Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Two Approaches to Spirituality

“The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time.” - T.S. Eliot

There seem to be two main approaches to spirituality. The first and by far the most common, is the accumulative approach, in which the individual reads lots of books and acquires as much spiritual knowledge as possible, constructing exquisite new belief systems and engaging in all kinds of wonderful practises and sadhanas. There’s always some new technique and trend that’s taking the spiritual marketplace by storm, and so many exciting things to investigate and learn. This is the spiritual sweet shop and it’s a fun - and tasty - place to be.

The second approach is the de-cumulative approach and it’s a lot less common, perhaps because it’s not in the least bit flashy or enticing. By comparison it’s stark and simple. The de-cumulative approach is in some ways the polar opposite to the accumulative approach. It’s not about gaining new beliefs or adding more knowledge to the mind. It’s not about learning new techniques or becoming a better person. On this path, there are no answers out there, beyond some simple pointers that may or may not be helpful. The only prerequisite is to have a sincere yearning to find truth (truth about the nature of oneself and life) and, with an attitude of earnest inquiry, you are invited to look within and explore the truth of your existence. It’s about letting go of everything you think you’ve learned about spirituality, yourself and the world and to take a good look around in order to find the truth, first-hand, for yourself.

It took me a very long time to realise that sweet shop spirituality doesn’t really lead anywhere. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt, the perpetual mindset of seeking - and thinking you’ve found it in the latest spiritual bestseller, before realising that this wasn’t quite it (whatever 'it' is) and moving onto the next big trend, technique or book. I realised the answers aren’t out there, because on a fundamental level, there is no ‘out there’. It gradually dawned on me that world is maya, a mind-created, mind-projected and mind-sustained world of illusion and dream forms. If you want to learn about what is real, then you don’t look for it in the world of the false. You won’t find answers about reality in the world of dreams. Your best bet is to instead turn your attention to the consciousness that is dreaming.

This shift in attention from dream to dreamer was a huge turning point for me. It doesn’t mean I still don’t get pulled into the dramas, crises and strife that happen around me, because I do. But it doesn’t happen for quite as long anymore. On a couple of recent occasions when there have been dramas occurring around me, and people running about freaking out, I simply found myself letting go and realising that, in spite of the panic and stress around me, the drama itself didn’t really matter and that it would quickly resolve itself as it always does. And it did, on each occasion.

The dream frequently gets rocky, for that’s what happens in dreams - one moment you’re soaring through the sky like an eagle, then the next you’re tumbling toward the ground. But when you know all along that the whole thing is just a dream, you simply observe with an almost amused detachment, knowing that the seemingly dire crises will promptly resolve themselves and that what you really are cannot be threatened in any way by any of it. Indeed, the element of lucidity while dreaming even gives you an element of being able to better control the dream itself. I tried that too, and it worked remarkably! I have a suspicion that the famed ‘law of attraction’ stuff actually does work, but that you have to be detached from the dream and from what you want to create. Only when you know yourself as dreamer and not dream can you truly utilise your creative power for crafting and altering the dream should you so choose. You have the choice as to whether you simply let go and watch the show, or whether you want to change the outcome of the dream.

Now, there will be a great many people who would vigorously oppose the assertion that the world as we experience it is a dream. It’s a pretty radical statement and one that’s very hard to explain on the level of mind. I don’t feel the need to even try to explain it at the moment (although I do feel an explanation of sorts brewing in the back of my mind, words that perhaps want to be expressed at a later date). You can’t take this on someone else’s word anyway. It’s a realisation that can only be arrived through deep and unflinching inner exploration. It’s necessary to jettison all concepts and ideas about what you think you are and what you think constitutes reality and simply look within. The invitation of self-inquiry as offered by sages such as Ramana Maharshi and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj has been, for me, the match that ignited this particular realisation.

It’s a journey that must be undertaken oneself. It’s wholly possible that others will come to different realisations and understandings of reality. The important thing is that the journey is taken earnestly, without expectation and without any other motive other than truth. Many of us, myself included, have embarked upon the spiritual path with an idea that it will bring us something wonderful, some superhuman state of enlightenment. This hidden agenda has to be ditched. When the ego uses spirituality as a crutch or a secret weapon to bolster itself...well, it’s never going to work out. It will get messy. I am certain that the ego can never become enlightened. It sure as hell thinks it can. But authentic awakening is the transcending of ego, in which the false, conceptual self dissolves into something vaster, deeper and truer. And by ‘something’ I actually mean nothing and Everything. This is where words get tricky. This is where it’s best for me to stop talking altogether.

I suppose the point of this post was to note what I see as the two contrasting approaches to spiritual realisation. The accumulating/gathering approach sees us devouring information, teachings and techniques. It may be a necessary foundation for our spiritual explorations (until we may come to realise that it’s unnecessary and even counter-productive). There comes a point when we’ve stuffed our bellies with so much confectionary that we feel bloated, sick and yet simultaneously unfulfilled. It took me many years on the spiritual merri-go-round to realise that I was just going around in circles.

