This month's contents:
The True Way of Advaita by Bob Fergeson | Poems by Gary Harmon | Dark Night of the Soul by Douglas Harding | Do Not Go Ungrateful by Douglas Harding | Doing and Being (part 2) by Shawn Nevins | Die While You're Alive by Bunan | Rabbit-Proof Fence by Art Ticknor | Humor
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This month's Missal takes a look at Advaita Vedanta, commonly known as advaita. The most popular of the Hindu philosophies based on the Upanishads, Advaita is a Sanskrit term meaning "not two," or non-dualism, signifying that the Atman (individual soul) and the Brahman (God or Reality) are one, and "not two." This interpretation of the Upanishads, that the individual soul and God are one and the same, is what distinguishes advaita from other forms of Vedanta.
While advaita has no founder as such, the Hindu philosopher Sankara (686-718) is credited with gathering the oral teachings and putting them into a cohesive written form. Sankara revitalized the Hindu religion and started monasteries throughout India. His greatest work, The Crest Jewel of Wisdom, or Viveka-Chudamani, is still revered as the leading exponent of advaita philosophy. While some modern scholars cast doubt on whether there was a single historical figure who wrote this treatise, its worth is self evident.
Advaita states that only the ultimate reality or Brahman exists, and that the Atman or individual soul is identical to and not separate from this reality. The world of form and illusory separateness is called maya, and is the cause of the misconception of individualness.
"Maya is neither real nor unreal, nor both together; She is neither identical with Brahman nor different from Him, nor both; She is neither differentiated nor undifferentiated, nor both. She is most wonderful and cannot be described in words. ... Everything, from the intellect down to the gross physical body, is the effect of Maya. Understand that all these and Maya itself are not the [absolute] Self, and are therefore unreal, like a mirage in the desert."
Liberation from this illusion of separateness or maya through becoming the Atman, and thus Brahman, does not involve simply identifying with a bigger concept, though it may seem as such to the eager aspirant. It is rather the observing of the illusion of separateness through intense self-enquiry. The idea of being an individual or thing must be transcended or seen through, not wished away. It occurs when our ego or sense of self is destroyed through honest self-observation, guided by heightened intuition and clear reason. While the underlying truth of our identical nature as Brahman does not need to be created, but simply realized, this must be found on a deeper level than the mere intellectual acceptance of words and teachers that flatter our ego.
"Teachers and scriptures can stimulate spiritual awareness. But the wise disciple crosses the ocean of ignorance by direct illumination, through the grace of God. Gain experience directly. Realize God for yourself. Know the Self as the one indivisible Being, and become perfect. Free your mind from all distractions and dwell in the consciousness of the Self."
The Real cannot be known through the unreal, therefore, according to advaita, we must find the real part of ourselves first, and thus find the ultimate reality. The cause of our suffering and illusions are found in our mis-identification with the individual personality pattern, which is part and parcel to maya. Through the process of self-enquiry, we can sift the illusion from the real, and come back to our true Self, or Atman.
One form of advaita meditation, perhaps best taught by the sage Sri Ramana Maharshi, is that of self-enquiry through the question " Who Am I?". By the elimination of all that is not us, we come to see that the view is not the viewer, and that we are none other than the impartial witness, the Atman. One of the dangers of advaita practice is that the ego can easily persuade us to stop the enquiry once an intellectual or feeling level is reached which satisfies our need for acceptance, self-worth, or peace of mind. Thus, we are tricked once again into duality and stop short of the goal. The fear of finding that which IS threatens the ego, is seen by it as death, and avoided at all costs by whatever tricks necessary.
"The Self never undergoes change; the intellect never possesses consciousness. But when one sees all this world, he is deluded into thinking, "I am the seer, I am the knower." Mistaking one's Self for the individual entity, one is overcome with fear. If one knows oneself not as the individual but as the supreme Self, one becomes free from fear."
The true way of advaita is one of relentless self-enquiry until the goal is reached. Once the real part of ourselves is found, we become Brahman as well as Atman, and all sense of separateness is gone, in ourselves and in our vision.
"That Reality is One; though, owing to illusion, It appears to be multiple names and forms, attributes and changes, It always remains unchanged. [It is] like gold which, while remaining one, is formed into various ornaments. You are that One, that Brahman. Meditate on this in your mind."
