This month's contents:
Inner Guidance by Jim Burns | Richard Rose on Controlling the Mind by Art Ticknor | The Light of Friendship by Bob Fergeson | A Relentless Man by Gary Harmon | Bernadette Roberts Retreat by Kiffy Purvis and Doug White | Poems by Shawn Nevins | Humor | Reader Commentary
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You may unconsciously be chastising yourself that inner work is not a good use of time and energy. You may be prejudiced against your own thinking compared to what someone else says or what you read in a book. You have to think as much of your own thoughts as you do of somebody else's. You may feel foolish about the things you are thinking about, but you have to start somewhere. You have to realize that you are trying to be a student of yourself and that it is a good effort.
Starting as a child you seek guidance outside yourself because you know no better and you don't have the brain to even imagine being a source of your own guidance. Everyone wants to belong, and when you are a child you want to belong to all the idiots who don't think, which is the whole crux of the problem. Ultimately your own system is the guidance you're seeking and is perfectly attuned to your circumstances.
I was stumbling around with meditation and discovered that if something was bothering me and an answer to the problem occurred to me, then it stopped bothering me. So when something started bothering me I knew I was looking for a specific answer, which was the golden key to the thing. Little did I realize how much work it would be. At first you don't know what you are seeking. Once you make the discovery of this inner satisfaction, then you know what you are seeking for. You're blind to it for quite a while. You just know things aren't what you'd like, but you aren't able to be specific about it. Our major appetite is the need to comprehend. Comprehension is a specific appetite and even needs to understand itself. You need to know what the mind is trying to get done so you can be more effective at it. Your internal system is entirely capable, given the opportunity, to teach you what it is trying to teach you. Your inner being knows. Your outer being is always unknowing.
~ These notes are excerpted from "At Home with the Inner Self" by Jim Burns. A digital version of the book, along with an audio CD of conversations with the author, can be ordered from the Mystic Missal web site.
Discussing the technique that Richard Rose laid out in the final section of "The Psychology of the Observer" for bringing the mind under control:
I'd like to begin with a little survey, to get your opinion:
Q: Do you feel you have some control over the mind? If so, what %, or what % of the time? If not, is your mind otherwise controlled? Out of control?
This presentation is organized around some key phrases from "The Practical Approach" section of the book. Here's a test you can try: Don't read the list of key phrases until I point to an item as I cover it in the presentation—and then don't read ahead. [For the presentation, the list was on a flip chart. Here, it's reproduced in boxes on the right side of the screen.] And while you're doing or not-doing that, here's a question to consider:
Q: "Do you think, or do you think that you think?"
That's a brain-teaser that Rose commented on in the Meditation Paper. We identify with our thoughts and desires as if they were our proud possessions, or sometimes our demons.
Q: Do you intentionally start thinking when you awake in the morning? Can you stop thinking? Try it now....
Q: "How does a person realize he or she is not really thinking? We can't stop thinking or start thinking, and we can rarely choose the subject material or the direction of thought."
Q: Do you intentionally select your thoughts? Your feelings? Other objects of consciousness? Do you select the opposing fears and desires that cause your internal conflicts? Do you select your reactions to the above? Do you select their recording and recall?
1 - in search of awareness
1. in search of awareness [first item on list]
Have you ever thought of the search for whatever it is you're looking for in terms of a "search of awareness"? My feeling is that if a person pursues whatever he's searching for deeply enough, it will become a search for the source of his awareness. Rose equated that with an investigation of the self—of the real self or Ultimate Observer. He also referred to it as defining the self.
2. romance & make-believe
What do romance or make-believe have to do with controlling the mind? If you watch a child at play, you'll see that we begin indulging in these moods at an early age ... and they stay with us for decades. These particular moods control our minds and encourage a great deal of unrealistic thinking. Rose comments that most people "cast their lives away almost wantonly." Have you observed that?
3. freedom from facing oneself (bad)
Freedom has the connotation of being good. If a person is drawn to meditation, I assume it's because of a dissatisfaction they're trying to neutralize. Such dissatisfaction results from not knowing the self, and to know the self, we have to face the self. But is that what the self really wants? And is there a technique for doing it—or are techniques used to procrastinate doing it?
Rose wrote that we need a system that will allow the student to really think, perhaps for the first time. His conviction was that posture doesn't matter. Walking may be best. The important thing is to spend a prescribed period of time alone each day in some manner.
