This Month's Contents: Paradox by Shawn Nevins | That's What I Seek by Rob Kayinto | House on Fire: Urgency on the Spiritual Path by Mike Whitely | Video: Why am I not Enlightened Yet with Rupert Spira | Poems by Ike Harijanto | Humor | Quotes | Question of the Issue / Reader Commentary | A New Home for TAT |
by Shawn Nevins
I have a map to the home of the soul.
Beyond the mind is a golden find, --
The paradox is a guide to the goal, --
Though doubt is sacred, each man is the Whole.
Twenty years ago, I used to browse the shelves of used book stores hoping to come upon a book of wisdom. As I recall, that is how I discovered Bernadette Roberts' The Experience of No-Self. Last week, I found myself in an obscure corner of the internet, after following one thought and another, till I sat facing a discussion of paradox that impressed me. The author was discussing Albert Rothenberg: a researcher on creativity who was likewise impressed by Niels Bohr.
He was intrigued by Bohr’s ability to imagine two opposite or contradictory ideas, concepts or images existing simultaneously. Bohr demonstrated that if you hold opposites together, then you suspend your thought and your mind moves to a new level. The suspension of thought allows an intelligence beyond thought to act and create a new form. The swirling of opposites creates the conditions for a new point of view to bubble free from your mind.
Rothenberg identified this process as “Janusian thinking,” a process named after Janus, a Roman God who has two faces, each looking in the opposite direction. Janusian thinking is the ability to imagine two opposites or contradictory ideas, concepts, or images existing simultaneously. Imagine, if you will, your mother existing as a young baby and old woman simultaneously, or your pet existing and not existing at the same time.
I experienced the feeling of grappling with paradox on many occasions. The most striking of these involves flying. I used to find flying quite confrontational, as I feared crashing during takeoff. As the plane barreled down the runway, picking up speed, the thought of my death loomed large. I would, in short order, take stock of what I knew for certain. Who was I? Did I know if any part of me would survive death? As the plane rattled and shook, leaving the ground, it hurtled me towards the undeniable conclusion I knew nothing for certain. "What did it mean to die?" I asked. "What would it feel like?" I could imagine blackness, I could imagine the world vanishing, yet... the thing, my most precious self, doing the imagining could not imagine itself no longer existing. The imaginer would vanish along with all of its experience. How could I imagine being without that which did the imagining? This paradox, occurring at a height of tension and demanding an answer, would seemingly melt the either/or framework of my mind. In giving up the struggle, a feeling dawned that I was, inexplicably, already dead. I was alive, but dead. Death, nothingness, was within me; I was simultaneously existent and non-existent. I felt it, but my mind only faltered and sputtered in the faint gust of that feeling. It did not blow out as Nirvana demands.
I find the words to attempt to explain this now, but at the time, there were no words. There was only a feeling of giving up, of being helpless in the face of uncertainty, of having no solution. In facing, living, and considering the paradox, I allowed the glimmer of some other way of thinking – a new point of view.
Consider this image:
Spend a minute or so looking at the image above. You may notice your mind flipping back and forth as it identifies the word "false" and the word "true." It may rapidly flip back and forth, but does it ever see both words simultaneously? Do you understand how you can see both simultaneously? What does it take? Keep looking till you think you have experienced what it is to see both simultaneously.
For some, after a period of experimenting with this, there is a noticeable withdrawal of the mind from its nearly constant reaching out and engaging in identifying/categorizing behavior. Instead, they feel the image come to them, just as it is: neither "true" nor "false." As one person explained, "As long as I see them as 'true' and 'false,' I cannot see them simultaneously." The only way to transcend is to not identify. Try it. It is important to notice the feelings and inner motions of your mind as you do this.
Rothenberg felt that doing exercises in "Janusian Thinking" might improve creativity. I don't know. Nor do I know if such exercises would improve one's spiritual discernment. What I do know is what Rose said: "The paradox is a guide to the goal." We are presented with paradoxes; our very existence is a paradox. During plane flights I might have read a magazine, or listened to music, or imagined myself eating ice cream. I might have employed a dozen easy distractions to avoid facing the uncomfortable paradox presenting itself in my experience. Allowing the discomfort to be present, sitting with it, was all that was required. Yet, I should not diminish the effort: that "all" required everything I had to offer.
Facing our paradoxes is no easy task, yet it calls to us. Acknowledge the paradoxes that call to you, and allow them to do their work. They are guides, whose chief demand is your attention.
Yeah, I too prefer the quest.
Right now the house is quiet, the dog is snoring in the chair beside me, it's cool outside, raining with a slight breeze. There's that 'sssshhhhhh' sound from the rain falling against the trees. I'm alone and have the remainder of the evening to myself, and this quest is what naturally draws me.
Right now, what am I not seeing? What am I not looking at? Is this thing I do here what others do with TV, the internet, with texting, with sports? Is this my new way of hiding? Of not facing what I need to face?
Endless, endless questioning, second guessing yourself, trying to 'really' see something ... man, you can waste years of your life in that groove.
Rose nailed it when he said this is a process of backing away from un-truth, of reversing the vector, because we/I have no idea of where this 'Truth' is to be found. But I think I am discovering where it's not. At least for me, where it's not.
I've really been seeing just how much I don't actually do, but more become aware of my reactions to what I experience. And there is sooo much reacting without a conscious mental awareness of it going on. Sleepwalkers is what Rose called it.