It was then that I was drawn to the spartan and decidedly un-flashy approach of de-cumulation, wherein the only motive is a simple desire to know what’s true and what isn’t true. Not because of what it will get me, but simply because the confectionery shop had left me so unsatisfied and disillusioned. This fundamental shift in focus is radical. I stopped looking for answers within the dream itself, and started exploring who and what the dreamer was.

I’m beginning to realise that this ‘path’ doesn’t really lead anywhere. It does seem to cause a radical shift in perception and awareness. I don’t think I can ever look at ‘myself’ and ‘the world’ in the same way ever again. Yet I don’t think I’m suddenly going to burst into light and ascend to higher planes. This apparently separate entity with a body and name and memories and habits is here for the duration of its allotted timespan. But there’s something changing within. There’s a timeless presence or awareness that’s simply witnessing the play of form as it takes place through and around this time-bound physical entity. It’s impossible to find and touch this awareness - it’s not to be seen or categorised. It’s simply watching with a detached amusement. It’s almost like someone sitting in a darkened cinema munching on popcorn while watching what’s happening on the cinema screen. Sometimes the film is so good (or bad!) and so compelling and realistic, that the cinema-goer is utterly pulled into the events of the film.

I like the cinema screen analogy. I’ve heard it used before and it’s one of the best for explaining the nature of consciousness and life. I may return to it. In the meantime, I continue to nibble popcorn and watch this amusing, scary, funny, sometimes tragic farce unfold.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The biggest conspiracy of all

I find conspiracy theories interesting - not so much on the level of content, but as a phenomenon in themselves. Here I use the term ‘conspiracy theory’ as a neutral description for all the wide-ranging controversial, unproven or unverifiable theories of political, social or systemic conspiracies.

I recently came across a David Icke book and I skimmed through it with interest. I'm aware of his theories but have never read any of his stuff. I didn't really like it. He presented some coherent insight into the ultimate nature of reality as a dream in consciousness, cobbling together elements of ‘The Matrix’ and advaita philosophy, while tacking on his own sci-fi-esque twists about shape-shifting reptiles (yes, really). But my overall feeling was that he's mixed truth with illusion. More damaging than a lie is a twisted truth or a half-truth. The book was called 'Infinite Love Is the Only Truth, All Else is Illusion', but Icke deeply contradicts himself by remaining so deeply immersed and caught up in what he himself says is all an illusion. He briefly talks of love being the only reality, yet his writing appears to come from a place of anger and fear.

It's clear to me that some of the 'conspiracy theories' are self-evident: it's a sad truth that large corporations do have a strong influence on government policy. Whether this is due to a nefarious plot to take over the world and create a 'one world government' or simply down to greed is uncertain, but I'd suspect the latter. The principle of Occam's razor states that the simplest explanation is usually the likeliest. Now, I believe there is evidence to support some conspiracy theories, (I won't go into which ones, as that is not the scope of the intended discussion). There is corruption, there are dubious agendas and all kinds of power plays that can happen within any organisation or government. This seems to be endemic to the unawakened human mind.

But I'm not sure dwelling on such things is a healthy thing. Conspiracy literature, such as David Icke and others, can have a compulsive quality and it's sometimes convincingly written. But I it feel creates anger, fear and paranoia and this can become a mindset.

Our experience of reality is filtered through our mind and psyche. Someone who focuses on conspiracies will tend to see conspiracies everywhere.

"Why hasn't John returned my call? It's been weeks since he got in touch. I bet Janet said something to him about what happened at the party. They've all been talking about it behind my back - they've had it in for me all along."

That's the 'reality' we experience, until we later learn that John has been in hospital and therefore unable to return our calls and that Janet has forgotten all about what happened at the party. I'm sure we've all done this before - seeing a vast conspiracy that exists nowhere other than our minds, a projection of our own insecurities and anxieties.

The mind's tendency to project is something that can't be overstated. Our anxieties, fears, insecurities and prejudices totally colour our view of the world and others (and it's interesting to note that often conspiracies are often levelled against minority groups and their perceived 'agendas' that threaten 'us', highlighting our projected fear and prejudice). We can never say how many of the conspiracy theories are simply projections of our own fears and insecurities. There's actually very little we can know with certainty.

Even if the theories are true, we don't have much scope to change things as long as we're stuck in the low, sticky energy of anger and fear. As Einstein stated, a problem can never be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it.

"He who looks outside dreams, he who looks inside awakens."

One of the best quotes of all time, by Carl Jung! I believe the conspiratorial mindset is disempowering for it keeps us locked in a world that isn't ultimately real anyway. It keeps us from seeking our own truth within and from connecting with the only thing that's real in the dream: the witnessing consciousness.

The only way we can really help the world is to go beyond the world and that means to stop fixating on external phenomena instead seek what's true within. The dreamworld is enticing with all its dramas and thrills and spills, whether they're real or imagined (and, ultimately, I'm pretty certain it's all imagined). But it's still just a dream in consciousness.

