The TAT Forum: a spiritual magazine of essays, poems and humor.

TAT Forum
November 2002

Essays, poems, opinions and humor on seeking
and finding answers to your deepest life-questions


This month's contents:

The Path (part 1) by Richard Rose | Poems by Shawn Nevins | Isolation by Shawn Nevins | The Life Behind Things by Bob Cergol | The Promise of Perfection by Andrew Cohen | Reflections by Vicki Woodyard | Stalking Yourself with the Listening Attention by Bob Fergeson | Yarn of Acceptance by Gary Harmon | Humor

Sign up for e-mail alerts that will let you know when new issues are published.

Want to meet some of the Forum authors in person? Interested in meeting other Forum readers? Watch for more information about TAT's meeting schedule and programs.

View video clips of the TAT spring conference DVDs or listen to free audio recordings.

The Path (part 1)
by Richard Rose

~ From a talk given in Columbus, Ohio, 1976

I’m going to offer two postulates tonight. One is that I believe—and this is the motivation for my coming to different schools and talking—that all people are interested in the truth. The second is that there is a method of finding the truth.

The reason I bring this up, as the original generalization you might say, is that too often I talk for an hour or so and give the impression that perhaps I don’t leave a blueprint or a system. That I do a lot of talking about what is true or untrue, but I don’t leave behind a method. Well, the method is there. And I begin with the premise or promise that there is a method of finding the truth.

Now of course as soon as you start talking about the truth, you have your own definitions. And I maintain that it all goes back to the same thing: It’s just an enlargement upon the simple definition of truth in any field.

If we didn't have truth in science, our civilization wouldn't occur, our blueprints would be faulty. We demand accuracy in science, and that accuracy is truth. We try to make a science of our abstract things as well, like psychology, sociology, and such, and we try to find some truth in that. Not that we always do wind up with the truth, but still we try to make it as truthful as possible and as scientific as possible. The same thing occurs with religion.

I believe that everybody—a lot of people just give up—but everybody is curious about where they come from. You hear people saying rather bravely (that’s the idea, pretending to be brave): "Well, nobody knows. We're all going to die like rats and that's going to be the end of us. And the people who preach religion are basically hucksters who are just going to make a living out of it...." And with such bravery they turn aside the necessary effort, which is needed to find something.

But regardless, no matter what station of life a man is in, whether you find him in the lodge hall, the church, or the beer-joint, he'll break his conversation occasionally to say, "What do you think about this thing of life after death? Where do you think we’re going?"

He’s hoping of course to get it in between beers. And everybody's hoping to get this in between beers. Or, "Here, I’ve saved a few thousand bucks, let’s go to this guru and give him a thousand or so, and he'll zap us, and we’ll go back to work and pleasure." Presuming that life will be exactly the same afterwards, and they'll have the same desires afterwards.

Somewhere there’s an enormous gap between this idea of everybody wanting the truth and so very few people looking for it. And there’s a still smaller percentage of people looking for let’s say the final truth. Some people, when they get to looking for it, stop at that which they like to hear, and they label that the truth.

Many a time I’ve talked to a group of students—and of course students like to presume that they're much more broad-minded than older people. But believe me, today the older people are more broad-minded. You get a group of young people today, they're more addicted to what they think should be heaven and hell. When you violate their concepts of what is beautiful and flowing and nice, or the current fanciful philosophy of the time, they get downright angry. But they don’t stop to think that this may be a block. This may be a block from letting something in. It also may be a significance of their capacity. And, consequently, in most of my talks I speak in generalities, because I see no purpose in talking too plainly and giving out too much information—when you’re only going to give them an inspiration perhaps at the best, to the best, while fifty percent of them may be indignant because you tramped on some sacred cow. So, in the past I’ve always said let’s talk about the iniquities, the foolishness, the lies that are prevalent in everyday life, and hope by talking about these lies you see that somewhere there might be the opposite of lies.

So I came to the conclusion that I’ll spend this evening talking straight truth. And if it hurts—well then, you can brush it off as being strictly my opinion, forget about it, and go back to whatever line of thinking you wish to indulge in. But there’s not much chance of you changing, then.

I’ve got to go back to my own youth to explain what I want to tell you. I started off quite young believing that the most important thing in life was to know what life was. And I’m talking about my early teens and before my teens. I could not see the point about living if you didn't know who was living. Now that might sound like foolishness to you, because you'll say, "Oh, I know who's living—I’m living." Okay, I can't argue and I can't explain further. Because you'll have to figure that one out yourself, if you think you’re living.

Regardless—I went out searching. And as a young fellow, I grabbed onto the parental religion and went away to the seminary and spent time trying to be a priest. I was seventeen when I had enough of that—because I came to the conclusion that you can't scientifically investigate something that’s inside your head if somebody's saying, "Shut up and do what we tell you, believe what we tell you, follow this dogma, say these prayers—and you will go there."

And my answer is, "Where?"

"Say your prayers to God...."

