This Month's Contents: Realization and its Obstacles by Ally Milo | Shortcuts on the Spiritual Journey #36 by Tom Stine | A Poem by Shawn Nevins | Book excerpt: At Home With the Inner Self by Jim Burns | Excerpt: 2+2 = Reality by William Samuel | Video: Walk a Different Direction by Vernon Howard | Quotes | Humor | Reader Commentary |
There is a difference between realization and intellectual knowledge – it is that between concrete experience and the substance of delusion. Realization is the instant when some bit of reality is perceived directly, without intermediary. The instant when that bit becomes real to us. Intellectual knowledge however, is always a re-presenting of reality. A mere image. Most often – statistically speaking – the image and its meaning barely resemble reality. Now this is not so bad if the “knower” realizes that their image is an imperfect analogy. And if they truly do realize this they will re-re-present it to others as such. Unfortunately, many “spiritual” seekers quite prefer to talk and think only of what they merely “know,” or worse, merely what they ”think” they “know.” And ignore altogether (chorus: “All Together!”) the question of realization within their moment-to-moment perception.
This is the problem of the “spiritual” know-it-all. One can always tell when one is dealing with a “spiritual” know-it-all by their emphatic head-nodding and prolific yeah-yeahing which occurs like punctuation marks on the heels of every statement some other seeker or teacher makes. Their attitude is one of wanting to appear spiritual, and they are quite concerned that others should know that they themselves already know. Quite often a know-it-all will come down with a case of the “yeah-buts” and disagree with something that they had just a moment before seemed to agree with. This attitude of “knowing it all” is wrought with problems, as a “seeker” who wants to show off their knowledge is neither seeking nor finding realization, but much the opposite. They “think” – if it can be called “thinking” – that they’ve already got it. They simply assume without realizing they are doing so, that they’ve already realized what they’re talking about. They are saying, “Hey, look at me! Look at this! Look what I found!” But what they’ve found is “spiritual” narcissism; just another clever strategy for maintaining their addiction to their own reflection. Very unfortunate.
True realization is grounded on the ego shattering awe, “Holy crap! I don’t know!” But if we are honest with ourselves as we dig for Truth we discover at least some bits of arrogance within ourselves working against realization. Arrogance is a compulsion, and sincere humility is its lack. As seekers of spiritual truth we are called to get real about reality which includes all of our ugly flaws of which arrogance is one pernicious bugger. In order to do so we must go beyond ignorance of our arrogance, and then again beyond merely “knowing” we are arrogant, and realize in our moment-to-moment experience, “Whoa! I’m being arrogant right now! These feelings I’m having… this is what is called ‘arrogance’!” Then perhaps we will ask what compels it and get the splendid answer, “Holy crap! I don’t know!” Maybe then we’d realize something as we engage in some real self-inquiry.
As a seeker myself and recovering know-it-all, I’ve found that it is often effective to really cozy-up to my flaws and really look at what each one is made of. But this means first admitting that I don’t really know what my flaws are, or that I only “know,” as the case may be, and this requires help. Do you know what your flaws are? Do you only “know?” I’ve heard various ideas kicking around, “That there is nothing to be done.” and “Don’t waste time polishing the turd.” and similar others, so I’d like to address them here for those who may think I’m contradicting these ideas.
There are many ways of talking about what prevents us from seeing the capital Truth, and as we’ve all heard before these merely point toward the Truth and it’s obstacles. What is being pointed at is variously called, ego, attachment, the separate self, identification, ignorance, desire, aversion, selfing, identity, selfishness, delusion, addiction etc. One of the common themes amongst these pointers is that people have a lack of awareness about what is actually happening moment-to-moment, and our flaws are a big part of this. They are the functioning of our obstacles to Truth. Our flaws ARE our obstacles functioning moment-to-moment!
For instance, let’s say that every time I order pizza with friends, I muscle my way in and take the biggest slice. This could accurately be called “being greedy.” Now this is not something that I really do on purpose let’s say, it’s simply an unconscious compulsion. That is to say I am at least partly unaware of what is actually happening in this moment. Now what I am actually unaware of depends IN PART on that PARTICULAR moment – it could be that someone else is hungrier than I am, or that a friend really needs my help with something before we eat, or that I’m not even hungry, then too there are the inevitable consequences of such behavior that I am also likely unaware of, such as a person not liking me because I’m a greedy bastard, an accident I could’ve prevented if I’d helped my friend, or dying from a heart attack because I ate too much cholesterol. But what does not depend on that particular moment is the fact that I am less aware when I’m “being greedy.” Let alone the fact that I am likely not aware that I am unaware of “being greedy” (typically people are unaware of the flaws that make them unaware). So I have a problem – I am sleep-walking through life; deluded, selfish, egoed-out, identified, craving, ignorant. Right? So what am I to “do?” Obviously I need to “wake up”, be aware, “get enlightened” to my greed.