Water moving and falling,
Sunlight filtering through the trees warming the soil,
Honor the departed,
What is the value of watching the news?
Sounds from the birds that we call songs,
Question: You sometimes talk about an experience you call the Barrier, which sounds like the Dark Night of the Soul of St. John of the Cross. Can you explain what it means?
DEH: Well, it's not an easy question to answer. I guess it's different for different people, and one can't speak about other people with any confidence here. All I can say is that in my own life I'm quite sure I've experienced something very like the Dark Night of the Soul. It could not have been more traumatic or more distressing.
Question: What happened?
DEH: Well, if you think of everything negative, that was about it. I'd been talking about Seeing Who you are for years, believing in it, thinking of it, sharing it, and I felt that I was still a mess, incredibly inadequate. I was shocked at myself for being so unregenerate, so short of what I was talking about. I felt that I had lost the love and confidence of my friends for good reason, that I wasn't somehow genuine, that my words far exceeded my performance. It wasn't that I ceased seeing Who I was because I couldn't do that, but it seemed that everything had gone wrong in an inexplicable way and that I was abandoned by God and man somehow. It was totally foolish because on every count I was persuaded that this was not so, and yet it occurred. It's a mystery.
These experiences are perhaps brought on by circumstances which are very painful. My interpretation is that the seeing part is just easy thing after easy thing. Though in a certain sense it is hard because we have to keep it up, it's an easy one in the sense that every act of seeing Who you are is as easy as winking. But the giving up of the personal will is a hard one. It really is a hard one. And until the problem of the will is addressed, I think we are immature spiritually. When that problem is overcome, we can go on to what Evelyn Underhill, in Mysticism, calls union. It is a highly individual thing. One cannot dictate for other people. But for me it was just despair of myself and above all of my spiritual life...."
Question: Did you lose your trust in Seeing?
DEH: Yes. During that time the trust went. It was really irrational. I was overtaken by fear. I was seeing quite clearly. I'd all the theory of it. In fact, I'd had the practice of it for many years. But I was still an abandoned soul, a lost soul. There was no hope. It was brief, but the trust went.
Question: And how did you come out of it?
DEH: I just gradually got better. I accepted it. I was not rebelling against it as an experience so much. The way through it, I'm sure, is the constantly renewed surrender of one's superficial personal will to one's deepest will, which is, after all, the Agony in the Garden. There's the paradigm of it, the model of it....
The above question and answer session was excerpted from Chapter 6 of Face to No-Face: Rediscovering Our Original Nature by Douglas Harding. © 2000 David Lang. All rights reserved. Reprinted by arrangement with Inner Directions, Carlsbad, California 92013. www.InnerDirections.org. For information about Douglas Harding and his teaching, visit Headless.org.
Do not go ungrateful
Douglas and Catherine Harding, 2004 Salisbury workshop
© 2006 D.E. Harding. All rights reserved. "Do Not Go Ungrateful" was written on his 97th birthday (February 12, 2006) and used with the author's permission. For information about Douglas Harding and his teaching, visit Headless.org.
~ The rest of the transcript begun in the June 2006 TAT Forum from the presentation made by Shawn at the April 2003 TAT Spring Gathering.
You have to be honest. If I look back the on the things that I did, that's the one thing that stands out to me—is that for some reason or another I was able to look at where my life was going, where the choices that I was making were going to head me, what direction they were going to take me. You have to cultivate honesty. You have to become a creature that looks for the truth, and you have to start by looking at the little things in life and know when—you got to start with the basics—you got to know when you tell someone that you're going to be somewhere at 3 o'clock, you better be there at 3 o'clock. That's honesty, that's how you start and you work your way up from there. Until one day you can look at yourself, you can look at what you see in effortless meditation and you can allow the truth of what you see to come upon you.
I wanted to jump over into one other point. I was kind of shocked by how well Gary and Mike and Bob had their presentations laid out, because we had been joking for some time about how we were all working on them at the last minute, and how we didn't have anything prepared. They were all just lying to me. (laughter) I truly was working on this at the last minute, so I'm jumping off to make a leap to another point, which I think is important, because if I talk about what is the purest attempt to find out what you are, it is trying to find out the source of where your thoughts are coming from, the source of where your personality is coming from, and the source of beauty, the source of whatever, whatever is your truest experience and deepest experience that you've had.
