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

TAT Forum
November 2004

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

Climber's Ladder, photo by Bob Fergeson Climber's Ladder, photo by Bob Fergeson

This month's contents:

Premises, Conclusions & Techniques by Richard Rose | Poems by Shawn Nevins | Desires by Shawn Nevins | The Spiritual Path in Pictures by Douglas Harding | Home Base by Art Ticknor | Always Right Behind You by Art Ticknor | The Power of Purpose Lies in the Question by Bob Cergol | Losing One's Head by Bob Fergeson | Humor | Reader Commentary

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Premises, Conclusions & Techniques
by Richard Rose


I. That the majority of the isms that serve as religious and philosophical guidelines for humanity are permeated by inconsistencies, and that in these isms many of the so-called facts are illusions or half-truths, and that most of man's beliefs are the product of fear and wishful thinking rather than an unbiased search for Truth.

II. That the human mind is not infallible in its processes, and that it suffers errors as a result of many factors, such as the conflicting clamor of appetites, intellectual limitation, fatigue, inadequate intuition, inadequate reasoning (or inadequate common sense faculties), difficulties of the dual mind in the solving of abstract or absolute considerations, and the lack of individual control over states of mind.

III. That there is a system of overcoming these errors, and the system is practical, and Truth may be realized.

IV. That the rate of realization is directly proportional to the amount of and quality of energy and attention applied to the quest.

V. That illusions are the great obstacles to Truth, and that the dispelling of these illusions involves the improvement of the inadequate factors mentioned in premise II, and better control over them. This process involves an ever-conscious schooling of the mind, so that it will be an instrument of Truth.


In reference to the message of premise III and IV, I have come to the following conclusions:

A. That there is a path to Truth. From ignorance to relative knowledge. From relative knowledge to an awareness of the limitation of such knowledge. And finally we pass from that which we recognize as a loosely associated intelligence to a reality of Being.

B. That this Path is not visible even to many who profess to be on a "Path." It is true that there are many paths, and it is also true that most people on those paths are quite convinced that theirs is the only real path. It is not until after they become broad enough to see that their path is at most only equal to many other paths, that they take another step and look about for a path that will lead them still further.

C. That the graduation from the field of many paths to a more selective path among the decreasing choices of paths (as the searcher retreats from incomplete or lesser paths) is a phase of entering the final Path.

D. That the Path does not require years of lesson-taking, and it is not bought with money. By the same token, we should not expect it to be brought to us on a gold server. Money spent should be so used as to hold a particular group together.

E. That if we applied the same amount of energy that is wasted in any of the material pursuits, we would see spiritual results. And as in any material venture, the results of transcendental efforts are also proportional to the efficient interrelation of workers and brothers, whether it be in a study-group, or in some act resulting from mutual convictions.


We go back to premise II and add the following notes. A lot can be said about techniques that are relative to our thinking processes, or that help in understanding ourselves. This is a partial list:

1. Progressive elimination of concepts and concept-building by eliminating those not as consistent within themselves, not as inclusive, and those whose scope does not bridge the range of unexplained phenomena as well as some other system of thinking does.

2. Self-observation.

3. Self-remembering. (Looking at our past.)

4. The respectful doubt.

5. Application of the paradox.

6. Development of the Intuition.

7. Retaining the identity of the Real Observer in various states of mind.

I do not wish to give the impression that I am about to embark upon a course that will employ premises with pursuant conclusions, and thus produce facts from a jumble of words. I only wish to list some observations in an orderly manner. If the reader is looking for syllogistic proof, he can quit reading now. If psychology is in its infancy, transcendentalism, its parent, also has its share of confusion. And the application of logic to transcendentalism will, in most cases, increase that confusion.

~ Excerpted from The Albigen Papers © 1973 by Richard Rose. All Rights Reserved.

Poems by Shawn Nevins


When I become too old to think
I'll likely retreat not to drink,
but to surmise a flattering lie
and thereupon philosophize.
I'll make my self a noble throne
where awareness or spirit blissfully roams.
I'll take my pleasure from concepts vain
because I've lost the will to gain
the Truth that's found through the strife and strain
of retreating from all "I" can claim.


A simple gate of logs
in the stark light of morning:
It is glowing in Silence.
It is every look of longing answered.
It is loneliness unmasked
as a revelation.
It is an echo over the broad water of life.