Perhaps conspiracy theories are a conspiracy in themselves to keep us distracted from realising our true nature? Could that be the biggest conspiracy of all? ;-)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Some additional thoughts on awakening & emotional healing

After re-reading what I wrote in the last post I wanted to clarify that not everyone 'takes up' spirituality as a distraction. But it does seem to at least start that way for many people based on my own experience and observations. Maybe pain is a necessary trigger to spark this awakening. People that never suffer have no reason to look beyond the dream, because who wants a pleasant dream to end?

Two things might happen once we begin to explore spirituality. Firstly, we might simply get caught up in a seemingly better, more 'spiritual' dream which is still ultimately just a dream. Or we might come to realise that the impulse to spiritually awaken isn't simply about adopting new beliefs and practises, but is a spark of something deeper within us and part of a greater process, an impersonal universal unfolding of consciousness.

As long as we seek to get something out of spirituality, some benefit, whether it's enlightenment or peace or freedom, then it's likely the ego is hi-jacking the process. This is not a judgement, and it happens all the time and I catch myself doing it. Ultimately I perceive authentic spirituality as a great surrendering to the unfolding of the universe, a flowering within, around and beyond 'us'...and one that cannot be forced or coerced. We can however create the space within us to invite it on and allow it to happen. Effortless effort.

The basic point I wanted to make below was that, for some at least, the process of awakening can be painful, uncomfortable or disorienting. The deeper we go, the more we have to confront all the psychological/emotional crap that's been buried within us. The light of awareness highlights all the areas of darkness and makes it impossible to hide from them or ignore them any longer. It seems to draw this stuff to the surface like a poultice. We then have to confront layer after layer. This seems, at least to me, to be part of the process. Maybe it's not a bad sign. Maybe it's actually a very good one. It's better that this stuff is dealt with rather than continually stuffed down and repressed.

To summarise the process I've found for dealing with these blocks and emotional issues. First, be aware of it. Feel it. Move into it, then beyond it. See what's at the centre of it or beneath it. Keep going inward until you reach an open expanse of pure being, the energy/consciousness out of which the block has been formed. Rest in that. Be it. And then see what happens. I've found this very helpful myself and wanted to share it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Awakening - a painful process

“Make no mistake about it - enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretence. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imaged to be true.” Adyashanti

I think there’s a widespread notion that becoming enlightened or awakening is a smooth and joyful process, a kind of ever-expanding state of love, light and bliss. At times it maybe is, but that’s not the entirely of it. In spirituality, I think there’s a tendency to cling to positive feeling-states and use them as a means to evade the nasty stuff that’s still lurking deep within our psyche.

This kind of evasion is what is sometimes referred to as a ‘spiritual bypass’ and is, I think, the reason that a lot of people are initially drawn to spiritual pursuits. They use it as a way to circumvent the pain that’s deep within them, the fears, the ravaging self-doubt and the residue of emotional pain from the past.

It maybe works for a while, as well. We become ‘spiritual’ and for a time our attention is shifted away from the black ball of pain that’s lodged somewhere deep within and we feel better, brighter, happier. The problem is, aversion tactics don’t work in the long-run. They don’t remove the underlying unease and unrest, they just temporarily mask it over.

Of course, it’s not just spirituality that people use as means of distraction and denial - some more common ‘weapons of mass distraction’ are addictive use of alcohol, drugs, social interaction, sex and compulsive mental stimuli such as an overabundance of television watching, computer game playing, internet surfing and anything else that keeps us as occupied as possible so we never actually have to feel what’s within.

I think that we all have this black cloud of fear and pain lodged somewhere deep within. My feeling is that it starts the moment we’re born and are forcibly yanked from oneness into a strange and unsettling world of separation, in which we have very real survival needs that must be met and the inevitability of occasional (or, if we’re unfortunate, sustained) pain and suffering. Something deep within us tightly constricts - we become aware on a deep, instinctual level of potential danger and the possibility of annihilation. This primordial, unconscious fear remains within us our entire life, like a tightly clenched fist in our gut, a continual reminder that we are potentially at threat in any and every moment. This fear is at the core of our sense of self and is possibly a biological survival mechanism.

As we go through life, experiencing various hurts and pain, a residue of this pain forms around this core fear. Layer after layer of pain develops, until the black ball gets larger and larger. It gets so large that we begin to mistake it as being who we are. A large proportion of people’s actions are motivated by this mechanism and the desire to avoid future pain and discomfort. This is what Eckhart Tolle calls the ‘pain body’, the accumulation of past pain within us. It’s dormant sometimes, but can easily get triggered and take us over, dramatically colouring our thoughts, perceptions and behaviour. Different people seem to have different key feelings that glue their black ball together: for some it’s fear, for others it might be a sense of unworthiness, abandonment or anger. The circumstances of our lives can trigger this mechanism at any time and set in motion all kinds of subsidiary programs and conditioning.