4. excessive indulgence of the appetites (good)
Indulgence has the connotation of being bad, but it's often the initial catalyst for real self-analysis. You might think it would begin with an adolescent fear of death or the shock of rejection, but generally that doesn't lead to a questioning of what's alive and facing death. It's informative to observe the effect of too-muchness on the body and mind. Rose advised that it also pays to observe others' attitudes toward us and to note the effects of their appetites on their health and peace of mind.
5. destined to do mighty things
"Almost every young man thinks that he is an outstanding creature, that is destined to do mighty things...."
6. intense appreciation of the self
He has an "intense appreciation of the self as being unique and of extreme importance to the world"—and typically treats his "family as being secondary or implementive."
Q: Sound familiar?
Being successful in one of the life games (e.g., fame, wealth, knowledge; see Robert DeRopp's Master Game for a table of object games and metagames) might complicate this delusion, but in any case life is organized to provide what Rose termed "afflictions to the individuality sense" that will challenge this vanity. Life is generous in handing out those incidents, so it's a question of whether we use them in our search for meaning.
6 - intense appreciation of the self
7. dynamic search for the permanent center
What would propel you to a dynamic search for the permanent center of yourself? The bhakti mystic has a feeling for it (Love). The idealist has a desire for it (Truth). The dissatisfied have a longing for it (Reality, Peace, etc.).
What currently prevents it? Hesitation, playing it safe, trying to appease all the desires and fears—that's the mode of procrastinating it. The core reason: the pride of individuality.
8. lonely in the face of infinity
Many people feel lonely, and fear of dying alone is a common fear. These are both symptoms of the recognition that we're facing the unknown, infinity. The only comfortable view in the face of infinity comes from the seat of non-transience.
9. aware that something is aware
You appear to be a separate individual. Your thoughts are not the same thoughts as your neighbor's. Your inner struggle is not the same as your neighbor's. "Something in [your] consciousness is aware of [your] struggle. Something is aware, and [you are] aware that something is aware."
Q: You are aware that you desire. But do you desire, or are you caused to desire? Do you select things as objects of desire—such as picking the type of person for a mate—or "is all that selection determined by computerizations more intricate than [your] conscious mind is capable of having?"
10. something within you....
Something within you "urges and inhibits." Sometimes it causes you to take risks. At other times it results in caution. Something in you causes you to "enter joyously into the game of life"—and at times makes you "long for death."
"And yet all of these things seem to form a pattern, which makes for some sort of destiny. Something within [you], if [you] allow it to, will make decisions for [you], take care of [your] children, and condition [you] for dying when the time comes."
That something is the decision-making program at work. Rose labeled it "the Umpire," which will make perfect sense to you if you see it in operation.
11. no consideration for your spiritual hopes
When we observe the decision-making at work, we see that it's apparently programmed to follow a blueprint, a plan of nature, which makes any consideration for our spiritual hopes secondary. It doesn't discourage religion, but it "encourages all religions which encourage nature."
12. disciplines for spiritual survival
"... and it draws the blinds of drowsiness over the minds that speculate too long on immortality and the disciplines for guaranteeing spiritual survival."
The quest for permanence is a game that's contra-ego and contra nature's hypnosis. ("We stagger soberly between the blades of the gauntlet with recklessness and conviction, but we pick our way through the tulips with fear and trepidation because the trap of the latter is sweet." Richard Rose, "Notes on Between-ness," The Direct-Mind Experience.)
11 - no consideration for your spiritual hopes
13. self-aware yet painfully subject to a termination of that consciousness
Rose points out that we can assume that there must have been some purpose in creating individuals who are "self-aware yet painfully subject to a termination of that consciousness." But the question must remain unanswered for now because:
14. one job at a time
"The energy and commitment of the observer can only handle one job at a time"—that job being defining the self, answering the "Who am I?" question.
"Who is living? Who is faced with oblivion?.... Who is asking the question? Who is it that observes the glassy fragments of thought and self, which if sorted and properly arranged, will form some magic crystal ball that shall for all time answer our questions about our future?"
So we puzzle over this unseen self, trying to put the fragments together into some satisfying answer—typically with these results: We get frustrated, angry, discouraged, self-pitying ... whatever negative emotions our personality has learned to use to reinforce its tenuous position.
Douglas Harding, in Look for Yourself: "How is it that we need all this prodding, all these warnings and earnest invitations and promises of infinite rewards, to persuade us to take a really close look at ourselves? Why don't all intelligent and serious people make it their chief business in life to find out whose life it is?"