The essential fact is as still
as this moment without me.


These words are a prayer answered.
Take out pen and paper
and pray upon them.
Let God answer
through your heart and hand.
Those words are the source of creation
and are gold compared to these.


Words are cold this morning.
I feel like an empty suit of clothes.
Sound and color
crash into my mind
with no words to soften their transience.
Cold through and through,
like when you stop shivering,
stop fighting,
and a strange warmth rises inside.


What will you say to death?
That you disagree?
You need not accept or reject
the facts.
You will become what you must,
a little late, perhaps.


It's raining inside
and inside that
is this house in which I sit.
I don't have words for outside,
the step behind my soul.
I'm soaked through and through,
yet clear sky and light
star this stormy place.

Shawn Nevins

We are all driven. I maintain that if you peel away the layers of reason and feeling, you discover that the philosophic mysteries drive our actions. Who or what am I? why am I here? and what happens when I die? are a few of these uncertainties. These questions are answerable by you in this lifetime. That few people find answers is due to the amount of honest thought and effort they apply. To succeed in any endeavor requires you to turn your back upon other possibilities. Not forever, perhaps, but until you attain your true goal. A professional chef who also wants to be a professional musician finds that one or the other profession suffers.

The pursuit of my deepest desire demanded I turn my back upon careers and romantic relationships. Immediately some of you will react negatively to that. What is required is to balance our desires, you say. Well, you can try to juggle three flaming torches, or you can hold one steadily and light your way with it [cf. "Finding Balance" in the Nov. 2001 Forum]. Even with the freedom of youth, this turning away and choosing one torch was difficult. Most people's entire life, their meaning, is defined by work and family. What gives them definition also consumes their life's energy. I had a number of career opportunities and a wonderful relationship and was torn between commitments many times. At these moments of decision, I found a way to ensure honesty in my choice.

No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow. —Euripides No one can confidently say that
he will still be living tomorrow.

The method was to ask, "Where is this decision taking me? Who will I be when all is said and done?" I imagined being an old man on his deathbed. In one ending I, the old man, looked back upon a life of accomplishments. A wonderful family perhaps, or wealth, or fighting to save the planet. Even allowing that I played the game of life perfectly and escaped unscathed, I was deeply disappointed. All I was and had done would fade away. Alone, in the face of my final moment, what I truly wanted was clear.

I wanted the alternate ending—to spend my life seeking an answer. The answer was unimaginable, and even if I didn't find it, seeking was the only game that held the hope of certainty—the answer that would settle my soul.

With this method, you think through various life possibilities and prevent following numerous desires only to find them ultimately unsatisfying. Models of how to spend your life surround you. Ask yourself if that is how you want to end up. What could be more unsatisfying than to die ignorant of what should be most certain—your essence, your soul? Even with that thought, though, you still spin other dreams. Like a friend who had cancer told me, "Even though I know I have cancer, I still find myself turning on the TV, wasting time. You forget." As other desires arise, return to this thinking-through method to reinforce your deepest desire.

Once, while desperately frustrated with my spiritual search, I said to Richard Rose, "If I could think of some other place to go, I would." I wanted to give up what, at the time, seemed an impossible task. I imagined burying myself in life's details. I thought through every possible life I could live, other than the search. Only the interior search offered hope of dispelling the mystery and fear, and shedding light on the inkling of profundity I sensed inside. Every path other than the search was a play—a play whose stars were ignorant of the play's purpose and of existence beyond the stage. Every other path eventually ran out and left me facing the mystery of life and the self.

Yet I wonder if there are some roles we must play in order to discard them. I've known people who half-heartedly followed a spiritual path while, let's say, longing to walk in a beautiful meadow. They may even fear imagined snakes in the meadow or feel guilty for having the longing, yet their mind returns again and again to thoughts of the meadow. For example, if you have never fallen in (and out) of love, you may never willingly turn your back upon the possibility that a relationship would assuage your inner longing. Of course, there are longings other than philosophic ones pushing you to explore romantic love (a welter of lust, pride, fear, and selfless friendship). Clearly seen in action, such drives reveal the need for a deeper resolution.

So a certain amount of success and disappointment with the world is required, yet as much as possible you want to avoid poking your head into every oven only to discover it is as hot as the previous one. Time is running out. Think your way through desires instead of exploring every one. You may fear missing out, but billions have gone down those other roads before you and never returned. Unimaginable possibilities await.

