I've received several poems from readers over the past few months; enough to inspire an issue of poetry. So here is a Call for Poetry: Our April issue will feature the poems of readers. Send us your truths; your spiritual longings poured out in verse. Shorter poems, less than a page, stand the best chance of being published and poems that express your feelings and your thoughts rather than re-hashed lines from Rumi are what matter. Submit your work by March 15, 2009, using the "contact" tab at the top of this page.
We become complete when we know what we really are. Knowing our true identity is different from the type of knowing we're familiar with, though. The knower is no longer a thing apart from what's known.
But that's not all of it. There's a state of perception where a person becomes one with everything—every thing. The best-known example of this in the West is in the autobiographical poetry of Walt Whitman. The Canadian physician R.M. Bucke wrote a book on that perceptual state, which he termed cosmic consciousness. (See Bucke's Cosmic Consciousness at Google books.) Cosmic consciousness is a blissful state and is the unwitting goal of many seekers. But it's not a permanent state—and is thus ultimately unsatisfactory. As Whitman described his own case, as he grew older the cosmic conscious state came to him less frequently and stayed for shorter durations.
When we truly know what we are, there's no longer a split between the knower and what's known—and what's known is the knower. We discover or recognize that the knower is no thing. Of course we can't imagine what nothing is. The closest the mind can come is to imagine an empty space that has no objects in it. But the no-thing that we are, at the core of our being, includes all things. So we have to resort to paradox when the mind attempts to conceive of it. We are, essentially, nothing and everything.
Whether we're conscious of it or not, we're all striving to find completion. It's the deepest need, and therefore the deepest desire, embedded in every human organism. Most people strain to find that completion by manipulating the external world or their internal world. (Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs chart is a classic representation of where we try to find satisfaction.) Relatively few arrive at the point where they intuit that such completion requires certainty and that such certainty cannot come until the knower is known. Language becomes contorted when we try to think about what we are or to interpret our feelings about what we are. But thinking and feeling are the two tools in our toolbox.
Feelings are facts—not right or wrong—just as perceptions are facts. Where the error comes in is in our interpretation or thinking about observed facts. And until we get to the position where we're ready to go through the final doorway to self-knowing, we have to rely on the combination of conceptual thinking and feeling to guide us.
At the core of our existential suffering is a feeling … a feeling that something isn't right, that we're somehow incomplete.
I heard some dialogue on a TV program recently—an episode of "Numb3rs," a series about an applied math professor who helps his older brother solve crimes for the FBI—that goes to the heart of the problem. A psychologist was counseling the older brother and gave him this advice: "If you want to feel better, take a pill. If you want to get right, face the truth."
Most of us spend our lives trying to bully or seduce the world, and attempting to twist our internal psychology when the world doesn't respond satisfactorily, to make things right. What we try to avoid at all costs, though, is facing the truth about ourselves.
Why is that? Our thinking is the source of the problem—specifically the beliefs we hold about what we are. (The line between thought and feeling becomes blurred when we look at beliefs. Beliefs are feeling-convictions that we often haven't expressed to ourselves conceptually.) In order to face the truth about ourselves, we may need to do a good bit of thinking and feeling about thinking and feeling. How do we go about that productively?
I came across a fascinating book a few weeks ago titled How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, a practicing physician and teacher who holds the Recanati Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and is chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Groopman is an engaging writer and someone who I get the feeling would make a good friend. He relates how the research that went into the book was instigated one morning when he was doing rounds with students and residents, when he found himself asking himself a simple question about medical diagnosis: How should a doctor think?
That question triggered others, which could be summed up as: Is there a best way to think, or are there multiple, alternative styles that can reach a correct diagnosis and choose the most effective treatment? Or from another angle, "… when and why does thinking go right or wrong in medicine?"
To find what we intuit is missing in our lives that would make us complete, all we have to do is face the truth. The truth seeker is like a physician who is his own first patient. Is there a best way to think about the diagnosis and the treatment? Where does thinking go right—or, more importantly, where does it go wrong—in the business of truth-facing?
