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

March 2007

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

This month's contents:

Entryway in Pienza, Italy

Three Steps to a Working Spiritual Practice by Bob Fergeson | Detachment from Feeling by William Samuel | The Problem's not in the Transmission by Art Ticknor | Of Goats and Gates by Art Ticknor | Nothing Is Given Up by Suzanne Segal | Poems by Shawn Nevins | Is My Hair on Fire Yet? (concluded) by Shawn Nevins | Humor | Reader Commentary

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Want to meet some of the Forum authors in person? Interested in meeting other Forum readers? Watch for more information on the meeting schedule and programs. The next TAT meeting will be held on the weekend of April 13-15, 2007.

View video clips of the TAT spring conference DVDs: "Beyond Mind, Beyond Death" and "What Is Spiritual Action?"

Three Steps to a Working Spiritual Practice
by Bob Fergeson

Notes from a presentation made at the April 2006 TAT Conference: What Is Spiritual Action?

First, do you have a question, a direction? A longing, an intense dissatisfaction with how one sees oneself and the world, that distraction and rationalization can no longer dispel? The honest admission of our internal angst is key to the ability to face the moment. Next, becoming someone who is capable of observing oneself and one's experience, rather than just reacting in endless dualities. And finally, allowing the attention to turn within. Once we let go of ourselves as the doer and experiencer, realization and discovery can occur. Are these steps possible, and are they a part of your Path?

These are tricks I found, mostly through hindsight, that helped me along the way. They are not rules, so just listen and see if this appeals to you.

Three things to do as spiritual practice:

Part One: learning our real questions. Making a dual commitment. Allow the Higher Self to help us, to trick our ego into being known. We begin the retreat from error by starting to question, to question our very beliefs, which may be largely unconscious and taken for granted. We test these beliefs and find our real values and longings.

The first action, which we can't actually do or decide, is to come to the realization that things are not as they seem. To become honest enough to question our beliefs. To admit that we don't know, don't know what we really want, are not clear as to our real motivations. We can test these assumptions, by putting ways and means into play, take action, and thus find out our true interests.

longing Do you need to have a spiritual practice in order to address your inner longing? This may or may not be the same thing as pumping up the ego, maintaining the sense of identity. It may mean going against the ego's constant self-survival agenda, or at least becoming aware of it. Or, it could mean you've found another way to keep your identity intact. Even a strict spiritual discipline may be nothing more than another way for us to keep our sense of identity or self intact. Some get into a spiritual path as a means of acquiring an ego, especially if they have not been able to build one in a practical manner. Thus, the shock of life not bringing them security, a functional role, leads them into seeking as a way to get by. This could lead to real seeking later on, if they come to an understanding of this, or suffer the shock of realizing they are not moving.

Many of us come to this work when trauma or failure stop our heads long enough for us to begin serious questioning. This shock could come from personal disaster, or from an inner realization that things are not what they seem, that maybe we are being had, being fooled. We begin to question ourselves. Who is fooling who?

This could be called first conscious shock, trauma showing things aren't the way you thought, anything that wakes you up, starts you questioning and gets you in contact with the pressing inner need to find the answer. You have to have the question first. First step, get the question. To begin to doubt the exterior view, the realm of experience and the corresponding concepts. This begins the process of turning the attention around, from experience, to observing the process of experiencing, or the difference between observing and reacting.

As far as a practical guidance, to find out if we really have a question, if we're serious about this and if we had the problems to turn us within, we can try a discipline as a means to make us go against our usual self, and see if we'll stick with it.

We make a dual commitment: the first one to our Higher Power as we understand it, to find an answer to our deepest question. Then we forget it, and concentrate on Ways and Means to start the journey. We don't know what enlightenment is, so we need help, help in tricking our ego, help from beyond the mind.

"Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them." —Albert Einstein

We can't begin by taking an easy way of agreement with those who claim to know, but must start our own search through a disciplined practice, as our intuition or reason dictate.

The second commitment we make to ourselves, to take action by forming a Ways and Means committee, to start a practice, to remember ourselves. This will most certainly make us more aware of ourselves, whether we stick with the commitments or not. If you think you've really got a vector or question, try living on an ashram and being celibate for six months and you'll see where your real vector lies, where your real interest is. This is a practical example of a test to see if you really have a spiritual interest and if not it may show you that there is something else you may have to take care of first before you can make progress.

To recap; some tricks to test yourself and thus become more self-aware: Making a commitment to a Higher Power, and then forgetting it. Then making a commitment to ourselves through active seeking, Ways and Means, rather than to force the projection of a final answer. The story of the line of lights leading into the distance. We can't see the final light, but can go to the next one, and so on, and thus get there eventually. The ego must be tricked, so another Power has to set this up for us. The one thing we can do, everyday, is to observe ourselves.