The Spiritual Path in Pictures
by Douglas Harding

Douglas Harding: path in pictures

Editor's commentary:

1. Before birth. Anatman. No-self.

2. The infant sees the world as "up."

3. The toddler, still "headless," begins to invert up and down.

4. The child becomes self-conscious.

5. A little knowledge of sense-perception.

6. More reflection produces doubt.

7. Two-way seeing challenges the conviction of "having a head."

8. Back to the headless state. Kensho.

9. Individuality is being challenged, flipping the world back to "up."

10. No-self. Self as nothing and everything.

Home Base
by Art Ticknor

path through woods You've taken a journey, a trek that's taken you away from your home base.

When it began, there was no problem, no disconnect. But gradually the situation changed and, without knowing what was taking place, you crossed a barrier and became disoriented. You forgot home base. Not one hundred percent, actually, because there is a vague memory of its existence, a longing or yearning that's often below the conscious surface. But at best it seems a place of the past and, for some, of the hopeful future.

At times when your journey has lost its luster, you've felt the yearning to go back to home base more strongly. But now it seems impossibly distant and inaccessible since you've forgotten where it is and how to get back to it. You don't even remember that you set out on this journey. It feels like you've been cast out of home, become a castaway on a remote world. And it's not reassuring that you have six billion companion castaways.

Of those six billion, a significant percentage have become convinced that they have an inside track to finding their way home when they die—they call it heaven, paradise, nirvana—and they've adopted a belief-system that they hold onto for reassurance. They aren't absolutely sure, although they do have hope. But most are convinced that it's a question of blind belief, that there's no way for them to find out for sure.

Then there are those few who say they've found their way home already, that it's not necessary—or even a good idea—to wait until death. If you've come across one of those self-proclaimed finders, either in person or through a testimonial record, what was your reaction? Were you able to write that person off as a nut? If not, did you decide that what it would take to replicate that person's return home was beyond your ability (like the reaction of the rich young man whom Jesus told to sell all he had and give it to the poor)? Or did that person's words or presence "ring your bell" or otherwise ignite your flame from the eternal pilot light? If so, did the inspiration die off within a short time? Or have you put months or years of effort into trying to find and stay on the path that leads home, only to become discouraged and stop the effort? Have you become lost once again in the luster of your trek or found yourself trying to pursue the adventures that used to hold out hope of happiness (such as love, wealth, fame, creation of beauty, knowledge, helping others) but are now tormented by knowing that they'll never be enough? Or are you still struggling but, after years, not feeling you've really accomplished anything other than banging your head against the same spot in the wall?

These are different types of sticking points, indicating something that you're still attached to.

I am always right behind you
But turn around and you won't see me.
I am never not with you—
Why aren't you always with me?
I am at the center
while you stay at the periphery.
I am there, too,
but you won't find me there.
When you turn round
the center stays behind you.
Stand still while turning your gaze around
and look at what you're looking out of.

The Power of Purpose Lies in the Question
by Bob Cergol

Giza Sphinx Life poses the question of purpose to each individual. The question is fundamental challenge to our very existence and to our core sense of self. A consciousness of not knowing our purpose is experienced as pain and as a threat to our existence because, absent knowledge of our purpose, our existence is neither defined nor justified—both of which we seem to require.

This pain is a portal through which an honest and direct looking, with acceptance of what we see, will reveal an absolute answer that resolves the question with finality. Indeed, this pain is grace from our unseen Source, beckoning us to look for that Source. It commands our attention. To stare directly into our dread is to retrace our life to its very source. Instead, we look away from it. We look away because it calls into question our existence and reminds us of our mortality. The "unseen hand of God" is trying to turn our heads around, to get us to look within at who and what we are. The swirl of events around us offers only a temporary refuge and will funnel us, ultimately, in this inward looking direction.

We seek to avoid this inward looking through efforts to affirm and magnify our independent and separate existence outwardly, in the world. This is a denial of death and, paradoxically, a running away from life. It's as if we think that we can escape this question by losing ourselves in life, particularly if the life we choose is held in high esteem by conventional thinking.

These questions and answers, fundamental to the question of our purpose, still echo in my mind from my childhood Catholic school Catechism:

Q: Who made me?
A: God made me.
Q: Why did God make me?
A: God made me to know, love and serve Him.

