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

August 2007

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

This month's contents:

Basket of Fruit, by Caravaggio Basket of Fruit, by Caravaggio

12 Haiku by Bart Marshall | Intelligent Spontaneity by Bob Fergeson | Poems by Larry Davis | When I Finally Became Serious by Art Ticknor | Death Poem by Mimamoto no Yorimasa | Giving Up by Shawn Nevins | Humor: Out of My Mind by Vicki Woodyard

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Editor's Note
by Shawn Nevins

Editors pen by Shawn Nevins This month brings change to the TAT Forum. Our long-time editor-in-chief Art Ticknor is passing the baton to me. Art has tirelessly (and I'm sure tire-fully at times) arranged every Forum issue since its inception in November of 2000: that is eighty-one issues. As I look through the Forum, I see numerous fine touches in the design that have taken its appearance to the level of artwork. I hope to continue Arts fine work of selecting the best essays, poems, opinions, and humor that touch our core theme of seeking and finding answers to our deepest life questions. I welcome all who desire to join in the effort by contributing material, helping with editing or publication, making a donation, or providing feedback.

Note the addition of a new feature this month. The article "Giving Up" has a form for submitting a question or comment to the author. Puzzled, perturbed, or inspired, you can now start a dialogue with a contributor.

12 Haiku
by Bart Marshall

The dream of myself,
no longer believed,
continues unattended.

Snow trees, morning stove.
Deep in old firewood
burrowed insects burn awake.

No memory or time,
I hurtle through place
on the stillpoint of now.

A book falls from the shelf
and opens.
It does not say I am chosen.

Cold sun, transparent sky.
Shards of razor-edged light
assemble the world.

Sudden emptiness of mind.
He has vanished,
the one who is not God.

Thinking and doing,
I live out my scarce days.
Ceasing, I erase death.

The silent witness,
not doing, not caring,
is whom the world obeys.

In stillness, songs
of the ten-thousand things
sung by a lone mockingbird…

Fearful and worried, I am old.
Lost in laughter,
I am yet unborn.

Do without expecting.
Receive without claiming.
Everything comes.

the relentless insistence
of the Obvious to be known…

Intelligent Spontaneity
by Bob Fergeson

Any wine will get you high.
Judge like a king, and choose the purest,
the ones unadulterated with fear, of some urgency about "what's needed."

Drink the wine that moves you
as a camel moves when it's untied,
and is just ambling about. ~ Rumi

I've spoken before about how the listening attention is the gateway to within. This can be also spoken of as the link between the real and unreal, the manifest and unmanifest. The Christian mystics refer to the Son who is the link to the Father. William Samuel speaks of the Child as the pathfinder, and tells us it is essential to actually get in touch with this Child of Light. These refer to an essential part of us, a part that is free from the world, yet sees the world, and can lead us back to our Home in the Father. What is this Child, this intuitive light, this innocence somehow imbibed with wisdom?

One thing it is not, is childishness. It is not needy and wanting its own way, nor dependent on the things of this world for its satisfaction or existence. In fact, the Child is much better described by what it is not than what it is. Jesus once remarked that we should become as innocent as doves but also as wise as serpents. We do not use the Child for the further purposes of the ego, but become it. The listening attention is not the problem solving or even the categorizing mind, but that which simply sees or listens, and can link to a higher intelligence. Many of our problems are better solved by asking for an answer from within, then practicing patience until the answer appears. The saying, "I'll sleep on it" refers to this in a simple way; we ask, then wait until we receive.

puer eternus Maurice Nicoll speaks of the puer eternus, Latin for eternal boy or child. He calls this the intermediary, the one who connects us with the higher centers within. He refers to our organism as composed of different "centers" or minds, each having its own purpose. These centers are divided into higher and lower, the lower being what we are ordinarily aware of as mind. The higher centers are said to be constantly trying to reach us, but cannot get through due to the wrong working of the lower ones. This is likened to static, negative unnatural patterns taking up most of the energy of these centers, so that they can no longer hear the higher ones; there is too much interference. Nicoll tells us that "The object of the Work is to cleanse our lower centers, to clear them out, to open their windows, so that they can begin to transmit these ideas and directions coming from higher centers." We cannot hear the Child, who hears the Father, for the mind has become lost in the static of the world, outward turned and saturated with useless worry and dreams, broadcasting its static miasma so nothing else can get through.