15. Is there an adverse force?
Rose: "Keep to the business of observing. When observation turns into a course of action in regard to adversity, then a religion emerges. And when a religion is formed, dichotomy of the mind follows. In other words, observation is just looking until realization is reached. The only action that should be taken is some form of self-discipline to keep the focus of observation from wandering, or some change in the immediate environment to make thinking easier."
John Wren-Lewis ("Unblocking a Malfunction in Consciousness"): "One thing I learned in my former profession of science was the right kind of lateral thinking can often bring liberation from Catch-22 situations, provided the Catch-22 is faced in its full starkness, without evasions in the form of metaphysical speculations beyond experience."
Why control the mind?
There are some obvious practical advantages—doing chores or homework regardless of our mood, for example. But we're here to talk about the search for your awareness. And that's where the topic of meditation comes in. Productive meditation involves using the mind as a stick to stir the fire.
What meditation technique should you use?
Richard Rose's 4-step technique for controlling the mind ("I do not wish to leave the impression that there are an exact number of steps but rather that things should be done with definite preparation and in proper sequence."):
Exercise: Think only of thought. (Discuss afterward.)
"Real concentration at its best is only a very artful way of allowing yourself to think along desired lines," Rose points out.
The four steps provide a framework for getting started, but eventually we come to a point where progress depends on insights gained from our introspection of the mind.
In the Psychology of the Observer, Rose has provided examples of how to go about the discovery of the Umpire and then of a Process Observer beyond the Umpire.
He tells us: "The Umpire is discovered by the recognition of polarity in all mundane things, including the mundane mind.... Such a somatic Umpire rules our life until we can build, synthetically, a philosophic Umpire, focused by our desire upon the self for its survival and definition...."
We're here today
You fear being alone
The word alone
We are working together
The Ohio River flows
of two rivers there,
Mississippi, which in turn
What is a river?
A river with no water:
As the years go by, I find that throughout my life I have been accompanied by two kinds of friends. One is of the inner sort, the helpers of the intuition, the still small voices within that guide one, especially during times of duress. This could almost be called the Self, and could be said to be within, until we are ready to merge with it in union. The other set is of the outer variety, and cloaked in flesh and blood. These are the helpers of the human type, those steadfast beings who stand by us through thick and thin, but thankfully don't take too kindly to our ego's bull and bluster.
These two sets of friends spring from the same source as we, the Inner Self, and when we are very young we may still know this. As life and the world have their way, we drift farther from these friends, and trade them for what we come to believe are better helpers. We develop that strange exterior self, the ego, if you will, and forget what we are in favor of its sweet promises. Soon, the friends we turn our ear to are helpers of a different sort. These forces are adverse to our clarity, and aid us only in building our newfound separate "self." The old inner friends are still with us; we just are too busy obsessing with the game of desire and ego security to hear them. Those of the outer variety get caught up in the new game of ego building just as tight as we. And this is as it should be, for our human destiny will have its day.
But sooner or later we come to the time when we have traveled so far afield into the world of thought and mind that we may lose all sight of true friends, and come to find ourselves surrounded by ghosts, the substitute images we have projected into our own minds, shadows of the real. Our heads become clouded with concepts and desire, fears and undefined feelings. We may long for the innocence and simplicity of our youth, and begin to question the so-called friends of the present, who may be mere reflections of our own obsessions, born of unquestioned wants and unresolved conflicts. As we see our human friends of the past becoming caught in the same web, we realize they too have become ensnared in thought and wholly identified with the mind's reaction pattern.
It is at this time that we have the golden opportunity to reverse our course. To head back towards our Source, our Home. It is now, too, that our friends are most valuable. The voice of intuition can be heard when we reflect on our life, more than when we project and justify it. Our outer buddies, too, come to our aid, for they see the good in us, our potential for becoming, and aid us in whatever fashion they can, and we allow.
At every turning point, a friend came to my aid. He was standing in the wings, and put out his hand at the right moment. Not only to pick me up, but to block my way if I was about to step into yet another fire. This may have been an inner voice quietly suggesting a new direction, or a friend showing me a part of myself, whether good or bad, that I was blind to.
This light of friendship eventually leads us to a paradox; that our friends and we are merely facets of the one Light, reflected in the mind. We can find this Light with their help, though only alone will we take the journey back beyond the separateness and discord of mind, thought, and otherness.
