out on a bigger scale. If you’re playing imaginary tea party with your dolls in your house and I’m playing imaginary tea party with my dolls in my house, then hell, we can play imaginary tea party together! And if we get enough folks together who want to play imaginary tea party then we can have events, conferences, galas and getaways where all everyone ever fucking does is play imaginary tea party.

Nothing wrong with imaginary tea parties. Nothing wrong with enlightenment games. As long as those involved all know it’s a game. The moment it becomes real, then this planet turns into an asylum (which it already has).

Here’s a reality check. Whether you surrender or not makes not one ounce of difference to anything. You’re still going to get old. You’re still going to get sick. You’re still going to have some days that you secretly wish were better and others that you feel are perfect the way they are. You’re still going to have to pay bills and swear the government is trying to stiff you. And eventually you’re going to die.

And maybe some people will remember certain profound words you once said. And maybe they will speak highly of you. And maybe they will have little book clubs or “Spirituality Sundays” where they get together over coffee and muffins to talk about some of your deep and meaningful utterings. But truthfully speaking they won’t really be giving a fuck about you. They will really be giving a fuck about themselves.

So, on that cheerful note, keep doing what you are doing. Or not. You asked me for my thoughts and these are them. But if I can leave you with one final bit of counsel…

It’s quite common in spiritual literature to tell someone to listen to that “still small voice” within them. And that sort of advice has its place depending on what a person is experiencing. But in your case, that still small voice sounds more like a deafening scream to me. And if you are uncertain which voice it is that I’m talking about, it’s the one that’s saying:

“I’m sitting on my couch for fucks sake!”

Fork In The Road

“How do we actually coexist without compromising? If we all were completely impervious to the needs of ourselves and others, society would just breakdown.
You can’t live as a family without compromising, nor work with others.
The only way I could live without ever compromising would be as a monk in the Himalayas nibbling on leaves and not interacting with anyone else!”

AND

“I often feel conflicted when I am faced with a major decision. At the moment I am at a crossroads and I’m unsure of how to proceed. You talked about taking a no compromise approach to life. But how does a person not compromise if they are being pulled in two different directions at the same time? It sounds to me like no matter which path I choose a compromise will have to be made…”


These were questions that were posed in response to my post “NO COMPROMISE” one of the most widely shared posts on this page.

Both questions approach the issue of compromise within two different scenarios. The first refers to compromising one’s own needs and desires in favor of the needs and desires of other people. And the second refers to the kind of circumstance in which we are forced to compromise one personal need that we have in favor of another personal need. Whether the conflict manifests externally or internally, it seems unavoidable that we will have to give something up in order to experience something else.

This seems like a no brainer.

So, given that this is just the reality of how things operate in the real world, then short of completely isolating oneself, how can I even talk about taking a “no compromise” attitude towards one’s life?

First, let me be clear from the outset that what I refer to as “no compromise” has nothing to do with isolating oneself. And further, it is not about always “getting what one wants” either. Clearly, life isn’t oriented that way. What I am referring to is something deeper.

But before I get into that, what is this “compromise” that we are referring to? It refers to a kind of existential resignation. We learn to bite the bullet and somehow tolerate a circumstance that feels less than ideal to us. And this is something that has been deeply ingrained within us from a young age.

However, this kind of tolerance creates an inner alienation. Because even though we may be able to manifest a more harmonious circumstance on the outside, there is a frustration and a resentment that breeds on the inside that will eventually need to express itself. And when it does it typically happens in a sudden and utterly unexpected way.

We can see examples of this both in our personal lives and on a global scale. When marriages end in sudden divorce and a man or woman enters a midlife crisis it is usually the result of this kind of pent up frustration of a lifetime spent simply tolerating one’s circumstances because “that’s what must be done”. No matter how much of a model parent or spouse one may attempt to be, if one has walked down that path of compromise again and again, each time the frustration and disappointment that ensues, from having to tolerate a situation that one doesn’t really want to be in, will accumulate until it hits a critical point.

In the current political climate in North America and Western Europe this is also abundantly evident. These societies, built on a model of cultural tolerance, are now experiencing a massive backlash effect in the form of populist leaders and governments who echo the latent frustrations of vast numbers of citizens who are absolutely fed up of compromising. And the rift and growing alienation between the left and the right is fast becoming irreconcilable. In other words, the western world is experiencing its own “divorce and midlife crisis”.

The reality is that “compromise” only works as a short term tactic. As a long term strategy it is a recipe for disaster.

Now, I want to return to what I mean by the “no compromise” approach. To be clear I am by no means advocating a “my way or the highway” attitude. Nor am I promoting anti socialism.

In my own life I am faced with dilemmas on a near daily basis. These proverbial “forks in the road” come in all shapes and sizes. As a family man, the needs of my spouse, the needs of my two daughters and of my own parents and extended family are always front and centre. In my work, I am answerable to my clients and their needs. And then there are my needs as an individual for solitude, for creative fulfilment, for personal space and so on.

And then there are the bigger dilemmas on the direction my life is taking. We are currently experiencing a family crisis with my step father being hospitalized due to meningitis that has caused significant damage to his brain. My mother is left almost alone having to deal with the scenario. So there is the looming question – do I continue living the life I have here, on the other side of the planet, a life that we love and a place my kids call home. Or do I move my own family to be closer to her in order to provide some support? These are not simple questions because there are the needs of several people to consider here beyond just my own.

And it would seem that no matter what I choose I will be forced to compromise. But that is not how I operate.

When faced with a circumstance or requirement that is not of my own choosing the choice I put to myself is NOT whether to comply or not. In other words, my question is not whether to compromise or to refuse.

Instead, the choice I put to myself is whether I will change my attitude or change the circumstance.

For example, if I’m unhappy with my job : my choice is to either change my job or change my attitude towards this job. NEITHER of these is an attitude of compromise. Because to me, compromising would mean putting up with the job yet hating it all the same. No. I want to have a job that I enjoy. So, either I will quit this job and find one better suited to me OR, if that is practically impossible for whatever reason, then I will learn to better suit myself to this job and find enjoyment in it. Either way, what I refuse to do is to “suffer” the job.

The same is true of pretty much any other circumstance one may imagine. When faced with a crossroads or thrust into a position in which a choice is being made for you: the only real choice worth making, in my opinion, is “what can I change in order for me to feel aligned with my reality.”

And that answer is a purely case by case one. Those who hold a rigid stance of “right” and “wrong” have no choice but to adhere to only what that stance dictates. Thus, they are forced to compromise because they are unwilling to change or adapt how they think. Those who only turn right at every fork in the road end up only travelling in circles.

When I talk about “no compromise” it is an attitude of refusing to be out of alignment with reality. And when reality and “I” seem out of phase, then either reality must change to align with me or I must change to align with reality. Either one is desirable over a situation in which a lack of alignment is merely tolerated in the name of “compromise”.

If I’m sitting down to write and my daughter wants to play there is no standard response that I have to that scenario. Sometimes, I will set aside my own desire to write in order to play with her and when I do so I will be fully present in my enjoyment of playing with her with little regret for not being able to write. At other times I may tell her that we will play a bit later and that I need some time to work and will continue to write with little guilt that I turned her down. As a parent, this is especially hard to do because we are wired to put the needs of our kids ahead of our own. On the other hand there are the kinds of parents who are altogether absent from their children’s lives, wrapped up as they are in their own individual needs and desires.

If one is dominated by “needs”, whether that be the needs of others or one’s own, then one has no choice but to swing to one extreme or the other. Either one is dominated by satisfying the needs of others at the expense of oneself or one is preoccupied with satisfying one’s own needs at the expense of others. At best one is performing a tentative balancing act. Here, compromise is always evident as is a sense of frustration that ALL needs can never be met.

Yet, when I talk about “no compromise” I refer to a state of mind in which I orient myself not with “needs” but with reality. A sense of alignment in which any feeling of conflict whether with the circumstances or with myself is resolved prior to making a decision. Picking a path and feeling conflicted or resentful about it is not an option for me. In such a scenario, I would rather sit at the fork in the road and take the time to settle whatever conflict there may be before I choose which road to walk down.

That way whichever decision I do make it is never one I feel like I have been compelled to make but rather that I have made with full freedom. And having done so, I own the experience 100% without any sense of that “fear of missing out” that is such a common experience in so many peoples lives.