And I say, "Who is that?" So when I asked too many of this type of question, they said, "Son, you’d better leave."

Of course I felt bad at first, but I left. And I started looking into everything. This is going back and digging up a dead horse, but the reason I'm mentioning this is that it might be of some value to you today. Because the same things I stumbled over then, you people are stumbling over today. We have the same number of phony gurus, the same number of hucksters, people selling spiritual values for sex or money.

So you wade through a tremendous lot of these until your reaction is to give up, perhaps. And I think that fifty percent of the people who really are sincere give up; they just run into so many hucksters that they say, "I've had it. There's no truth, there's nothing but lies and chicanery; and I might as well get into the rat race and make my bundle and lead a vegetating existence."

Well, in my investigations I found that there are two systems of looking at things if you’re looking for self-definition: Who we are now;—[and] where did we come from, and where are we going. Well, strangely enough, it’s important to know who we are now. And to find out who we are now, it doesn’t do any good to ask the priest. You've got to ask yourself.

This is psychology. Everybody has to study psychology—pure psychology, not the garbage that's given out today to make the robots behave a little better. I'm talking about genuine psychology in which a man knows himself. And sometimes through that knowledge he's able to step into another man's suit and also know that man. This type of psychology is necessary in this type of search.

The other thing of course is the science of "paths." Finding ways and means. You can go talk to somebody who knows something. And of course every time you go out to talk to people you have to run the gamut of phonies. You have to run the gamut of organized religions which have long since lost any great intrinsic value and are just preaching for that religious entity's survival.

Then of course you brush them all aside, as a lot of the young people are doing today, and you say, "Well, let's go find a man. This looks as though it's not a prevalent knowledge; it's probably just in the minds of a few. Let's go find these few people that know it." And again if you hunt all over the place, you find that some of these individual people who are supposed to be sages and wise men have ulterior motives. Sometimes that ulterior motive is money and sometimes it's something else.

I went through quite a bit of things, and ended up pretty much in despair. The things that you have today were marketed in those days too. One of the things that you have to look out for are what I call gimmicks. Or you look out for the "appeal" that appeals to what you want to believe.

You have to first of all know that you can outwit yourself. You have to know that a person will choose a spiritual path because of libido. A man might join a church because it says you can have ten wives. Or a man may join a church because it promises eternity, or life after death. It promises what he wants to hear.

And I say that if you want to go out and look for the truth, you don't postulate ahead of time what you're going to find. You don't use words. You don't say, "I'm going out to search for God." It's alright to say that, for want of a better word; but it basically amounts to self-definition as that-which-is-the-answer. If there is something in control of the universe, that which that is, is what you search for.

You don't name it and postulate it, then get books that have been written about it and try to imitate formulae for placating that God. This is going back to primitive religion when you do that. Taking somebody else's word for it and then offering some sort of sacrifice or money in a collection basket or whatnot.

There is so much of this that even when we get out we rebel against our parental religion, and we go across the water and find somebody—I've often said where you were buying beer for the local padre you're now buying hashish for the guru. Or maybe something else. Because the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, we look—despising our parental religion and everything of that sort—and we look for the magical. The man in the diaper as opposed to the man in the evening suit. And we embrace this sort of thing.

After ten or twenty years of it you come full tilt again, realizing that the truth is not in the organized, established religion of your ancestors perhaps, and it's not in the gurus of some Asian country. It's basically back in this thing called psychology. And basically you find it by looking inside of yourself.

I was twenty-one years of age when I came to the conclusion that man would not learn. People spend years—I started off in a theological department with a twelve-year course of study of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, German, astronomy even—for the purpose of being better able at the end of that course to preach to people. So I would have spent twelve years acquiring wisdom. But not any real knowledge. Just what somebody else told me was true. Just the material in the book.

When I was twenty-one years of age I realized that man never learns anything. You do not learn. There's an old theological premise—I think Thomas Aquinas said it—that the finite mind never perceives the infinite. This is very true. And this is a stopper. When you see this, that the mind is finite, that the brain is so constructed that it's dazzled and turned. Every time you start to think of something you forget it five minutes later.

Every time you start to hold a philosophic concept within your head, and within a half-hour it's gone. You pledge yourself to a certain type of life and in a couple of days' time the heat gets on you, your passions overwhelm you—and you're down in the whorehouse or someplace and you've forgotten all about it. This is the type of mind we're dealing with.

So that you say, "How can this type of mind, this finite mind, ever do anything about the cosmos?" How can it ever come up with the knowledge of an abstraction that can't be blueprinted or recorded—along with information brought through a telescope or rockets or something of that sort?

And eventually it dawns on you that this saying is true. The finite mind will never perceive the infinite. So what do we do? We have to find a system of changing. A system of becoming less finite. This was not mentioned by the Thomistic theologians. They just said, "Believe and shut up. Trust in God. And die without making too much of a racket."