Richard Rose, San Gabriel Mountains, 1979
He wrote his book for the purpose of sharing; to pass on the things he learned through a life-time of effort. He knew that few would care, and even less would actually be interested. But maybe a couple would find them priceless. It was an effort for him, but he still continued. He preferred physical labor to writing books. Unmoving, his calling required that he at least make an attempt. It was so hard to speak to those that don't know. The task is not simple and might span past this lifetime. Not everyone goes to the same place when they die; and knowing this he hoped to help just a little. So he carried on until he could give help no more. He was a relentless man. His purpose caused his existence to have much meaning.
~ Continued from the August 2006 TAT Forum, which begins with an excerpt from the retreat brochure.
Doug's Notes and Reflections:
The retreat was held at Grailville, a retreat center located in farmland and rolling hills in southwest Ohio, about 35 minutes from Cincinnati. Bernadette started with a confrontational introductory session where she asked each participant to describe their path and spiritual practices. The rest of the weekend was spent on a set of presentations and discussions covering ideas such as the Trinity, the mystery of Christ, faith as a mystical experience, unique characteristics of Christian mysticism, and the characteristics of revelation. There was also silent time for prayer and meditation scheduled between sessions.
During the retreat she often recommended active involvement in the Catholic Church with love of God being the guiding force of your life and actions. "All the saints spent much time in silent prayer, they lived the sacramental life in the church, went to mass faithfully, went to confession, read many of the same books, said the same rosary, and sang many of the same hymns," she said. Although she was a very warm and friendly person, she could also be very confrontational and critical. Her biggest criticisms were directed at selfish, self-absorbed, spiritual lifestyles and paths. "The Christian tradition is a proven 2,000 year old tradition. There is no need for ineffective do-it-yourself religions and practices," she said. As evidence for the success of the Christian approach, she pointed out that she knows many monks in the unitive state in monasteries; however, most of them don't talk about it, so that's why you don't hear about it if you've been at one. To sum this up, she mentioned: "The monastic rules make saints. You'll get holier and holier as you stay there."
A rule of thumb that she reiterated was: "How it went for Christ is how it goes for us." She said, "We recapitulate his journey. Christ gave no indication of searching for anything, of looking or suddenly discovering something new or old. He wasn't seeking enlightenment or Oneness with God. He offered no techniques, laws or paths; rather, he said: 'I am the Way'—Love of God being the sole path."
Some of her statements of a more esoteric angle:
Some things she said about her spiritual way of living:
Some general recommendations:
Statements critical of the do-it-yourselfers, their practices, ideas and other non-Christian traditions and ideas:
Bernadette doesn't have her critical eye aimed only at non-Christian traditions; she also has much to say about weaknesses in mainstream Christianity:
Someone asked me, "What's the most important thing you got out of the Bernadette Roberts retreat?" I think it was the powerful experience of meeting someone who had dedicated their entire life uncompromisingly to the love of God and search for truth and had an authentic no-self experience. I also learned that there is a world of difference between reading someone's books and meeting them in person. She was more confrontational and interesting than I would have expected from reading the books. I thought, especially after watching a video of one of her presentations, that it would be a rather dry academic experience.
It was uncomfortable at times because she didn't hold back anything in her criticisms. She made fun of what she called "do-it-yourself" spiritual paths, and she stated that if you're in it for yourself, you'll get nowhere. I've already mentioned many of her general criticisms, but here's a few more just for good measure: On Swedenborg—"Forget him!" On Berkeley—"Those liberal creeps!" To me and Kiffy—"I know you guys. You're dabblers. You dabble in a little bit of this and a little bit of that!"
Bernadette's message is one of uncompromising search for truth no matter what the cost. I certainly couldn't argue with this, and it definitely fits in with Rose's view of the spiritual path. She differs with Rose and other teachers I respect in that she emphasizes this path has to be dedicated to a personal God, which is a very different attitude if not a fundamentally different message. I also think that although she doesn't appear like it on the surface because of the intellectual nature of her writings, her path was in the end a bhakti path since it was love of God that led her to do everything she did, as she mentioned several times during the weekend.