The question that's always behind it is where you're coming from. And to find that, it requires awareness turned upon itself, which doesn't make any sense. It requires the "I" attempting to look at itself, and turn upon itself. There are two poems [quotes] here that I'm going to read that pertain to this. The first one came from Franklin Merrell-Wolff. He has a paragraph here that addresses what I'm trying to talk about. He says, "Am I this body of thoughts in my mind? No." That's not exactly the easiest conclusion to come to, but if you look long enough, if you observe long enough about what's happening inside you, you may come to the conclusion. He says, "One gets a little closer to his thoughts than anything else, and it's a little harder to untangle this, but if he watches and studies closely enough, the thoughts come to him. I accept or reject them. That which accepts or rejects them is different from thought." That's to get back to the idea that what you observe is not you, the view is different from the viewer. He says, "And then I finally reach this point where I find that I must be this something, in some sense, different from other people. I am not the mind, I am not the feelings, I'm not the body that I see. But I surely am, I surely am an individual apart from others. Now what you've got a hold of is a very difficult fellow, it's your ego. He can sneak around and confuse you like the dickens, you can spend years trying to get behind him, and what you do is you get into an infinite regression. You look at your ego. Alright, here I am, and all of a sudden it dawns upon you that that which is looking at the ego is really the 'I.' So you stick that one out in front, you look at it again, but then you realize that it couldn't be because here is something that's observable." He's talking about this trying to get behind the source of awareness. "At last it finally dawns that I am that which is never an object before consciousness. And mayhap, at that moment in your analysis, the heavens will open." And that to me is … he's taking you up to the door, let's say, that if you get to that point in analysis, something may happen for you.
And then in Richard Rose's Psychology of the Observer, there's a somewhat similar passage, where he says, "From this point," (he's talking about meditation) he says, "From this point, as we look to the right we notice that we can also look at awareness, and we can be aware of consciousness, and of looking at ourself looking, indefinitely." He's talking about the same thing. "We do not take a step forward, but are taken forward from here. By that which seems to be an accident, an accident which does not come unless we have struggled relentlessly to find that which was unknown to us, by a method which could not be charted because the end or goal was unknown. We must first have become a vector. We must first have spent a good period of time studying our own awareness and consciousness with our own consciousness until we accidentally, or by some unknown purpose, enter the source of our awareness." And that's the same thing that Merrell-Wolff is talking about, but doing a better job of describing it than I am.
But you gotta have a desire or else you will get to that point and give up, you will throw your hands up and say, "I can't. This is impossible. I can't get behind, how can I get behind the mind? Everything that I look at is mind. How can I get behind that?" And all I know to tell you is to keep at it, and if you keep at it you will become less involved in it. And it's like the process of doing it, the doing dies away in the process of doing it. You get closer to that possibility of the door opening for you. Two last things I want to read for you, and I breezed right through this like I thought I would. Too terse sometimes.
Where is the final observer?
What is that which cannot look upon itself—
the end of dichotomy?
I speak to you through words
and watch the speaking.
I am aware and immediately
am aware of that fact, So there are still two.
Wherever there are two,
means those two are really life and death.
The place where there is and is not One,
which is empty in its Completeness,
Is the no-place which IS.
Tread lightly upon this world,
for that is closer to the truth.
Our greatest works teeter on the edge of nothingness
from the moment of conception.
Explore within rather than build without,
stalking your prey silently.
It is there behind you—
look without turning you eyes—
within and behind.
That's as near as I can come to trying to give you a sense of what I mean. It is "within," and "behind" is where you turn within, where you look within— "within" and "behind."
That's all I got, so... (prolonged silence)
If folks want to ask me any questions, that's fine.
Dave S: How long you gonna hang onto all the beauty, how long you gonna hold onto... What do you do with all that beauty? Do you just take a detached stance?
You've got a lot of it, yeah.
Do you have an attitude that this is temporary, this is not real, but it's pretty hard to not...
Shawn: I don't think you should take the attitude that this is not real, because that is a false, that's a pose that one takes. I don't think that folks should try to be detached from things. I think that you need to... it's hard for me to say. I think you need to look, and not think as much about it, because in my view it only takes a moment of honesty. It's not that we have to build ourselves up so that nothing phases us. But we do have to be able to admit what our current state is. I hope I'm helping you out.