Getting to know yourself and your true longings, in the heart, by committing to a practice (in fact) and see what happens. If down the road, despite what life throws at us, we still can't stop seeking and wondering who we are, we might see that we do have a vector, and at least have become more aware and honest in the process.

One way to test your vector: How many of you will leave here and not think along these lines for perhaps days? How many of you will remember to observe yourself, but not do anything?

Part Two: learning to observe yourself. The second step is learning to observe yourself, finding out who you are. The above step ties into this, what is called self-observation, getting to know yourself. To begin to doubt, and to doubt your 'self.' What are you? This can be done in two different but complimentary ways: through group work, and observing our daily lives in action, and through isolation, spending time alone without distraction and the personality defenses.

The first way, through friends and a group, by watching others' reactions to your actions, and by asking your friends questions, to ask them to confront you, and face the daily confrontation that comes from being alive, we develop and learn to control and use tension to become more aware. A group of fellows can serve as a reminder that we have commitments, and that action, daily action, must be taken. Sort of like alarm clocks, or wake-up calls, we can use our friends to keep us on track.

"If you work on yourself long enough with increasing understanding, you will reach a higher level, however small, in yourself, and you will know at once that the Work is true. The door into this possibility is self-observation, that is, becoming more conscious of yourself, from what you are taught. One can begin to become more conscious of other people, and not only that, but one's conception of the world in which one lives begins to change at the same time. The second line of work is extremely useful with regard to attaining more consciousness of ourselves through self-observation. As I said, men and women think they observe themselves already.

"So, if you find a friend in the work, you should ask this friend to criticize you. This belongs to the second line. The result may be quite surprising. If you do not get negative, then you will begin to have more consciousness of what you are like. Some illusions of yourself may even be destroyed. But it is strong medicine." —Maurice Nicoll

To practice confrontation in a group: To be able to solve the puzzle of who you are so that you can eventually discover your sense of self and how it is manufactured daily through experience. We can discover the difference between rationalization and thinking, between projecting and observing.

Usually all we do is try to pump up our sense of self, whether it's a negative or positive sense. We seldom simply look at it, without turning away. We look for self-pity or loathing to pump up the self in a negative manner, and to grandiosity, superiority and judging others to pump it up in the positive sense. We must find out how and why we do this, how we make up our self, what our self is, before we can truly go against it. Can we be honest?

How can we find our way out? How can we return to Truth, without relying on accident or belief? Gurdjieff called the first step on the road home, self-remembering. To remember your Self. We start by observing ourselves, by questioning, to see what tricks and compensations we use to avoid looking at the facts of our situation. We begin to see that maybe we are not what we have been telling ourselves. We see that our neighbors having a rough time of it is not a cause for celebration but an opportunity to see the same in ourselves. We can face ourselves and laugh, knowing that though we may not yet have the ultimate answer, we can begin looking. We see that the game is mostly fixed, so why be afraid? Taking ourselves too seriously hasn't worked in the past; it only fostered our pride and thus our self-ignorance. We take a step within, seeing ourselves a bit more as we really are, and find it helps. We hear from others who have gone beyond fear and pride that everything is OK, and take heart. We try the tricks they teach us, and perhaps once again glimpse our infinite nature. We lose ourselves, and gain the universe. [See Bob's essay "The Trap of Compensation" in the April 2006 TAT Forum for an expanded treatment.]

Is our deepest desire to maintain our sense of identity, is this why we are engaged in spiritual work? Will we stop our search for truth if it becomes disagreeable or tense? Story of students in dream group whose criteria for leaving a group was if it got at all tense or confrontative.

How do you do these things? To discover the self and what it is, we may need to be in interaction in life in the workplace, and groups, to show us ourselves. Life as our teacher.

We alternate this with time spent alone. To find the Inner Man we may have to spend lots of time alone to build a bridge between the outer and inner man. This also shows us what the self is by finding something which isn't the self or personality, by stalking the self, by getting away from the survival programs by being in isolation so the personality can shut down and we can begin to see the difference between what we are in silence and what we are in the noisy pattern of the self. When we are free from social pressure, the personality is no longer of use, ceases to exist so to speak, so what remains? The so-called Inner Man. Do you know this part of yourself?

solitary retreat If we take these practical steps to seeing our self in spiritual work, then we may be able to find the difference between the outer Man and the Inner Man. The outer Man will always be fooling the Inner Man. We will always be fooling ourselves as to what we really want, who we are, and how we see ourselves. The outer Man may be constantly fooling us into wanting distractions, security, money and power in order to keep us from looking within at what our real questions are. We live a life of constantly fooling ourselves by going with the outer Man and his experiences as the real and only world. We pander to the desires and fears of the animal nature. The world of experience may also fool us by the distractions of seeking and avoiding life by hiding in a seekers' self-created dream of illusion, of bliss and escape to come. Our attention is focused outward, on experience and the world. If we find the Inner Man, then we can find what our real questions are and therefore find real answers and not be fooling ourselves with our stories, our songs. This may cause a huge switch in value and the ego may fight it all the way, even by hiding in a life of seeking, but it's the only way to the real truth. This ties in with the help of commitment and trusting the Higher Self, and our intuition.