No one likes to confront the darkness that’s within. I think most people are unconsciously aware of it, but they do anything they can to avoid feeling it. We have this black lump of crap at the core of our psyche and we spend our entire lives both running from it and disguising it as best we can. We try to cover it in paint and make-up, masking it with more and more things, achievements and possessions in order to fill the void. We distract ourselves from it in sometimes the most destructive of ways. For many people, ‘being spiritual’ is just another way of running from the black void within. Most spiritual seekers think they’re seeking enlightenment or whatever, but I see now that most the time we’re just trying to escape the pain that’s within.

Avoidance and aversion are never the answer. I no longer see enlightenment or spiritual awakening as I used to. I used to buy into the notion that it’s something that you add to yourself, an experience of perpetual bliss and peace and knowing. But now I see it differently. I’m not saying this is the final understanding I’ll have on the subject, and I’m always open to shifting perceptions and deeper understandings, but I now see that there’s no way we can ever be enlightened. The ‘we’ I’m referring to is, of course, ego. The ego that seeks enlightenment can never be enlightened, because enlightenment is a shifting of awareness beyond the illusory chimera of ego. There’s nothing to ‘add’ to ourselves. We are already the totality. Perhaps awakening is nothing more than the realisation of this.

Going back to the original quote by Adyashanti (who is one of the clearest teachers on this trickiest of subjects), I can now see the truth of this. Awakening is NOT about achieving extraordinary states of bliss and light. It’s not something that we add to ourselves. It’s more a process of excavation and eradication. It’s the shedding of layers upon layers of masks, stories, beliefs and conditioning. Instead of continually polishing, painting and trying to disguise the black ball that resides at the core of our psyche, we meet it head on.

We begin peeling back the layers and moving deeper and deeper into it. The more we deny and repress it, the more it grows. I know it’s a cliche, but there’s never been a truer one: the only way out IS through. It’s a painful process, confronting our deepest fears and most intense emotional pain. But each layer has to be acknowledged and felt, although it’s also important not to get stuck in it, as some people might have a tendency to do this. Bringing our conscious awareness into it, we can feel it fully and then let it go, moving to the next level. It takes great courage to face our pain and fears like this. Once you’ve started, there’s no going back, only forward. We must persevere as we move deeper and deeper, through layers of fear, anxiety, terror, grief, loss and hurt.

When we move right into the core of this black void, we encounter something inexplicable. I’m almost hesitant to speak of it, because it’s maybe something everyone needs to discover for themselves. But at the core of all these encrusted layers of something extraordinary. Well, that’s actually not true. It’s more like nothing, but it is extraordinary. At the deepest core of all this crap is a vast expanse of openness, emptiness, expansiveness. There’s nothing there -- and yet this vast nothing is simultaneously everything. There’s just pure Being; unconditioned awareness, a sense of vast and intangible intelligence and conscious prior to any identification with form or thought. If you’ve experienced this state of being before you’ll know what I’m referring to. If not, you’ll probably be scratching your head about now, utterly perplexed. That’s all right too.

From this core state of simple Being (and I’m on shaky ground here, because words are really inadequate when it comes to putting these experiences into language), we can begin to see through all the pain and fear. It was all based on a misidentification with form. It was based on the illusion that what we are is anything other than this vast, intangible, infinite ocean of awareness. The identifications of mind, ego and conditioning quickly dissolve into this endless ocean of nothing/everything. Tracing consciousness back to its source and being rooted in this primordial sense of ‘I am’ (which exists prior to notions of ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’), is the method of self-enquiry as recommended by two of the spiritual giants of the 20th century, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Nisargadatta called this the ultimate medicine - nothing else is needed. All problems, all fears and pain tend to dissolve when we trace our consciousness back to its root (at least this has been the case in my experience, which is all I can really speak from).

Of course, it’s unlikely that you will remain in this state of being forever more. We have bodies and minds and we have to function in this world, so of course we’re going to come back into our ordinary state of consciousness. What happens then, I can only speak for myself. Each time I move into the state of pure being, I feel it dissolves a little more of the illusions and pain I’ve carried within for so long. Sometimes it’s as though the black ball of fear/pain disappears completely. Even if it doesn’t, it rarely seems quite as dense and impenetrable as it was previously. I think that each time you touch the realm of being, you bring a little of it back with you. It has a transmuting, healing quality. Sometimes it stays with you a long time, sometimes just a few moments. Maybe at some point it with remain as an abiding awareness, but it’s best just to accept the process as it unfolds. There’s no need to understand, grasp or cling.

There is no goal to achieve this, and I don’t believe there should be a goal to get rid of the black ball within. The moment we have a goal, we create a resistance within us and we tend to create additional blocks. I don’t recommend this process to everyone. Many probably aren’t ready or willing. It’s fine that they keep doing whatever they’ve been doing, distracting themselves with TV and alcohol. I can’t do that. It’s like I’ve come so far that I no longer have the option of going back.