The attitude of “no compromise” has little to do with being a conformist or being a rugged individual. Both are rigid stances that fail to truly understand the nature of this thing we call life which is perpetual flux. Advocates of the “path less travelled”, to me, are no different than those who seek to follow a formulaic existence. Both are limited by the choices they are able to make because that decision has already been made for them and they have no choice but to comply.

Yet, when one is guided by a deeper intuition then one takes their cues not from the content of the circumstances which will always be conflicting in some way or another. Instead, one feels for the deeper undercurrent of existence which runs unerringly forward.

Orienting myself to that current, the only experience I use as my barometer is that of “flow”. And when I am faced with the question of whether to struggle or flow, there is absolutely no compromise or doubt on what that answer will be.

The Reunion

The cold wind howled, viciously rattling the windows every now and then, like a specter in chains. In the dim starlight, the rugged Himalayan peaks rose like the gnarly spiked back of some prehistoric behemoth. The residents in the small mountain village of Gulmarg were all sheltered safely indoors. From my bedroom in the attic, I could hear faint laughter from the living room as my parents and their friends drank pints of ale and feasted on legs of curried mutton.

I turned off the oil lamp next to my bed and stared up at the sloped ceiling. In the corner of the room, the Bukhari, a traditional Kashmiri wood-burning stove, crackled and spat giving off a warm enveloping heat that made my eyelids droop. Still, I fought off the sleep because I hadn’t yet performed my nightly ritual.

The “ritual” was a game of dare that I would play with “the silence”. Every night as I lay in bed, I’d allow the quietness of the room to become the focus of my attention. At first, it would be barely noticeable. But as I would continue to focus on it, the silence would grow in “sound” moving from a whisper, to a clear hum and finally to a deafening roar of static in my ears. And inevitably there would come a point when the silence would feel so overwhelming and so menacing that I would become scared and shift my attention to something else. And in that moment the silence would subside. Each night I would push the envelope just a bit further.

But beyond just the experience of being with the silence, there was something else that was very apparent to my six year old self. And that was that the silence was not some inanimate thing. It was not merely some sensory experience. Whether the result of a vivid child’s imagination or the perception of something beyond what we as adults can see: the silence felt like a living entity to me. In fact, I perceived it as a being something like a god, although I didn’t think of it as that at the time. “God” was this pantheon of deities with multiple arms, multiple superpowers and multiple support animals not unlike the Justice League. God was something you made stories about.

Yet, the silence was something real, something living. And it knew me in a way that I didn’t know myself. Which is why it was always present, always watching, always lurking, waiting for a moment when I might drop my guard and then it would show itself. I was both terrified and mystified by it. And when it appeared, I would experience this inner push-pull sensation with one part of me wanting to move towards it and another to get the hell away from it.

I didn’t believe it was evil, nor did I believe it was good. What I did feel, however, was that it was something ancient, infinitely older than the Himalayas themselves. And there was something in me that suspected I already knew the silence but simply couldn’t remember. Perhaps, I had come from it, this pulsing living womb of creation. And if I had been created from it, then that is where I would be destroyed. That is why I feared it. I suspected, deep down, that to fully embrace it would mean to be annihilated by it.

Though I performed the ritual over many nights, I never went all the way in. Eventually, I just stopped playing. And after a while, the silence simply stopped visiting.
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***

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Fifteen years later, I found myself seated at the edge of a pier along the coast of Lake Ontario. This version of me was someone different entirely. The six year old had been a child of great energy, enthusiasm, courage and excitement for life, yet, the ensuing decade and a half would wither his spirit, hollow out his heart and turn his mind into a dungeon of deranged voices. More than anything I wanted release from the torment that had become my life. Yet, even the courage I had once possessed had evaporated. I was a coward, I felt pathetic and unable to muster up enough energy to even put an end to myself.

My family felt helpless to address the circumstance. I was put on anti-depressants but only ever took one dose and refused to take them ever again. I isolated myself and sank deep into a depression that lasted for years and deepened further day by day.

The day on the pier, I had been practically dragged out of the house by my father and sister for a ferry ride to one of Toronto’s islands. Having arrived there however, I wanted nothing to do with the “fun activities” the two of them had planned so I left them and sauntered off on my own. When I arrived at the pier there was something metaphorical about it. It seemed like the final stop. The end of the road before solid ground gave way to the vast blue nothing that stretched all the way to the horizon. Perhaps, it was this symbolism that drew me onto that pier and all the way towards its edge.

I sat down on a bench and gazed out at the lake – blue, empty, perfectly still. I felt utterly spent. And knew that this was my final resting place. After this I wouldn’t have the energy to do one more thing. Looking out over the water, at first I heard it almost inaudibly. Some dusty corner of my memory stirred in recognition as my attention focused in on it. Then came the familiar whisper, the gentle hum of static. It was like meeting an old forgotten friend – the silence came visiting again.

This time there wasn’t any fear or resistance within me. All of that had been spent. There wasn’t an ounce of courage left within me to fight or pull back. I didn’t even have the energy to feel terrified. I was numb, dead already. A corpse in living flesh. And so when the silence came, it came unimpeded. I watched helplessly as my being was drawn past its event horizon, before it enveloped me and then infiltrated me: my body, my mind. In some bizarre process of spiritual transfusion every ounce of what I considered to be “me” was replaced with silence.

Over the next four months, I would walk around in a waking daze. My mind, my thoughts, my self-identity had been hijacked and replaced with the “silent perspective”. I was now seeing through ITS eyes. Seeing the world the way IT saw. I was no longer myself. I was the silence.

And the world it revealed was something entirely different: vibrant, alive, intricately connected, inseparably one. It took over my consciousness by shutting off my parasitic mind. And in the process, my hollowed heart began to heal again and my withered spirit began to resuscitate.

Then one day, the silence started to fade. It moved out slowly. Over a period of weeks. And as it did, several systems in my brain began coming back online. Thoughts began operating more fluidly again. My familiar sense of self began to return. And as this happened, I held on to the silence for dear life.

I didn’t want to go back to being me! I wanted the silence to stay for good. And yet, it faded but always remained in the background as a barely audible hum, available for me to reach anytime I felt the urge.

The mind I was left with was similar in many ways to the one I’d had: my personality had been left intact, yet many aspects of my thinking had been rewired. I found I was unable to feel such intense amounts of misery or self-loathing again. I was unable to have suicidal thoughts again. I was unable to sink into that depth of depression again.

Still, there were several things that hadn’t changed. None of my dilemmas, my existential confusions, my sense of purpose or lack thereof had been solved for me. None of my past traumas had been resolved. That work, the silence had left unfinished. All the silence had done for me was revitalize my spirit, my resolve and my love for life by showing me what reality looked like from its perspective. 
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***

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Another seven years on from there, I found myself in a place of great confusion precipitated by the end of a relationship that I had poured my heart and soul into. Abruptly abandoned and left out on a limb, I felt lost, listless and terribly alone. And the gnawing void I’d always carried inside me, which I had attempted to fill with friends, spirituality, work and relationships, now became an inescapable reality of my day to day experience. My break up sealed that fate and everything I had in my life suddenly lost meaning.

And so I decided that, since the void was unavoidable, I would have to face it. The hole in myself, which I had walked around with for my entire life, was something that I couldn’t turn away from anymore or attempt to fill up with some relationship or career pursuit. If it was a part of me then I wanted to get to know it.

Previously, I’d always lived with roommates. Instead, I found an apartment and furnished it minimally: nothing more than a sofa, a bed and a dresser for my clothes. I didn’t have a TV, a computer, an internet connection, I didn’t listen to music or even read any books. I turned my phone off when I entered the apartment and only turned it back on when I left for work in the mornings. Any object that could be used to “fill up time” I avoided. Every evening after returning from work, I’d sit on my balcony and gaze at the tops of trees and buildings across the city. Watching the trees sway in the breeze was the extent of entertainment I allowed myself.

Sitting there, I wasn’t meditating in any formal way. There was no real intention to my being there. I just sat with the hole – that void inside me. And I would listen to the silence. It was always there. Sitting right beside me. Wordlessly encouraging me on.

Those hours spent on the balcony with that feeling of emptiness inside me were excruciating. At first it was terrifying, then miserable, then incredibly frustrating until eventually it just became dead boring. The only comfort I had through it all, was the silence. And knowing it was with me no matter what.

Eventually, the dynamic changed. I don’t remember when it happened. But I began to look forward to coming home and sitting with the “hole”. Except it didn’t feel like a hole anymore. It felt more like a “whole”. Without any real intellectual understanding or rationalizing. Just on a real visceral level.