My Catholic education instilled in me as a child that there was a unique purpose for my life and that it represented my true calling or vocation. A successful life was one that expressed and fulfilled this preordained calling. If I were one of the chosen few, then my calling would be special—that of the clergy; otherwise, it was to serve God in some as-yet-to-be-discovered fashion. As a child, I took this very seriously.

As an adolescent I began to question, logically and intellectually, the tenets of the dogma in which I was raised. It was a real struggle. My intellectual questioning collided head on with the intensity of devotion toward God I inherited from my childhood. The result was an insurmountable contradiction. According to the understanding of my religious upbringing, faith was a gift from God, and the tenets of Faith had to be taken—well—on faith. To find myself questioning them meant that I was already lost. God had apparently not blessed me with this gift of faith. My resolution to this was to turn my back on the whole problem by turning away from my religious training. That was more bearable than accepting the notion that God had rejected me and that I was lost.

This ended my active participation in the church of my childhood and in its place appeared an existential angst that would gnaw at me for the next thirty years. I realize in retrospect that absent any guiding faith, this angst provided a beacon lighting the way home and supplied the power to follow that beacon. In the words of William Cowper, "God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform."

The secular world's expectations of career and success layered nicely on top of the residues of this religious upbringing. The secular world apparently agreed that there had to be a unique purpose for my life. However, I managed to make it to college without having been informed of it. Prone as I was to taking myself way too seriously, this undefined direction to my life weighed heavily on me. The dilemma was that I didn't know what I wanted to become, or should become, yet I was keenly aware that time was marching on, and I most certainly was going to become something whether I had any say in it or not. The uncertainty of that unknown something was the equivalent of certain failure because somehow, somewhere, in my heart I continued to believe in the notion of purpose, a calling and vocation that was unique to me, and that without my active and conscious participation, could not be fulfilled.

The dilemma I faced and my emotional reactions to it, I think, are fairly common, if not universal, among young individuals transitioning into adulthood. The options appear almost infinite, and the world appears capable of swallowing up that fragile identity that one hasn't quite yet defined with any conviction. Committing to any one specific path, for a lifetime, at the beginning of that lifetime, can seem like one's purpose is being defined permanently with that commitment. Therefore, if one does not discern a purpose worthy of a lifetime in that choice, one is filled with doubt and hesitation.

This describes the mental backdrop in my life from the time of college and into my late thirties. In college I was exposed to many new ideas and none dovetailed more perfectly with my situation than the idea that my life could be dedicated to the search for answers on a spiritual level. I became aware that others throughout history had lived such lives and reportedly found answers. I decided that this was the solution to fulfilling my calling and to resolving the question of my career. Of course I would also have to make a living, but the priority of searching for my ultimate nature and purpose greatly diminished the importance of the means of livelihood. I dropped out of school to pursue esoteric philosophy and the search for answers. I didn't see then, the life-avoidance aspect of this decision.

Throughout my adulthood, my search, juxtaposed with my worldly occupation, only served to delineate more sharply my sense of lack of purpose, meaning and self-definition. This was felt as a chronic angst about living. After nearly twenty years, I gave up on the idea that the manner in which I was living was somehow manifesting "my calling" and that it would result in any spiritual discovery or final answer. I came to see my life as a self-centered avoidance of truly embracing life. Subsequently I married, started a family, and pursued my livelihood in earnest.

Yet it was impossible for me to ignore this unrelenting angst, and whenever my attention was not specifically occupied with the mundane affairs of work or living, my attention would fall back into this painful feeling. I could only stare at, and into, it. From that disturbing resting place, the view of my world began to change, subtly, gradually and imperceptibly. The view of myself began to change as well. Some process of deep introspection seemed to have been ignited, and it didn't involve self-analysis or any willful effort on my part. It was simply an intense looking directly into myself and at my sense of individual existence in the world and at the patterns of life surrounding me in that world.

One day, during a particularly stressful period in my life, I was reading some correspondence between a purported Zen master and one of his students that addressed the question of death with a direct simplicity that grabbed my attention with an intensity of focus that I had never before been able to give to the subject.

"The body dies and is dissipated. The mind is one with it at all times and is therefore also dissipated. Nothing of you remains. There is no survival or reincarnation or immortal soul or conscious entity. As far as that goes you are the exact equal of a drop of water and have the same possibility!"