The ego hates this stuff, because it often ends up in tatters, limping about in the corners of the psyche, broken and battered, quietly plotting ways to reassert itself as it wipes its bloody nose. It’s free to do it’s stuff. There’s a deeper process at work, in all of us. And that’s all it is - a process. It happens, a lot of the time unbidden. We’re drawn to do what we do, what feels right in the moment. The right pointers and teachings appear at the right moment. It might seem like we are, but it’s ultimately a fallacy to think that WE’RE doing anything. The process does itself. We are just a process!

The pain drives us either outward seeking distraction, or it compels us inward, to find its source. Pain is perhaps our greatest teacher and healer. Uncomfortable though it is, it’s certainly not the enemy. It’s pulling us back to ourselves, to what we truly are. It’s the mechanism that invites us to wake up from the dream we’ve been living. We’ve been fighting and resisting it all these years, but perhaps pain is a vital component of this thing we call enlightenment or awakening...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Forget about your dreams. Wake up instead!

It seems this blog has become something of a monthly occurrence now. There was a time when I wrote almost every other day. I have been busy trying to finish up other things however, and I suppose that now I actually know people read this, I've lost my spontaneity a bit. Blog fright! But here are some words I scribbled down the other day, based on one of those 'flash insights'. I thought I might as well share.

There’s a lot of talk in our culture about the importance of our ‘dreams’...we've got to follow our dreams, make our dreams come true, live the dream, never give up on our dream. You know you the drill!

But here’s what I suddenly realised. All this talk of dreams is really the last thing we need. We don’t need dreams. Life is already a dream! What good is it dreaming within a dream? Certainly, the dreams can be sweet, but they rarely stay that way for long, because that’s simply not the way dreams work. Sooner or later elements of discord and discomfort creep in and before we know it our dreams become nightmares. So, why not forget our dreams? What we need more than anything else is to wake up.

We don’t need to manipulate the circumstances of our lives in order to be fulfilled and at peace. Because, like I said, dreams have a habit of perpetually changing and shifting. You can be lying on the beach on a tropical island one moment and then the next moment you’re being held at gunpoint by Ronald McDonald. (Dreams are bizarre, as well!)

Perhaps it’s better that we simply wake up and see life for what it is, and indeed, more fundamentally, see ourselves for what we are. I recall the inspired words of Carl Jung when he said that “who looks outside dreams, who looks inside awakens.”

The notion that we have to chase and fulfil our dreams seems to have taken root at the heart of western spirituality and these dreams usually come down to at least some element of avarice. Perhaps in order to thrive in our western world, spirituality involuntarily assimilated some of the principles of capitalism? Such ‘dreams’ tend to be unconsciously founded on the notion that what’s out there is really ‘real’ and that in order to be happy we have to mould and manipulate it into a favourable configuration. I’m not saying that we can’t do things and have goals, but simply that they be seen for what they are, which is ultimately quite insignificant, no matter how grand and lofty our ambitions. Do stuff (by the very nature of the world we live in, we have to do stuff), but remember that it’s all just maya you’re playing with, dream-stuff, a play within a play, mere movements in consciousness.

The ultimate goal is not to fulfil our dreams, but to wake up from every last one of them. To see reality for what it is, to know ourselves as what we are, to dis-identify from the dream forms we’ve projected ourselves into and know ourselves as the dreamer, the dreamed and the dream. The deeper we go into the dream, the more we tend to lose ourselves in it, but if we take a step back, withdraw at least some of our attention from the objects of the dream and use it to go within and inquire ( I REALLY?), then the awakening process begins. We become openings for turiya, a new form of consciousness still rare in this world, the stateless state of lucid wakefulness.

This wakefulness is worth more than all the gold in all the dreams in all the dreamt-of worlds. The person living in a slum in India who has awoken from the spell of our great collective dreaming, is infinitely richer than all the Wall Street brokers put together and multiplied by a thousand. The riches of the dream-world never last, but the emergence of lucid wakefulness is a jewel that will surely last beyond eternity.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Personal Development vs Spiritual Development

There seems to be a strange dichotomy at the heart of Western spirituality. Do we completely accept things as they are, and surrender to life or do we take charge of our destinies and strive to manifest what we desire?

I’ve long been baffled by this confusion. Is it a mixture of both? For a while, I tried combining the two, but that’s more difficult than it sounds, because our minds are such that we tend to veer more in one direction than the other in any given moment. True balance is hard to achieve. So, time and time again I came back to the same question: to control or to surrender? Which is it?

I think the root of the paradox stems from the fact many Western spiritual teachers have blurred the line between personal development and spiritual development. In truth, they are quite different things. Personal development is very much rooted in the little ‘self’, the ego, and is to do with developing and adding to this self. It’s about developing greater self esteem and self confidence, as well as achieving, accumulating and acquiring that which one desires. There is nothing wrong with personal development. To be ‘self actualised’ on the egoic level is in fact highly preferable to being bound by a weak and dysfunctional ego that’s hopelessly snared in a net of self doubt, fear and limitation.