And the silence was no longer beside me. It was within me now. It had seeped in noiselessly, undetected by me and had filled that entire void. Yet, this time “I” was still present. My mind, my thoughts, my reason, my personality hadn’t been overridden or replaced.

And for the first time I understood what the “silence” was, what the “void” was, what this “journey” had been.

The silence was a deep and original aspect of myself that had been cut out of me long before I can remember. And the empty space that had been left behind was that hole, the void, I had always carried around.

The “journey” had been one of reunion of self with self. It had been the integration of all that had been “silenced” and shadowed: both dark and divine, back into my identity. 
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***

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A lot of spiritual literature references silence as a path of spiritual practice. And we tend to think of silence as this experience or process by which our minds learn to become quiet and calm. Yet, in my experience it has been so much more than that. It is an aspect of who I am, of my identity, just as much as my own name, my own mind or personality. In fact, whereas in its absence, my mind and personality grew unchecked and haywire, now there is a balance between the form and formless within me. My mind is tempered by it and thus able to flourish in an organic fashion.

And my identity has evolved from merely being the form in which I appear: as my person, my thoughts, my emotions and my personality. Now, I am equally that formless silence and the vibrant space it occupies.

Something Missing


J: I’m so tired of this non-duality bullshit man… I’ve read all the books, spent hundreds of hours meditating, hundreds of hours watching videos, hundreds of hours doing self inquiry… I think I have burnt myself out man. I really do.
I feel like “The withered branch.” In that Zen poem.
I can’t do it anymore. I know it’s coming to an end… and that scares me.
I know I can’t do what I’ve been doing… but I know seeking won’t end at the same time.
I’m fucked.
Sorry for bothering you with this shit brother. No need to reply. I guess it was more a statement to myself then a question directed at you.

AA: What you seeking, J?

J: I really don’t know. I guess an end to seeking.

AA: End to seeking what?

J: To the idea that I can somehow figure it all out.
To know what “I” and “the world” is.

AA: You know what “I” and “the world” is.

J: Do I?

AA: Look around you. That’s the world.
What’s looking? That’s you.
A two year old knows this…

J: Yes indeed. But then why do I feel like that’s not enough?

AA : That’s the more important question.
So, what are you REALLY seeking, J?

J: Why the fuck am I driving myself insane looking for something that doesn’t exist?

AA: What’s this “something” that may or may not exist?

J: …

AA: Did you ever feel scared as a kid?

J: Not often but yes.

AA: I remember the feeling of standing above the diving board at our pool and being terrified to jump. And all I wanted was to know that it was going to turn out ok.

J: So I’m that kid…

AA: Everybody man. Everybody is that kid.
Science, religion, technology, spirituality, everything in society is driven by this one basic desire.
To know just a bit more so I can comfort that kid.
We are all fucking scared.
Because no one knows how the fuck any of us got here and where all this is headed.
Its like waking up from a coma and finding yourself in some twilight zone.
That’s what life is…..a twilight zone with no beginning or end.
Just some bizarre middle we all have learned to pretend isn’t so bizarre.

J: I already knew that lol

AA: 👍

J: So then what the fuck is the point?

AA: Point of what?

J: All of it.

AA: Who said there is one? Its like me taking my kids to the park and putting them in the sandbox.
And if one of them were to ask me, “what the fuck is the point of this?”
What can I say?
I dunno …. what’s the point for you?

J: I get what you’re saying.
But somehow that’s not satisfying.
I still feel like I’m missing something.
I don’t know what.

AA: You’ve left home and can’t remember if you left the stove on…
Something is missing always.
Certainty.
That’s the only thing anyone craves.
I’d rather believe I’m going to a hell than not know…

J: Yes… THIS is it…. but what the FUCK is this??

AA: Who says it’s a “what”?
Call it whatever you want. A rose by any other name and all that…

J: “who says it’s a what”
That’s interesting. I can’t answer that lol

AA: Are you ok with not being able to answer that?

J: So basically this it it and I will never be able to answer that question…
I would have to say no. I’m still not ok with that for some reason.

AA: Do you want to be ok with it?

J: Yes.

AA: So it’s not the “reason” that matters to you. It’s the feeling of “okayness” that’s driving it.
Like, if it was “knowing” that all of this was really about. Then you’d say “no, I don’t want to be fucking ok with anything. I want to fucking know regardless of how I’m going to feel about it”.
Fair assessment?

J: Yes.

AA: So this search has never been about knowing. “Knowing” was just the tool you figured would help you get to that feeling of “okayness”.
The tool didn’t work.
Fuck it.
Who said you even need a tool.
Maybe there is a direct way to access the okayness.
With me?

J: Yes I’m with you.

AA: How’s your financial situation if you don’t mind me asking. No need for details. Are you hard up, not bad, doing well etc.

J: It’s alright. I get by.
Why?

AA: Gotcha. Things could be better but things could be a lot worse. Fair?

J: Yes.

AA: That’s basically the definition of “okay”.
Next, health wise. How you doin?

J: Right lol.
You really want a breakdown of my personal shit?

AA: Just general buckets. Unless it’s too much work…

J: I’ve been better physically… I drink and smoke too much.

AA: Do you feel impaired or impeded in any way in your day to day?

J: Trying to get back in shape so yes…
But generally I’m “okay”

AA: Sure. See where I’m going with this?

J: Yes and no.
You’re saying why bother…

AA: Why bother with what?

J: “Okay” somehow isn’t enough man…

AA: “More than okay”, then?

J: I don’t care about money, women, status etc.

AA: What is “enough” for you? How would you define it?

J: I just want to know what the fuck THIS is.

AA: Why do you want to know?

J: LOL
You’re funny!
To feel okay.
FUCK!

AA: See the circle of logic?

J: I see it. But it’s never ending.

AA: Of course. Where is the end of a circle? LOL
Fuckin’ hamsters don’t get that concept do they?

J: So just STOP.
Then my mind says that’s not enough…
And back on the wheel again…

AA: Of course. Because when you stop the whole thing ends.
”this is the end
Beautiful friend.
This is the end
My only friend, the end.
Of all elaborate plans, the end
Of every thing that stands,
The end”

J: The Doors?

AA: Yup. That’s why the search is an “addiction” mate.
Because even when you see that it’s going nowhere , you keep hopping back on…

J: Definitely.
So how did you hop off?

AA: Step one. Admit the search is not the solution. It is the “problem”.

J: I know this.

AA: Step 2. Admit the problem is the same as any addict has.
Nothing more special about you just cuz you all spiritual and shit…
You’re a junkie like every alcoholic and crackhead out there

J: That’s obvious too.

AA: Step 3. Admit that there is no answer to the “what’s missing”

J: …

AA: Step 4. SIT with “what’s missing” until you ARE “what’s missing”.
All there is to it.
Very simple.
Just not easy.

J: Why do I still feel like there’s an answer to “what’s missing “?

AA: Because you haven’t yet fully taken step 1.
There can be no getting off the wheel until you fully “get” that it’s going nowhere.
Until then, all you are really doing is sticking one leg out to slow it down cos it’s getting too quick for you…
So the frustration you are feeling with the search is good but it’s not quite there yet.
Not frustrated enough.

J: Fuck!

AA: “Fuck” is good.

J: Tell me something. Why do you share your perspective? What do you hope to gain or accomplish by sharing your views? If anything…

AA: Why do you breathe?

J: LOL. That simple, eh?

AA: Always and only.

Is this Enlightenment?

“I am writing because I am finding myself in way over my head with this truth-or-death thing I’ve started.

I will start by saying that a few months ago I fell into what I now believe to have been “the void of voids.” I was washing dishes, and suddenly life drained out of everything. Everything became ugly. I stopped what I was doing, I was thinking “No, no, this cannot be, I want to go back.”

I feel there is no point to enlightenment, it’s not meant for this world and is totally beside the point. I started this pursuit because I thought I was a dysfunctional person with nothing to lose, but now my dysfunctions are looking pretty good. I feel like I’m in an impossible place. Can’t go forward, and don’t know if I can go back.

Do you have any words for me? Is this enlightenment?”

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***

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I still remember the day. I was nine years old. I finished my homework rapidly, shoved the entire sandwich my mother had made for me in my mouth, grabbed my cricket bat and went racing out the door. My mother yelled something inaudible as the door slammed shut. I flew down the stairs of the apartment building skipping two steps, then three, then leaping over entire flights at a time. I throttled down the road, turned the corner and then sped through the field to where a group of boys were setting up the wickets.