This brings us to the first step to the listening attention: the clearing out of this static. Much like a radio which must be tuned in order to pick up the desired station, we must tune our machine, our lower centers, in order to pick up the constant but unheard signal of our higher self. As Rumi says, we have become obsessed with "what's needed" and have thus lost our innocence. We can no longer sit in silence and listen to what may be speaking to us: a still small voice from within.

Samuel also speaks of the value of trauma or suffering in weeding out the ego's insistence that it is the only source. For most of us, it takes a shock to turn us within. To become aware that there is something higher than ourselves permits the Child to come forth, for we begin to listen in another direction, with other ears. We come to see that there is another source of wisdom other than that of memory or the brain. We learn what intuition is, and how it works.

This clearing out of the "old man" gives room for the new, the Child. A new kind of intelligence becomes possible, one that is spontaneous, yet wise. We use our attention to not only view the world and its problems, but to also turn back within and connect with our innate intelligence. This double-pointed arrow of attention lends a certain realness. We are no longer lost in the world, for now we have become superior to it, not just in word, but in fact. The ego is seen for what it is through the eyes of the Child, and is no longer our identity or sole reference. Peace blossoms from within. The Child is born, and the Father now sees His world through the Child.

See Bob's web sites The Mystic Missal, the Nostalgia West photo site, and The Listening Attention.

by Larry Davis


When time brings its own message
That the way to truth is there,
The feeling is not to be found
The sight cannot be sought.
The void of time and thought
Brings its own clarity
The way is not there, not here
It is all things, every moment.
The joy of finding it
The bliss of knowing it
Dissolves into infinity
Along with the seeker.
Beyond all knowing and seeing
Where self cannot reach,
Living in the still void
We exist for all time.

Heat & Light

It is interesting but unfortunate
that light and heat are so mistaken.
What we think is a knowing light
is but a stifling heat.
The friction of action
produces a heat we take as accomplishment
And the more we accomplish
the hotter we get.
The heat is but the internal workings
of image and obsession;
the frantic pursuit of the gold
we dangle in front of our eyes.
Why is it that when we burn out
we seek to renew the heat
and never think to seek shade?
There is another life waiting
in the cool, listless shade.
A life where accomplishment
consists of nothing but staying cool.
All that glitters is not gold.
Much of it is the heat that we believe is light.
Forget about regulating the heat;
Life flows in the cool, clear pasture of solitude.


Common love is an illusion,
It wants us to possess that which gives us pleasure,
It tells us to pursue the object of our desire,
It does not see beyond itself.
True love has no object, no goal:
It is just love.
The love where there is no "me"
and "you" is the rest of humanity.
Love that is not borne of self
Touches everything and yet nothing in particular.
This all-encompassing love
Frees us from the confines of self.
Once set free we can travel,
Protected from the harshness of life
Carried along on the wings of love
We consume ourselves in its wondrous flame.

When I Finally Became Serious
by Art Ticknor

wood-carved contemplative, Mainau Island Something I read two or three months before I finally became serious—the Prologue to Douglas Harding's Little Book of Life and Death—triggered, or made me aware of, a desire to get more serious than I'd ever gotten in the quarter century since I'd consciously begun the search for Self.

That was toward the end of February 2004, after returning from a second visit with the Hardings. I must have had a conviction that I wasn't yet ready to get serious, though, because I remember mentally crossing my fingers, hoping that the desire would last until the solitary retreat I had scheduled for that May. It did. And during that retreat I found myself—really for the first time— not merely agreeing with the words written or spoken by someone I felt had found what I was looking for.

I had reserved a hermitage cabin at the Mt. Saint Benedict Monastery just east of Erie, PA, and I began the retreat with a period of fasting. I had planned on continuing the fast for three days but decided to end it after forty-eight hours due to what seemed like a higher level of discomfort than usual and the shortness of the retreat. (Rationalizations, most likely.) I broke the water-only fast with sugar-sweetened tea and then maintained a liquid diet for the rest of the retreat. That evening I noted in my journal that the hoped-for seriousness hadn't arrived yet.

My vitality returned on the third day of the retreat. I experienced waves of inspiration, and I reviewed the first four tests for immortality in the Harding book—but with a difference. Something had shifted in my relationship with teachers: I could no longer be satisfied with merely accepting what they expressed; my own looking had become my authority. I would read a few words or sentences until coming to a point I knew I hadn't checked for myself—not by analyzing (my forte) but by direct looking. I had to "see" for myself.

