Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hold the Knowing

This morning I awoke to the sound of birdsong and it sounded exactly the same the birdsong that I would hear outside my window as a child. And in that moment, time dissolved. I realised that nothing had changed -- nothing. That which is “I” is precisely the same, and it has been along along.

I could almost experientially see how time and space are just illusions of mind, whereas “I” am unchanging, eternal. It doesn’t matter what experiences are perceived and witnessed in consciousness, or how time appears to be so tangibly real, stripping away people and places, ageing my body and the bodies of those around me...I am unchanged by any of it.

There’s something deeper and more Real, and it’s always there, the space in which experience and thoughts and forms and perceptions appear and then disappear. And that space is alive and far more Real than anything in the phenomenal world.

This Realness is in everything, is animating everything and yet these manifestations are not ‘it’, they are merely the effects of this underlying, all-pervading cause. In the same way that consciousness is the fabric out of which dreams are created and experienced, the phenomenal world is a world of flickering dream-forms, created by the underlying Realness. This Realness is always there, in everyone and everything, yet we’re so accustomed to relating only to the surface level that the true Reality is almost always forgotten. This forgetting was the true ‘Fall’ of humankind and it can be reversed at any moment.

How do we stop falling? By ceasing to get stuck on the surface level of life with all its never-ending dramas, conflicts, turbulence and strife and seeking the deeper, underlying Reality, the space in which all the forms of life arise and subside - the sky in which the clouds appear and disperse.

Know yourself as the vast open sky and don’t get lost in the delusion that you are the ever-transient, insubstantial clouds that pass over it. That’s all. That’s enough. Watch the clouds, but BE the sky...and hold onto that knowing.

“If you knew how important you were, you’d explode into a million pieces and just be light.” Byron Katie

Of course, the momentum of mind is great. You’ll keep ‘losing’ the knowing. We didn’t just ‘fall’ once, we fall repeatedly, each and every day. But in each moment, we can pick ourselves up again, until maybe someday something within us will decide that it’s tired of continually slipping into forgetfulness. But, I’ve come to see the importance of being motiveless. There’s no goal and nothing to seek and nowhere to be but here, now.

Just BE. And hold the knowing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Movement from truth

I’ve been finding I have much less to say. A while back I began embarking on a process of questioning everything - every thought and belief and assumption I’ve ever held about life and about myself. It's an ongoing process, but the more I question the more profoundly I’m struck by the arbitrariness of the components we make up with our mind to represent what we so blindly think of as ‘reality’. I’ve come to see that no thought, and certainly no belief, is true...because it’s really just a second-hand representation of reality. When I think about something, or someone, it’s perhaps rarely if ever the actual ‘thing’ itself I’m thinking about, it’s my mental representation of it, like an icon on a computer screen.

Is it possible to have a direct experience of reality without it being filtered through the net of mindstuff and assorted beliefs, interpretations, judgements and memories? Yes, I believe so. But such an experience, free of mental filtering, happens in an open state of awareness, when the mind is still and the tendency to slap labels, words, concepts and judgements onto things is avoided. Then and only then are we really in touch with life and with others - and with ourselves. There’s an expansive level of freedom in that state of openness, and it tends to come with a natural state of embracing, of non-discrimination and acceptance. The moment mind kicks in and starts analysing, dissecting and interpreting, that openness is lost and our energy tends to contract. We shrink back into ‘ourselves’, or the little ego persona we’ve crafted so diligently and which is sustained by our compulsive thought activity and all manner of labelling, judging, conceptualising and comparing.

As you try to loosen yourself from this compulsive noise machine in your head, you naturally begin to question things. You begin to lose your certainty about things you’d previously believed to be true with absolute certainty. Your whole world begins to fall away - and you along with it. This is not a particularly fun or pleasant process (to say the least) but it does feel tremendously liberating.

This repeated conceptual suicide is something I’ve been engaging in and it’s a grisly, painful and unsettling affair. I don’t know who I am anymore, because I look within and see nothing but an expanse of emptiness. I don’t really know what to believe anymore, because each time I look at a belief it tends to slip through my fingers like grains of sand. My mind and ego do not like this at all. They’re quick to rise up and, based upon the filters of old experiences, conditioning and past belief systems, try to pick up new beliefs, arguments and positions. But even when that happens, the centre doesn’t hold for very long, because no matter what position I adopt on any given subject, I’m increasingly seeing that there are several counter-positions that are perhaps equally valid. So arguing about anything seems like an infantile waste of time.

And yet, this state could easily be mistaken for apathy or nihilism and that doesn’t sit well with me. When your belief system gets eroded, how do you inform your behaviour and actions? What constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’? The way I see it at present is that whatever brings suffering to oneself, the world, or others, is by its nature ‘bad’. Pain is a messenger that something is wrong and that appropriate action is needed. Things which bring harmony and peace are by their nature ‘good’ and can therefore be fostered and encouraged. I guess that’s a belief system in itself...but at least it’s a stripped down, uncomplicated one - and one that I can validate by direct experience. But even that is open to exceptions, of course. There are no hard and fast rules - I simply see it as a helpful base-line. Follow what your heart prompts you to do, or not do. Let love lead the way.