“Great! You haven’t started yet,” I wheezed doubling over to catch my breath.

“Yeah we waited for you, you fucker,” one of the older boys guffawed.

“Hey, I bet he was busy watching his parents fucking,” his twin brother bellowed as the other boys burst into raucous laughter.

“Fuck you, I wasn’t!” I retorted in indignation.

“Don’t lie you shithead. They were busy fucking each other’s brains out weren’t they?” more raucous laughter followed.

“You wanna fuck with me?” I was starting to get incensed.

“Ewww, gross!” twin number one chortled.

“Come on buddy! Let’s fuck!” I challenged.

“Waitaminute, waitaminute! Do you even know what that word means?” twin number two was looking at me with an amused expression.

“Of course I do asshole. It means to fight!” I replied masking my gnawing suspicion that my understanding of the word may have some holes in it.

“Oh ho ho ho! What we have here boys is one who has yet to be initiated into the dark secrets of life!” twin two’s eyes sparkled mischievously.

What followed over the next ten minutes was my introduction to the “sex talk”: the GRAPHIC NOVEL version. And the scars it left on my psyche would take many months to heal. For a long time after I could barely look my parents in the eye. They repulsed me. And my own sexual urges repulsed me even more.

I lost my innocence that day and the world turned gray almost overnight. What kind of existence was this where such a disgusting thing had to happen in order for people to be born? Suddenly I saw the parents of all my friends and realized they too had done the nasty. And my grandparents, those sweet, honorable and chaste people had also stripped off their clothes and rolled and howled like animals biting, scratching, screaming, penetrating? Like I said, the boys had painted a pretty picture.

Life began to feel increasingly dirty. And there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t scrub it off, I was enveloped by it! How does someone swimming in a sewer with no hope of getting out ever get clean? I spent months feeling utterly repulsed by almost everything.

Then one day I came across some romance novels in my mother’s room. And I began perusing them out of curiosity. And gradually, I became educated into a whole new way of viewing the sexual act.

These people were not molesting each other on the toilet while I obliviously watched television in the next room (as the twins had vividly illustrated for me). No, they were rolling around in the warm hay of a barn on a stormy night. They were not abusing each other like vermin. No, she was gently grasping his throbbing manhood while he playfully caressed her velvety softness. And as the tip of his tongue rendezvoused with her gently cresting peaks, my revulsion began to give way to the wanton desire to deposit my own fertile loam into the luxuriant delta of another being…

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***

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Creating narratives, both spectacular and horrific, of the events of our lives as they unfold is something all human beings have a propensity for. It’s what, according to the famous Polish philosopher Alfred Korzybski, makes us “time binders”. In fact, civilization as we know it today would not have been possible if this “story telling” capacity within us had not been so pronounced. History is, after all, nothing more than the story of all humanity.

We create narratives about society, about the world, about other people, about ourselves, about the unknown. So it is unsurprising, that all these narratives about “enlightenment” should exist. The great irony here, of course, is that enlightenment is meant to signify a release from all narratives. But this is just a small inconvenient fact easily swept under the rug when one really gets into it.

And so we end up with a whole spectrum of narratives about “what enlightenment is”. They range from downright arousing (like two beautiful and amply endowed lovers making passionate love in a barn on a stormy night) to downright terrifying (like imagining your parents writhing in a pile of sweat and stench on the toilet).

Of course, nothing in life is ever THAT sensational. But we want it to be. We need it to be. Something within us craves sensationalism. It’s why tabloid magazines sell better than scientific journals do. It’s why the posts in which I take the piss out of guru types are generally more popular than the ones in which I share my musings on life. We want to be shocked, aroused, titillated and terrified. Absolutely anything to escape the mundane matter-of-factness of this moment as it actually appears.

The shitty (or un-shitty, depending on how you want to see it) reality of the matter is, of course, that NOTHING can escape the mundane matter-of-factness of this moment. That is all there really is. It’s all mundane. It’s all matter-of fact.

So you’ve sprouted angel wings and now can soar high above the city skyline. Well, don’t get too pumped about it. This too will become the new normal one day. And when it does, it’ll feel like just another boring Monday flying from one ordinary rooftop to the next.

We like to create a great sense of melodrama (both positive and negative) about sudden shifts in our perception but really there is nothing either celebratory or distressing about any of it. It’s a natural aspect of how all beings evolve. Only we tend to react in these ways because we are used to blowing things out of proportion.

For instance, calling what you experienced: “falling into the void of voids” is unhelpful language, in my opinion. It makes you sound like Daenerys Targaryen venturing into the mouth of hell to become the Mother of Dragons. It makes for an entertaining narrative but that’s about it.

So you had an epiphany. Ok. So you realized the world is ugly and that even loved ones can be vile and despicable. No problem. Hell, my kids are vile and despicable several times a day. They are inspiring and adorable as well. I am vile and despicable as fuck sometimes and it’s a wonder anyone puts up with me. So, what? None of this represents the ABSOLUTE state of things. You have finally seen that all human beings are lovable creatures yet equally detestable at the same time. We are every bit as worthy of being disliked as we are of being liked.

This is what sobering up looks like. If getting sober was easy, every addict would be doing it. There is a reason they’re not. And that’s because the addict realizes that getting sober doesn’t make one’s issues go away. It just makes them all the more stark and apparent.

This PROCESS of enlightenment is a series of revelations which feel earth shattering when they happen, yet in hindsight are nothing more than a casual step forward. It’s not something worth singing praises off the peak of some mountain over. Nor is it something worth screaming in horror over as if you’ve just seen a killer clown in a sewer. You are being gradually stripped of your cozy and binary way of viewing things and are instead being immersed in a mandala of infinite grays.

It takes a little bit of time to reorient to this new normal .But it’ll happen just as it always has. Just like being dumped by your high school sweetheart is something you believed, at the time, you would never recover from. The loss of the “rose-tinted” view always feels likes the color has drained from life. But in time the clarity gained is something far more fulfilling.

The only reason this revelation feels burdensome right now is because it is being loaded with significance and seriousness. This isn’t actually all that serious of a matter. As you are experiencing the crisis of the decade, your body is still carrying on as usual, the birds are still going about their business, couples across the world are still making love in a barn or on a toilet seat or whatever.

So my first suggestion to you would be, no matter how profound of a shift in view you think you’ve had, lighten up about it. Give it time and try not to get ahead of yourself. None of it is a big deal.

The most exciting part of your revelation, as far as I’m concerned, was the part when you said,

“I was washing the dishes.”

Short and Sweet

Someone commented on a post I wrote some time ago remarking that I was “not one for brevity”. So, I’ve decided to keep this one short and sweet…


In less than 80 years from now (approximately the same amount of time since WWII began) you will, in all likelihood, be dead.

In fact, I will be dead, everyone reading this will be dead, everyone they know who is not a minor, will in all likelihood, be dead.

Another 40 years on from there, every single one of the 7.5 billion people currently alive on this planet will be dead.

In fact, in the time it took you to read up until this point, 50 people just died. And by the time you reach the end of this article another 150 would have.

If someone had the ability to demo an ultra high speed time lapse of a hundred years of human society within a minute long video, human beings would look like bubbles in a stream. Emerging out of thin air and popping in quick succession.

Within a 100 years from now only a handful of people will have any memory of you. And a 100 on from there, it’s quite likely no one will know you ever lived.

What this means is that your entire existence will seem like it never even happened.

Forget immortality, even your mortal existence will be nothing more than hearsay.

Before you assume that I’m saying all this to point to how utterly insignificant and inconsequential a human life is in the grand scheme of things….I’m not.

Quite the opposite.

Instead, I marvel at the fact that something so momentary and purely incidental, no more stable than a bubble, can experience something so profound as “a life”.

And not JUST a life, but something as profound as love, fear, joy, doubt, friendship, curiosity, rage, forgiveness, passion, learning, understanding, hope, despair, grief, catharsis, realization.

A single speck of consciousness so fragile, gone before it barely even had a chance to settle. Yet, the depth of experience that is available to this “speck” is the entire history of the Universe itself.

A single flicker of consciousness so fleeting, that most will never even have seen its flame. Yet, that “flicker” has light enough to reach across space and time.

A single pulse of sentience so brief, yet with the capacity to (in the words of William Blake):

“hold infinity in the palm of (it’s) hand,
and eternity in an hour.”

Others may forget your name. It matters not.
You know what it is.

Others may not even know of your existence. What does it matter?
You know: “you are”.