I wish I could describe to you how this direct looking occurs. I was typically skeptical of my ability to distinguish between what I actually saw inwardly and what I might be imagining. But what happened, increasingly, over the remaining days of the retreat was that I found myself looking directly at what I look out from—and seeing, in terms of something becoming intuitively obvious, the facts of my essential nature.

Looking in one direction, I could see that thoughts, fingers, scenery, etc. were outside me. But looking back at what I was looking out from, I could see that I was the background upon which those thoughts, fingers, etc., appeared—and thus they were inside me. These two world views appeared to be equally valid, yet they were contradictory.

In Harding's fourth test for immortality ("discovering you are forever still"), here were the items that I could verify by direct looking. As I wrote in my journal at the time, I do see that:

But wait a second....

How do I know that this screen wasn't "born" with the body and won't die with it? It wasn't self-aware—or at least I wasn't self-conscious—until some time after the birth of this body. Okay ... but what about before that? If not self-aware, was it still "here"?

I do see that I am upstream of life, motion, change. But is this outside of time—and therefore "absolute and imperishable" stillness? (Harding anticipated that objection. The fifth exercise, as I discovered next, was "discovering you are timeless.")

The fourth and fifth days of the retreat were filled with the above type of mentation, which in retrospect I characterized as intense but effortless. I had summarized the retreat through that evening as follows:

This has been a wonderful isolation—like the "old days." Fasting caused the body misery, which passed it on to the mind, bringing on a new mental state. Thursday was a day of recovery. Friday and Saturday have produced insights and inspirations. It feels so good to be relaxed enough to be able to sit still and do nothing for short periods.

The previous comment points out another significant change that came along with having to see for myself. I was no longer content with skating over thin ice, with acceding to the fear of stopping, of standing still, for fear of the ice giving way. My bodymind had always needed to keep occupied; remaining still and doing nothing was not in its repertoire.

another wood-carved contemplative, Mainau Island On that Sunday evening I wrote in the journal that: "Today has been an unplanned transition day, with the attention going often toward after-isolation planning." And in the margin I later added: "Interesting choice of words. I also recall feeling 'antsy' all day, up through the 8 PM walk to the lake."

Lake Erie was across the highway from the woods containing the isolation cabin. I had walked to the lake during the daytime, but I had reserved viewing the sun setting across the lake until the last night of the retreat. When I returned from that walk, I was sitting in a chair in the cabin "not doing anything" and thinking how it had been a wonderful, but inconclusive, retreat. And then the denouement of my quarter-century search unfolded as I saw the final opposition that kept me lost in the mind.

It became obvious to me that what I was looking out from, awareness, was self-aware. (I can't explain that other than to say that it's something that can only be verified by looking.) And yet I was convinced that I was a separate something that was aware of that awareness. But as I continued staring at the self-awareness that I was looking out from, the conviction of being separate from it was burned out or blown out. What filtered back into the mind was the realization that Art Ticknor was never alive ... there had never been a little person sitting in a chair watching a movie screen in my head, a separate observer-thing. The screen is self-aware. There can only be one observer—and that's It. I am That.

What followed in the next hour was so concentrated that very little of it could be captured afterward. So I'll just say that it provided a perspective that answers all my deepest life-questions.

The change that had occurred, which brought on this breakthrough to recognition of my real identity, was a seemingly minor shift in mood—a quiet, nondramatic determination to really look for myself, and to keep looking until I passed beyond uncertainty. Our actions can make our lives a prayer for that shift of mood, which I suspect comes when we no longer want anything for ourselves.

Photos from www.wysswyss.ch are of two of the wood carved figures situated around a long table on the island of Mainau in Lake Constance, at the border of Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

Yorimasa's Death Poem

Minamoto Yorimaso's suicide

Like a rotten log
half buried in the ground -
my life, which
has not flowered, comes
to this sad end.

Minamoto Yorimasa (1106-1180) was a poet and a warrior. This poem was written by Yorimasa just before he committed suicide after losing his war against the Taira clan to install Prince Takakura as Emperor. The tradition of seppuku in Japan started from this act, which later came to be part of the samurai's code of honor.

See Wikipedia for more on Yorimasa.

Giving Up
by Shawn Nevins

I decided that even if I failed to find the truth, and seemingly wasted my life looking, I still
would prefer that prospect of failure to a situation where I had not even tried. ~ Richard Rose

desert dryness I was recently asked if I had surrendered when, several years ago, I gave up the search and moved to Austin, Texas to seek riches in the world of business. Memory tends to gloss over details and create connections where there was only confusion, and fate from blind struggle. In my attic are my journals, so I went to the source to see what that fellow was thinking.

