April 12 and 13 is the TAT Foundation's Open House and I encourage you to attend. The energy of face to face meetings is a valuable complement to one's reading and solitary practice. It contains the clarity bestowed by pilgrimage; the journey for wisdom. Not that any place is sacred, but that our intention and collective intentions makes it so.
Come join fifty or so friends gathered for the highest purpose—the discovery of the real. If you like what you read in the Forum, you will like the meeting as well. There won't be any chanting or robes, no bliss-bunnies, or advaita dances—just straight talk, tough questions, and honest answers. Read more about the meeting here: TAT Open House
Next month, we will focus on "Group Work." It's not too late to submit your stories of starting or working in spiritual groups large and small.
[These are Mike's notes from his 2007 talk at the TAT Foundation's April Conference. Mike will be speaking at the April 2008 TAT Open House. —editor]
Zombi, or zombie; from nzombi, god; or zumbi, a good luck fetish object. Webster's third defines zombie as "1b: the supernatural power or essence that, according to voodoo belief, may enter into and reanimate a dead body. 1c: A will-less…human capable only of automatic movement, held to have died and been re-animated."
In modern philosophy, The Problem of Zombies was originally called The Problem of Automatons. The problem being that, if all mental phenomena, thoughts, are the result of prior and automatic activity of the nervous system, the existence of free will becomes questionable. 'The Problem of Zombies' is more dramatic, and better characterizes the depth of fear we feel of not being in control, or of not having free will. When I asked a friend if he thought most people were afraid of not being in control, he said, "Well, ye-ah! But, I'm not afraid of not being in control; I'm always in control!"
In the quest for self-realization we come up against the same problem. Most religious and spiritual writings, especially those relating to self realization, tell us we must surrender, let go of control, turn our will and our lives over to god, and even, 'die while yet living.' Sounds like this means we will then become the 'living dead,' as in the popular conception of a zombie? No, of course not, but I wonder, were Voodoo priests originally teaching about surrender, non-doing, effortlessness, nirvana, etc?
Our conviction that we think and act by the exercise of our own will is at the heart of our feeling of security, our identity, and ultimately of our sense of existence. If we take the spiritual admonitions seriously enough to attempt letting go, we will find it difficult. After a lifetime of feeling secure in our being 'in control' we will find it uncomfortable, and perhaps nearly impossible to let go. We will need help, and a lot of practice. Any practice of letting go of control, of non-doing, will have to be an effortless practice. I call practicing letting go of control of thinking, 'Effortless Meditation.'
If letting go of control of thinking isn't difficult enough, most of us have also been 'controlling' unwanted emotions, since childhood, by suppression; 'stuffing' them. Instead of going away, those 'bad feelings' have been accumulating. They have become a part of 'who we are.' If we begin a daily practice of letting go of control, we may also need a practice to help us deal directly with the mountain of accumulated anger, shame and fear that will begin to be released. These feelings will be unpleasant enough to be an issue. They may even prove to be a barrier to self-realization, if we find it impossible to continue letting them come out. Many of us have benefited from attending meetings that encourage members to admit to, talk about, feel and thereby release these emotions.
The state of Enlightenment is the state of non-doing. The path to Enlightenment, or Self-Realization is all about practicing letting go of control. Through letting go comes the extinguishing of the imagined do-er, 'i,' Nirvana. The combination of a daily practice of non-doing in effortless meditation, and letting go control of feelings and defenses in weekly meetings with other seekers, is the automatic path to self-realization.
Recalling the experiments of Benjamin Libet, 1985, our impulse to action, the intention to do something, is experienced 300-500 milliseconds after the mental activity that created it. It is after the fact, and not the cause of action. Look up Libet on the Web.
Libet's and others' experiments call into question the common conviction that our 'i' has 'self-will.' If our ego-self is not the real thinker of thought, it is not the do-er of action, and is a false self. The path to self realization must take an entirely different direction. For if the self that we think we are is not the self that we really are, then the idea of refining or developing the illusory self to higher states of consciousness can be recognized as futile.
Beginning in earliest childhood, social conditioning hypnotizes the mind to identify with the idea of a separate 'i,' supposedly 'in' the body, looking out. Our feelings and automatic impulses to action are attributed to this idea of 'I,' and effortless and spontaneous thinking becomes inconceivable.
This 'i' appears to say 'my body.' This 'i', called the personality, is considered to be the self, and is often thought to be the soul, the spirit within, and animator of, the body. Many think the body would be inert without this 'personal soul.' This 'i' is imagined to be the do-er of thinking, the work-er of all effort. Identification with this personal 'i' is the major barrier to true-self realization. That this personal 'i' exists only as a common delusion is seldom suspected because that idea is frightening. It is the stuff of zombie stories. It must be thoroughly investigated.
The truth is, spontaneous, automatic and effortless thinking is an aspect of our true self. We've all experienced this many times, in the way memory works. Remembering may seem to require effort. But, don't memories just come to us, as in, "i can't remember" and, "oh, now i remember!"? If the personal 'i' were really in control, then when 'i' wanted to remember, 'i' would! Instead 'i' takes credit for remembering, after the fact. "oh, now i remember!" We discount such experiences of the automatic nature of thinking because they disagree with our socially induced delusion that 'i' is the thinker. The personal 'i' is imagined to be the remember-er through its own effort. What is the actual do-er of remembering, of inspiration, the muse of creativity, or even getting a joke?
Like remembering is effortless and automatic, so meditation and even self realization must be effortless, and automatic.