Let others call you a mortal. That is what they see.
Yet, you who cannot remember being born and will never know your own death are an immortal to yourself.

As brief as “they” say a lifetime is, to you, it is all of eternity.

That’s as short and sweet as it gets.

Not Needing To Know

The goal of self is no self. The goal of self-awareness is self unawareness. The goal of mindfulness is mindlessness.

The end is the beginning.

Watching an infant learn to walk. Her awareness of her own body is constant. Her awareness of her own feet, her own hands. One foot gets in the way of the other. Knees are wobbly and unreliable things. One hand holds this, the other hand holds that, now what? Trembling awkwardly she attempts to stand; legs askance, feet clenched, toes curled holding onto Mother Earth for dear life.

If she could speak to me she’d say, “Being a newborn was easy. Didn’t have to think about this “body” thing. Ignorance was bliss. Just laying there was bliss. Until it wasn’t… something made me want to get up. Something wanted me to GET GOING.”

She looks at me quizzically as if to say, “Do you struggle to walk? You don’t seem to. I don’t see you tripping over your own feet. I don’t see you fall onto your backside over and over. It just flows for you doesn’t it? I’ve been watching you. When you walk you flow. Left foot, right foot. You stop, you turn, effortlessly. Without thinking you seem to do it. You even sprint or dodge this way and that when my sister runs after you to tag you. How do you do it? I’m hyper aware of my own limbs, my own knees, my own feet, my own ankles, every single toe. I’m always aware of my hands, my elbows, my fingers. I look at them. I taste them. I touch and squash things with them. You barely even seem to notice your own limbs or your own body. Aren’t you aware of it?”

And I might answer her, “I’m rarely aware I have a body most of the time. I don’t think about my knees when I walk, or twist or run. Nor my feet, nor my toes. It all just happens by itself. My body has its own consciousness, now. It is aware of itself, now. It doesn’t need me to be aware of it unless something breaks down. And my input is required to correct what has happened. But my hands and legs, my body as a whole, has a life of its own. And yours will too one day.”

“Then, what makes you different from the newborn that I once was?” perhaps she might ask. “As a newborn I was unaware of my body and you similarly seem unaware…”

“Yes, but the newborn is helpless, I am not. The newborn is unaware, surely, but so is it’s body. It’s body is not yet conscious of its own workings. So, that is what you are learning now. You are learning all this FOR your body. You are assimilating this knowledge gradually, through trial and error, so that you will one day pass it on to your body. Then you will no longer need to remain so vigilant. Your body will remain vigilant for itself. It will take care of itself. You can go back to being unaware unless needed. The end is the beginning.”


As with the body, so with the mind : so with thoughts, so with emotions. All these mental mechanisms we struggle to work with. That create much inner conflict. Our thoughts tripping over one another. Standing awkwardly askance desperately groping for a firm foothold on reality. Our emotions swaying us this way and that, causing us to lose our inner balance and fall over. Over and over. We, who were ignorant once, have awakened to some inner impulse to “get up”. Some mysterious force that compels us to GET GOING.

And so we are aware at all times of the mind, of the self. We are watching it, we are vigilant. We are hyper aware. Always aware of every edgy impulse, every darkening mood, every compulsive thought, every brooding feeling. We touch it, we taste it, we marinade in it. We squash it, we push it away, we bring it closer. Always aware, always mindful.

Yet, this is nothing more that the infancy of our consciousness. Self-absorption, self-conflict, self-awareness, mindfulness is a necessary learning phase. We are learning gradually through trial and error. We are learning FOR our minds. Just as we once did for our bodies. We are assimilating this knowledge so that we may one day pass it on to our minds.

And when that happens we will no longer need to remain vigilant on behalf of our minds. The mind will remain vigilant for itself. The mind will take care of itself. Thoughts and emotions will flow, stepping one in front of the other seamlessly. They will speed and slow, weave and dodge in an elegant rhythm that we will barely even notice. The mind will have a consciousness of its own which will only need our input if something breaks down and needs correction.

Awakening is this coming full circle. Just like the infant awakens to “having a body” and then embarks on a journey of discovery, conflict and eventual understanding, so also does the individual go through the process of awakening to “having a mind” and then embarks on a similar journey. The final step is a return to unawareness. A return to the innocence of “not knowing”. Or more accurately: “not needing to know”.

When the body has learned to be responsible for itself. When the mind has learned to be responsible for itself. Then the self turns it’s attention away from body and mind unless called upon when something is broken and needs correction. It vanishes instead in being. In the essence of the moment as it appears.

For the goal of self is no self. The goal of self awareness is self unawareness. The goal of mindfulness is mindlessness.

The end is the beginning.

Gazing Into The Abyss


“I’m struggling with suicidal thoughts a lot lately and it’s been freaking me out. You talked about how you were suicidal for many years until your awakening. Maybe you can shed some light on this for me? Why do we have this impulse to destroy the life within us? I used to believe that I was a life-affirming person but now I don’t know anymore. Am I just a coward who can’t cope?

PS Being a mom of two teenagers it scares me that I’m thinking this way…”
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Suicide is a foolish word created by a society still ignorant about what it means to be human. What it means to suffer profoundly. Suicide is a word that we use to sweep the stark reality of our own mortality, of our own fragility, our tenuous hold on life, under the carpet. Words that end with the suffix “cide”: homicide, genocide, infanticide, suicide are words used to depict horror and tragedy. They are designed to inspire terror and repulsion in the hearts of those who hear them in order to prevent us from really understanding them.

Yet, when a soldier gives his life for his country we call him a hero. When a rebel lays her life down for a cause, we call her a martyr. And their acts are not considered suicide. We call them “self-sacrifice”. Why? Because it serves a “greater good”. Never mind if that greater good be some ulterior political motive that causes untold misery.

So, first I am going to suggest reframing your question by taking out this word “suicide” which really means nothing. And I’m going to ask you to replace it with “self-sacrifice”. Because it’s a word that explains itself.

So to rephrase: you are struggling with thoughts about self-sacrifice.

Unlike the word “suicide” there is nothing shameful about the word “self-sacrifice”. We are taking shame out of the equation which is really half of what one battles with: the shame that one is even entertaining this line of thinking.

Yet, we need to be clear that there is nothing noble about it either. We have been taught to see life through these lenses of “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong” and so we have no choice but to skew our experiences towards one extreme or the other. Glorifying this form of thinking is another compulsion that is easy to fall into. (A well-known example is Kurt Cobain whose suicide note ended with the famous Neil Young lyrics: “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away…”)

So, I’m going to ask you to hold this idea of self-sacrifice in neutral territory: without turning the idea of it into something horrific or something glorious. Without picturing yourself as either a coward or a martyr. These extreme viewpoints are what sensationalize these kinds of thoughts within our minds and lend it that uncontrollable momentum. Before we can even begin to address your question seriously we need to bring it down from this abstract space of fantasy and ground it in some reality.

Thus self-sacrifice is not some horrendous thought nor is it some noble idea. It is an ordinary, mundane thought that more people have than you realize. There is nothing abnormal about it. What makes it “extraordinary” is the positive or negative spin culture puts on it. So, let’s eliminate that. This is not about what culture thinks. This is highly personal. This is your LIFE we are talking about. The world’s opinions on the matter are irrelevant and nonsensical.

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Secondly, let’s address this “impulse to destroy the life within you” that you are talking about. You said you’ve always been a “life-affirming” person. But these thoughts are making you doubt it.

Let me offer you another perspective on this.

Society assumes that people who take their own lives don’t see the value inherent in life, but this is a gross misunderstanding. In fact, it is quite the opposite. People who contemplate this, are often the ones who see the MOST VALUE in it. They hold life to the highest of standards. And the reason they consider terminating it is not because they believe that “life isn’t good enough for them”. Rather they believe that THEY are undeserving of such a gift.

Really allow this to sink in.

You have never stopped being a life-affirming individual. In fact, it is your own “self” that you feel is not good enough. Life has never been the issue. It’s the same reason why some people shy away from deep and meaningful relationships. It’s because they believe they are undeserving of love. Or why people fail to pursue what they are passionate about. It’s because they believe they are undeserving of success. They may try and resolve this unworthiness by projecting an opposite image of being a player or being nonchalant about ambition. But that is just the front.

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Thirdly, let’s talk about your assessment that you are a “coward”. I can tell you from experience that going through with the act of self-sacrifice takes an incredible amount of courage and determination. This is not something that I can stress enough. This idea that “suicide is the coward’s way out” is just intended to scare people into living. There is nothing cowardly about the act.