What I found was a person suffering from months of spiritual dryness. He wasn't reading, meditating, working with others, or engaged in any practice. He was studying the stock market, lifting weights, and watching TV, yet finding no meaning in these new practices either. They were simply more enjoyable. He was convinced that he had failed in the search and was looking for the second place prize.

I didn't want to give up, but when you're out of ammo what do you do? It is clear I had lost all hope in my ability to do something, yet I still kept looking for help. I went to a Douglas Harding workshop in May of 1999, and was impressed enough to journey to England two months later. His experiments tantalized me; kept alive the feeling that an answer was close, but I still had no idea what action, what movement of the mind would lead to an understanding of what that mind was.

I went looking for a new life to live, but in a town where I felt I could start a small discussion group and be of some service to others. I didn't practice Harding's techniques, meditate, or write. Only a handful of entries mark my journal for the fall of 1999:

10/5/99: Any intense wish will eventually bring an answer.
11/23/99: In the half-light of the morning, whole truth seems but a step away. In the light of day, all fades to grey.
12/25/99: Life is like, to use a John Davis phrase, "whistling in a graveyard."

I recall working hard to build the spiritualteachers.org website: reviewing books, summarizing my experiences to leave a record for others. I felt that my personal spiritual effort was finished, but I recognized that others might succeed and this goal was the highest in life.

On the 28th of December, everything changed:

12/28/99: God is here. He rings in the death of all we know.

I disappeared. Everything disappeared and there was only All.

Did I surrender those many months before? If by that the questioner meant I surrendered to a higher power—absolutely not. No such thought entered my head. Implicit in the question, I believe, is the thought that one could surrender or give up as a practice, thus accelerating one's journey. Maybe it's possible; Christian mystics speak of such. Not me, though. I have to be beaten before I'll surrender or let go. And here I have to be careful not to confound reality with Reality, in a world where we do nothing yet our choices matter.

Don't make a logical story out of this. You can forget this whole essay, except the opening lines by Richard Rose. Understand that what one person found another can. Not in one mighty summoning of will and determination as it may seem in glossy retrospect, but in a series of small steps and choices that build momentum, that change who you are, that build a vector—a force in a direction. When the day comes that you lose hope and give up, the force of your life may lead to a discovery.

Humor ...

Out of My Mind
by Vicky Woodyard

I took my mind out of my head and unrolled it on the kitchen table. It just fit. I had been having lots of buzzing, droning thoughts and wanted to take a good look at them. First I stood up and looked and then I sat down. I could see nothing going on in there. All I saw was a pure little mind, as innocent as the driven snow. (I love a good cliche, don’t you?)

So, confident that I was imagining these pesky little thoughts, I carefully rolled the mind back up and skillfully put it back into my right ear. (I take it out on the left side and replace it on the right. (I tend to be compulsive.)

In one ear and in the other: three mules I put the teakettle on and got a cup down from the rack. Should I have tea or coffee (The mind wanted to know what the body was going to have. By this question, I knew that the buzzing was starting up again.) I told it I would have coffee and a couple of cookies. (I also knew, by answering myself, that the mind had reinstated its bifurcation as if by magic.)

The two-way dialogue was off to the races. I knew that soon I would disappear into the buzz and the emotional brouhahas that would soon begin. I would drink my coffee without tasting it and eat cookies in the same way. So discouraging. (The inner critic had arrived. It looked a little like Roger Ebert. Was it hungry? Maybe that’s how I was gaining all of this weight...by feeding the multitudes, and not in a good way.)

With a total sigh, I resolved to take the mind out and examine it again. This time there were crumbs on the table and the mind recoiled as it touched bits of cookie. It was such a purist.

Nope, there was nothing on the surface of the mind. It was a clear pond reflecting my body as clearly as a mirror. I smiled at its ability to do that. What a mind I had...so trusting that it mirrored anything it saw. I bowed to the purity of it and my reflection in it. As I rolled it back up and put it back through the right ear, I hoped things would go differently now.

They didn’t. I could go on, good reporter that I am, to describe how often I do this. Once I went to a shrink and told him how often I was taking my mind out to examine it. He said he knew I was out of my head. He tried to give me medication but I refused. When the bill came, it was exorbitant and at the bottom he had written a personal note: Patient is just like every other nutcase I have ever treated. And what I told her seemed to go in one ear and out the other. Exactly!

See Vicki's Nonduality Now site.

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