One practical way to do this is to ask others to point out my flaws; to ask for criticism. And then to deal with the defensiveness I will likely feel to the humiliating, ego-deflating Truth. Sound awful? I’ll say it another way. One practical way to do this is to ask others to illuminate my mind from ignorance, and then to bask in the Light of Absolute Liberation. Much nicer, eh? The thing our separate selves fight admitting, mine included, is that there ain’t much of a difference. But I’ve gotten a bit off topic. So what do I “do” with this new awareness of my greediness? I can now practice not being greedy, that is I can now practice being more aware. I can see feelings of greed (or whatever) rise up in me, and NOT act on it. I can practice NOT being deluded, selfish, egotistical, attached in this one particular way. So in this sense, “There is nothing to be done.” In fact I can now act contrary to the way the greed tells me to act, and eat some humble pie that way. So hey I’m liberated! Great! Of course in practice there will be questions and many more details which I can’t go into here, and this process usually must be repeated over and over again often with the same flaw as these compulsions run deep. But am I suggesting that we, “Waste time polishing the turd?” No. Though many of us will do so anyway, at least until we realize it.
The separate self has many strategies for maintaining control/ remaining mired in ignorance/ avoiding its fears. Sometimes what people do when they discover the Truth of their behavior is they go from telling themselves they are an excellent nitrogen rich fertilizer to telling themselves they are a piece of shit. Then they do all kinds of things to get their “positive” story back. Or they take refuge in anger/ denial/ defensiveness. I suggest that these are called, “Polishing the Turd.” Everything from repression and denial in various forms, to behavior modification and creating a new “nice” “good” or “selfless” identity. These strategies are much different than becoming more aware because new compulsions - and thus lack of awareness - are created. Though the difference can be subtle and difficult to spot, it is there. It is the very same difference with which we started out this article – that between concrete experience and the substance of delusion. And there are indications that can be used to spot turd-polishing within oneself and others. Polishers are still very concerned that they appear a certain way, and are very defensive about their glossy turd parts. Realization on the other hand lends itself to honesty and amusement at one’s own foibles and eventually to the dissolution of many of them. As well as to preventing to an extent the desire for recognition of one’s “better” qualities.
Chances are we will not be liberated from ourselves some Eternal moment, if we are hiding our flaws moment-to-moment. “Know thyself!” applies not only to the so-called True Self, but more importantly to the selfish separate self that is our delusion. So let’s drop our ego’s by shining the light of awareness on them and real-izing them. Let’s be brave and ask these wonderful TAT folk who may see us more clearly than we see ourselves for real moment-to-moment criticism. Let’s use tape recorders or video cameras in order to get an objective view of ourselves. Let’s ask our clear sighted friends to be critical of our behavior and motivations and really LOOK at what ego is made of when it rears its ugly head! What do you say? Does it sound crazy? If so, what part of you is it that objects to the idea?
Why me? How come I'm not awake? Why do bad things always happen to me? Life is too hard! I hate this stuff! I want things to be different!
Every now and then, we are prone to a little whining and complaining on the spiritual path. We feel that God is not being fair, that the path is not leading exactly where we want. Sometimes it simply feels too hard to handle, mentally, emotionally and even physically.
What to do? Well, I could give you a dozen different techniques, myriad ways to deal with the resistance that is the cause of your unhappiness and complaining. But more often than not, there is really only one thing to do:
Suck it up.
Yeah, it does seem unfair, too hard, or not going your way. So what? I don't remember at any point along the path being given a money back guarantee: "The spiritual journey will be filled with sweetness and light and goodies, or your money back!" God doesn't promise unicorns and fairy godmothers. Nope. Sorry. You are on the wrong journey if you thought the journey to awaking was going to be easy as pie!