Just in the past few years, two people who were close to my family sacrificed their lives. One was a young girl barely past her teens who asphyxiated herself by putting a plastic bag over her head. I have tried to envision a hundred times the nerves of steel and raw courage it would take to hold that bag while every cell of your DNA is fighting to override it.

The other was my wife’s friend from high school who jumped from her apartment balcony. I know the terror I felt as a child standing on the diving platform above the pool despite knowing full well I would be safe if I were to jump. And yet, I struggled for weeks before I finally did it. The terror of standing on the edge knowing there is no return is something else entirely.

To me it doesn’t matter if you are a soldier throwing your body over a grenade or a jumper on a bridge. When it comes to self-sacrifice, courage is always an ingredient.

Having said that, I don’t want to turn this into some noble act, either. It isn’t. Courage is simply an aspect of spirit. To do anything with the full commitment of one’s spirit is courageous. It takes courage to live a life. To raise a family. To work hard at a job. To build a marriage. To inquire into one’s self. To contemplate one’s own existence.

These are all courageous acts. But they feel mundane and ordinary because they are. If we began glorifying or being terrified by every little thing that we did we’d end up being utterly ineffective and non-functional.

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Lastly, we are all “coping with life”. Every single one of us. You are as well. I know you well enough to know what you’ve had to endure in order to raise those kids of yours virtually on your own. I know what you’ve had to endure in order to build a life, a home, a sanctuary for them so that they may grow robust before they are cast into the harsh realities of broader human society. And I know how you have battled with those harsh realities in order to shield your kids when they were still too young and vulnerable.

In short when it comes to “coping with life”, hell, it should be me asking you for lessons on how. Coping is your forte not your weakness.

From where I stand, this isn’t about coping, or lack of courage, or being life-negating, or destructive or even suicidal. This isn’t about ANY of these things. These are the ideological decoys that have been planted in your head by society that are distracting you from what is really motivating you.

And what is motivating you is truth. That’s what this is really about. Getting absolutely real.

You asked me about my own experience. In hindsight, truth is what it was about for me. Only I didn’t know it then. I had a number of reasons why I thought I wanted to give it all away, but none of them were “my” reasons. They were the voices of “others” in my head that had been brainwashing me for too long.

What I craved more than anything was to be grateful for this life I had been gifted with. And in order to be grateful, I had to see it for what it ACTUALLY WAS rather than for what I WANTED IT TO BE. Because my “wanting” was just a form of taking it for granted. It’s like if someone were to give you a birthday gift and you were to reject it because you were expecting something else from them.

I realized I had spent my whole life rejecting the gift of each day and demanding something better that I “wanted” like some spoiled entitled brat.

Yet, what looks like entitlement on the surface is really a feeling of deep unworthiness. We believe we “deserve better” because there is this feeling that “we are not good enough”. And that “better”, we hope, will offset the deficit.

There is no deficit. Not in life. Not in yourself.

And these thoughts you are having are really guiding you towards SEEING that in your own life. They may appear like these taboo, ghoulish specters of doom. But they aren’t. They are simple and mundane pointers orienting you into a deeper understanding of yourself.

That dark basement of horrors, we imagine we will be murdered in by some demonic entity, is revealed as nothing extraordinary when the sunlight eventually filters in. It is just a room like any other: a place of dusty old memories and forgotten experiences that are just as much a part of the house as that immaculate and welcoming upstairs one maintains.

Truth is life’s expression. And to want to see truth is to affirm life in its totality.

What is so terrifying about that?

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(the question above was originally posed to me some years ago. And the article above is a summarization of the many conversations that unfolded between the questioner and I on the matter. The questioner today lives a profoundly different life. She is someone I greatly admire.)

Nothing Ever Happened

Originally posted on FB on 3/4/2019

“Could you share your thoughts on the idea that : ‘Nothing ever happened’?

I’ve heard this idea from several people now and when I look at my own experience I think it might actually be true.

When I look closely at my experience… really closely. It seems to me that everything is mind… appearing in and as awareness. Without something to “reflect” off of there is no awareness. Without thought or “mind” there is nothing. No world = nothing to perceive = nothing ever happened.

Your thoughts?”
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Everything is mind….Everything appears in and as awareness….No mind implies no thing….Nothing ever happened.

Seems so simple, doesn’t it? Seems so straight forward? Logical even? Obvious?

It sounds true, yes?

In fact, no one who has ever had any insight into the nature of reality is going to disagree with that rationale. No one is going to say that its false.

Except, it isn’t true, either.

It’s just a half-truth.

Half-truths are all we can understand and express using reason and language. Confusing what you’ve just said for the truth is a mistake. I’m not saying it’s false. But it isn’t true either.

It’s a half-truth.

So, what’s the other half then? One might ask.

The other half is that:
Nothing is mind….Awareness is created by things….No thing implies no mind….Everything only ever happens.

This is also a half-truth.

But it’s the opposite! You might say. What I believe is true and therefore it’s opposite must be false! You might say.

But truth has no negation.

And a half-truth can never be negated by a falsehood. The negation of a half-truth is always the other half of the truth.

“He is an oppressor” is a half-truth. “He is a victim” is the other half. Language allows us only to express one half or the other.

“He is an oppressor AND a victim!” Forcefully combining the two halves into a logical paradox while an improvement still doesn’t fully capture the truth either. For which came first? The chicken or the egg? The oppressor or the victim?

One can’t encapsulate truth in language and hope to make any sense. The moment one tries, one ends up with half the truth.
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There is a famous zen koan that practitioners have struggled with for centuries. It’s the koan of “Gutei’s Finger”:

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“Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy’s mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

When Gutei was about to pass from this world he gathered his monks around him. I attained my finger-Zen,' he said,from my teacher Tenryu, and in my whole life I could not exhaust it.’ Then he passed away.”

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So many have interpreted this koan to mean many different things.

Some believe it points to the fact that real enlightenment can’t be imitated. They believe that when Gutei chopped off the boy’s finger and raised his own he showed the boy that his own enlightenment was real whereas the boy’s (who could no longer raise his finger) was not, since it could be so easily taken away.

But there is a deeper truth here that Gutei communicates that enlightens the boy instantly…

As the boy is running away holding his severed finger, Gutei calls out to him and shows him his finger NOT as a lesson but as an INVITATION.

“Imitate me! Show me your zen!” Gutei invites silently holding up his finger in demonstration.

In that moment the boy realizes that the only way he can “imitate” Gutei and show him his zen is by raising NO FINGER.

The boy’s enlightenment comes from realizing in that instant that truth is both the finger AND no finger. Truth is both one AND none. Truth is both presence AND absence.

Gutei’s finger was only ever half the truth. Yet, to enlighten the boy he had to take away his half in order to show him that the other half is equally part of it.

Time After Time

Originally posted on FB on 2/4/2019

“Can you please share with me your views on “time”? This seems to be something that keeps coming up for me. I have moments/glimpses where it seems to be seen that there is no such thing as linear time. But then again… there is. Sometimes there seems to be only…THIS. No time… just this. Everything arising spontaneously and instantly in this moment. When this is seen it’s kind of confusing because my mind says…”What the fuck. It can’t be just THIS.” Things appear to grow old and decay and die. It’s like both are true…. at the same time.”


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When I was a kid there was this thing I used to do in order to pass the time anytime I was forced to be somewhere where I had to wait. Places like the doctor’s office, or in line at the box office of some new blockbuster film, or to get a table at the restaurant or whatever. I would stare at the clock on the wall or the watch on my wrist and would just watch the seconds tick by. I thought that if I watched the time then it would move faster. Of course that was never the case.

At first it would feel excruciatingly slow watching each second tick away. But as I persisted, I would naturally fall into a sort of hypnotic trance – a naturally meditative state without any intention of meditating in the first place. And I would feel time stand still. As if there was only this one moment that I was inhabiting. Yet at the same time I’d watch the second hand moving around and around in circles as if it were circling this single spot of time and never quite approaching it.

When I’d snap out of it, there would be this sensation that no time had passed whatsoever.
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PSYCHOLOGICAL TIME

When people get into debates about “whether time exists” or whether “time is linear” or whether “time is an illusion” and so on, they fail to understand that what they are discussing is an abstraction of a very real phenomenon. And that is CHANGE.

The only way our brains register that “time has passed” is when we are able to experience a change in our circumstances. As we go about our day: doing this, doing that, going here and there, meeting this person and that our circumstances are constantly changing. And the more change that happens the more time seems to pass. The more rapidly that change happens, the more quickly time seems to pass.