Let's try some simple tricks to show us the difference between observing and believing our projections, between seeing as we truly are, and looking through the mind.

Let's try an exercise where you scratch your nose, then the back of your neck, while practicing two-way seeing, to show how the mind builds up the world. Try shaking your head: are you moving, shaking, bouncing around in the head, or can you see how the head is moving in your mind? This shows us the difference between observing, and buying into the stories of our mind.

Part Three: prayer as a practical method. Another way, a practical method, is prayer. Prayer is a powerful means and could even be a way in itself. Can you use prayer as a way to turn the attention within? As a way to remember yourself? As a way to observe your own mind?

What is prayer? How do we get to real praying? What is the direction of prayer? How can the nostalgic mood, a sense of longing, help us. How can intuition and reason guide our prayer, and tell us what to pray, and what to pray to?

"We must ask for what we truly want." —Rumi

Who did you make your commitment to? Who asked? These are valid questions, and can help show us much we take for granted, and could show us the direction of within.

Bob Cergol: "I am convinced that intense self-introspection does not require large amounts of time. It requires only short meditations which regardless of the form they take, in essence, amount to a prayer—a plea to the higher self for help and guidance. This sets in motion a direction so that amidst busy-ness and hard work—that higher self will manifest and the inner man will get through to communicate—which you will experience as insight or mini-realizations—that translate into a change of being."

Douglas Harding: "Well, we have to distinguish between two kinds of prayer. There is one kind of prayer which is petitionary—asking for my tummy-ache to get better or for the weather to improve, or someone to stop behaving nastily to me. That kind of petitionary prayer is not of interest to me, and I don't think it is effective. I suppose it may be for some people. It could act as a kind of magic if you put faith in some providence out there who will work this magic for you. But it's not for me.

"The other kind of prayer, which is very different, is like this: Say I desire the health of someone I love very much, or my own health, or my own ability to do my job, that kind of thing—which are really very deserving requests—but adding always at the end 'Thy will be done.' I would like this, but not my will but Thy will be done. Then the question is who is praying to who? and of course in the last absolute resort it is who you really are having a conversation with who you really are. It's a kind of internal process within your true identity, and not only important, but indispensable."

Helene Ciaravino: "According to Rabbi Irwin Katsof's book How to Get Your Prayers Answered, the Hebrew word for prayer is li-heet-pallel. The latter part of the word—pallel—means to inspect, examine, while the initial part—li-heet—makes the term reflexive. Therefore, prayer is self-inspection, self-examination."

Let's all pray together, using the Serenity Prayer, and watch as we all pray, and watch ourselves, our own mind, and who may be watching, and praying. Who's praying, who's listening, who answers, what happens when you pray? Who's praying to who? What is the direction? Try to be objective in two-way seeing while praying and see what is actually taking place.

Lord, grant me Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.

The following poem was written to try and explain how the awareness is identified with the personality, or little man, and we see then how we became entangled in mind, and lost our connection to the Inner Man:

The Mind in Time by Bob Fergeson

We've drifted down a line to time
upon a Ray from That which shines.
It shines within in Now, not then,
in Now we live, not in 'if only when.'
We've fallen down to mind in time.

We fell to mind that lives in time
bound to things that live and die.
We tie the knots in our true life-line
and lose the path to That which shines.
Ignorance ties these knots in time
that bind us into finite mind.

What sword, what axe could cut this knot
that Gordon tied to bind our lot?
A little here, a little there,
will never undo this wicked snare.
To cut the knot, this tie that binds,
will take a blade from beyond the mind.

Climb up the line back out of time
To leave our self, our proud dead mind,
To leave the things that thinking brings
For the One Clear Note of Presence's Ring.

Take faith and help from those that find
men are more than plugged-up knots in time.
Silence true gives us a clue
To leave the 'I,' the 'me,' the 'you.'
Take hope, and leave the mind in time,
To listen again to That which shines.

~ From a presentation given at the April 2006 TAT conference "What Is Spiritual Action?" See the conference video page for DVD information.