Be a man. Grow a pair. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Suck it up! I know this is an overtly masculine sounding message, maybe even a touch harsh, but sometimes that is your only choice, to tough it out when things get rough.
Everyone has their moments of whining and complaining. It isn't just you. We've all been there. Really, everyone has been there. So quit worrying! And as best you can, take a look in the mirror, know you aren't the first one to have it rough, and then keep plowing ahead. Because in the end, this too shall pass. I guarantee it! *wink*
What is this screeching I hear?
The ability of getting a feeling to translate
into words is a tricky business, but it is well
worth the effort. When some insight comes up,
you should stop everything you are doing, if at
all possible, and pay attention to it. If a word
associated with a current feeling comes up, it
is often extremely important. Repeat the word
until you get some sense of what it means. It is
often a word at the crossroads of other concepts,
and ties them together. Before you couldn’t figure
out how this tied into this or this tied into
that. You begin to build a structure and develop
If you hold center on a problem long enough,
things will open up. It is difficult when you are
first trying this. It takes a while to develop the
expertise. Sometimes the effort of trying to hold
center and bring something up is so great that
you simply can’t do it. It takes practice. You’re
facing a void because you don’t know what
you’re looking for. If you keep mentally facing
forward, it will eventually focus itself. You’ll
focus what your inner nature is seeking. If there
wasn’t an unanswered and even misstated question,
you wouldn’t be doing this. At this point
the question isn’t even formed. You just know
that there has to be a better state than that which
you are currently in. The unanswered is what
you are seeking.
The ability of getting a feeling to translate into words is a tricky business, but it is well worth the effort. When some insight comes up, you should stop everything you are doing, if at all possible, and pay attention to it. If a word associated with a current feeling comes up, it is often extremely important. Repeat the word until you get some sense of what it means. It is often a word at the crossroads of other concepts, and ties them together. Before you couldn’t figure out how this tied into this or this tied into that. You begin to build a structure and develop comprehension.
If you hold center on a problem long enough, things will open up. It is difficult when you are first trying this. It takes a while to develop the expertise. Sometimes the effort of trying to hold center and bring something up is so great that you simply can’t do it. It takes practice. You’re facing a void because you don’t know what you’re looking for. If you keep mentally facing forward, it will eventually focus itself. You’ll focus what your inner nature is seeking. If there wasn’t an unanswered and even misstated question, you wouldn’t be doing this. At this point the question isn’t even formed. You just know that there has to be a better state than that which you are currently in. The unanswered is what you are seeking.
2+2 = Reality, by William Samuel
"Begin to understand yourself and in that there will be discovered immeasurable riches. Begin with the known, with the trivial, the limited, the confused; the small that is bound by fear, by belief, by lust, by ill will. It is petty, partial because it is the product of ignorance. How can such a mind understand the whole? It cannot. If thought-feeling frees itself from craving, and so from ignorance and sorrow, then only is there a possibility of understanding the whole…
"….From a small, narrow opening the wide heavens are not to be perceived. We try to perceive the whole through the small aperture of our thought-feeling and what we see must inevitably be small, partial, incomplete. We say we want to understand the whole, yet we cling to the petty, to the me and the mine. Through self-awareness, which brings self-knowledge, right thinking is nurtured, which alone will free us from our triviality and sorrow. When the mind ceases to chatter, when it is not playing any part, when it is not grasping or becoming, when it is utterly still, in that creative emptiness is the whole, the uncreated."
Haven't waxed poetic since puberty yet I see a beauty without exercising any imagination whatever. An astounding universe beats with or without us, and as long as I'm a human I will hold optimism that our race is moving more in tune to that fact. I cut the grass today. Best time for reflection.
I read your article in the May TAT forum about efforts to get a new physical TAT home going. If nothing else, I'd like to give you my moral support for the great idea and your efforts to push it along! I'd be willing to make a small financial donation when the opportunity arises. As I live in Europe/Croatia, I have not had the chance to participate in the gatherings, but have been reading and watching what is available.
Sometimes I wish we could live like that. The way it is at the retreats. And only go away to work a couple weeks of the year. I suppose it wouldn't be the same if we spent so long, but looking back, the few weeks I've spent at the retreats were some of the few times in my life when everything was right in the world. We just lived to work on what was most important and be around other people doing the same.
Did you enjoy the Forum? Then buy the book! Beyond Mind, Beyond Death is available at Amazon.com.