This answer shocked me. It completely contradicted my deeply held beliefs and religious upbringing. To my great dismay, I found myself believing him. The thought screamed out: "He's right. I'm wrong. I've been kidding myself my entire life." What was more shocking was what followed. Some mental Gordian knot was cut and my entire sense of identity dissolved in an instant, depriving my attention of any object whatsoever to latch onto.

He didn't say that nothing remained. He said that nothing of "you" would remain. Accepting his statement as fact was tantamount to my accepting the death of my individuality in that instant. I saw my identity as an illusion. I saw what remains when that identity is removed. I can't begin to explain how this evoked an awareness of what I truly am. I can't explain how it conveyed the purpose of being—not my being—just being—all being.

I now existed impersonally on what I call the "other side" of this life and from that vantage point saw this side as a dream wherein moved a dream-character that I had previously mistaken as me. That dream character along with every object in the dream equally reflected the whole. The contemplation of that whole, absent my egocentric point of view, revealed purpose and meaning everywhere. Purpose is a problem only for the illusory identity. The world is what manifests when God looks upon Himself. God does not need a purpose. He is His own purpose. My dread of life evaporated and has never returned.

Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son

In the dream we call life, the purpose is to answer the call to come home that emanates from our true being. Life is an experience that draws our attention outward, away from our true being. Paradoxically, it is only by embracing our life in this world that we will find our way home—"back to the Father" to put it in religious terms.

We are born into this world with this question rooted in our psyche. The body consciousness, with its need for survival, definition and self-affirming experience, obscures the answer that is our birthright. Our actions in the world are aimed at answering this question but cannot succeed because that which calls from within us can only be answered by going within. It is the returning to the question again and again, with a growing despair that, paradoxically, leads to a final answer.

Notre Dame Cathedral, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the "Seven Wonders of the World," and many influential social movements are generally viewed as great accomplishments of humanity. But they are not evidence of man's purpose. These examples are emblematic of man's search for purpose—and for himself—in the external world. These are evidence of man's plight—his manifest sense of lack of purpose. Their scale and magnitude is evidence of the intensity and universality of humankind's desperate search for purpose and meaning.

"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me" wrote the poet Francis Thompson in The Hound of Heaven, quoting some hidden, inner, relentless voice that will not be satisfied through any external human accomplishment—or distraction.

I have never met the person who became introspective as a result of pleasure. Philosophies are born from pain and seek to answer troubling questions. Nothing troubles us as much as that which afflicts our sense of self. Nothing afflicts our sense of self and our sense of being alive as much as the sense of a lack of purpose and meaning to our lives.

There is a fundamental contradiction in the conventional way of answering this question, "What is my purpose?"

The question implies we were put here for a purpose--that we as individuals have some unique specific purpose. Then that purpose must precede us. It is a contradiction to simultaneously believe that we then define that purpose. That purpose would have to be defined by That which put us here in the first place. Therefore, the only defensible answer to the question "What is my purpose?" is to seek and discover That which put us here. This is our true calling, our true purpose. All other answers are to a different question and are, in turn, revealing of our misguided efforts to find ourselves outside of ourselves.

We invent both God and purpose instead of discovering these as a result of directly facing our fears and uncertainties and staring into the "place" from which those fears and uncertainties emanate. We delude ourselves by projecting that invented purpose onto the external world, and we busy ourselves to forget our doubts. That which is responsible for the universe is not in need of any purpose that we would supply.

Our worldly endeavors represent an outward-looking search for purpose that echoes our deep inner calling. The real value in those endeavors lies in the effect that their failure to satisfy this calling has upon our attention. They will ultimately lead us back to the question and to looking within. If, after building their great pyramids, the pharaohs felt empty still, then perhaps they noticed this inner call remained unsatisfied, that life's purpose remained undiscovered. Perhaps that propelled their attention to turn in upon itself, leading them to discover that which engulfs them, their pyramids and the entire world and—in so doing—answered the question of their purpose once and for all.

We don't know why we are here. We fear our death. To assuage that fear, and lacking knowledge of our purpose, we invent purpose. To settle for this external, self-invented purpose is to deny our true calling—and to miss the opportunity for our real purpose to be revealed. It is equivalent to denying our Source and Its purpose for the universe. It betrays a lack of faith in life. If we didn't create ourselves, then we must already be fulfilling our purpose.