But there is a chance. And the amazing thing about it—the people who brought this first to me were the "pagans" which we despised for centuries. And all the time that we were wrestling with these Thomistic syllogisms there was a movement in Asia that went directly to the mind of man with a simple and direct psychology. And that's Zen.

Now I'm not saying that's the only way, because many of the Christians also—the Christian saints—went directly into themselves and found the truth. You go back and read their literature and you'll find it's there. We just read over the top of it, more or less. And when I reached my realization I went back and read certain things in the Bible that now had a meaning to me.

So Christ said, "Seek and ye shall find." Before, that was just so many words, which we read so often we pay no attention to. But now I realized He didn't say, "Believe." He said, "Trust me, I'm telling you straight stuff." But I don't believe that he said to just believe blindly, or he wouldn't have said, "Seek and ye shall find."

And this is the formula. There are other formulas also. There's a formula laid down in the New Testament that is also laid down by Buddha. That's the three-fold path. You have to work three things at once.

~ Continued in the December 2002 TAT Forum

© 1976 Richard Rose. All Rights Reserved.

Poems by Shawn Nevins

Who will remember our attempts,
grand or small,
to preserve what we cherish
in our hated self?
When the sun reveals the stilled forest,
our lives will open,
and spread like water
pouring onto dry ground.
Not what we did or were,
but what we Are will remain.


We do not have dreams.
We are dreams.
We are sunny-day phantoms
clearly seeing one another
while the wind blows through us
as through lacy veils.
The blood pumps out of these bodies
carrying away all we love
on streams of time.
We are resigned to life.
Free your self by accepting death.


Why do you keep calling?
Let me sleep. Let me dream.
It is so warm in the gentle hum of life.
Why must you lay me open for viewing,
exposing my hollows to the coldest wind?
A crack becomes a gaping hole
and warmth a fleeting memory.
I have called my self into the open,
where cold and warmth go nameless.
What is open holds nothing.


So many voices speak through me
that I forget what I once was.
I am
an empty room,
an empty sky,
an empty hand holding itself.


Thoughts brushing together
form sounds like crickets in the night.
When Presence looms, all is quiet.
You are always watched,
always standing naked in the doorway.
It is best to be quiet and listen.


We hear truth in the words of our youth,
though it speaks to us in all languages.
From you, I hear madness
spoken over a cauldron of dreams—
a brew of hopes bitter to the end.
Come sit with me,
by the many edges of emptiness.


Who among us is willing to step aside
and let Glory shine in his place?
Who among us, equals in our ignorance,
will rise above by falling low?
The honest coward, who braves the Truth of his lies,
will come home.
Entering that door,
he will be without
and complete.


There is nothing that is yours.


Ethereal fingers of the Absolute
touch the fringes of my mind
like ghosts playing at a harp.
I hear them, but what is really there?
Or did they touch me, but make no sound?
I know people came before me
and walked this very canyon.
They were me,
yet we never were.
Ever deepening silence is the route of my words,
guided by an opening from within,
swallowing all.

by Shawn Nevins

Isolation is a period of time spent completely alone, cut-off from the world's distractions, for gaining self-knowledge. People have ventured into deserts, forests, and mountains for thousands of years to escape their fellow men, to find peace, and to find answers to their deepest questions. Such time alone may be an undistracted attempt to delve within in search of the truth of our being. Such time may also be an escape into daydream and fantasy. For me, a few days or weeks alone each year allowed a clearer perspective on the rest of my life and was a time to pursue meditation with full intensity. At the very least, it was an amazing adventure into a tradition few modern people dare to explore. What follows are some suggestions for the process.

First, you need a reason for a stint in isolation—something you wish to think about or investigate. I remember the first time I chose to spend a day alone. I sat on a blanket by the edge of a field. Shortly, I realized I had nothing to focus on. I simply had heard that it was good to spend time alone. My mind wandered from one thought to the next for half a day. Finally, I packed up and went home. Of course, it wasn't a total waste. You learn something from any experience if you take time to ponder what happened and why. I am trying to save you a few steps, though.

Perhaps explaining more of the benefits will help clarify your reasons for undertaking an isolation. Many people like taking a few minutes at the end or beginning of the day to review and plan. Isolation is an opportunity to review and plan for months or years of your life. Sometimes in my isolations, I reviewed my journals from the past year. This was a priceless opportunity to see how I changed, how I spent or wasted my time, and what my actions said about my priorities. In short, to learn from my history. Next, I planned for the coming year, and developed a strategy for how I wanted to live my life.

Misty morning on Never Summer Mountain. Photo: Bob Fergeson Misty morning on Never Summer Mountain
Photo: Bob Fergeson

You can use isolation for reviewing and planning, or for creating and discovering. Think about the scientist working late at night in his lab, the artist in their retreat, or the Native American on a vision quest. This is isolation as meditation. Eliminating distractions so we can look within and see what arises. For a moment, we put the demands of society on hold. No cell phones, no bills to pay, and no class or job to attend. Just you and the universe—you and life at its simplest. In this case, your reasons may be harder to articulate—taking the form of a feeling or intuition.