I found the retreat worthwhile, but I wouldn't want to go again because her approach is too locked in the Christian paradigm, at least from my perspective, and I find problems with her approach. For instance, how can you love something so much that you don't know for sure even exists? She emphasized many times that it was a personal relationship. Is a personal relationship with God really necessary? She said it has to be a God that cares for us, and the essence of the Trinity is relationship. I think possibly it's because she's a woman that she has such an emphasis on the relationship side of things. I probably feel this way because I've always leaned towards the path of self-inquiry instead of the path of devotion, although I know that any path will include elements of the other. I also feel that in her path she was trying to force-fit Christ into the picture, and this is what led to much of the unnecessary complexity in her thought. She talked of Christ, not God, being the problem for her. I figure there's no reason to fit him in, but that kind of thinking would have been unacceptable in her strongly Catholic upbringing. Of course she doesn't insist that being a Christian is completely necessary, and she commented once that one of her favorite saints is Ramakrishna. She said, "You can go all the way within any tradition." From what I can tell, she does think however it's the most effective way for someone who has been brought up in the west, and probably 95% of her message is steeped in the Christian approach. I was not disappointed about this because I had been warned beforehand of this fact, but it does make for limitations if you're not living in the Christian tradition.
In the end, I found her willingness to be unorthodox and state her unpopular message that all religions are not one refreshing. Her confrontational approach could be valuable in helping a seeker see motives such as selfishness, self-absorption, and lack of seriousness. Her confidence and statements about her realization, together with seeing her at the retreat, leave me convinced she is an awakened person, but her approach is not for everyone as she admits herself. I left a little inspired at having met someone who left all self-concern go in her search for truth, and I got a little taste of the freedom that was possible with that attitude, but I was also confronted with the fact I am not at that level of seriousness, at least not at the moment.
Kiffy's Impressions and Notes:
I am writing this now one week and a half after returning from a retreat hosted by Bernadette Roberts in Loveland, OH. Before going into the notes I took during the retreat, and my impression 10 days after the conclusion of the retreat, I want to share what I wrote the Sunday I returned home, right after the retreat had finished.
"Just came home from Bernadette Roberts, and was more struck by the retreat than I was expecting. The strongest message that I took from the retreat was the sense of giving one's all for Almighty God, that such was a legitimate path for that woman, and that she lived it like very few people did. (I was struck by the fact that) prayer to God was her practice, it was her way of trying to move closer to the Truth….
"I was driving home tonight and I kept turning my mind back towards this idea of God, this idea of a being greater than myself that would solve my problems if I asked him to—that there is help on this path and that this way of trying to do it on my own ... it struck me that I'm so clueless within myself and that only God really knows what I need and what's going to get me there (an answer)….. I just feel like that's more valid, and in some sense more guaranteed to be free of errors, provided that there is this higher power to help out. And that was my focus a few years ago, at least ostensibly, and I trusted that higher power to basically take care of things.... And now I'm on my own? Now I can't ask for help, though I may desperately need it? Being around Bernadette, hearing her speak, made me think how silly that conviction is."
Now, ten days after the fact, the intensity of my praying to God has diminished some. However, one of the key things which Bernadette opened me up to, or at least served as a strong reminder of, was this idea that God already knows everything about me, that prayer can basically be an opening of myself to myself, a sort of inner relaxation of censoring and judgment, and a recognition of my helplessness. That inner movement, that admission of my helplessness to myself, has the feeling of being more to the point than other forms of spiritual work. That was the core of what I took away from Bernadette's retreat. That said, here are some of the other notes I took during the retreat, broken down according to category.
On Gurus, Spiritual teachers:
On Suffering that comes from God:
On Spiritual Desire/Intuition:
On Helping Others:
Although Bernadette framed her own experience in the context of Catholicism, she also thought that Ramakrishna had "made the trip," and he did so by his devout "love of God." Such statements as these were proof to me that even though Bernadette advocated Catholicism as the best means of growing spiritually, she is also willing to admit the possibility of other paths. The way I understood it, a person's "love of God" was the key ingredient, and indeed the only worthwhile practice in Bernadette's mind.
A fair percentage of the people who were in attendance at the retreat on Friday night were gone by Saturday evening. It seemed that Bernadette's focus on Christianity turned a lot of people off. I thought this was unfortunate, because to me she came across as a sincere individual with a depth of wisdom I have seldom seen, and I thought that beneath the veil of Christianity some of the things she had to say were extremely relevant and profound.
~ See Bernadette's Friends Blog for information on the next retreat or for information on ordering Bernadette's published books. The painting of the monk (above) is from the cover of Contemplative: Autobiography of the Early Years, self-published by Bernadette Roberts.
Despite the stillness that envelopes
Raindrops on a window.
Hands turning, opening days and nights.
But this was long ago.
We rise up among dreams and darkness,
Break the mirror—
Kurt Vonnegut, from A Man Without a Country
On my own, I can't imagine reaching the personal conclusions that came to me
after reading your forum. Many thanks to the authors.
~ Steve, in Alabama
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