"You see dear reader (speaking frankly, without any intention to offend), you are a ramshackle collection of coincidences held together by a desperate and irrational clinging..."
~ John Burdett
"The reason that we have the impression that the world is a violent place is that that's what news is about. News is about stuff that happens, not about stuff that doesn't happen, and all the parts of the world that are free of war, that are free of terrorist attacks just don't get reported to us and so we forget about them. We're getting better and better at reporting the violent events that do occur. Something blows up, you can be sure you'll hear about it, but we don't appreciate how much of the world at any given time is at peace."
~ Steven Pinker
As a guiding principle, to progressively realize what is not absolutely True is of infinitely more value than speculating about what is. Many people think that it is the function of a spiritual teaching to provide answer's to life's biggest questions, but actually the opposite is true. The primary task of any good spiritual teaching is not to provide answer's to your questions, but to question your answers.
In our modern society we expect to have everything given to us in easy-to-consume bite-size portions, preferably very quickly so that we can get on with our hurried lives. But Truth will not conform itself to our frantic avoidance of Reality or our desire to have the whole of something for the very least investment of time and energy.
Summary of the Teaching
Question every thought.
Contemplate the source of Reality.
And keep your eyes open. You never know when something that seems entirely insignificant will split your whole world wide open into eternal delight.
100 Acres, June 16, 2012
Excerpt from The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels:
Everyone one of us has a fantasy of a "magical something"—a relationship, job, achievement, or possession—that will remove us from the treadmill that is real life...Phil [Stutz] calls this fantasy of living an effort-free, undemanding life "exoneration." Most people think of exoneration in terms of being cleared of a crime, but it has another meaning: to be excused from a task or obligation. Here, it refers to the ultimate obligation—to make an effort for the rest of your life.
Deep down, we all wish for a magical something that will exonerate us. It could be money, an award, a high-achieving child, looking cool in front of your friends, etc. Take a moment to identify what it is for you.
It doesn't matter what it is, it could be the smallest thing; just be honest with yourself. Then, try the following exercise:
Let yourself fantasize that you get the "magical something" and it does take the struggle out of your life. Let yourself feel that for a moment. Now, crush that fantasy: imagine it can never become reality. How does it feel knowing you can never escape life's endless struggles?
...Exoneration is impossible—for an individual or for a society. When, inevitably, this false hope for "easy street" is shattered, we're left demoralized. This is an inescapable law: exoneration always ends in demoralization.
There's a path that can lead us out of this mess. But we have an enemy that's dead set against us taking it. It attacks us every waking moment: when we turn on the TV, go on the Internet, or read a magazine; it gets to us even while we're driving, and especially when we enter the dark, inner sanctum of its power, the shopping mall.
The enemy is called "consumerism." It speaks to us through every advertisement, endorsement, logo, roadside billboard, etc. Its underlying message is always the same: there's something out there you must have. Helpless to resist, we feel compelled to acquire thing after thing. Yet we don't enjoy each new item for long; once we possess it, we shift our focus to the next thing.
Inevitably, consumerism insinuates itself into all of our activities, not just shopping. We consume life experiences the same way we consume iPods, jeans, and European cars. A given song, idea, or friend is new and different until it's not. Then we discard it and go on to the next thing. Consumerism has become our model for living. This is the tail wagging the dog...
This "treasure hunt" is a quest for the impossible, but rather than admitting that, we relentlessly search for the next magical something.
This misdirected search for magic surrounds you every day. Consumers might deny this, but it shows in their behavior. They pursue something—a new spouse, a new wardrobe, a new hobby—with tremendous expectation. The expectation is never met, and that just makes them search even harder...
But you're not really free until all hope for magic is crushed.