I find the more I see this and realize its truth, the less fear arises when I anticipate some painful future exchange. It's this understanding that 1) how it plays out and how I respond to what plays out is very much out of my hands. 2) It will play out in exactly the way it plays out and the way it is supposed to play out, and nothing I do, say or feel will change any of it. I will have 'my' stories play out in my head, there will be this division created between me versus them, my story will be I am right and they are wrong, just like there story will be I am wrong and they are right. The exchange will pass, fade away into memory, and become another sub-routine in my conditioned, robotic existence. Just like my current memories created reaction patterns directing how things played out at work today.
We try to flee when we consciously or unconsciously realize we are stuck in some painful reaction pattern that is triggered with some person, some place, some situation, some whatever. Try as we can to get away from it, we can't, and when we realize we can't, the response is 'fuck this shit. I'm outta here.'
So for me, the quest is to understand this process. I want to know for myself, for real, not second hand from some spiritual thing/page/site I read, just what the hell is going on. What is this reaction pattern called me? Is there any reason or purpose to my existence? Does anything have meaning?
This existential angst, it's just another reaction pattern called 'me', right?? ..
This backing away from me can go on forever, until I die.
And yet, the only thing that makes sense right now, that feels right, is this belief 'I am alive.' That's it! The only thing that makes sense and feels so right, so good, so beautiful. And the more I turn my head in that direction, away from all the other crap I spewed out above, there's this letting go feeling that I experience, this feeling of a forgotten gratitude I once knew long ago, before 'I' got lost in all my little stories about 'me.' It's like 'Oh! there it is. That's what I lost. That's what I need to find. That's what I seek.'
Gratitude. Thank you. Thank you for this life.
And in that space, in that feeling, in that non-reaction-pattern, everything stops.
Smell the Smoke - Feel the Heat
Before we look at spiritual urgency, let’s talk about urgency in everyday life. Think of everyday situations in your life that generate a feeling of urgency.
For me, anytime I can’t find my cell phone the urgency circuit kicks in. I become alert, my thoughts race. I think about identify theft if the phone falls into the wrong hands. And I jump into action checking my pockets and the car. Going back to places I just left and looking everywhere. The missing cell phone gets my complete attention. And then there are physical body needs.
A couple weeks ago I was sitting in my car on Pittsburgh’s South Side having a bean burrito for lunch. Now, this wasn’t just any lunch, I was trying to have a mindful lunch. I was being mindful of the sunshine and the light breeze. Mindful of the thoughts passing by. Mindful of chewing the burrito. Mindful of the beautiful day. Mindful of thoughts. Mindful of chewing. Then something went wrong. I apparently inhaled when I should have swallowed and one of the beans got stuck right at the top of my windpipe. I couldn’t breath and started coughing violently.
I tried to cough the bean out, but it wouldn’t move. A thought popped up, “Don’t inhale. Don’t inhale.” So, I kept trying to cough the bean up while trying to breathe without inhaling. But the bean was stuck and I felt a wave of panic rising.
There were people walking by and the thought popped up, “Maybe one of these people knows the Heimlich Maneuver.” But I was choking and couldn’t speak.
By now, my head was swimming and my eyes were watering and I had to do something. I remembered seeing the Heimlich Maneuver demonstrated on TV so I tried it. I put one thumb knuckle below my navel and the other hand on top and pushed! Ugh.... it worked! The bean popped back into my mouth. I started breathing again. The urgent moment had passed. So, I went back to being mindful of the day, mindful of thoughts and maybe a little extra mindful of chewing that burrito.
An Urgency Model
So, what does it take to generate a sense of urgency? There seem to be some common features that come into play.
First - you have to become aware of a situation. There is no urgency if you’re fast asleep and you don’t smell the smoke, you don’t feel the heat and you don’t hear the alarm go off. You can’t react to something you are unaware of.
A situation may have been building, may have been developing for a while but the sense of urgency comes when you suddenly see what’s going on. Right? When you suddenly get it.
So, let's take this idea a little further by suggesting a kind of urgency model or checklist. You are likely to feel urgency when:
1 - You suddenly see the situation. Something has changed. Something new has appeared, you are now aware of some new reality in your everyday life.
2 - You believe that the stakes are high. You have to care about the outcome of the situation. There is no urgency if you don’t care what happens.
3 - You know that the clock is running. It’s clear that delay in reacting to this new reality probably means that the situation will get worse.
4 - You realize that you have to act now. There is a powerful need to do something.
I’m suggesting that the level of urgency we feel about a situation depends on how clearly we see what’s going on, how important it is to us and whether we truly believe that we’ve got to do something now.
We seem to be hard-wired to feel urgency if we believe that these things are true.
A Verse for Summer
No beings around.
To be alone
This moment, this waking moment:
What a wonder
"My life flipped overnight from something real into a self-concocted joke."
~ Robert K C Forman, PhD
"Life's got no friends. Life's going to kill you like a stranger."
~ Jan Cox
"I think it's important that you get a sense of presence from a teacher. And that is what I remember from Mr. Rose and that is the gift that he gave me, is a feeling that there was something more real than I knew."
~ Shawn Nevins
Editor's Comment: For a seeker of an understanding of life, life's events, or any other thing of consequence, Richard Rose's Lecture of Questions is worth considering. My favorite is his first question in this series of deceptively simple koans:
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