Once you realize a reason for isolation, the question becomes how long to spend alone. I've spent anywhere from a half a day to thirty days in isolation. I know others who spent up to sixty days. Avoid the thirty-day marathons for your first time. Best to start out too short rather than too long, since the ramifications of extending your time are clearer than those of shortening a stay.

Life is a sticky business, so you'll need to reserve a block of time and prepare to cut the cords of responsibility. Get your life in order so you won't worry whether or not your dog is starving while you are supposed to be contemplating the meaning of life. The older you get the harder this becomes, as not only your dog, but your kids also might wind up starving. Few students realize the luxury of time the college age provides. One's twenties are a window of opportunity for the grand adventure of spiritual seeking.

Where to go is the next consideration. There are numerous spiritual retreats and even a book or two listing them (such as Sanctuaries: The Complete United States). Make sure you will be left alone. It is best to not even see another person for the duration. Having to dine with others, or listen to singing and chanting can be distracting. There are options besides official retreats. Maybe a friend or friend of a friend with land where you could pitch a tent. Parks and National Forests are possibilities. I know people who simply holed up in a cheap motel room for the weekend. What is wrong with using your own home? Many reminders of your life in the everyday world, easy to be disturbed by friends or family, and too many distracting temptations like the television.

Wherever you go, plan to keep your life simple while you are there. Food preparation can become a time-consuming chore or a major distraction. Some people simply choose not to eat. Fasting is worth a try. Over-eating will make you sleepy, as will lack of exercise. The more primitive your housing situation, the more planning it may take to keep things simple -- how will you cook, clean, use the toilet? Beware of too broad a focus for your isolation. Don't plan to read ten books in two days. Or plan to decide on a career, a mate, and to discover the source of thoughts. Plan a major thrust for your isolation time and let all other actions be in support of that goal.

So you found a reason, a place to go, and a plan to make your isolation happen. Now you are there, so what are the unexpected hurdles? Typically, people find reasons to leave. You decide isolation was a stupid idea, or you are not prepared, or now is not the best time, you feel weak or sick, you have too much nervous energy (can't focus), or there is some emergency at home. My advice is to not shorten you isolation. If you said you would stay a week, stay a week. However, use your best judgment. If you vomit blood once (I've seen it happen), don't panic and leave. If you vomit blood for two days, and are unable to identify and correct the cause, then you've got a problem.

Generally, decisions to leave can be negated by changing another aspect of the isolation. Once, I meditated so long that my knees hurt day and night, so I kept changing up my sitting style so I could continue. Another time, a book I thought would be inspiring was a dud, so I used another book. I could have said my knees hurt too much or that the book was uninspiring and I might as well go home. Adapt the details of your plan in mid-stream, if necessary to preserve the whole.

There is knowledge and change that will come from the isolation experience. The answer to your deepest question may not come during isolation and you shouldn't expect it to. On a long afternoon of the twentieth day of a thirty-day isolation, as you are wishing you could sleep away the rest of time, this will seem solely an exercise in determination. That may be one value, but other values are not realized until far in the future.

Richard Rose gave me the best description of the attitude one should take. He said not to approach isolation as challenging God or the universe for an answer. Don't draw a circle in the sand and say you won't come out until you are enlightened. Instead, and this is my interpretation, work as hard as you can and be thankful for whatever happens.

Isolation is an invaluable experience, but even it may outlive its usefulness. Eventually, I felt isolation was no longer useful for me. Perhaps the focus of my isolations had so permeated my everyday life that I was always alone; always looking for an answer even in the midst of an outwardly typical life. Along this line, I do not recommend a cloistered life. Escaping the world through permanent isolation will become another cage from which we must escape.

The Life Behind Things
by Bob Cergol

This letter was written concerning the proposed theme for a group retreat. —Ed.

This theme, the "life behind things," is an excellent one for this upcoming retreat. I believe its realization reflects a major milestone on the spiritual journey....

I was just reading the excerpt from "Our Town" in the agenda I received today. It brought tears to my eyes. I saw that play as a Hallmark TV special when I was in high school, and it had a powerful effect on me then, which I could not comprehend at the time.

You can't truly see the hidden life behind things until you see life nearly whole. You have to somehow recede from it so a "bigger piece of the canvas" is visible. Shocks trigger this for us—particularly anything which brings us into closer contact with death.... When this happens that canvas is then witnessed as a "thing apart." You realize it is "out there," outside of YOU. And this seeing it as a thing apart reveals its beauty—and illusion. And this simultaneous contemplation of beauty and a seeming of beauty is intensely sad and painful—for you are then stuck between what is and what is not. You then have one "foot" in what is permanent and one in what is impermanent—and it tears you apart.