When you begin to truly realise the interconnectedness of all beings and can see yourself in all creatures, I think a natural empathy spontaneously arises. Their suffering is your suffering - and you are not only the one suffering, but are also the one perpetrating the suffering. With this realisation, action can arise from the heart. In the past I’ve fallen into the trap of reactivity. I’ve long felt passionate about many things and I don’t view that as a bad thing, but it can be blinding. I can see the many ways I’ve been reactive, arrogant, judgemental, short-sighted and just plain ignorant. It’s a sobering realisation, but that’s alright too. In the future, perhaps I will manage to take action when I feel in my heart action is necessary, while avoiding the pitfalls of reactivity, which usually come from buying into certain entrenched thoughts, viewpoints and beliefs. Or I might fail miserably. I’m open to that as well. We’ll see what happens.

I like this quote from Adyashanti (which I have rearranged slightly for clarity) which I found in his ‘Emptiness Dancing’ book, because I think it highlights what I’m talking about with regards to taking action from heart and not head - and by heart I mean the heart of life, as it expressing through us.

“Human beings come from separation, not unity, in 99% of the activities they do, whether they think they’re doing good or bad. When you come from separation, that’s all you’re transmitting. When you come from unity there’s no conflict motivating you anymore. The world doesn’t need you or your message or anything you do, but you are just moving or being moved to do what you do. You’re moving from the unity. Mysteriously, this movement doesn’t happen for a reason. It’s just the way life happens to move through you. [...] Activity flowing from Truth has such potential. Every other motivation for movement, for action, is violent.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Perspectives on time

This is well-worth watching, it's very interesting, insightful and really cool (if a little dizzying!). It echoes some of what I was trying to express in my previous post about Unplugging. The distinction between past-oriented, future-oriented and present-oriented ways of dealing with life are truly insightful. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

We become what we focus on

As you have perhaps heard, this week in England a man went on an insane rampage with a shotgun, massacring twelve people and injuring several more. Whenever I hear about things like that, I find it so hard to understand what would drive a human being to commit such an unspeakable atrocity. But it really got me thinking.

There’s no question that many people have totally warped minds. The way we process reality is through a screen of thoughts, judgements, beliefs and conditioning and this informs our behaviour which, depending on the structure and content of our filtering process, can exhibit many forms of dysfunction.

No one is immune to this. All of us have these ‘erroneous zones’ to quote the title of a Wayne Dyer book. In most people these areas of perceptual distortion create comparatively minor dysfunctions, perhaps in certain areas such as relationships, self-concept, anxieties, fears or dysfunctional behaviours. But in some people, their internal wiring is so deeply distorted that these individuals become inhuman monsters, capable of committing untold acts of evil. And, somehow, they always manage to find ways to justify their behaviour.

The sobering thing is that, depending on the way our mental filtration system is wired, any one of us has the potential to become a psychopath! Unless, of course, we have the ability to acknowledge, witness and see beyond our perceptual filters, because only then can we transcend them.

At this point in time, it’s probably fair to say that the majority of people don’t have a sufficiently high degree of self-awareness to be able to do this. That’s why the majority of people believe that it is always situations, other people and the world that are the cause of their suffering, rather than their own interpretations, stories and commentary about those perceived externals. To be lost in our interpretations and mind-stuff and continually, pathologically, mistaking them for reality is live life asleep at the wheel, or enmeshed in samsara as the Buddhists might say.

Waking up from the dream of thoughts, belief structures and the maze of our mental interpretations is one way to transcend them and find genuine peace in life. Another way, and one that’s possibly easier for many people, is simply to shift the focus of our attention. This is one of the simplest laws of life and it’s not rocket science: we become what we focus on. If we focus on negative things, such as miserable, depressing, hateful and violent things, then tend to become miserable, depressed, hateful and violent people. On the other hand, if we focus on qualities such as harmony, balance, peace, gratitude and love, then we can’t help but become more harmonious, balanced, peaceful, grateful and loving people.

You can experiment with this right now. Take a moment to ruminate on the following words: hate, misery, suffering, violence, murder, pain. Repeat them silently or aloud to yourself and notice how it makes you feel physiologically. If you really take some time to notice how your body responds, you’ll probably feel a tightening and contracting sensation and perhaps even a slight nausea. Now spend some time focussing on these words: love, kindness, joy, hope, harmony, peace, beauty. How does that make you feel? I’m guessing your body will feel lighter, freer and more at peace. Instead of contraction, you might notice a feeling of expansion and openness and maybe even a pleasant tingling sensation.