Awakening comes as the result of repeatedly experiencing the effortless nature of thinking, and the real thinker. With non-action of the imaginary doer 'i,' thinking rests with the true thinker, the real self. A daily experience of the effortless nature of thinking gradually ends the delusion.
After meditating for a year completely without effort, I began to feel weird. I knew the meditation was right, effortless, and bringing insights etc. But I began to feel bad feelings. I'd been taught to deny, repress feelings all my life, and was very good at it. But now that I was letting go control of thinking in meditation, I began to feel 'depressed.' I had bad, creepy feelings, kind of like being a zombie. It gradually became intolerable and I interviewed a few psychiatrists, who all seemed crazier than I felt. On the advice of friends I went to a 12-step meeting called A.C.A. where I learned immediately that we were to feel feelings and talk about them. Radical concept! Feel feelings!? As soon as I began to feel the creepy dead feelings the creepiness went away. Soon after, fifty years of biting my nails just stopped.
As a result of the process of letting go of control of thinking in effortless meditation, we will be also letting go of our life long automatic repression of unacceptable feelings. These feelings do not go away, they accumulate. As we practice effortlessness, this mountain of suppressed feelings, anger, shame and fear, will begin to be released. Anger lasted six months. Shame took a few years. What a relief it was to be rid of that, the control of which was the original reason for the creation of the 'i.' When all the anger, shame and fear were released the delusion of 'i' went with them. I felt peaceful, empty of the personality, free. That is nirvana.
To be continued ...
digital art by Abigail Amalton at Lux Solis
"Where have all the butterflies gone?"
Last week in Bethesda
I used to see them everywhere
The week before last
When I'm out working under stress
Earlier in the summer
I wonder if the universe is noticing me.
Usually, it is during the times of sickness or death of a loved one that we will feel an intense sense of loss. Those who gave us much love, and whom we depended upon, depart from the scene, or are about to. They were extensions of us, and now they are not there. During the period immediately after the loss, we realize just how much they were an intrinsic and vital part of our lives. And now they are, or will be, no more. It is during these times that we are confronted with our own mortality. For in the end we lose our own lives. But it may take the loss of a loved one to remind us in a vivid way that our lives are just an interlude, and death looms. If one has been a professed spiritual seeker for many years, it is during these trying times when he may discover whether he has truly been "going within," has been honest with himself, and has lived his life constantly and consciously aware that it was an interlude. Most of us don't. We will have to admit to ourselves that through the course of our lives we developed various escape mechanisms, which enabled us to avoid the problem of our mortality.
I am reminded of the account of Ramana Maharshi's Self-Realization, when, at the age of just 16, he experienced an intense fear of death. That intense fear propelled him into a simulated death experience whereby he abided in Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samadhi, or the permanent, imperishable Self, and thereafter he knew for certain he was not his body, mind, or personality. With Ramana Maharshi the realization of his true nature came about at a very young age and seemingly without much effort. But for most of us, bringing forth such a realization will take much of our lifetime. That is, if it is ever brought forth within our lifetime.
Is there a way to bring about a simulated death experience, much like that which served as the catalyst for Ramana Maharshi's realization? I don't think we can do so directly. But there might be a roundabout way of doing so. It would seem to me that when we lose, or are about to lose, a loved one, we are cast into a mood that can have positive spiritual value. In that mood, we feel more acutely than usual the sense of loss of our egocentric selves. We go beyond the sense of loss over the loved one, and face the inevitable loss of our own lives. We feel the loss over what we thought we were, loss over what we "achieved" in life, loss over the petty pleasures and vanities that helped to fuel our escape mechanisms and sustained our egocentric posture. The things we did in life, things we wanted to do, and felt we needed to do, all lose their importance as we face their ultimate loss in this mood of clarity. While we probably cannot directly simulate a death experience, the remembering of the mood of loss can perhaps serve as a spiritual catalyst. By remembering the mood of loss after it has passed during our self-inquiry, where we observe our thought processes, we can confront our egocentrism. In the practice of self-inquiry, there is a continuous "center of awareness" watching over the things our egocentric self gives importance to. When the seeker is centered in awareness, he can stand back and watch the reactions to his fear of death, the true source of his sense of loss. We are identified with our body, with its perceived needs and desires, and our mind, with its train of thoughts, and are accustomed to thinking of these as our awareness. But intuitively we know they are not ultimately real. They are not the abiding Pure Awareness. Since we are attached to our relative, egocentric self, we cannot abide in Pure Awareness. To abide in Pure Awareness means ego-death, which to our relative understanding means the loss of our life, as we know it. It is here where the seeker centered in awareness must overcome his fear of loss, which in reality is his fear of death. He must remind himself that with the end of his earthly life, he loses all, nothing of him remains, and his attachments in life amount to nothing. He should ask himself why he would want to escape further into what he intuitively knows is illusion. Why hold on to what we will lose? Instead, he must cultivate a yearning for Pure Awareness. The yearning will bring futility as the mood of loss deepens. Paradoxically, he may discover there was nothing to lose, no loss, because it all was ultimately unreal. But before that occurs, effort must be made, and the mood of loss, experienced when our loved ones pass from the scene, can be of great spiritual benefit.
See God In All
God Is Within You
Persevere In Your Search For God
Trust Completely In God
Love Of God Is Essential
A student went to his meditation teacher and said, "My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I'm constantly falling asleep. It's just horrible!"
"It will pass," the teacher said matter-of-factly.
A week later, the student came back to his teacher. "My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It's just wonderful!'
"It will pass," the teacher replied matter-of-factly.
~ seen on Zen in the Five String Banjo