Time when seen from this perspective is really the “rate at which events change in consciousness”. Which is why depending on the activity you are engaged in time can seem to move exceptionally fast or excruciatingly slowly. Waiting at the doctor’s office can feel like an eternity because barely anything in our own situation seems to change for that duration. Whereas engaging in some fun activity with friends makes hours turn into minutes because there is so much change that happens in that duration.

However, when one perceives absolutely “no change” in the circumstance then time seems to disappear altogether. This happens in meditation sometimes, when one is gazing at an unchanging scene or focusing on a single immovable object. The lack of change perceived by the brain, from one moment to the next, shifts it into a trance state automatically. This is also the case when perceiving some form of repetitive motion.

I don’t particularly like driving in tunnels for an extended period of time especially at night when there is no traffic. The narrowed perspective and the repetitive passing of lights at regular intervals forces my brain into a hypnotic trance. And I have to do things like fiddle with the radio or look at my speedometer in order to break that repetition.

This looping of perception is why the ticking clock or the swinging pendulum was used in the old days by hypnotists to help their clients enter the trance state. It’s also why “trance music” (which I used to be a fan of when younger) is so repetitive in its melodies and beats. It induces an almost euphoric trance like state in the mind.

The brain is designed to shift frequencies based on the kind of environment it perceives. If it perceives an environment in which change is rapid and frequent, it needs to be in a near constant beta state because there could be a threat or opportunity imminent at any time. If change is slow and occasional, it can enter into more of a daydreaming type alpha state where it is aware and responsive yet not on high alert. When change seems to be either non-existent or on a repeating loop, then the environment becomes highly predictable and the brain can really kick back its heels and enter the theta state. This is the trance state that mystics enter. It is the creative state. It is also the state in which we slip into right before falling asleep.

So, psychological time seems inseparable from our brain states. Depending on which frequency is dominant that is the pace at which we will experience time: fast, slow or still.

Of course society’s preoccupation with fast paced living and rapid change has distorted our perceptions of time because people’s brains are forced to display predominantly beta frequencies in order to respond to their environment. The proliferation of technology and the exponential amounts of stimulation that brings only serves to further exacerbate an already tenuous situation.
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PHYSICAL TIME

So far, I’ve only addressed psychological time i.e. our subjective experience of the passage of time. What about physical time: is it any different?

From a material point of view there is no such thing as “time” as an independent entity. There is “spacetime”: the fabric of the material universe. Time from this perspective is the “rate at which the dimensions of space change”. In other words, space either expands or contracts and the rate at which that expansion or contraction happens is what creates “time”.

Consider this example. Try and picture a balloon that you have yet to inflate. Imagine drawing a bunch of dots all over the balloon separated from each other by tiny spaces. Now, imagine you were to begin inflating that balloon slowly. As the balloon expands, not only do the spaces between the dots grow larger, but the dots on the balloon also expand in both size and in proportion.

From your perspective, no change has really happened to the surface of the balloon itself. The dots are the same dots you drew just a minute ago. And the spaces between them are really the same spaces they were when the balloon was still flaccid. No one has drawn any bigger dots nor moved them physically into any other position than they already were in to begin with.

But now imagine shrinking yourself down to the size of an ant actually living on one of those dots. And your friend another ant lives on another dot. Before anytime you wanted to visit your friend on their dot you’d simply step across instantaneously to get to their place. Yet, as the balloon fills with air you find your whole world begins to change. The dot you live on seems to “grow” in size. The distances to your friend’s house seems to grow as well. As a result it now takes “time” to get to it. Eventually you start finding new ways to cope with this “change”. You may create some form of technology like an “ant-mobile” or an “ant-craft” to drive or fly over to their dot. You begin growing and evolving as a means of coping with this “passage of time” that seems to extend infinitely into the future.

And yet, when you snap your perspective back to being the person holding the balloon you can see that there has physically been no change whatsoever to either the dots or the distances between them. And if there is no change in distance then there can be no time.
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IMPERMANENCE AND EMPTINESS

Whether you look at time from a psychological perspective or from a physical one: one aspect is universal. And that is that, “time relates to change”. Change in space or change in consciousness.

But change is a cyclical phenomenon. Nothing changes that doesn’t eventually change back.

Water evaporates, forms clouds, rains or snows, forms rivers that feed into the ocean, from which water evaporates again.

Organisms are born, grow, age, die, decay, nourish the earth and the earth gives birth to more organisms.

Even within our bodies: our cells are generating, decaying and regenerating constantly.

Empires and regimes arise, grow prosperous, grow decadent, revolution occurs, a new empire or regime arises.

Change happens in a cyclical i.e. repetitive looping fashion everywhere. Cycles within cycles within cycles.

If there is a pattern that we haven’t seen before it’s only because it is a cycle of magnitude too large for our comprehension.

Depending on where one’s locus of attention is situated, determines what “face” of reality one will perceive. If one’s locus is situated on the perimeter of the circle then one is traversing the circle and one is encountering every change that occurs along the way. One is moving with the rhythm of the cycles. One is riding that drop of moisture as it evaporates into the air, then rains down from the sky, then flows down with the river, then merges with the ocean only to be drawn up into the sky once again.

One is the ant sitting on the dot of the balloon.

And from this perspective one can honestly say, “IMPERMANENCE is the true nature of all things.”

Yet, if one’s locus of attention is situated in the center of the circle, then one is not moving but is rather perceiving the circle as a whole from a 360 degree vantage point. Then one is able to see every stage within that cycle already exists and relates to every other stage. And that in reality nothing is changing, nothing is moving. And that the circle is hollow in its core.

One is now the person holding the balloon in his hand.

And from this perspective one can honestly say, “EMPTINESS is the true nature of all things.”

But the truth of the matter is that reality is both impermanent and empty, yet neither impermanent nor empty, all at the same time. It all depends on where one’s locus of perception lies. The perception and the experience are inexplicably linked.

It’s what my child-self realized at a young age sitting in that doctor’s office even though my intellect was unable to grasp it at the time. As I watched the second hand move endlessly in the same circles over and over again, the paradox of the whole thing became glaringly apparent.

Spiritually Incorrect

Originally posted on FB on 1/4/2019

“How do you think personality relates to “enlightenment” (btw I know you don’t like that word)? This one confuses me. A lot of these teachers project peaceful and kind personalities. You on the other hand can be a real a**hole! (No disrespect!) LOL!”

First of all, how dare you call me a teacher!

Jokes aside, no disrespect taken because it is true. I “can be” an asshole (this is a sentiment attested to by my infinitely patient wife, friends and family.) But of course there are plenty of times when I’m the opposite. In fact, if I had to hazard a guess I’d venture that I’m channeling assholery about 10% of the time.

To address your query, personality and enlightenment (which I reiterate is a never ending “process” of increasing clarity of self and reality) are somewhat related. But only loosely. Contrary to what a lot of people believe (either overtly or subconsciously) gaining clarity doesn’t radically alter one’s personality. At least, that hasn’t been my experience of it. In fact, if anything it allows the inherent personality to really shine through in a more authentic way.

Some personalities are naturally more expressive, some are more laid back. Some personalities are more aggressive and some more passive. Some personalities are more abrasive and some are warm, fuzzy and likeable. People look at a dude like Eckhart Tolle and they just assume he became this docile, cuddly leprechaun man overnight but that is ridiculous. He has most likely always been this sort of a person albeit less neurotic than in the past.

A lot of these so called “teachers” are posers. They’re putting on a front because that’s what the culture and the students require of them. The sheer number of heart icons and saccharine compliments that fly every which way in this culture is quite gag worthy. But that is what has happened to spirituality. “Spiritual correctness” and not honesty is what keeps the culture thriving. It really is no different than politics and society where the people who say all the “right and sensitive words” are seen as bastions of moral integrity whereas others who may be a bit more brash in their manner of speech are perceived as being moral Neanderthals.

The fact of the matter is when a person has something at stake, then they will manipulate everything in their situation including their own personality in order to maximize the chances of a favourable outcome. It’s why politicians smile so much and kiss babies. It’s why spiritual teachers gaze understandingly and adopt soothing tones and extended pauses in their speech. They are tailoring their expression in order to induce a certain outcome. The outcome being – people admiring or revering them for their wisdom, following them, talking about them, paying money for their merchandise and so on. Really no different than any other PR type profession out there.

That’s not enlightenment. That’s show-business. That’s not their personality, it’s their game face.