Kiffy: Did you have anything to help you stay focused each day?
Shawn: I used to use a Gurdjieffian exercise, called the "Stop" exercise, and actually when he was doing it with his students he would scream out "Stop," and you literally stopped whatever you were doing, and he was trying to get folks to momentarily think, "Oh. What was I just doing? What was I just thinking?" That sort of thing. There were certain times in my life where I did that myself, or tried to do activities like that during the day, just stop, and think: what am I doing, why am I saying that? The best thing for me, though, was always to keep a journal. You know, for me, that helped. Writing in that regularly, it forced me to, at the end of the day, think about what I do during the day, and think, tomorrow I'll try to do better. And then the next day I would see how I did. But there were times that I prayed. Prayed for hope, you know, whatever.
Phil C: One of the things that surprised me when I read the one-day account of your experience was that you didn't understand why it was there. You got a glimpse, you turned backwards and got a glimpse of your source, yet you didn't really have a clue as to what it was or why it was there or why you glimpsed it. That was the comment that more or less surprised me. My question is, when you die, do you feel that you will reenter that state? Or if it's not a state, then you will reenter that experience?
Shawn: You get all jumbled with "I's" and "me's" and "we's" and that kind of thing. Well first thing, I don't have a clue as to why all this is here. It doesn't matter to me, why life is. When I die, I will die. Shawn Nevins will die. Shawn Nevins's personality will die, his mind will die. But what IS, is there. And Shawn Nevins was, in some unexplainable way, able to get a taste of that. I hate to say a glimpse of that, because again that sets up wordplay that I can't explain. But those are the best words I have at the moment.
Phil C: The difference is, though, that you don't really fear that happening, dying.
Shawn: No. I'd rather not have a steel rod rammed through my abdomen...
Augie: You mentioned the specific example of honesty as being on time. Can you talk about other examples of...
Shawn: One of the toughest things for me was relationships. I mean, getting married, having a girlfriend, however you want to phrase it. There's a tremendous need in most people to be with another person, and it's very difficult to honestly carry that through to its end, which is that that relationship ends, as far as we know. As far as we know, when we die, we have no idea what's after this. Some folks may like to believe that they will be with their beloved forever, but most of us have no idea one way or the other. It's very difficult for me to do that. My mom lost her husband when he was 61 and, believe me, that was not the way she thought that her life would turn out— that she would be living by herself for the next twenty years. It's very difficult to look for love within ourselves, and to admit that what we feel for another person is actually inside of us, deep down inside us. Or do you want a more challenging example than that?
Augie: ... Lies... they're all over us and all around us, I don't think most of us see them...
Shawn: Again, speaking from personal experience, something that's even more challenging than being on time is admitting why I wanted to turn the tv on. A lot of times, you say to yourself, "Well, I'm tired, and I just want to turn the tv on for a few minutes." But most likely there's more to it behind that. You're tired of something specifically, or there's something specific that you don't want to deal with right now, and get to the bottom of that. Can you admit to yourself that tv's not going to help solve your problems? It's just going to delay them for a little bit, it's just procrastination, basically. There's a lot of things that are difficult to admit about why we procrastinate so much. A lot of it has to do with DNA. And I think part of being honest ourselves is when we find out we aren't being honest with ourselves. Yeah it's temporarily painful, but in the long run we're better off being that way. If nothing else, we simply become better human beings.
Marcus: It's obvious that there's a lot of sadness in a lot of your poetry and stuff like that.
Shawn: I'm sorry.
Marcus: Say again.
Shawn: I'm sorry.
Marcus: Would you say that characterizes how you feel these days? Or was that just leading up to? Or do you feel like, I'm trying to make sense of, do you feel your sadness affects you, is it something you go into a lot, or was that pre-experience?
Shawn: The world is a very beautiful empty place. That's what I see.
Marcus: That's sad.
Shawn: Certainly that's sad. But at the same time, it's beautiful. Motion is beautiful. The pattern of life is beautiful. Coming into existence is beautiful. But at the same end all that rides upon something that is ultimately empty— without form.
(Unknown:) what do you mean by empty?
(Unknown:) I'm not trying to trick you, I'm just really curious what you mean.