Spirituality, on the other hand, has nothing to do with developing the ego. On the contrary, it’s about transcending ego. It is about awakening from the notion of being a separate, limited little ‘self’ and seeing through all the stories and concepts we’ve spun about ourselves, the world and life. Whereas personal development is about adding to yourself, spiritual development is a process of subtraction. You let go and let go and let go until all that’s left is a primordial awareness, subtle, silent yet all pervasive.

On this level, there’s not much need to control reality, because all is seen simply as a dream unfolding in consciousness. Which isn’t to say one will simply sit in a chair forevermore and won’t be moved to take action in any way. But whatever action we take will no longer be driven by the need to find fulfilment and happiness, because we’ve come to realise that fulfilment and joy are in fact our innermost essence and are available to us only by turning inward.

This isn’t to pit personal development and spiritual development against each other. Each have their place and one may be more appropriate for one person than another. I’m not sure if spiritual development can be forced. It seems to be a more spontaneous occurrence; either one is ‘ripe’ for it, or one isn’t. If someone has absolutely no pull toward spirituality, then the fire simply hasn’t been lit and it’s probably best that they stick to personal development for the time being.

The way many teachers and authors have combined personal and spiritual development has created, I feel, an unfortunate confusion and ultimately leads to disillusionment. People might pick up a book like ‘The Secret’ and think that by focussing on the law of attraction and working through a list of material desires they are somehow on the way to everlasting happiness and spiritual fulfilment. I feel this is very deceptive. It can be fun to play around with the material world and it’s good to have nice things and pleasurable experiences, but if people are exclusively locked into the world of things, then the moment those things are taken away, or fail to show up, then suffering arises. Our happiness is utterly at the mercy of events, circumstances and other people which are by their very nature fickle, unstable and ever-changing.

It seems to me that the only way to find true peace in the world is to transcend it. Simply striving to make your life circumstances as ‘perfect’ as possible, and to accumulate as much money and as many material possessions as you can is really the worst way to be at peace in life. Because no matter how high you climb up the mountain, eventually you’re going to have to come back down. Such is the nature of life. And when that happens -- as long as you’re completely focused on the outward trappings of life -- you will suffer.

The confusion between personal and spiritual development is one that needs to be clarified and understood. Personal development is another word for ego development (because, simply, the ‘person’ is the ego). I don’t mean to lament the ego, for it is what it is and it does what it does, but so long as it’s running the show (and when it comes to ‘my’ desires, ‘my’ goals, and ‘my’ dreams, then it clearly is), there can be no lasting peace. Happiness will come and go with each success and failure. Only by going within and finding out what we really, truly are, can we touch upon the level of peace, fulfilment and joy that we’re really looking for. Everything else is a quick fix and will ultimately amount to nothing, because anything that can be achieved or acquired in the world of form can and will eventually be taken from us.

I can see how catering for both the ego’s endless quest for more possessions, achievements and attainments and our drive to be ‘spiritual’ can make for an enticing package. It clearly sells books. Dressing up the ego’s desires in a spiritual cloak makes it more appealing perhaps because it mitigates the element of avarice and makes it more permissible. But so long as the ego is running the show and we are locked into the illusion that we need certain things and sets of circumstances in order to be happy and free and spiritually fulfilled, then it won’t be long before we’re in train wreck town.

Again, I’m not dissing those types of books, or saying it’s wrong to pursue goals and desires, just so long as we’re clear about why we’re doing it and what we hope to gain from it. Sometimes we need to repeatedly try something one way before we realise that it simply doesn’t work. Many people are like that when it comes to life. It doesn’t matter how many times they hear things like ‘happiness only comes from within’. They’re still intent on trying to make their outer lives as ‘perfect’ as possible before they can be happy. Maybe it will take entire lifetimes to realise it just doesn’t work like that. No matter how perfect your life circumstances are, or how high your bank balance is, or how great your business is doing, it could all change in the blink of an eye. Only by finding that which is changeless within us can be rooted in any kind of lasting peace.

I’m lucky to have learned that comparatively early in my life. I’ve stopped chasing after things to make me ‘happy’. But I am still being drawn to do certain things and pursue certain avenues. The motive is different now - it’s not to achieve fulfilment, success and happiness. When I turn within, I already am fulfilled, successful and happy. It’s simply because I want to and because I can. Another time I’ll maybe talk more about how I am continuing to reconcile the paradox of doing and not-doing, of taking action and surrendering to life.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Letting Go

They say life is a balance between holding on and letting go.

I’ve found that the most important of the two is actually the art of letting go. We hold onto so much in life: memories, concepts, self-definitions, hurts and grievances, losses, frustrations, other people’s opinions and our so-perceived failures and failings. We become so encumbered with these weighty layers of sediment that we lose touch with who and what we truly are. When we’re holding on to this much crap, it’s little wonder we often experience life as a painful drudge, filled with disappointment and anguish.

