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.

***

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.

.
***
.

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
.
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
.
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
.
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
.
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
.
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’…