For the rainbow experience to happen we need sunshine, raindrops, and a spectator. It is not that the sun and the raindrops cease to exist if there is no one there to see them. . . But unless someone is present at a particular point no colored arch can appear. The rainbow is hence a process requiring various elements, one of which happens to be an instrument of sense perception. It doesn’t exist whole and separate in the world nor does it exist as an acquired image in the head separated from what is perceived (the view held by the “internalists” who account for the majority of neuroscientists); rather, consciousness is spread between sunlight, raindrops, and visual cortex, creating a unique, transitory new whole, the rainbow experience. Or again: the viewer doesn’t see the world; he is part of a world process.
Everything we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, Riccardo Manzotti argues, involves the same creation of a physical unity—the moment of consciousness—sustained by processes within and without the head. The room, or part of a room, that you see now, including the screen on which you’re reading this blog, becomes, in combination with your faculties, a whole; this is consciousness. It happens in time, and it takes time (consciousness of visual phenomena seems to require at least 100 milliseconds to occur), and it changes constantly.
This minimal time lapse (some claim it is as much as 500 milliseconds) required for brain and world to generate consciousness allows Manzotti to deal with what would seem to be the obvious objection to the externalist theory. Do we not have consciousness when the eyes are shut and the mind lies in silence? And what about dreams? Isn’t the brain evidently sufficient to sustain consciousness without support from outside?
We do indeed have consciousness in these moments, Manzotti replies, but it is still spread out between mind and world. It may take only a fraction of a second for you to become conscious of the face appearing at your window, and then three more years before the same face surfaces in a dream, perhaps mingled with all kinds of other stimuli from elsewhere. But this doesn’t change the fact that consciousness is a coming together of brain and world: the physical process begun at the window is continuing in memory and dream. The congenitally blind, Manzotti points out, don’t dream colors because they have never encountered them. Consciousness is the mingling of mind process with the processes we call objects that are all in a state of flux, however fast or slow.
The Facts of Life: Egolessness
by Pema Chödrön, from Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion
The second mark of existence is egolessness, some-times called no-self. These words can be misleading. They don’t mean that we disappear—or that we eraseour personality. Egolessness means that the fixed idea that we have about ourselves as solid and separate from each other is painfully limiting. That we take ourselves so seriously, that we are so absurdly important in our own minds, is a problem. Self-importance is like a prison for us, limiting us to the world of our likes and dislikes. We end up bored to death with ourselves and our world. We end up very dissatisfied.
We have two alternatives: either we take everything to be sure and real, or we don’t. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality, or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious—to train in dissolving the barriers that we erect between ourselves and the world—is the best use of our human lives.
In the most ordinary terms, egolessness is a flexible identity. It manifests as inquisitiveness, as adaptability, as humor, as playfulness. It is our capacity to relax with not knowing, not figuring everything out, with not being at all sure about who we are, or who anyone else is, either. Every moment is unique, unknown, completely fresh. [From this perspective], egolessness is a cause of joy rather than a cause for fear.
See also: "We Must Learn to Love Uncertainty and Failure, Say Leading Thinkers," by Alok Jha, The Guardian, January 14, 2011
Self-inquiry is simple. It does not require you to do anything, change anything, think anything, or understand anything. It only asks you to pay careful attention to what is real.
I have two sons. When they were about four, they both went through a phase of having nightmares. I would go into the room and switch on the light. Two small eyes blinked at me from the corner.
"What's the problem?" I'd ask.
"Daddy, there's a monster in the room," a timid voice would reply.
Now, I had more than one choice of how to respond. I could tell my frightened boy that it was not true, there was no monster, go back to sleep. That response is the equivalent of reading a book that says, "We're all one, there is no problem, just be with what is."
Fine ideas, but they don't help much. I could also have offered to feed the monster cookies, talk with the monster, negotiate. That approach is like some kinds of psychotherapy. Treat the problem as real, then fix it on its own terms.
But the only real solution I ever found was to have a good look. Under the bed, in the closet, behind the curtains, we undertook an exhaustive search.
Eventually my sons would let out a deep sigh, smile at me, and fall back to sleep. The problem was not solved but dissolved. It was never real in the first place, but it took investigation to make that a reality.