Detachment from Feeling
by William Samuel

illustrated letter W We have come to see it is not the tree or mountain or dollar bill that is the real value. Instead, we perceive that "value" rests with the Primordial Isness being the tree, mountain, dollar bill and all else that appears as images of awareness. This is the knowledge that lets us view the world or people, places and things with such a degree of detachment. "Things" do not have the power over us they seem to have for others. Recognizing that the Reality "behind" things is their true power, we are not so likely to credit a powerless sight with an authority it does not have. This astonishes others. They refer to our "mysterious ability" "to be in the world but not of it." It is more than that! It is our ability to remain untroubled by the world, neither seeking it out nor cherishing any part of it, but loving every moment! To those who honestly and actually credit Reality as the only value and authority comes a new view of images as totally powerless to upset them in any way. This is the natural way to perceive.

Now hear this: there is yet another aspect of "detachment, devaluation, and withdrawal" not so quickly perceived by those who yet identify as seekers. This is the detachment from (and devaluation of) emotion, feeling, sensation. It seems many times more obvious to withdraw a false value from an external object of perception than to do the same with an inner "feeling." An emotion is not so tangible. It is one thing to devalue an image that has been the apparent cause of frustration or fear, and quite another to "come out and be separate from" an emotion, especially a desirable one. Consider how reluctant one might be to let go the value he places on the warm inner feeling of "compassion."

The Enlightened know there is no value, good or bad, in images; yet a student is prone to hang onto the good while detaching himself from the not-good and/or to detach himself from the not-good in order to experience more "good." He does the same with emotions. It is surely more pleasant to let go fear and foreboding than to dismiss "that grand and glorious feeling of exhilaration." One is more willing to give up emotions akin to anger than those emotions and responses that are only self-judged "good" emotions, the inner counterparts of exterior "good things." Sooner or later, we are required to devalue all emotions, good and bad alike. (Devalue, not deny, not put off!)

Skeptics declare the impossibility of such a requirement. "Even if such a goal were attained," they let us know in no uncertain terms, "the results would be absolutely awful! This would leave us an emotionless, passionless, clod of inane nothingness," they lament. "Who wants to exist, even for a minute, as such a dead thing without life or spark?"

They have a surprise in store for them!

We do not, like ascetics, attempt to end the experience of any emotion. When we de-value emotions and stop searching for them, we find that those we experience are infinitely more than we ever imagined.

It is the I-possess-a-feeling view that would have us constantly striving to feel the positives and eliminate the negatives, only never to feel enough positives, and inevitably to find the negatives hanging on like flypaper.

We come to see (contrary to the educated world's view, and the teaching of many religious bodies) that the Deific Peace is not elation or exalted feeling; it is not ecstasy nor "Illumination." Instead, it is the center of feeling that resides "between" the ecstasy of Illumination that appears on the one hand and the agony of the dark night that seems on the other. Tranquillity, Peace, is the gentle Shekinah, the promised Comforter.

~ Excerpted from A Guide to Awareness and Tranquillity, copyright ©1976 by William Samuel. All rights reserved. Butterfly Publishing House publishes audio CDs, DVDs and the writings William Samuel. Visit the William Samuel and Friends website for more information. Our thanks to Sandy Jones for making these valuable works available.

The Problem's not in the Transmission
by Art Ticknor

Who's to blame when we're unhappy,

It starts out being Mom or Dad,
then other kids,
the teacher,
the boss,
him or her,
the Universe,

Some of us graduate to the next form
and decide that the problem's within.
So we try to change "ourselves"—
our bodies or our mental characteristics—
in order to get what we think will make us happy.

We may have temporary successes.
The world runs smoother the more we know ourselves.
But it's not sufficient, never enough.
We want lasting peace,
permanent peace of mind,

The list of culprits becomes narrower.
We can't expect other people,
themselves impermanent,
to provide us with permanent anything—
much less permanence itself.

So we have to blame the universe,
whatever put us here.

It's as if we were at the movies,
or at home watching TV,
and we're dissatisfied with the picture,
upset about what's appearing on the screen.
We can blame the producer,
the director,
the cast,
the crew,
the equipment—
or, more generally, the quality and/or content of the transmission
of what's passing through our field of awareness.

Our life sucks, and the problem is in the transmission.

So, what can we do?

We can acquiesce,
accept our fate,
and slide down the drain without protest.

Or we can shake our fist and curse the universe
(or God if we're not staunch believers in No-God).

Or we can cajole God or the Powers-that-Be
if we admit the possibility of such.

Or, if we're a bit more sophisticated,
we can pray the "serenity prayer":
asking for the courage to change the things we can change,
the serenity to accept the things we can't,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

And what might The Transmitter be telling us
about what we could change
in order to find the lasting fullness we're looking for
if our ears were open?