What’s Eckhart like at home? Rumour has it he’s a spoiled little brat who won’t even clean up the dishes after himself or take out the trash unless he is repeatedly asked to by his significant other. And when she loses her cool at him he remarks it’s her “pain body” and then retires to another room. J.Krishnamurti, another paragon of human decency, was reportedly a petty and self-serving individual who exploited all the people close to him, who believed and supported him for years, and discarded them when they became inconvenient to have around.

None of this takes anything away from the influence these men have had, nor the wisdom they have shared. There is no denying that they are very insightful individuals. But one thing they are not is honest.

In spirituality as in politics, people are constantly watching the outward presentation, the body language and the behaviour of the teacher. More than profound words, they want to sense a congruence between that person’s insight and that person’s behaviour. This is a sort of naïveté on the seeker’s part because the teacher is a human being after all equipped with all the personality traits, emotional experiences and frustrations as just about any one else is. Yet, this unrealistic expectation that, having realized something of the nature of reality, they must then exude that kind of perfection in their temperament, personality, behaviour and choices is what creates a sorry state of affairs.

It all boils down to a very binary way of seeing life and human expression. We generally tend to think of expressions such as anger, doubt, fear, sadness, arrogance and frustration as being “negative” and thereby unenlightened. These, we believe, obscure our clarity of perspective. On the other hand we perceive kindness, confidence, love, bliss, humility and calm as “positive” and thereby enlightened. We believe these enhance our clarity.

Yet, joy can obscure just as much as sadness. Love can distort just as much as fear. Anger can obliviate just as much as kindness. In truth, there are no such things as positive or negative emotional expressions. However, there is such a thing as balanced and imbalanced ones.

Psychological homeostasis is what occurs when one’s expression is allowed to manifest organically. If one feels frustrated, then that frustration gets expressed or channeled in some way and it dissipates. If one feels joy, that joy is experienced or communicated and then it equally dissipates. However, the moment these expressions are interfered with, resisted, wallowed in or manipulated in any way – homeostasis is no longer the case. Now we have an ecological imbalance in the system.

Frustration resisted and ignored turns into seething anger, then rage and eventually when left to brew long enough, into violent outbursts. Joy when held onto and milked for too long turns into delirium and eventually mania. Doubt when indulged in turns into paranoia and when ignored turns into narcissism. Peace when clung to turns into passiveness and eventually deteriorates into apathy.

Homeostasis is the state in which the human being experiences and manifests a natural balance. The experience of inner balance is the feeling of being grounded in oneself. And the manifestation of such a balance comes in the form of honesty – in thought, speech and action.

When the Buddha spoke about “right” thought, “right” speech and so on he didn’t mean being “correct”. “Correct” is an externally established consensus perspective on acceptable thought, speech and behaviour. By “right” he was pointing to the state of homeostasis within the organism: the ”right conditions” within which everything exists in fine balance. And from these right conditions emerges right thinking, right speech and right action.

What those right conditions look like for each individual will differ entirely. Only the individual themselves can know for certain if they feel that sense of psychological homeostasis. There are no real external markers for it. What looks like peace on the surface could really be intense turmoil on the inside expertly masked. What looks disorderly and haphazard on the surface could really be a wild and exquisite order on the inside.

A human being is after all a natural creation. And in nature, asymmetry is as much a manifestation of beauty as is symmetry. Ruggedness is as much a symptom of harmony as is serenity. And chaos as much a manifestation of perfection as order.

Clarity orients an individual to become, first aware, then prompted by, and eventually guided by homeostasis. The personality remains intact. Yet, one becomes organically oriented towards “right” thought, speech and action rather than the “correct” one. And in doing so one experiences and expresses authenticity by default.

No Compromise

Originally posted on FB on 30/03/2019

I am fundamentally unable to see even a smidgen of authority in anyone or any institution outside of myself and my own existence.

This wasn’t always the case. For the greater part of my life I honestly believed there were those who “knew better”, who were “more qualified”, who had a “superior understanding” of this thing we call LIFE than I did. But now, that’s utter nonsense to me.

I once held the likes of Ramana and Nisargadatta in great reverence. I once had great admiration for teachers like J.Krishnamurti and Alan Watts. I was filled by a longing for the saintliness of a Yogananda or a Ramakrishna. I was mesmerized by the mystical otherworldly gaze of an Osho or an Anandamayi Ma. I marvelled at the austerity of Himalayan sadhus. I was humbled by the simplicity of the zen monks. My heart felt warmed to the point of tears by the goodness of the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa.

And now in hindsight, all I can say is: “What the fuck was I thinking?”

Of course, I know only too well what I was thinking then, so the question is rhetorical. But that my perspective could have been so warped, so as to believe that another human being could assume such value that I would place them even a fraction of a millimeter above myself, is something that blows my mind.

Ramana, some kid who ran away from home and sat in some cave. What twists our minds into believing that he has absolutely anything of worth to offer? Nisargadatta, a bidi seller in the slums of Mumbai – who gives a shit what he has to say about the “absolute”? The Dalai Lama, just some child upon whom some superstitious title of power and influence from some archaic tradition was thrust? Who the hell made him a “somebody” in my world?

Don’t get me wrong. These are all charismatic individuals, some of them born to command an audience, many of them brilliant thinkers, a few of them deep meditators and mystics. So they got skills. So what? Watching Michael Jordan slam dunk a basketball sure as hell isn’t going to make me jump like him. Watching a pimple-faced Jewish kid take some class project and turn it into the most successful social media company of all time isn’t going to make me become one of the 8 most wealthy people in the world. So, why do I give any fucks for what ego death this Ramana dude claims he had in his bedroom at the age of fifteen.

Of course, I gave so so SO many fucks once upon a time. But now it all seems kind of perverse. To give one iota of credence, for what another person is experiencing over what I am, feels like a betrayal of the deepest kind. It is tantamount to spiritual desertion.

I don’t care if I’m the most unenlightened shmuck to have ever existed on the planet. But at least that is MY experience. It is real. However daft my perspective, at least it is what I SEE. It is what IS. I don’t care if the Buddha has Nirvikalpa Samadhied up the yin yang, what is REAL is that I experience what I experience.

To trade even a moment of that, for the pseudo-experience of someone who is having a “better moment” feels like the most ungrateful thing I could ever do. It would feel like I’ve sold myself out. Like I just threw myself under the bus. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror. All I would see is a fucking sellout.

All of us, who either in the past or the present, flocked from one teacher to another. All of us who listened to this person’s words or that person’s. All of us who spoke praises of the awakened perspective of this half naked dude or that. There is only one word that describes what we are: GROUPIES.

No different than any other groupie trying to sneak backstage and party with the band and get fucked by the lead singer. Where is the self respect?

No compromise.

There cannot be any compromise on this single moment we have been gifted. It’s not worth trading it in for the promise of great riches, great luck, great knowledge, great love or great realization. The two dollars and fifty cents in your pocket is worth infinitely more TO YOU than the billions Mark Zuckerberg has in the bank. The bumpy road you’ve travelled on and the few hard knock lessons you’ve learned are profoundly more valuable TO YOU than the wisdom of all the sages in the world. The struggles in your relationships and the communication challenges you work at with your significant other or your kids are leaps and bounds more substantial than the words of the greatest relationship gurus and self-help experts out there.

In short, the “lives of other people” is nothing more than ENTERTAINMENT. It’s a fucking reality show. It’s real to THEM, not you. What’s real to you is what’s happening right now. Not the abstract meanderings of some dead Indian dude who you’ve never met.

And yet, we sell out. We compromise. Again and again, we compromise. Not realizing that each time we do, we die a little death. Because that is essentially what happens when you trade a moment away for the promise of another one. Something inside feels deeply betrayed. Deeply shamed. Deeply alone and isolated. Deeply unworthy.

It’s not rocket science. It really isn’t. It’s so fucking simple. THIS is what we’ve got. THIS is the ride we are on. And this step we are taking is all that matters. Even if it looks like chopping vegetables. Even if it looks like trying to pass a painful kidney stone the size of a ping pong ball.

Honor it. Honor yourself. Own it. Don’t trade it away for some moment some other fucker has already happily enjoyed and is dangling in front of your foolish face like a carrot.

The promise is the curse. The hope is the despair. Eternal life is dying a slow death moment after moment after moment.

No compromise. Be you. Do you. Exclusively to no exception. Fuck what someone else is doing, feeling or experiencing. It’s none of our fucking business.

This is reality. Not a reality show.