Shawn: It's what we feel between our thoughts. It's what we feel between beliefs in our self. Those moments where we aren't caught up in ourselves. For a lot of people, that's fear, is what they feel. But beyond that, that's a reaction to something. I'm trying to give you something that perhaps you know and you can relate to. Sometimes words...
Marcus: When you said beauty, what is beautiful? You said motion is beauty...
Shawn: You've got some problems with beauty don't you. (laughter) You don't see any beauty do you?
Marcus: You've got something and you just kind of throw it out as an undefinable... Why that word?
Shawn: It's just a word, yeah, it's just a word. Motion is another word that I throw out sometimes. Pattern. Some folks see beauty in mathematics. I don't know. I can't define beauty for you, obviously.
Dave W: I think it might be easier for me to understand what you mean by beauty... you're saying that beauty is there, but, there's something much more there...
Shawn: Some folks have the experience of, they say they look at the world and everything looks like cardboard cutouts. Probably a lot of people can relate to that, and I think that they say that's a symptom of some mental disorder. They're seeing half of the picture. You know, they're not seeing the whole picture. Yeah, the world is painted upon a screen, let's say, but that screen isn't a dimensional thing. It's a thing that to our mind, looks empty.
(Unknown:) The reason I brought that up, is that "empty beauty" is a judgment value. That's not what I was gathering you were saying. I thought you were saying something else, that's all.
Shawn: Yeah, that's the problem with everything I say, is that, you know, anything you write, anything you say, everyone's going to have their own picture of it. And that's valid for them. I'm trying to find words that will let you feel something in you, and I can't control what that is. I don't know how much value it is to try put more words on it. I mean, Mr. Rose used to say when we would ask him, "Tell us about your experience. What exactly did you see? You were at the top of the mountain, and you saw the masses of humanity crawling up," [he would say] "You're asking the wrong questions, these are not the questions you need to be asking."
Dick B: Shawn, I sort of have two questions: one is, you say when you look at the world the world is, you see beauty and it's empty. To you is it like you're seeing it in two ways simultaneously? So it's both?
Shawn: Well, for me it's like, I do feel both. Yes.
Dick: Sometimes I think that's part of what we mean. We used the word paradox a lot today. I guess what happens when you see things and get perspective simultaneously...
Mike G: Expressing beauty from a relative perspective and emptiness from another perspective...
Shawn: Well, both are obviously from my perspective, my relative perspective because I'm standing here talking to you. Shawn Nevins is talking to you here. The Absolute is not talking to you. Shawn Nevins is talking to you, and he cannot describe the Absolute to you because he's not there.
Dick: Shawn, which word would match best, when you say empty, which word would be closest to synonymous with the way you mean empty? Just another way to say it.
Shawn: Can you give me three choices? (laughter)
Dick: What about all of the above? When you say empty do you mean non-existent, or do you mean meaningless?
Shawn: Yes. (raucous laughter)
Dick: It's there and it's meaningless, or it's not there? You know what I'm saying?
Shawn: Well, that's... I mean if I could answer your question, I don't know what it would do for you—what benefit it would have if you went, "Oh, okay." Think about that Dick. Think about that a lot. (laughter) Don't stop thinking about it and you'll get the answer.
Dick: You dirty rat! (more raucous laughter)
Phil C: Where does humor fit into all this?
Shawn: That's your one strength, isn't it? (laughter) … Humor, that's the route.
Phil: I still have hope.
Shawn: Hey, I always bought in when Mr. Rose said, "Don't take yourself too seriously." If you're laying in your bed and you can't get out of bed, you're taking yourself too seriously. It's not that bad. Humor is a tremendous tool, especially for getting over our own self-importance. You gotta be able to laugh at yourself, just chuckle at the stupid things you do each day. The ability to do that is a quick way to, I think, get over the little egos that we have. Especially when there are certain habits that we have and we beat ourselves up about them, like, "Oh, I can't get up every day when I'm supposed to get up. I'm late for work every day," something like that. We beat ourselves up about that, and we just keep trying harder and harder and put more and more effort into it and it just gets worse. If we can just see how ridiculous we are, that may be the answer, and that may free us up. I think about myself, things like being shy, you know, you can get up and do lectures and keep doing them and keep doing them and keep doing them, and get over some block like that. But it really helps to observe yourself doing that, and saying "You know, there I go again, going through that same ridiculous set of reactions. That guy is a real character. He's just like a stage puppet, he's not something to get all worked up about, his robotic reactions, they're not all that important." That's a freeing way of looking at things.