From there it is but one small step to accepting death—and when that inner voice reaches the outer man and the outer man hears the sound of that voice beckoning him home, and in HUMBLE ACCEPTANCE faces and contemplates That Silence—he weeps at the experience of separation from the Father ... and is awed that ONLY the Father exists and that he is one and the same. (That is why the eye with which Eckhart sees God is the same eye by which God sees him.)

Preludes to this sort of thing have happened to me throughout my life. Only as a child I couldn't possibly integrate it into any comprehension or the framework of my identity. (I thought I was mentally ill as a child. I think Rose keyed into this for me and was a lifeline that hooked me—so I would eventually, inexorably, get pulled into shore.) This sort of thing was happening with increasing frequency after my marriage.

It is knowing that none of this picture is permanent or real, including your self, that makes reality a hugely complex STORY. The individual forms in that story are utterly superficial. It is the THEMES that are playing out—as clouds rolling across the sky—depicted in all the interactions and complex relationships between all the forms—that matter and that make it so painfully poignant. What makes it "painful"? The memory of, and desire for, it to be real, and knowing that everyone in it is committed to it as real—even my own character, who somehow, simultaneously, is still there unchanged and participating in it, while simultaneously being aware of it from a point of reference outside of it all. (Seeing this is NOT bliss. The best I can allow for the meaning of the BLISS written of in mystical accounts would be Equanimity. It has nothing to do with notions of happiness, gaiety, joviality, etc. ANY FEELINGS, nostalgia or poignancy or sorrow, stem from the individual consciousness—not the Awareness from which individual consciousness springs.)

The stage manager in "Our Town" says of returning to life, "You not only live it; but you watch yourself living it."

That something he calls "way down deep that's eternal about every human being" is ALL that there IS. Nothing else is.

The stage manager says of the recently deceased, "They're waiting for somethin' that they feel is comin' ... waitin' for the 'earth' part of 'em to burn itself out and the eternal part to come out in them clear...." He then asks tauntingly of one of them, "And what's left when memory's gone, and your identity, Mrs. Smith?"

Our earthly identity is all that is separating us from God—and it is the thinnest of veils, a manufactured fiction, which we cling to as if not only our existence, but the existence of God himself, depended on it.

To paraphrase Rumi, "God passed you by, and you arose like dust behind the walker's feet."

Let the dust settle and see what remains.

The Promise of Perfection
by Andrew Cohen

capital letter Q Andrew, at the end of our discussion of gender, you brought up an issue that is obviously very important to a lot of people—relationships. So I wanted to ask you about your view on this: Do you think it is possible to be free within a romantic relationship?

capital letter A Almost impossible! The sexual/romantic experience is one of the most confusing areas of human life and seems to be the hardest to get clear about. You see, the sexual/romantic experience almost always creates profound attachment—deep emotional and psychological attachment. And the problem is that if we want to be free, that is the very thing we want to liberate ourselves from.

But you're married, aren't you?

Yes, I have been for many years.

So isn't it possible to pursue freedom together? Can't we walk the path to enlightenment in the context of a sexual/romantic relationship?

One would hope so—but the way you're asking the question, because it implies a fear of losing something, points to exactly what the problem is. Once again, the thing about sex and romance is that it creates powerful attachment. That is its nature. It is not a free ride—unfortunately. And, therefore, unless we get our priorities clear, it's almost inevitable that that attachment will quickly become more important to us than our own potential liberation in this life. I hear so many people say, "We want to pursue freedom together," but what that almost always means is that holding on to the intensely personal experience of sentimental attachment is their first priority—not the experience of profound inner freedom.

But I don't understand why there has to be a conflict between freedom and being together.

Well, it depends what you mean by freedom. From the perspective of enlightenment, to be free means to be free from attachment. Attachment means, "I have something." But to be free means, "I have nothing." You see, when you hold on to absolutely nothing, you are free—automatically. And the truth that liberates is the profound recognition of just that fact—that your own natural state is already free. The only thing that keeps us in bondage is the unquestioned belief that there is something fundamental that is missing from our own self. So out of ignorance of our own natural state, we bind ourselves to people and things, convinced that through creating attachment we will find happiness and contentment. But it never works that way. Because where there is attachment, there is always fear of loss. And where there is fear, there can never be real happiness or deep contentment. It is the revelation of enlightenment itself that shows all of this directly to us—the perennial truth that real happiness and the only lasting contentment lie within us as our own True Self, our own natural state, already full and complete as it is. But in this unenlightened world, we are all deeply conditioned to believe that happiness and contentment lie somewhere outside our own self. If we truly want to be free, we renounce that way of thinking. We give it up because we have had intimations of a profound happiness that is already present deep within our own self, a lasting contentment that will be ours only when we finally stop looking for it anywhere else.

I do feel strongly drawn toward the profound freedom you're describing but I also feel like it's a natural thing to want to be in a relationship. From the way you're speaking, it almost sounds like you're advocating celibacy.

Is that what I said?