"Tune the receiver.
The multisensory picture you're getting is picture-perfect.
Every particle and every wave—
every wavicle—
is exactly as it's meant to be
in order to get the message across.
Life is a classroom.
If you apply yourself, you'll get the lesson.
And when you get it, you'll be amazed
beyond your wildest imaginings.
Tune the receiver."

Of Goats and Gates
by Art Ticknor

curious goats First, I'd like to try to convey a general perspective:

Now, to get a little more specific, I'll tell you about my experience while living on a farm many years ago. There was a herd of goats there, whose job (although they didn't know it) was to keep the multiflora rose bushes and other brush from taking over. In the summer they roamed freely, although we had the farm fenced in sections to keep them in and to keep the wild dogs out. In the winter, they would go out foraging in the day, but then we kept them in a barn at night and fed them. Getting them back to the barn might mean having to get them through a fence gate, depending on where they were. Trying to herd them through the gate from behind was an exercise in futility. They'd pretend they didn't see the gate and would run one way or the other along the fence line rather than go through. The only way to get them through before they were ready (if they ever were) was to be on the other side of the gate with some corn—like candy to them—in a can and to rattle it around to get their attention. Then they'd rush through the gate, stampeding to see who could get through first, entirely willing to trample you down to get at the corn.

The moral of the story: The teacher can't push us through the gate. The Self entices us through when we realize it's The Way to satisfy our greatest desire.

Nothing Is Given Up
by Suzanne Segal

Suzanne Segal Suzanne Segal

The continued operation of all the functions in the state of freedom is an awesome way to live. It bears no resemblance to the stark emptiness that fear might paint it to be. People who tell me they don't want to give up the personal because they believe they would be giving up love or joy or deep feeling don't understand that the personal never existed. Nothing is given up. Love that appears to be personal is based on a mind-constructed sense of being separate. Love in this separate state involves a longing to merge with an other in order to be fulfilled. From the perspective of the vastness, the other does not exist. When the vastness sees everything out of itself to be made of itself, this is the ultimate intimacy. The moment-to-moment flavor of the vastness undulating within itself as it perceives itself through every particle of itself everywhere brings a love that is limitless, far surpassing anything the mind could construct as the ideal love it seeks.

~ From "Collision with the Infinite"

by Shawn Nevins


Sounds swirl:
a blackbird bringing food to babies,
a truck lumbering up a low grade,
two dogs in dispute,
the wind through a crevice in my collar.
This is life looping, expanding into space,
then furling back to the beginning.
If it were not for the beginning,
if all were just a pulsing fountain,
no poems would be necessary… but they are.
You make poetry every day,
desperate connections of words:
hellos, goodbyes, pledges of never and forever,
looping, swirling sounds that appear and disappear
with no more hope than dew in the desert.
But you are the dew, you are the desert.
You are these two opposites,
in the same moment,
furled into one.


He's telling his grandchildren
how his brother died in the war,
sixty-two years ago.

I can't help but feel his missing
what could have been,
what was supposed to be.
I'm not interested in destiny,
what does that mean to me?

But grandfather does not speak these words.
His eyes smile for these little girls,
even when speaking of death.


A pair of blackbirds perch facing one another,
intoning impossible-to-mimic vocalizations of purpose.
They are not interested in what might or could be.
They are in the midst of what is.
They, we, are like an exhaled breath—
consumed yet unburdened.
Released from the bonds of purpose,
every thought wanders back to the first moment.
We should be so happy to be dying.


Fifteen seconds of silence
and I'm alive again.
Like coming to the surface
and finding yourself completely dry.

Is My Hair on Fire Yet?
by Shawn Nevins

Conclusion of the Q&A session following Shawn's presentation at the April 2006 TAT conference:

depressed dog Q: Was there a point when you gave up completely?

Shawn: There were moments, yeah. You know, where I went "ugh!" Especially just before I moved out to Texas. But, the vector—that Bob was taking about and started to define—carries you through those moments.

Q: What were you doing in Florida when you were depressed?

Shawn: I was down there to check out some "big spiritual teacher," Shantung Zuber, who's on my website. He was the next great hope, because Mr. Rose couldn't help us anymore. He wasn't physically able to anymore, and so I didn't have the capacity on my own to inspire myself—I had to find somebody else. So, he turned out to be a big fraud—but I was stuck down there for a couple months.

Q: So what'd you do? The way I picture it is like: Shawn, it's dark and cloudy and a hurricane's on it's way and you're going "uhhhh."

Katherine: He's sitting on a bucket! [laughter]

Shawn: Well, I don't know how much of the horrid details of the—what my depressions are like, you know.

Kiffy: Well, I'm curious!