If you're like most physicians in this respect, you won't be surprised by Groopman's discovery: "Nearly all of the practicing physicians I queried were intrigued by the questions but confessed they had never really thought about how they think."
Why is that? Why don't we consider our thinking and make allowances for its shortcomings? The simple answer is because we're too close to it, as if we had our noses against a large-screen TV.
Another finding that shouldn't be a surprise is that the physician's mood and temperament strongly influence his medical judgment. In a study of radiologists—doctors who read x-rays and more advanced image scans—the ones who tended to be risk-takers had more false positive readings (where normal conditions are seen as abnormal) while those who were risk-averse had more false negatives (seeing abnormal conditions as normal). In between were the indecisive, who were reluctant to come to any conclusion about what they saw. Duke University's advanced imaging labs found that the average diagnosis error by their highly trained radiologists runs at 20 to 30 percent. Imagine what it is for the truth seeker diagnosing his own situation.
Dr. James Lock, chief of cardiology at Boston Children's Hospital, whose early hero was Sherlock Holmes, said: "I keep an ongoing tap on what I know…. Epistemology, the nature of knowing, is key in my field. What we know is based only on a modest level of understanding." As he gained in maturity he realized that "Impeccable logic doesn't always suffice … there are variables that you can't factor in…." The self-inquirer, the truth seeker who is looking to find what he really is, finds that epistemology is at the heart of his inquiry, also. The pretense of knowing what we don't know—about what we are—is what prevents us from seeing and accepting what we truly are.
Donald Schön at MIT says that a good physician "expresses uncertainty, takes the time to reflect, and allows himself to be vulnerable. Then he restructures the problem." The same could be said for the productive self-inquirer.
Jerry Katz, a physician who teaches at Yale Law School, comments on the "pervasive and fateful human need to remain in control of one's internal and external worlds by seemingly understanding them, even at the expense of falsifying the data." Accepting the truth about what we control, or don't control, is a huge stumbling block for most truth seekers.
Stephen Nimer, a physician at Memorial Hospital in New York and researcher at the Sloan-Kettering Institute, says that specialists commonly use the phrase "it's a bad disease" privately to explain why a patient isn't responding to treatment. Nimer remarks how that shifts the burden of thinking off the specialist and acts as a buffer against the fear of failure. He also notes that a focus on possible side effects often makes people reluctant to undergo treatment. That focus distorts the risk-to-benefit ratio in Nimer's opinion and avoids dealing with the problem at hand. The self-seeker often arrives similarly at a point where he labels his ignorance as intractable in order to remove the burden of inquiry, and it's very common to see truth seekers settle for ignorance after they have arrived at the faulty conclusion that searching for the truth of what they are is opposed to "living life."
Jeffrey Tepler, a hematologist and oncologist in private practice at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, notes: "It's hard to think deeply about patients at the moment when you are seeing them. You need to have some quiet time to reflect and formulate a cogent opinion." He routinely leaves his office at 8:30-9:00 PM after reading recent medical literature and thinking about his patients. Imagine if the self-inquirer considered his own condition as seriously and productively as Tepler considers that of his patients.
One of the most intriguing stories in the book was the author's description of his first night in charge of a hospital ward as a new intern. He was chatting with one of the patients, who suddenly went into extreme respiratory distress. Groopman said he just stood there "with an empty head and my feet fixed to the floor." Fortuitously, an out-of-town doctor who was visiting a friend walked by the room just then, examined the patient, and told the author what to do. That was Groopman's first lesson in becoming his own authority. He realized, "I needed to think differently from how I had learned to think in medical school—indeed, differently from the way I had ever thought seriously in my life."
The truth seeker will similarly reach a point where he needs to think differently from the way he has ever thought seriously in his life. Physician, heal thyself.