Well, not specifically…

So many people tend to misinterpret what I am saying whenever I speak about this particular topic. It's very revealing. This is such a loaded issue for most of us. And as I said earlier, it's very difficult to see clearly into this area of the human experience, especially when it relates to ourselves. All I'm trying to do is present the facts. You asked about sex, romance, and enlightenment, and all I'm saying is that the definition of spiritual freedom is freedom from attachment. Sex creates attachment—that's all there is to it. And that is why there is almost always an inherent conflict between the longing for inner freedom and the karmic consequences of the sexual/romantic experience. Therefore, the big question is: If enlightened freedom is freedom from attachment, then what are we all going to do about the relentless nature of sexual attraction?

I was hoping you were going to give me an answer to that one!

Well, there have been widely differing answers to this perennial question that have been offered to men and women throughout the ages. On one extreme, we have been encouraged to use the sexual experience itself as a vehicle for self-transcendence and, on the other, we have been told that if we want to be liberated men and women, we have to renounce the sexual experience altogether. I believe that if we want to be free, we must think very deeply about these matters for ourselves. We can't naïvely assume that there is a simple, ready-made answer to such a complex and loaded question. And if we are sincere, we have to be willing to bear the burden of that complexity on our own shoulders and figure it out for ourselves. If even enlightened masters have come to such contradictory conclusions about this fundamental issue, then it just points us back to ourselves and our own honest inquiry into one of life's most challenging questions.

But have you come up with an answer?

I don't want to answer the question for you. If you want to be free, then all you need to know is that free means free from attachment. That simple fact transcends the relative matter of whether you're in a relationship or not in a relationship. If you face that spiritual truth unflinchingly, then you will be looking into the heart of the matter for yourself. And that takes a lot more courage than blindly accepting someone else's conclusions.

So then what does it mean to give up attachment?

It means recognizing for ourselves that the promise of perfect happiness and blissful fulfillment inherent in sexual desire is overwhelmingly deceptive. It means that we are very clear about the difference between the personal bliss of the romantic interlude and the impersonal ecstasy of spiritual freedom. It means that we choose to renounce personal affirmation for the ecstatic contentment that emerges spontaneously when we finally stop looking outside our own self for the experience of completion. But realistically, in a world like ours that is incessantly propagating this powerful promise, if we want to be free, we all, to some degree at least, have to be willing to be renunciates!

What do you mean by being a renunciate?

In this context, renunciation means resisting the temptation to be seduced by the most powerful illusion that there is.

And that illusion is?

It's what I call "the promise of perfection." It says: "If I follow this impulse to its ultimate conclusion, I'm going to find perfect happiness and total contentment—I will experience a deep sense of wholeness; I will finally be complete." We do this over and over again and continue to miss the simple truth that the bliss we experience in the romantic interlude never lasts and ultimately creates painful attachment. And also, it is only when we let go of the promise of perfection that it will become clear to us how, more often than not, the experience of romantic intoxication is fueled by the ego's need for personal affirmation.

Okay, okay… where's the nearest monastery?! But seriously, Andrew, if what you're saying is true, would there be any reason left to be in a relationship? Even though it's obviously not what you mean, it still keeps sounding like you're saying that if we want to be free, we have to give up the whole thing.

Well, yes and no. Yes, if it means creating more suffocating attachment that only serves to perpetuate the illusory personal world of the separate ego. But no, if the context for personal intimacy and sexual communion is authentic spiritual freedom.

What does that mean?

It means that we want to be free more than anything else and therefore are more interested in impersonal ecstasy than personal bliss. It means that the context for personal intimacy and sexual communion would be the impersonal—a dimension that is unknown in this world, that is beyond ego and free from attachment.

And where is this impersonal dimension found?

Inside your own self. When you renounce the endless self-centered concerns of the separate ego and its small personal perspective, then spontaneously you will find yourself there. That is where you will discover an absolute love, a bliss that is empty of attachment and free from the conviction that anything fundamental is missing. And it is that context alone, which is one of inherent fullness or completion, that can make it possible for human beings to come together in personal intimacy and sexual communion in a way that is free from the pain, complexity, and unending confusion that are usually such an inherent part of this area of life.

~ Reprinted from Living Enlightenment by Andrew Cohen, by permission of Moksha Press. For more information about Andrew Cohen, please visit www.andrewcohen.org.

by Vicki Woodyard


The mind is a place of division and can never contain paradox.

What is beyond me sustains me.

When Christ was hanging on the cross, he said to one of the two thieves, "This day you shall be with Me in paradise."

He could just as well have said, "This day you shall be with Me in paradox."

It is where Rumi lived.... "I've lived too long where I can be reached."

True teachers always point us to this location.

There are many fingers pointing to paradox. We latch onto the fingers and start calling them fingerji or finger-san.

It would be silly if it weren't so serious.

There is Only Everything

Most of us on the spiritual path have been on it for longer than we care to admit. At least that is the case with me. Suffering, sorrow and struggle have taken their toll. I am now willing to admit something—there is only everything.