We’ve lost ourselves under these layers of sediment, which exist in our minds and psyche as thoughts, conditioned reflexes, memories and belief patterns. They have a phantasmic quality, and they tend to warp and distort our perceptions of reality. People tend to unconsciously forge an identity out of this mindstuff, so the very notion of letting go of it is almost tantamount to a death of self. This is perhaps why most people are so resistant to change and will do almost anything to avoid changing themselves and altering the structure and content of their mind and egos.

But I do believe that the only way to peace and liberation is to cultivate the art of letting go. And when I say letting go, I mean letting go of pretty much everything we’ve ever been holding onto. Whenever we feel emotional pain or stress of any kind, it’s a signal that we’re holding onto something that we need to discard. I’ve been experiencing this repeatedly of late. Some of the things I’ve realised I have to let go of are old definitions of who I think I am, who I think others are, how life works, old relationships, old fears and doubts, outdated notions of what I am or am not capable of doing and a number of other beliefs about myself, others and ‘the world’.

A Course in Miracles states that we are never upset for the reason we think we are. Whenever pain or hurt comes up, or any sense of frustration, fear or anguish, it's helpful to ask yourself: what would I have to believe in order to be upset about this, or for this to be an issue? Or, what do I need to let go of in order to be at peace? It might be a belief, a perception, a conscious or unconscious desire or need. Once you have recognised what you need to release, you can then do what you need in order to let go of it.

The two most powerful methods I’ve found for releasing beliefs, thoughts and feelings are the Work of Byron Katie and a technique of emotional releasing called the Sedona Method. Both can easily be learned and will serve as invaluable tools for the rest of your life. Byron Katie’s Work is superb at tackling erroneous thoughts and beliefs, while the Sedona Method is extremely effective at releasing feelings and emotions. These are the kind of things that really need to be taught in schools!

It can take some commitment to work in this manner. For a while at least, it might seem that the more you release, the more there is to release. The issues keep on coming thick and fast and the moment you’ve moved beyond one sticky issue, another rears its head. This is because we carry layer upon layer of this stuff around with us. Most of the time we’re only aware of the tip of the iceberg, but rest assured the majority of that iceberg is submerged beneath the water.

So why commit to this process of clearing and letting go?

Because, as far as I can see, it’s probably the only way to true and lasting peace. I believe our true nature is akin to the ‘zero point’ - that space of vast, expanded awareness, stillness and emptiness/fullness that lies at the heart of our being. Words are quite inadequate at describing this transcendent state. It lies at the core of our being, prior to thought, feeling, perception and ego. It’s almost like a primordial awareness, a vast interconnected oneness, in which all forms are united at their source.

The more of this toxic mindstuff we strip away, the less our true nature is obscured and the more easily we can access and rest in it. These glitches of psyche, which are all more or less rooted in ego, in the false identification with our bodies, minds and a misplaced sense of ‘self’, are like clouds that obscure the sunlight. For many years we’ve identified with these clouds and, whether they were dark stormy clouds or light fluffy ones, we’ve derived our sense of identity from them.

As we begin to disperse the clouds, seeing through them and recognising their intangible, illusory nature, the sky gradually clears and we can finally see what we really and truly are, and always have been. We were never the clouds, at least not truly. We are the sky...the sun and everything above and beneath!

This realisation of our true nature is the only thing we need to hold onto in life.

The rest we can let go of, recognising its transient and ephemeral nature.

There is only one reality, one self, one substance out of which the universe is manifested. The content of mind -- all the baggage we carry with us, our desires and fears and beliefs and definitions -- are but clouds in the sky. Let it go. Go beyond it. Find the light that underlies it, the essence that enables it to be. And hold onto that. Be rooted there. Peace, fulfilment and joy is almost a guaranteed byproduct! But do it without motive. Chase the truth only for one reason: to know the truth. Let all else be as it will be, and stay grounded in that realisation of being.

That is our invitation and our challenge, both yours and mine.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Some thoughts on ego and enlightenment

I’m not into the extreme ego-bashing that takes place in many spiritual circles. Making the ego into an enemy, a dragon to slay, something to destroy is frankly a little ignorant. Trying to fight and destroy the ego is just as ridiculous as trying to destroy your shadow, or your reflection in a mirror. It isn’t real - it’s just a trick of the light and try though you might, you will never succeed in destroying it, because it has no inherent existence of its own. As long as you’re alive in this world, you’re going to have an ego. If someone calls your name, you will answer to it. The ego is kind of necessary for functioning in our day to day lives. It has its purpose.

Where things go wrong is when we identify with our ego, with our reflection or shadow, and mistake it for being the entirety of who we are. This is what causes the problems, not really the ego itself, but our identification with it and with the layers of conditioning, beliefs and thoughts that glue it in place. In order to break free of this illusion, it’s not necessary or advisable to try to destroy the ego, it’s enough simply to dis-identify from it, to recognise that it is simply a mechanism or a software program through which we process reality. We are the operator of the software, the witness that peers through the mask. This realisation is the essence of spiritual awakening.