"Beyond the dreaming"
I spend my days
The only real problem in life is the problem of self-definition. According to several well-known esoteric teachers, if one realizes this with one's whole being—body, mind, and heart—spiritual progress will be made. Regrettably, most spiritual seekers do not feel this problem with their whole being and will flounder about for years without result. In a moment of clarity, the seeker will make an initial commitment to find self-definition. But then gravity will set in. Let's cite a hypothetical example: A youthful seeker will make a lifelong commitment to find self-definition when in a particular mood. While in this mood, he realizes the need to reverse his vector. But later, in a different mood, the commitment will wane as perceived personal problems become an obstacle to his spiritual search. For instance, he will have feelings of failure and inferiority, and will want to compensate for this by achieving certain goals that prove his self-worth. He may feel deprived over being denied the gratifications life has to offer: career achievement; business success; financial security; relationships; travel; fame; good food and wine; etc. Various forms of rationalization will be employed, impeding the seeker's ability and willingness to reverse his vector and conserve energy for the spiritual search. Such a seeker may spend years in a quandary, swaying, on one hand, between moods of enthusiasm, and on the other, hopelessness or failure. Before he knows it, he finds himself in advanced middle age or beyond. Such a seeker was not honest with himself. He spent many years chasing after unreal problems formed by his rationalizations.
What went wrong with this young seeker? His commitment was followed by feelings of failure, inferiority, and deprivation, which became the dominant forms of rationalization. How did these feelings affect his body, mind, and heart? His body sought various forms of gratification to alleviate the feelings, instead of making a concerted effort to reverse the vector by consciously delaying or eliminating the need to fulfill those gratifications, by going within. Not doing so resulted in a lack of bodily attention, adversely affecting the mind. Here, the seeker could have read about and studied esoteric philosophy extensively, but to no avail. He did not make his body the "laboratory" that Richard Rose talked about. For all his reading and studying, he put none of it into practice. Consequently, he did not develop his intuition. Instead, the seeker's mind followed the wayward body in spite of his extensive readings and studies, and so his heart was not really on an authentic spiritual search. The seeker was fooling himself. Now, in his middle age, he is confronted with his lack of honesty.
It was Richard Rose who said that the only real problem was that of self-definition. He said so during a discussion in which I was a participant, after reading his poem "The Three Books of the Absolute." During that discussion many years ago Rose stated: "We bounce from one illusion to another—one obsession to another." This is the story of humanity—a never ending bouncing about from illusion and obsession to more illusions and obsessions. To realize we bounce from illusion and obsession, and then to feel with our whole being that our only problem, and solution, lies in our need for self-definition, is what I believe to be the key to making genuine spiritual effort. The seeker as a young man did not grasp the fact that he was not a failure, not inferior, and not deprived. Those issues were the "problems" he was dealing with; they were not the problem of self-definition. His feelings of failure, inferiority, and deprivation propelled him into an endless round of illusion and obsession. Indeed, you could say this seeker was addicted or "hooked" on his illusions and obsessions. If he attempted to reverse his vector and develop intuition early on, perhaps he could have seen that even if he was not deprived of what he wanted or aspired to, he was traveling on a dead-end road. All of his wants and aspirations were of a transient nature. Instead, he could have spent considerable time and refection asking himself the questions: "What is the real problem in life?" and "What is the only real problem?"
To be sure, in the course of our lives we will face many unavoidable problems requiring our attention. There are basic survival needs. We need to feed, shelter, and clothe ourselves and our families. And, for a period of time, we need to have an ego that will motivate us to fulfill those needs. Our ego has legitimate aspirations towards maintaining our bodily survival, success in our livelihood, and providing for our loved ones. Life will also bring problems such as sickness, catastrophe, and many other uncertainties that are part of everyday existence. These cannot be avoided, and we must face those circumstances as they come. But ultimately, our body and our ego do not survive after death—at least as far as we know. There's been speculation to the contrary, as some metaphysical systems postulate an afterlife, reincarnation, etc. But even assuming there is merit to these speculations, there remains the problem of defining the self who experiences such an afterlife state. So then, all the problems of everyday life, and those of a possible afterlife, pale before the only real problem—that of self-definition.