You have to start directing your humor inwards rather than at innocent people. (laughter) [aside to Cindy] Keep him honest.
Shane M: Would you say that the experience of sadness is in some way a signpost of being on the right track?
Shawn: That's a tough question. My first reaction to that, I think if you could put some more words on the sadness that you're talking about it might help me.
Shane M: Well, you spoke about two different types of depression earlier. I thought that was interesting, and my own experience is that... When I look at it in a certain way it almost always turns into something sad. And then you have sadness and when you identify with it it's depression. But this is the sort of sadness that has a feeling of rightness to it. Something about that, only when I heard you talking about that it sounded more to me like some kind of signpost...
Shawn: Well, what you're saying strikes a chord with me, so, yes. I feel that what you're talking about is a signpost.
Scott W: What's the relationship between how you saw the world ten years ago and how you see it now? Did you catch glimpses of these things then, and you see them constantly now?
Shawn: Yeah, that's a good question. Oddly enough, when I first got involved with the Self Knowledge Symposium, and first tried to meditate, I had some experiences then that I feel were very deep experiences, but then it didn't happen again, and I didn't really know what it was at the time. There were moments off and on, where, now in retrospect I see that I was close to seeing things as they are, but I just think I was afraid. I think that goes back to Mike's idea that theoretically it's possible that a person can discover things about themselves very quickly, and not have to spend a decade hammering away. I certainly did.
Scott W: Sometimes I look around and I see everything is beautiful, and sometimes I feel... And I think well, "Was it an illusion?" And sometimes I'll chastise myself for seeing simple beauty sometimes, and I don't know if that's appropriate.
Shawn: Well, there's no need to chastise yourself for appreciating what you see out there. I just think that whatever kind of experiences that we have, whatever kind of thoughts that we have, you always have to keep open the possibility that they are wrong. The world may not be an illusion. You have no idea. This could be it, there could be heaven, there could be hell. You have no idea. Everything that I'm saying to you may not be it. You gotta keep open that doubt, because that's what keeps you digging. As soon as you've decided that everything is an illusion, you may very well fall into an old belief. That's no different than believing that Jesus Christ is your savior and you're going to go to heaven.
Dan: What happened to the fear of making the leap that you had?
Shawn: You know, theoretically, I would have to say that it's like if you're trying to build up the gumption to dive out a plane with a parachute, you build up to it. You don't do it the first time. You're too afraid, you go again, you don't do it that time, but you decide that that's what you want to do and you spend your time watching videos of other people jumping out of planes, and you think about it at night, and you dream about it, and for some reason or another, one day, when you go up in that plane, you go out the door. And your fear is still there, it didn't vanish, but your momentum carried you through. So I think that we make choices with things.
There's a great short story by H.G. Wells, I think it's called "The Green Door," and it talks about this fellow who when he was a child he saw a door in the wall that he had never seen before, and he walked in through this green door and there was a beautiful garden in there. It was like paradise, and he wandered through the garden and it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and he looked at his watch or something and he realized "Aw, I gotta be home," and he walked back out the green door. And then he went back the next day and it wasn't there. And years later, when he was a teenager he saw the green door again in that wall. It just appeared there. But he was going to meet some friends, and he didn't go in, he went to be with his friends, and he thought "When I get back, I'll go in the green door." But when he came back it wasn't there. So it goes on like this, in his twenties he sees it again and doesn't go in, and then in his middle ages he starts really thinking about that door, and "Why didn't I go in?" and now he wishes that he had gone in, and he could see it again, and that sort of thing. And the story ends that, I think he's an old man, and he sees the green door one last time and he goes in. I don't know how this plays into it, but at the end of the story people going looking for him the next day and they find him behind this construction space, and he had walked through this door into a construction area and he had fallen down into the pit, and they found him down there dead. (laughter) I think it's supposed to be a positive ending. (more laughter) But it's a good story about passing up those opportunities, things that prevent us.
It's about dinner time, so, one last question.