No one can predict just what life circumstances will be helpful or harmful to the unfolding of our journey to discover our true purpose. Conventional success may be what one person requires before they can face the deeper question of purpose. For another it might be what the world considers as failure. I think there is great power in accepting our circumstances and the accompanying uncertainty—and therein finding inspiration to keep looking deeply into the questions: "Who am I? What am I? What is my life?" So one should, as Lao-Tzu puts it, "Have faith in the way things are."

In our culture there is intense pressure to declare an external, worldly purpose that translates into career and accomplishment. This is a mistake. Purpose is not about career or satisfying the needs of identity-building. Our real purpose is not to make a splash in the world or to leave our footprint on the world. We cannot invent our true purpose or calling. Finding it becomes a spiritual path—a journey that must not be detoured towards pleasing the pressures of culture, or to satisfy our fears about living and dying.

Many people equate the search for purpose with the search for, and finding of, God. Many also believe evidence of God and His purpose are to be found in the great patterns of nature or in the spirit symbolized by epic human endeavors. Such endeavors are man's misguided attempt to answer a still, quiet, inner voice.

There's a Bible passage (1 Kings 19:10-12) telling how Elijah sought out God but did not find Him in the thunderclap or the earthquake or the fire, but only afterwards in "a still small voice." This conveys an image of the ever-isolated individual straining to hear that still, quiet voice that is not to be found in the intense calamities preceding its appearance—all of which no doubt evoke a sense of being intensely alive. The same can be said of our worldly accomplishments no matter how magnificent or rewarding.

Life so evoked is not that which truly lives. God was not to be found in the fire or the thunder or the earthquake. Nor is He to be found in the ensuing individualized reaction. The life evoked from intensity of experience is cut off from the source of that life. The most real and intense intimacy in life is that which exists between the source of that still quiet voice and the consciousness that hears it. Every other kind of intimacy is only a metaphor or a distant echo of it. The real value in experience is that it may provoke a looking that in turn may lead to this intimacy with what could be called the Divine.

Experience is binding. Intense experience is intensely binding—pleasurable and painful alike. Observing experience is liberating. We get lost in pleasurable experience. We have an automatic tendency to look at painful experience. The self-diminishment frees us momentarily from the exclusively identity-based point of reference. Looking into this pain is a direct looking at "Who and what am I?" but only for a brief interval before the "feeling alive as me"—albeit through pain—takes over. After that happens, the rush of reactive thoughts occupies our attention, and it's back to "self affirming self" as we look at it through consciousness colored with "I".

In the Bible story of Job, Job rejected the circumstances he found himself in and interpreted them as unjust punishment. We are all like Job in that we reject life as we find it, or as we find ourselves in it. We would have a life that affirms and magnifies the personal being we take ourselves to be and reject all in life that diminishes and challenges that being. And like Job, we blame God for not making the world perfect according to our selfish standards—by finding life and the world to be at fault. The fact of its impermanence is, for us, the ultimate flaw. That fact calls everything into question. That fact, and all in life that challenges our sense of self, throws us back upon ourselves and presents us the questions: "Who—and what—am I?" and "What is my existence?"

Clear observation requires acceptance of what is—not what our ego wishes were. Since we look away from that which we cannot accept, the intervals of opportunity for hearing that inner voice are short. Job spent years blaming God for his pain and saw God only after he accepted that he did not own his life, that it was God's to do with as he wished. His blaming of God was his method of looking away from the question of existence that his life was presenting.

Through acceptance, we embrace our life in order to accept death and in the process are given the possibility of finding that alone which is alive.

We have no choice in deciding to be or not to be. We experience individuality, and until proven otherwise, know only that we exist as an individual. We are compelled to define ourselves. To exist as an individual and to feel the compulsion from a source unknown to be that individual, while at the same time not knowing what that individuality is or means, leaves us no choice. That is our basic nature. That is the direction of all our thoughts and actions. Our mind says: "I feel myself to be. But, what am I?" We become aware of our own mortality before we have any sense of what we are or why we exist. We run from our mortality, rushing to create evidence of our existence in the external world that we believe will outlast our bodily existence.