Why then, do we not pursue passionately, with our whole being—body, mind, and heart—the resolution to the problem of self-definition? After all, everything we achieve in life, every pleasure indulged in, everything that gave us our identity while living, is lost at our death. Why do we place so much stock in these? We think they are us; they give us ego-gratification; they define our perceived self while we are alive. But when we ponder over our imminent death, we realize they are not our real self. Yet we are afraid of losing what has given us our identity. In our fear, we become inhibited from letting them go. To this Rose said that what we are afraid of is "losing a coward." We must let our perceived identity die. It is a false identity. When we let this false identity die, then, according to Rose, "something magical occurs."
What is failure? What is deprivation? What is inferiority? Do they really exist? The young seeker did not think through the answers to such questions. As a result, he identified with those feelings, seeing them as the problem, instead of self-definition. Subsequently, he was caught in their particular traps of illusion and obsession. And you, the reader, are caught in your own respective traps. No doubt you are more trapped in illusion and obsession than you realize. You have your own dominating forms of rationalization which prevent you from seeing your situation clearly and from seeing that the only real problem you have is the problem of self-definition. You are afraid of losing a coward. For most of you, it will take years of self-observation to see this.
For happiness, how little sufffices for happiness? the least thing precisely, the gentlest thing, the lightest thing, a lizard's rustling, a breath, a wisk, an eye glance—little maketh up the best happiness. Be still. ~ Nietzsche
"A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep."
~ SAUL BELLOW
There is no denying that people associated with TAT Foundation are serious about what Richard Rose 'is' saying but just the opening of Bob's piece in January's Forum ...
"I'm not sure what someone would see in my eyes. Knowing who and what you are isn't going to 'fix' life for you. My life is full of irritations—but all that—along with my character—is 'out there'—with the rest of experience."
[This] is a possible indication of the difficulty of understanding (and acceptance) of what it is to be a human organism.
All of out there is taking place in here, inside brain, this includes experience as 'blind' brain activity measure. ('Blind' because brain doesn't know brain activity is the experience—even when it is known as knowledge.) Experience sensation is the affect of measure as an effect of existing inherited and acquired while living conditioning. The affect of experience effects so-called feelings, moods and emotions as physiological sensations as blind brain activity alteration/control of moments been or (possibly) to be as so-called past/future. Sorry to shout but THERE IS NO MENTAL OR PHYSICAL ACTION THAT CAN BE TAKEN TO EFFECT UNDERSTANDING AND SUBSIDENCE OF BLIND BRAIN ACTIVITY.
It seems only in the constant re-discovery of seeing, sensing now-moment-continuum, out there, as the out-there, is taking place in here, inside brain, as blind brain activity ('Now-moment-continuum' is to prevent 'knowing', as a conclusion, interfering with seeing, sensing...') Blind brain activity is the light, colour, edges, shapes as the out-there - subject sensation, as an illusory entity isn't 'making' it take place: first person subject sensation 'I' as an illusory entity, is an effect of blind brain activity.
Any blind brain activity memory/imagination as so-called experience interferes with seeing, sensing now-moment-continuum. This might be considered as the death of 'I' (and 'Me' and 'Self') in which physical death has no significance because it is only the ending of the physical body. (As everyday 'experience', as an effect of measure, this might be repulsive—but blind brain activity cannot escape the fact.) This is not to deny what an extraordinary event life on this planet is and what an extra extraordinary event the existence of the human organism that has consciousness sensation of it taking as blind brain activity.
This writing is the outcome of the physics of existence and as such it has no value outside of understanding what it is to be a human organism.
Trust this hasn't wasted your time.
A happy and peaceful new year to all.