Shawn: You know, what did I do? I remember I would go to the library. I remember I would go to some used book stores. I remember that in the evenings I would go out and walk on the beach because the rest of the time, Florida is this horrible, bug-infested nightmare, so you can't go out during the day; only at night. It's too dangerous. So I'm stuck inside all day, and it's too damn hot because it's August. But I go out at night and walk along the beach and, you know, what would normally be an inspiring scene, it just, it just wasn't. I just went for exercise. I went because I knew that I was going downhill and I was trying to not go downhill. And you know, that physical exercise can help improve your mood. Reading a little bit.

Kiffy: You weren't watching TV?

Shawn: Nah. There was no furniture, no TV, no radio. There was nothing in that house; it was totally empty.

Katherine: He had a bucket to sit on.

Shawn: Did I have?

Katherine: You had a bucket there and you had a bucket in Texas. So I'd say: "What're you doing?" and you'd say: "I'm sitting on my bucket." [laughter] Because that was the only piece of furniture you had. And I said: "Why don't you buy a chair?" and you said: "That costs five bucks." [laughter]

Shawn: Yeah, I had a 5-gallon painter's bucket for a chair.

Bob C.: If that's not hard core, I don't know what is!

Q: Is that where the minimalist definition came from?

Katherine: It was a 2-million dollar house.

Shawn: Yeah, it was a nice house. [laughter] You know, and that's what's so—you know, when you see somebody that's depressed, you look at them and you go, you know, "There's inspiration all around you, but you can't see any of it."

[end of DVD disc 2]

Shawn: ... the dynamic, you're just kidding yourself. And a lot of people may not like hearing that, but that's what I think. You're always doing everything half-heartedly, because if you were doing things whole-heartedly, you would be able to find an answer quickly, let's say. You're always torn. And I know a lot of people right now are thinking to themselves "I'm not torn!" and, you know, yeah, I could be wrong. That's just my opinion.

Q: What did the survey say?

Shawn: Well the survey indicated about what you would think: that there's a bell curve, and that the majority of people are lukewarm. There were more red hot, on fires, than dead colds.

Katherine: Well, the dead cold's aren't here.

Shawn: Because—yeah, when you're dead cold, it is difficult to get yourself to do anything.

Q: It seems like for you, the conviction that there was nowhere else to go, was not from the depression but that was something that was sort of in place beforehand and carried through that too. Is that accurate? It's not like you were depressed and then went back to nothing's worth doing.

Shawn: Yeah.

Q: [indistinct]

Shawn: Yeah, when I would be depressed. Well, I guess when I would be depressed, the thought would be that "Yeah, there's nothing else to do, but I can't do it." You know, "The only thing of any hope is the spiritual path, but I'm not going to make it, I'm not going to succeed. I can't do it, I'm not enough of a person to do it. I don't have the capacity for it. I don't have the energy. The drive to do it." That's a pretty lousy feeling: when you think there's only one way out and you think that you can't make it.

[?]: Yeah, I can see you're like "well, #$&*@!"

Q: You said there was a time before that where there was…I mean did it take some introspection to see, before you got to the point where you didn't see another way out, potentially, like with, maybe finding someone to share your life with, at one time that did…

Shawn: Oh yeah, don't get the impression that for 10 years I thought that the spiritual path was the only thing that would bring me any satisfaction in life. I mean, yeah, you know, making money, and finding a lady and all these sorts of things come up. You meet somebody and they're really nice, and you think: "Ah, geez. Do I really want to continue to turn my head from that direction?" "Could I go down that path?" And, as you know, my mental solution to that was always to take that path in my head, and project down that life path and see where it would take me. And would it take me to where I wanted to be? If you're honest: no. Or, if you're honest, yes, and go down that path.

Q: A comment and a question. The comment is: I was really surprised that prayer wasn't the first thing on the list. I guess because it was the first thing I thought, so I wanted to hear your input on that. And also, what do you define as progress? I mean, how would you ever know if you're making progress or not?

Shawn: Prayer was a part of my life, but not necessarily vocal prayer. To me prayer is just longing. And putting words on that longing is a prayer, in the traditional sense of the word, but prayer is very much a thing of the heart to me, and a thing of—to me it's so tied with meditation, it's so tied with the deepest form of meditation. They intersect at some place, where both of those are nothing other than longing for that which I do not know, I cannot articulate, but I feel is out there somewhere.

You had another?

Q: Progress.

Shawn: Oh, progress. You know, progress in the beginning, is just being less miserable. I'm better off than I was a year ago, or six months ago. At a certain point, as I'm sure you know, you don't care anymore, you're good enough. I'm ok, and I don't need to be happy all the time, or however you phrase it. I know I won't be happy all the time—that would be boring if I were happy all the time. I wouldn't be happy, I'd have to have some greater happiness, and it would never end. An eternal spiral of happiness.