The power of purpose lies in the questions it poses: "Why do I exist?" and "What am I?" and in the persistence with which something in us demands an answer, forcing us back on ourselves, forcing us to look deeply within. I know that an absolute answer is available. It requires simultaneously admitting to ourselves our core uncertainty and staring dead into it while not getting swept away by the reaction of fear and pain nor retreating into a dream world of our own making. This requires great hunger, and full commitment to living. The power in the question of our life's purpose is that it evokes those qualities in us. If we refuse to settle for an answer that belongs to this life alone, rest assured—an answer will be found that both includes and transcends this life.

Losing One's Head for Nothing: The True Adventure
by Bob Fergeson

Every child is seduced into taking part in our game of life. He loses direct-mind ability when he identifies with and participates in this dimension, and tries to manipulate it for his own petulant form of counter-seduction. —Richard Rose

Much is written about silence, no-mind and the void. But do we really desire to find them, much less become them? Are we willing to give up our ego-identity in the emotion-fueled game of life, to go beyond our character role in the ceaseless drama of action-reaction? The struggle to win the game of life, if we're lucky, is eventually seen as an endless circle, from which there is no true rest, and no real victory. To those who have had this intuition, hearing the faint call of the Voice of the Silence, the possibility of returning to our true home in the Unknown is no longer a fairy tale. But how? How do we make this journey that traverses a land without maps, a sea without charts? Let us look and see how the True Adventure might be likened to three stages of becoming, a journey from Nowhere to here, and back again.

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use. —Galileo

We have to fatten up the head before we can chop it off—have to do a lot of studying—have to become virtuous.... The things that are holding you up personally are the negative things that have happened to you. —Richard Rose

Energy is spent chiefly on unnecessary and unpleasant emotions, on the expectation of unpleasant things, possible and impossible, on bad moods, on unnecessary haste, nervousness, irritability, imagination, daydreaming, and so on. In beginning to struggle with all these habitual sides of his life a man saves an enormous amount of energy, and with the help of this energy he can easily begin the work of self-study and self-perfection. —G. I. Gurdjieff

Roman Numeral I The First Stage: Becoming an Efficient Man-Machine. We must first become a good working machine, capable of interacting with the environment without the ego unduly interfering. In becoming free of obsession and fear, unbridled temptation and ambition, emotional turmoil, and habitual energy losses that tie us up in circles of dissipation that lead nowhere, we give ourselves possibility. From infancy to adulthood, we grow in body and mind, and slowly but surely become completely identified with the animal-man thus formed. All so-called psychological work is only to bring us to this point of being an efficient machine. This is still the first stage of life: the building of personality and the making of the healthy, moral, animal-man. If we think to shortcut around this stage, we risk making a big mistake. If our path through the everyday world of life has been blocked by a negative state of mind, forced on us through our environment, which keeps us from developing a healthy working ego, we may turn to "spiritual" work in order to build the ego in a dream-world of no resistance. We think we are being spiritual, but are in reality copping out of the first stage by avoiding life and the proper functioning of the machine in its manifest capacity. By the discipline of energy conservation, we give our intuition a chance to ripen. Through the discipline of learning to reason, we free ourselves from the danger of placing our future in the hands of daydreams. A paradox for sure, but only through resistance and tension will the ego be properly formed, so as to assure its eventual complete destruction. Once we are capable of taking care of ourselves in society, having reached the level of good householder and truly completed the first stage, we have the real possibility of turning our attention to greater questions.

Awakening begins when a man realizes that he is going nowhere and does not know where to go. —G. I. Gurdjieff

Anything that pays the bills or works in the everyday world, including psychological systems, is never able to be rejected or seen for its errors. As long as you pay the bills, you have little chance of escaping your thought patterns. The average person has a set of succeeding habits designed to master the simple production of livelihood and never seriously questions life unless he has a disastrous defeat. —Jim Burns

Learn that there is no cure for desire, no cure for love of reward, no cure for the misery of longing, save in the fixing of the sight and hearing on that which is invisible and soundless. —H. P. Blavatsky

Roman Numeral II The Second Stage: Hitting the Brick Wall of Our Mechanicalness. The second stage is that of freeing the attention from the motion of the mind. This is usually brought about by a traumatic catastrophe, which starts our questioning of life itself and convinces us that it's a zero-sum game. We see without a shadow of a doubt that there is no permanent solution in mechanical or behavioral change. We thus come to the realization that we have been hypnotized by motion: the circular, ceaseless motion of the mind. Our very attention, our "I," is caught in the game of following motion, whether this motion is in the apparent world of objects, in the inner world of thought, or even in the following of astute, complex trains of feelings, memory, and thought. This is still just the attention following the motion that is mind. The blessed catastrophe of having our head cracked wide open hasn't much chance of occurring if we have not engaged ourselves fully with the world and life in an attempt to assert our ego to its fullest in its bid for power, security and happiness.