Steve: You said something about having the courage to jump out of a plane, or having the courage to make that decision and I was thinking about, like, a lot of times when I have to make a hard decision, what I do is just basically blank out my thoughts and go ahead and do it anyways. Do you think that's actual courage, or just avoiding making a decision? Do you think that's something that should or shouldn't be done?
Shawn: Well, I would have to say, does the end result accomplish what you wanted to accomplish?
Steve: Yeah. But it's the result of blanking out my mind and just doing instead of saying, "I'm going to do this."
Shawn: I think that's a valid technique, because I can recall instances where I've done that and, I used to work a ropes course, you go through training, and at one point you have to climb up a pole and then jump off with all these dynamic belays set up. And I got up there and I was like "No, I don't want to jump off...", but I knew that just by yelling, it was like a war cry almost. I think that's what folks did back in the day when they went into battle, they were terrified, and then the captain said, "Well, AHHHHH!!!!! LET'S GO!!!!!!!!" And everyone started screaming and you'd just go. You're no longer terrified because you're not thinking anything. So that's the way that I did that, and when I got down, the next time I did it, I didn't have to do that. So, I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. I believe in using any trick you can to do what you need to do, because the odds are certainly... there are plenty of tricks being played upon us, and we have every right to fool ourselves in pursuit of an answer.
I think that's it. (applause)
Die while you're alive
~ Bunan (1603 - 1676)
One of those synchronicities like Jung used to talk about: I was talking with some friends on Monday night, and they referred to a movie titled "Rabbit-Proof Fence." I'd read about that fence in Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. It had been constructed across the entire length of Western Australia in an attempt to control the destructive rabbit population. My friends said that wasn't what the movie was about, but the conversation jumped to something else, and nothing more was said about it. On Tuesday I decided to watch the second of two DVDs I'd rented the previous week—and it turned out to be "Rabbit-Proof Fence," which I'd picked up from reading the jacket blurb and then forgotten about, the title not ringing a bell when I heard it mentioned.
It turned out that the movie was based on the real-life adventure of three sisters from Jigalong in the northern part of Western Australia. They were daughters of an aboriginal mother and three different Caucasian fathers. The movie depicted what took place during 1931 when the girls were forcibly separated from their mother and taken to a camp near Perth, about 1,200 miles south. This was part of a program to integrate half-caste children into western society. The three children ran away from the settlement and headed north, hunted by an aboriginal tracker as well as the police. When someone along the way told them about the rabbit-proof fence being close by, the oldest girl knew that if they followed it, they would find their way home.
After many weeks of walking, the girls heard from another person they encountered how their story was in all the papers and that their mother was waiting for them at a nearby railroad station. The oldest sister intuited that the fellow was lying to them and tried to get the girls back on their trek along the fence, but the middle sister rebelled and headed for the train station. The other two girls turned back for her when she didn't follow them, but before they could be reunited, they saw her picked up by a policeman at the train station. By then the youngest sister was about done in and had to be carried most of the time by the oldest girl. And their hearts dropped when the saw the fence end at a death-valley stretch of desert. But the older girl found faith and told her sister that it would reappear. So they trudged on across the pathless wasteland.
It struck me when I received an e-mail from a friend today, Wednesday, asking: "Is there any way to know if what you're doing is actually helping you in the search, if there is no path...." that this movie contained a good metaphor for the situation faced by the spiritual seeker. When we begin the adventure of knowing ourselves, we may start off by moving away from a way of living that we find untenable. This often involves rejection of previously-held beliefs and adjustment of habits that impede clear-headedness. Then we come across a teacher or teaching that offers specific recommendations of what to do—we find our fence to follow. We may be like the middle sister and veer off the path at some point. But if we persist long enough, we'll come to the trackless desert. To keep going toward truth (i.e., away from illusion), there's no longer a program or fence to follow. It now depends on intuition. And if we've learned to pay attention to the intuition, to the "voice of silence" coming into the mind from its source, its messages may register on our consciousness as signs. After the two girls had collapsed in the wasteland, an eagle appeared overhead, which the oldest sister recognized as a sign.
There is a path that leads back to the source, the Unconditional. But, as with the aboriginal girls in the story, beyond a certain point it can only be followed by intuition and by persistent effort.
Humor: One-liners by Stephen Wright
I had amnesia once—maybe twice.
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