I’ve heard it said before that in order to transcend the ego, we must first have developed a reasonably strong, balanced ego. Weak egos are always seeking outside validation, forever manipulating circumstances and people in order to boost its fragile sense of self. The danger is, I suppose, that weak egos might use spirituality as a way of actually boosting their sense of identity. Well-developed egos may have less need for doing so, and thus might be a little more authentic in their desire for transcendence of ego. Even then, the ego has a powerful self-survival streak and is rarely truly willing to commit the suicide that authentic spiritual awakening asks of it.

Two types of Spirituality

Many forms of ‘spirituality’ and religion, and just about all of what is known as ‘personal development’ are actually ego-development, means of feeling better about ourselves and the world. This is good and may be an important part of our path toward eventual awakening, but to avoid self-delusion and future disillusionment it is necessary to distinguish between these forms of ‘feel-better spirituality’ and genuine spiritual awakening, which is actually a destructive process, in which we willingly step into the fire and are seared to the bone, allowing everything that is false to burn away.

Feel-better spirituality is about adding to yourself and coming up with more positive stories about yourself and life, whereas authentic spirituality is a almost like crucible in which everything is taken away from you, including all notions of who you think you are. This is not to pit one against the other, just to the highlight the difference.

Most people are simply not ready to enter the crucible. They will know when they are, because often it is a spontaneous happening, or perhaps life pushes them into it because otherwise the suffering is too much to bear. There comes a point when instead of simply making the dream better and more pleasant, we begin to see through the dream and once this happens, it’s impossible to relate to it in the same way ever again. Ego still exists, the dream continues to unfold, but it develops a certain transparency. We cease identifying with it.

The Spiritual Ego

An interesting phenomenon that I have witnessed in myself and others and which is sometimes a characteristic of the ‘spiritual path’ is the development of the SPIRITUAL EGO. The spiritual ego arises when we begin to think that ‘we are spiritual’ and that we have all this knowledge and wisdom which others don’t have and that we’re somehow closer to our ‘higher selves’ than ‘unspiritual’ people.

We may indeed be closer to the realisation of Self, but the spiritual ego can be a tricky trap to fall into, especially when we invest too much identity in it. In truth, the spiritual ego can be even more noxious and dangerous than the average ego, because it has a certain righteousness and it tends to be closed off to all other possibilities and viewpoints. Because the spiritual ego believes that it is in possession of the ultimate truth and is somehow closer to God, it is capable of committing all kinds of dubious behaviours, as is the case with suicide bombers for instance. An extreme example I know, but it’s still important to keep a check on the spiritual ego.

Who wants to be enlightened?

It’s ironic that many people strive to reach enlightenment and destroy their egos, little knowing that these desires are actually driven by their egos. Our true Self - our true nature as expansive consciousness - is in a non-manipulative relationship with everything. It doesn’t want experience to be a certain way, it is open and embracing of everything. I believe that it does however have an impulse to express itself through the world of form, and for this to happen a certain transparency is necessary, a lessening of the calcified hold of ego, or at least a seeing beyond its narrow and quite illusory confines. But the true Self doesn’t struggle or strive or attempt to manipulate reality. It’s a silent and vast ocean of stillness that ever lies at the core of our beings. We reach it by surrendering to it. The ego likes to get so far to it, but when it comes to the surrender part - forget it! Why surrender to the source when you can use it to manifest a new car or a bonus at work?

I believe that the impulse to spiritually awaken is genuine, a prompting from this deeper level of being, but the ego often hi-jacks the process. ‘Oh my, wouldn’t it be great to be enlightened!’ Only the ego wants to become enlightened - because our true nature, the awakeness that we are, is already awake. So beware the tendency of ego to hi-jack the process and make spirituality into the same old process of acquisition and accumulation that it takes with the material world.

Don’t make the ego into an enemy and don’t try to vanquish it. Just see through it and cease identifying with it. That’s all. As simple as that. No need for conflict or aggression, or creating false dualities within our consciousness. There is an apparent duality, but it’s simply a mirage. When this is realised, it may not disappear altogether, but we are no longer bound by it, granting importance to this seemingly independent aspect of self.

It becomes like a yo-yo match at times. The ego has tremendous persistence and it loves creeping back in - even the smallest of cracks will do. Just watch it with patience and amusement, as you would a small child playing. Don’t take it so seriously. But watch for any investment in concepts and ideas about ‘yourself’ and who you think you are, including this notion of being ‘a spiritual person’. There’s no such thing as a spiritual person. Spirituality is seeing beyond the person, beyond the ego. There is only spirituality expressing spirituality; awareness becoming aware of itself. Nothing personal about it at all.

Those are just some unassorted ramblings, I hope they made some kind of sense on some level.