Progress was, I want to say, finding more peace in myself, but not as a goal in and of itself—finding space within myself in which I could look, or in which I could pray, or in which I could meditate. I wasn't tied up in thinking, but I was finding—you know, Rose describes it so well—it's peeling back the layers of the onion. We're this onion, you know, and we're peeling back these layers, and that's progress: peeling back those layers. And the way that I felt that, was finding less of me when I looked inside, you know, or a subtler sense of what I am. Shawn wasn't chattering anymore in my head, I could look past that. And, I wasn't feeling emotions, I could look past those. And, I want to use the word deeper, but that doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot—looking deeper into myself.

I've said before that progress was a refinement of questions. What was the question that I had. And in the beginning, the question is: "Why am I miserable?" or "How can I be happy?" And in the end the question is nothing other than—it's not hardly even a question, it's just a longing. It's just a wanting to know. And in between, there are things like, well, "Why do I react this way?" "Why when someone gets too close to me with their car do I get angry?" Or: "Why am I attracted to a certain type of person?" "Why do I have a certain type of fear?" All those things are—all those self-knowledge things are scattered in between those two points.

Q: If dismantling of the ego is a necessary step to self-realization, is depression inevitable?

Shawn: Is depression inevitable? Well, I think whether you're in this or not, depression is a part of most people's experience—at least the people I've known… maybe I hang out in strange circles. My mom always says—my mom suffered from depression her whole life—she always says: "There must be people out there who are happy all the time. I don't hear them talking about things like are happening to me." If they are, they need to speak up loudly, I guess. I haven't heard them.

I mean, I see what you're getting at, that this sounds like a painful thing: dismantling of the ego: "I'm dismantling myself, tearing out my guts." That sounds hard, and depression must be a part of that.

[Comment from someone]

Shawn: You know, that's the thing, it's all so fascinating, and it's an amazing adventure and it's this revelation of such amazing material about yourself and about existence. I hate the thought that the search is blood and guts and all that.

But, you know, I'm basically a pessimist, which you should know, so… I think that any endeavor will be fraught with depression. [laughter] Angst. The loss of will and desire. And we must plow our way through. [laughter]

[Comment from Bob C.]

Shawn: That's right. [making a rowing motion] That's right.

So if you find some rapport with that [laughter] then you may get some value from the things I had to say. However, if you think "that poor bastard" [laughter] then you might want to listen to somebody else.

I think we're about out of time, aren't we?

Heather: No, eight minutes [laughter]

Q: Did you find a way of checking whether or not you were truly being honest with yourself?

Shawn: Boy, yeah that's a—you've come to the crux of the matter there. You've got to refine the machine as Mr. Rose would say, refine the intuition. You've got friends who can help you, but, at a certain place, you know, your friends can only help you to a certain extent, and beyond that it's up to you, or if you're fortunate enough to have a teacher or someone who you think is a little further along than you, then they may be able to help you. But the problem is, a lot of times they'll tell you the truth and you won't listen to them anyways. So, it still comes back to you.

And, yeah, how do I know when I'm being honest? It's this hard circle of: If I were being honest, I would know that I was being honest, and how do I ever be honest for the first time? What's the gauge by which I measure my honesty?

I think if you don't have a moment of rapport, or a moment of a sense that there's something more, then you would have a hard time judging truth, let's say. I think you had to have some kind of spark inside yourself. You know, does everybody? Maybe everybody does, but for me, I would say, up until the point that I was 22, I didn't know anything. As Bart Marshal says, the world was just women and jobs and cars, and that was it. And then I heard a lecture by Mr. Rose and just something about him sparked something in me, and then, it's like I had the beginning of some kernel of truth inside myself. And if I could just remember that, then that would give me some base-line, let's say, to judge: What do I really want?

I think honesty—it boils back to knowing what you want. If you don't know what you're really after, then it's mighty hard to be honest—if you're confused about that point. Fundamentally, what do I want? What do I want to achieve? What do I want to be? And if I get a sense of possibility, then I can ask myself: "Is this action taking me perhaps closer to that or further away from it?" And sometimes you just don't know, and that's perfectly valid. I spent most of my life not knowing what in the heck was the next thing I was supposed to be doing. But I could tell what was leading me down another route, you know.

Maybe—well, that's retraversing the, you know, backing away from untruth. That's all I'm saying. I did know what wasn't it. I was pretty vague on what would get me there, but I did know what wouldn't get me there.

Q: [indistinct] Maybe it has something to do with the thinking in negative moods, too. Because there are decisions, ideas that come to mind sometimes, that I think "maybe I should go this way" and I think I could have done stuff. Could have been some other desires that I have. What do I do? I don't necessarily have to hate me for a direction.