Focussing on positive qualities such as love and kindness doesn’t just give you a momentary buzz. When you spend enough time focussing on these qualities, it actually changes the structure of your brain. This has been demonstrated in brain scans of Buddhist monks who regularly practise what is called metta meditation, a practise in which they sustain focus on love and kindness. The focus of their attention demonstrably rearranges their brain structure and as a result they are more aligned with the qualities they are focussing on, becoming more peaceful, loving and compassionate. The implications of this are unquestionably profound.

If focusing on positive attributes such as love and compassion can change the structure of our brains and make us experience these attributes more readily (and, no doubt, altering the entire way we see and experience the world and life), then surely the opposite must also be true. By continually focussing on hate, violence and despair, we become ‘wired’ to feel these emotions more readily and this in turn colours the way we see others and the world.

Now, it just so happens that our media is negative in the extreme. We are continually bombarded with stories and images of violence, hate, prejudice, suffering and cruelty. Not to say these things don’t exist in the world, because sadly they do. But our unrelenting focus on them is actually distorting our brains and perpetuating and intensifying these conditions in the world. I can’t stand to watch the news, because having studied press and broadcasting, I know how it is gathered, created and structured to be as negative, hard-hitting and emotive as possible. Essentially it’s not news stories they are selling, but negative feelings - which, it has to be said, a dysfunctional part of many people actually laps up.

It’s not just the news media, either. Television, films and literature have become ever more horrific and gratuitously violent. Nowadays television dramas, at least in the UK, are prided on being ‘dark’ and ‘gritty’ and filled with miserable, psychologically-deficient characters whose sole lot in life is to receive and inflict suffering and violence. Our screens are routinely filled with scenes of graphic torture and brutality. I’m not even going to touch upon the new genre we have called ‘torture porn’, something which actually makes me despair of the human race.

The prevalence of this kind of material is very disturbing in the effects it can have on people. Whereas most people are unlikely to go on a killing spree after watching something of this nature, some people do, even if it is only a very small minority. But consuming such media input unquestionably has an effect on everyone, whether they become gun-toting psychopaths or not.

Experts have pointed out that the ever-increasing amount of violence in the media has a desensitising effect on human beings. Violence is almost unconsciously seen as commonplace and almost ‘acceptable’. The effect of this is, in general, a growing lack of empathy for the suffering of others. I believe this desensitising effect is causing a hardening and deadening of people’s hearts, as well as most likely an ever-increasing distortion in their mental filtration system as discussed earlier.

Again, this comes down to the simple truth that become what we focus on. It seems the human mind is very much like a computer: if you input garbage, you get garbage back out. But if you ensure that the input is of a sufficiently high quality, you are guaranteed to get a far higher quality output.

Is it true to say that the media is responsible for exacerbating the problems of the world by virtue of the fact it’s so overridingly negative? I certainly believe so and I think something has to be done about it. The enormity and extremity of the negativity that bombards us from all quarters has got to be toned down and balanced with some positivity and inspiration, which people definitely do respond to. Most people are too unconscious to realise what’s going on, so someone really needs to do it for them. What a different it would surely make if people were exposed to a decrease in graphic and gratuitous violence in films and television and an increase in news coverage of stories of optimism, hope and examples of progress in the world, of which their unquestionably is.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating we simply delude ourselves into believing bad things don’t exist, because clearly they do. But it’s vital we don’t get sucked into the extremely powerful - and curiously enticing - black holes that the media loves to spin for us. Action that arises from a state of peace and optimism is always infinitely more effective than action that is undertaken from a mindset of negativity, fear and reactivity.

The media is really letting us down. Sure, you might argue that it’s what people evidently want to consume, because for some reason negative headlines sell more copies than positive ones. Eckhart Tolle notes that the entire media industry is really just selling ‘food’ to our pain bodies, the accumulated energy of past pain within us that thrives on negativity in order to sustain itself. If most people are not self-aware enough to see what’s happening, then the change will have to start from the top down instead of the ground up. We need someone at the top to take responsibility for what the masses are being fed and to start sprinkling in more positivity and toning down the excessive negativity and violence we’re all subjected to in just about every art form and media outlet.

The result? Well, let’s go back to the aforementioned study of Buddhist meditators. When we focus on positivity and higher attributes of kindness and love, it physiologically changes us and it makes us happier, more at peace, kinder and more loving. And that is the only thing that will ever change the world and alleviate the needless suffering mankind inflicts on itself, animals and the planet. At the moment we’re stuck in a feedback loop almost; negativity happens, we get stuck focussing on it, and then more negativity springs from that.

We have to break the loop! And, as always, the change starts with you. Yes, you. Here. Now!

Focus on what it is you want to see in the world. If you want to see more love and compassion, then spend some time each day focussing on those qualities, even if it just means silently repeating those words to yourself and noticing the change in your body. The change starts with us. Let’s do it! It really is up to us.