Apparently I wasn't wise enough to come to this conclusion any earlier. Like Irina Tweedie, who wrote "Daughter of Fire," my inner sheik has been holding my feelings to the fire for far too long. But I'm now willing to admit it ... there is only everything.

In spite of having mystical dreams and synchronistic situations, it just wasn't enough for me. I wanted cosmic visions and the rarity of sat-chit-ananda. It wasn't to be.

Instead I got I-opening sorrow, self-searing introspection and many dark nights of the soul. Some got so dark I bumped into the universal furniture until my shins were blue.

But just lately, I am opening up to a wider wisdom...there is only everything. And it seems that everything is enough. The Popsicle Man comes along the street with his truck full of colorful flavors and we think we must make a decision. Do I want lime or grape or cherry enlightenment? The mind must have its favorite flavor. So we let it do its thing. My advice: Pay the Popsicle Man and get on with your life.

My life is currently breaking down and I am seeing that this is freeing. Like a little child, all the flavors of life have stained my white shirt and there seems to be little chance that I can get the stains out on my own....for there is no "my own." There is only everything.

It didn't have to be so hard. I could have had my flavor of the day and every other flavor to boot. My choices were not mine anyway—they belonged to the mind which is now falling away as fast as I can allow it.

The wisdom of life is inherent in unity and only in unity. But we can only arrive there when we understand that there never had to be a problem in deciding what flavor of life we wanted that day. Everything comes in an astonishing variety....and everything is all there really is.

~ See Vicki's web site, Nurturing the Now.

Stalking Yourself with the Listening Attention
by Bob Fergeson

Above the door to the ancient temple in Delphi were inscribed the words, "Know Thyself." These words describe the process by which we separate from our false state of ignorance and rediscover true Being. But how do we initiate this process, this grand work of spiritual discovery? What tools should we choose to come to know this thing we call 'ourselves'? If we are to engage in the pursuit of self-definition we will need to use the best tools available. To stalk our 'self,' we will need something above or behind this personality to best observe with, something of a different order. Using the personality to observe the personality simply doesn't work. It's like trying to lift a plank while standing on it. This self we wish to come to know is a constantly changing, moving target, a veritable chain of reactions and patterns, seldom still, but always within our sight. To observe it we will need something calm and constant. Something that looks but doesn't react; a seeing that listens.

Spending time alone, in a quiet environment, can be a good way to start this practice of self-observation. To be free of the routines of work and family and the expectations of society is calming and conducive to beginning the art of introspection. We can let our guard down a bit. Also, our own personality is partially absent. The part of us that interfaces with others is no longer needed, and we can relax. This state of lack of attack can be quite useful for sneaking a look at ourselves. Since other people do not have to be dealt with, we can devote all of our energy to watching the only person that remains: our self. The social personality is a tool whose job is to deal with social survival. It has been made to do this, in and by the social context, and is only answerable to that context. To try to use it for examining the self, as we normally use it to examine others, will not work. It may not be the best tool we have to better know ourselves. A hammer is only a fitting tool when combined with nails and wood. To observe the files in our 'computer,' we need something with a subtler touch. A listening attention is needed, a looking without speaking, an interior silence which observes but does not place value.

Eckhart Tolle gives a good example of the type of attention we need. He asks us to try a little experiment, to close your eyes and say to yourself, "What's my next thought going to be?" then become very alert and wait for this next thought, just as if you were a cat silently watching a mouse hole. What thought is going to pop out? As long as we are in this alert silent watching/listening, no associative thought pattern interferes with our observing. Let's take the experiment a bit further and put ourselves in the context of the hunter or stalker. Our goal is to stalk ourselves. The personality and ego are our game. We wish to observe them, not observe through them. Our game is very smart for it knows what we are thinking, even before we think it, for it has had control over us for years, perhaps decades. The only advantage we have is our simple, pure awareness, something the ego lacks. We must become very still and alert, as if we were in a room with a large beast, which can only grab us if we move, feel, or even think. As long as we observe without placing meaning on our observation, we are invisible, and can watch the beast, freely and calmly. If ever the thought comes to us, "Hey, I'm watching myself" or, "Wow, look what I'm doing," we have lost the thread. We are then reacting, not observing. Watch for this 'I' thought. If the feeling of 'I' and its sense of being the 'doer' come into the scene, the listening attention is lost, and you're off the track.

At first we will only be able to watch ourselves during quiet times, such as meditation. While our quarry is relatively still, we are not confused by its movements and are able to hold our attention steady. Later, we can observe when the personality is more active, and we can keep from being thrown off balance. It's good to learn to swim in shallow quiet waters before taking on the waves. Once the basic feel of the listening attention is found, one can progress from observing oneself in quiet times to watching the body and mind as they perform small repetitive tasks. Eventually the awareness will become free enough to observe the self, or 'person,' in complex actions such as conversation. As we begin to see more and more of ourselves, we gain a certain freedom. Its value does not lie in the modifying of our behavior into a more efficient, flattering form, but simply in becoming free from the hypnotic identification with our pattern. We begin to see we truly do not do and never have. We only observe.