See also: "The Translucent Revolution," interview with Arjuna Ardagh by Deborah Caldwell, Beliefnet.com
The 13th-century Japanese master Eihei Dōgen asserted in the Shōbōgenzō that a day consists of 6,400,099,180 moments (which make a moment about 1/74,000 of a second). In Each Moment is the Universe (2007), Zen monk Dainin Katagiri writes that these moments are so fleeting that our rational minds are too slow to keep up with them, and so we experience a gap between us and the reality of time, which is why we feel we can't keep up, and why we suffer. According to Buddhist teaching, everything exists together in a moment.
The past has already gone, says Katagiri; so it does not exist. The future has not yet come; so it also does not exist. So the past and the future are nothing, no-time. Then is the present all that exists? No, even though there is a present, strictly speaking the present is nothing, because in a moment it is gone. So the present is also nothing, no-time, no-present, no form of the present.
But that nothingness is very important. The real present is not exactly what you believe the present to be. In everyday life we constantly create some idea of the the human world is because we are always thinking about how things were in the past or how things will be in the future. The real present is the full aliveness that exists at the pivot of nothingness. Be present, Katagiri says, from moment to moment, right in the middle of the real stream of time.
In the Shōbōgenzō Dōgen says that when you swim on the surface of the sea, your foot touches the bottom. The surface is the "normal" human world in the stream of time, the world we create with our imagination, memory, and hopes, while the bottom is the reality of human life. So the surface is constantly changing, but the bottom is the firm reality, and we always swim with one foot on the bottom.
It takes on average half a second for the unconscious mind to process incoming sensory stimuli into conscious perceptions. Yet we are not aware of this time lag — you think you see things move as they move, and when you stub your toe you get the impression of knowing about it right away. This illusion of immediacy is created by an ingenious mechanism, which backdates conscious perceptions to the time when the stimulus first entered the brain.
On the face of it, this seems impossible because cortical signals take the same "real" time to process to consciousness, but somehow we are tricked into thinking we feel things earlier.
One wayit might be explained is that consciousness consists of many parallel streams and that the brain jumps from one to another, revising them and redrafting them.
Meditation has nothing to do with contemplation of eternal questions, or of one's own folly, or even of one's navel, although a clearer view on all of these enigmas may result. It has nothing to do with thought of any kind — with anything at all, in fact, but intuiting the true nature of existence, which is why it has appeared, in one form or another, in almost every culture known to man.
The entranced Bushman staring into fire, the Eskimo using a sharp rock to draw an ever-deepening circle into the flat surface of a stone achieves the same obliteration of the ego (and the same power) as the dervish or the Pueblo sacred dancer.
Among Hindus and Buddhists, realization is attained through inner stillness, usually achieved through the samadhi state of sitting yoga.
In Tantric practice, the student may displace the ego by filling his whole being with the real or imagined object of his concentration; in Zen, one seeks to empty out the mind, to return it to the clear, pure stillness of a seashell or flower petal.
When body and mind are one, then the whole thing, scoured clean of intellect, emotions, and the senses, may be laid open to the experience that individual existence, ego, the "reality" of matter and phenomena are no more than fleeting and illusory arrangements of molecules.
The weary self of masks and screens, defenses, preconceptions, and opinions that are propped up by ideas and words, imagines itself to be some sort of an entity (in a society of like entities) may suddenly fall away, dissolve into formless faux where concepts such as "death" and "life", "time" and "space", "past" and "future" have no meaning.
There is only a pearly radiance of Emptiness, the Uncreated, without beginning, therefore without end. Like the round bottomed Bodhidharma doll, returning to its center, meditation represents the foundation of the universe to which all returns, as in the stillness of the dead of night, the stillness between tides and winds, the stillness of the instant before Creation.
In this "void", this dynamic state of rest, without impediments, lies ultimate reality, and here one's own true nature is reborn, in a return from what Buddhists speak of as "great death".
[Thanks, Whiskey River!]