Shawn: Um-hm. I think if you could actually tell a friend those things or could write them out in the actual words of "what is it" that you might—that you would see. That's just my sense.

Q: When you mean "be honest" do you mean thoughts to yourself? I mean, it's not so much honesty with other people? [laugher]

Shawn: Well, I don't know, what do you think? [laughter]

Q: I mean that the way I said it.

Shawn: Are there any other questions? [laughter]

Bob C.: Why did you move to Texas, Shawn?

Shawn: I moved to Texas because the East Coast had become associated with failure to me. That, at the time the farm was to me disintegrating, there was no one here, Mr. Rose was gone, everyone was moving away, I wasn't getting anything more out of working at Linsly and doing that type of work—the adventure-ed stuff. Being out in nature wasn't really doing anything for me, and my relationships with people had come to a dead end. That classic solution that many people employ: go somewhere.

Bob C.: Why did it end up in Texas instead of Des Moines or Indianapolis?

Shawn: I took a trip a few months before because you know how Mr. Rose said that he would have a sense if a city had potential—that it would be a spiritual hot-spot. I thought, well, I don't want to move somewhere like Des Moines that's going to be a spiritual dead-end, I want to find some place that feels like there's potential to do something, to have a group. So I just went from city to city, and I had some places in mind, and just see what they were like. You know, I went to Boulder and Denver, San Antonio and Austin and those places are by each other. I visited some people, too. I drove through Memphis on the way, visited Dave. I went to Charleston, no not Charleston, Charlottesville.

Bob C.: Is that when you came to Raleigh?

Shawn: I think I came to Raleigh too, yeah, just to see if I could see: well can I feel, you know, a place to go. And as best as I could tell, Austin seemed to be the place, and I guess it turned out ok.

Q: When you asked the question "is there more to life than material career, wife" obviously you came to an answer which said, yeah there's something else. So you took the same question and apply it to the spiritual search: is there more to life than the spiritual search—what kind of vision did you have? What were you looking for? What is it that you wanted at that point at your spiritual search?

Shawn: That's a great question, and again, it's a progression. I very much see a progression in my questions and a progression in what I wanted. And again, in the beginning, I just wanted to be well, or to be happy, and that was as much as I could conceive—you know, enlightenment, and these sorts of things, you know—which is not to say that I didn't have a sense of something deeper, but what I wanted is what you're asking, and that's what I wanted. And I went through that phase at a point where I wanted to be a teacher—I don't think I phrased it really as that—I wanted a community. You know, I wanted to have a place like the farm where people could come and be in isolation, because I don't like talking and I don't really like people all that much. [laughter] I like being by myself.

Q: A hermit.

Shawn: But I do like the community aspect of it, to a certain degree, so you know, have a place and I'd be doing something for other people; something of value. Eventually, like I said, at some point, it's just—certainty. Wherever that was. Something solid. Because nothing is solid. Nothing was—who said generate the doubt sensation? Was that you Bob, taking about—yeah. Everything was that. Including enlightenment, and the idea of a path—it was all on the table. I always say you have to be able to seriously consider that this is all B.S. and that we're nothing but biological organisms and when you die, that's it. If you can't consider that you're kidding yourself, you're not being honest because you don't know anything for certain. And to have that thought throws you into a place where, whoa, talk about the mind being unsteady, well everything that I think is important is actually on a big sand castle by the beach.

Q: So?

Shawn: Well, my last thing of certainty, that was the final thing that I wanted from my path: certainty. That was the thing when I was in Texas. If I would have articulated "what am I looking for?" and I'm really not doing much looking, it was just certainty.

~ From a presentation given at the April 2006 TAT conference "What Is Spiritual Action?" Special thanks to Dan Garmat for the transcription. See the conference video page for DVD information.

Humor of the ironic variety ...

"We don't know what to do with this short life, and we want another which shall be eternal." —Anatole France

Dolly Parton photo "You'd be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap." —Dolly Parton

"If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?" —H.L. Mencken

"There are three kinds of men who do not understand women: Young, old, and middle-aged." —ibid.

"I love being married. It's so great to find one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life." —Rita Rudner

Artemus Ward photo The Puritans nobly fled from a land of despotism to a land of freedim, where they could not only enjoy their own religion, but could prevent everybody else from enjoyin his. —Artemus Ward, London Punch Letters, No. 5 (1866)

Let us all be happy and live within our means, even if we have to borrow the money to do it with. —ibid., Natural History

"To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer. To suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy then is to suffer. But suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down." —Woody Allen, Love and Death

Reader Commentary ...

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