Whether through luck, trauma, or an unbending intent to find the Truth, if the spell of the ego-mind is broken, we may catch a glimpse, in the clear calm of a quiet mind, that we are not a man after all, but that which sees, or contains, the attention itself. We can then allow our questioning or longing to turn this attention inward. This turning within as a last, desperate act comes only after we have died to any possibility of hope in the world of mind and motion. Having given up our misplaced faith in the dimension of motion, we learn to listen and observe rather than identify and mechanically react to the trains of thought and circumstance. Our previous work in the first stage has left us without any dissonant agenda to cloud our vision and interfere with our quest. Now, we can start looking within. Backing out of our personality, we begin trying to find something real, other than mind-motion and endless patterns of thought.

True observation must be carried on from a superior dimension. The mind cannot be studied with the mind. It must be observed from some point outside of, and yet superior to the mind. —Richard Rose

True perception is true knowledge. Perception is the capacity of the soul; it is the sight of the higher intelligence whose vision never errs. And that can be best exercised in true serenity of mind, as Mahatma K.H. observes: "It is upon the serene and placid surface of the unruffled mind that visions gathered from the invisible, find a representation in the visible world." In short - as the Hindu allegory has it - "It is in the dead of night that Krishna is born." Self-knowledge of this kind is unattainable by what men usually call "self-analysis." Reasoning or any brain process does not reach it; for it is the awakening to consciousness of the Divine nature of man. To obtain this knowledge is a greater achievement than to command the elements or to know the future. —H. P. Blavatsky

Roman Numeral III The Third Stage: Turning Within. Now we come to the final stage of our journey. We find we have become what can be called a "listening attention" or simple awareness. When we first turn this attention within, we find Nothing, the Unknown. We may feel that this great, mysterious "nothing" is more alive or real than the apparent world-projection, and possibly its source. Turning this passive attention outward, we see that what we once called the world was mainly an overlay of mind-projection on a now relatively simple scene. There are no longer what we used to call "objects," including what we once called our "self." Our lost ability to know directly returns, by-passing the fading reflective mechanism of the thinking mind. We have given up on the manipulation of motion and have come to rest in a silent, aware space we find to be our Self. We now look upon the world as a reflection of this Self, and are not drawn into its motion or seek to steer its direction, for there is no longer a "self" to interfere. We can now see the truth in the saying, "Home is Where the Heart Is." While we have a hand (a pair of them) in the mind-dimension, our heart is now resting in the Dazzling Dark, and our head is, thank God, missing in action.

~ See Bob's web sites, The Mystic Missal, NostalgiaWest, and The Listening Attention.


"It's always about you!" ~ Cartoon drawing of a man staring angrily at a solitary fish in a goldfish bowl, from www.cs-journal.org

Reader Commentary:

Tonight i was particularly moved and surprised by the piece "The Penny That Blots Out the Sun" by Alfred Pulyan.

In reading it i found myself nodding to a bunch of the points and as it came to its summary i was thinking how parts mirrored what i had been exploring and written about recently. Words that stood clear such as;
"There is much difference between experience and words. You are welcome to laugh at my words. I do not think you would laugh at the experience. Do not find this article too disturbing. You will find that God is both "open" and loving—devastatingly, almost unbearably, so."

Somehow the shock was when i read that the date it was written was from so long ago, (June 1959). The piece had such a current feel for me. Thank you for placing it in [the October 2004] issue. ~ Josie K.

Just wanted to tell you how much Shawn's piece, The Black Wall, impressed and inspired me. After his reference to The Induction Paper [Merrell-Wolff] at the September TAT meeting, I ordered it when I got home. They [Merrell-Wolff Foundation] haven't even cashed my check yet, so the excerpt from it was great. The Rose passage following it got me rereading Rose as well. ~ Judy (from Georgia)

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