No matter how determined we are to stalk this strange person we call ourselves, we will continue to fall asleep and be swept back into the state of identification. One tool we can make use of to counter this is what might be called 'alarm clocks.' We create little habits that remind us of our task, which is to watch silently. We place these alarms throughout our day. An example is meditating at a fixed time. The body will become used to this and remind us it's time to turn inward and observe. Another is books or tapes we find to have value. These can serve as alarms by their presence, as well as by their content. One of the best is a group of fellow seekers, who can serve as mirrors of our current state and help snap us back on track. As with anything done with regular routine, these alarms will become less useful with habit, and new ones will be needed.

Columbines. Photo: Bob Fergeson Photo: Bob Fergeson

Another trick is to practice what is called 'inner stop.' Whenever we sense we are becoming obsessed with a thought pattern, fantasy or habit, whether of anger, self-pity or desire, we can say to ourselves, 'Stop!" Just as a loud unexpected noise can stop the conversation in a room, so can this command silence the noise in our head.

One last pointer is what might be called developing 360-degree vision. This is best described as having a two-pronged awareness. One arrow is pointed outwards, towards the relative world and the 'person.' The other is aimed inward, towards our source. Our quarry, or what we might call the person, can only look out. We have a distinct advantage in being directly connected to that Infinite Silence within and its unlimited patience and wisdom.

Coming to know ourselves eventually crushes the ego, in that we find we are not what we imagined ourselves to be. We begin to see that the person we think we are is purely mechanical, a robot. Honesty and courage will be needed if we are to accept what we see, and perseverance when we find our task difficult and wish to retreat back into imagination. This process of dis-identifying leads to ego-death, as we separate from our pattern. The simple act of clearly seeing the person we were for what it truly is, is enough to bring about its death. We find we have become that which witnesses experience, where before we were experience, creating more and more experiences in an endless mechanical pattern. We are no longer the wily animal we have been tracking, which becomes cleverer with every experience, but instead something free, eternal, and indescribable.

Cautionary Notes

1. There is an easy trap to fall into when we first engage in self-observation, and that is to create, or visualize, an observer who observes. We are then back in the same comfortable game we were in in the first place: that of the personality reacting to the environment in an endless pattern. There is no sentience in mechanical reaction. In describing observation, we are not talking about visualization or imagination but the simple act of looking without reaction, of looking through the personality, not with it. We have been taught since birth to create and then identify with a separate thing we call ourselves. This reaction pattern continually recreates itself as the person who reacts.

2. Right Intent. We can only use the listening attention for gaining self-knowledge, knowledge of our own mind. If ambition, ego, or greed comes into play, we have degraded into visualization and are lost. We must want only to scrutinize the self and observe the mind. We must not, and will not be allowed, to take advantage of or gloat over, our success. We can take the example of Joseph Sadony to heart. After using his psychic gifts to provide a friend with profitable information in the financial market, he lost his powers for one year to the day. He never again traded his Connection for profit.

3. We must have a stable and clear emotional state to succeed. Emotional problems cannot be of a level that spin us out of control. The capacity to walk a straight line, without being sidetracked or continually distracted, is imperative. If we attempt to go into inner silence only to find we are full of unconscious emotional turmoil, then these problems must be dealt with first. To take responsibility for ourselves and to support ourselves, to harbor no excuses; this is the good householder, the level from which we begin. No victims or perpetrators are found in the journey through the valley of death. We must first become a healthy moral animal before we become the hunter, or the beast will hunt us.

~ From the Mystic Missal

The Yarn of Acceptance
by Gary Harmon

Be thankful for whatsoever may come
It was sent because you requested it
For there is a learning to be done
It may be unpleasant or magnificent
Take it as a gift of love that you requested
Even the shame, the unjust, the deceitful
Accept them all joyfully, a gift from the great within
Another opportunity to perceive clearly
That which is a loving embrace known as divinity's will
Appearing in the secular world as a guide to the divine
An occasion for laughter at the wittiness that is presented
To those that can approach the yarn with acceptance


fisherman being baited by a beer can, by Chris Madden

Thanks to Chris Madden for sharing this.

Reader Commentary:

(We appreciate hearing from you.)

Sign up for our e-mail alert that will let you know when new issues are published. Contact the Forum for questions, comments or submissions.

Want to help? Your donation of $5 or more will support the continuation of the Forum and other services that the TAT Foundation provides. TAT is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational organization and qualifies to receive tax-deductible contributions. Or, download this .pdf TAT Forum flyer and post it at coffee shops, bookstores, and other meeting places in your town, to let others know about the Forum.


Keep informed of TAT events and receive our free monthly Forum filled with inspiring essays, poems and images.

Email & Social Media Marketing by VerticalResponse

© 2000-2021 TAT Foundation. All rights reserved.

View Full Site Back to Top
TAT Foundation logo