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

January 2010

This Month's Contents: What Scares You? by Shawn Pethel | What is Enlightenment, no, I mean really, like what is it? by Steven Norquist | A Poem by James Davis | I Knew That There Was Something Really Wrong by David Weimer | Crossing the Line & The Greatest Grace by David Scoma | Humor

Editor's Note
by David Weimer


Welcome to the Forum.

Send us your thoughts on something important.

What Scares You?
by Shawn Pethel

As I write this I am looking at a photograph of my youngest son. It captures one of the many growing pains children go through. Things have not gone his way and he is looking with red, wet eyes at his teacher who is trying to talk him through it. I don't like it when he is upset, but he must go through scenes like this if he is to grow. It is much the same for us as seekers. The only difference is that we are far more adept at avoiding opportunities for growth. So if you find yourself looking for a way forward ask yourself this: What scares you?

In this endeavor that we call the search for Truth it is often suggested to us that we clarify exactly what it is that we want. Words like Truth, Certainty, Self-Definition, or a Final Answer come to my tongue quickly, but these never seem to hit the target squarely. They are a bit too abstract. As a result I find myself listening to what others say they want and then trying their words "on for size". I've had lots of near misses, but I've never been able to really nail it.

At a retreat recently I happened to back into an answer by asking myself what I don't want. What we are avoiding can be just as telling as what attracts us. Words like loneliness, failure, and pain often strike truer than dreams of saintly enlightenment. I've found that what upsets me, when faced squarely, can be powerfully transformative.

purpose In my case the word that struck fear in my heart was purposelessness. For years my identity had been embracing ever more tightly the role of spiritual seeker. It was my Grand Purpose. I could not imagine life without this special purpose to give it meaning. Yet there was that word, written unexpectedly, on my notepad. And by the tears welling up in my eyes I knew that I was face to face with a fact I had been desperately avoiding: Shawn has no grand purpose beyond that of any other living creature. He is a simple man that will live a simple life and then disappear forever. An identity that had initially galvanized my spiritual search had now become its biggest block.

Fear might be the strongest signal generated by our bodies. We have correspondingly strong coping mechanisms to deal with it. For me humor has always been a sure way to deflect serious inquiry into subjects that I'm afraid to get too close too. One or two witty comments are often enough to let the air out of the situation and safely redirect the subject. An even more effective mechanism is to simply bury the fear signal with over-stimulation. Work, food, TV, sex, books, and even the spiritual search itself often do a good job of scrambling any signals trying to get through to us.

If inquiring about what scares you brings no strong response, it might be time to mute those other distractions. Fasting, silence, retreats, and isolations can do this. I've found celibacy to be effective. Eliminating entertainment outlets—especially the internet—takes a lot of noise out of the system too.

A good place to look for fear is in the chest and stomach area. Many emotions manifest as sensations in these areas. Mapping them out gives us a way to pick fruitful topics for introspection. The stronger the emotion the more potential there is for insight. The first fears that come up are likely to be surface fears that, once worked through, expose deeper issues. It isn't the most pleasant way forward, but my experience is that it works.

I think for many of us the worst fear lurking down there is fear of annihilation, or more precisely, annihilation of the individual. The conviction of being an individual separate from everything else is the source of much of my discomfort, yet surrendering that conviction—giving up the self—scares the hell out of me. But if I am ever to find a Grand Purpose, then I sense that I must get out of the picture. The way forward is clearly marked. I must face what I'm running from and trust that, once behind it, I'll be closer to what I really want.

Helix Nebula

What is Enlightenment,
I mean really,
like what is it?
by Steven Norquist

My friends and family have been after me for some time to write about my experience and understanding of this topic. I have hesitated to write about it not because enlightenment itself is so hard to describe, but because enlightenment tends to make one quite lazy.

Before my change I was a busy beaver, reading and writing and playing music and sports and really actively getting out there. But after "the change," as I call it, there was a clear vision of how silly all this activity was and how much incredible effort is required to perform it.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me lay out one basic fact: I am awake. I woke up about a year ago. I know what I am, what I have always been, and what it is impossible to stop being. Some call this enlightenment or ultimate truth, unity consciousness, infinite mind and so on. But all those names don't tell the non-awake what it is. Even calling it "the change" is not really accurate because nothing really changed, yet paradoxically, huge change took place.

In simple terms, I was once Steve living his life, but now I am the experience of Steve living his life. It is a shift in perspective. Before this perspective shift occurred, I had practiced about three years of medium-intensity meditation consisting of some breath watching, a little mantra repetition and some light self-inquiry Ramana Maharshi style. These techniques were coupled with an intense desire to find and know the truth.

I read everything on enlightenment I could get my hands on.

After about three years of this I had my first experience of "nonduality," as it is called.

I had just read a passage in Ken Wilber's "The Spectrum of Consciousness" where he points out that ordinary awareness is ultimate awareness. This struck a chord in me. I set the book down and stared at a paper that was sitting on the table in front of me and after about a minute or two an exciting and frightening thing happened—I disappeared!

By that I mean the middle fell right out of the equation.

Normally there would be Steve over here looking at the paper on the desk over there, but now there was only the experience "paper," and no Steve over here seeing it. It was clear that the middle that normally separated the paper from Steve did not really exist; there was only the experience, "paper."

Now let me try to make this more obvious by giving an illustration.

Imagine as clearly as you can that you enter a large house that you have never been in before. You feel strange and kind of scared; there are furniture and drapes, but no people.

You wander around feeling the creepiness of being alone in this big house. You go from room to room not knowing what you will find. You start to get nervous and a little fearful being alone in this big house. You wonder how long it has been empty like this.

In time the sense of the bigness and emptiness of the house starts to weigh heavily on your nerves. Finally, when you cannot stand it any longer, a shocking realization occurs to you: you're not there, either!

Only the experience "house" exists.

This is how nonduality feels, and it is the real truth of existence.

Remember the question, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

Now you know the answer.

You see, with enlightenment comes the knowledge that even though there is much activity in the world, there are no doers.

The universe is, in a sense, lifeless. There is no one, only happenings and the experience of happenings.

Enlightenment reveals that the universe emerges spontaneously.

Its emergence and pattern are perfect in mathematics and symmetry and involve no chance.

Nothing is random; everything emerges exactly as it has to. There is no random chance, or evolution based on chance.

The universe is perfect.

Nothing is wrong or ever could be.

Helix Nebula

~ Read the rest of Steven's provocative essay.

A poem
by James Davis


I push the stout oak door
And slip in under the oval dome.
Silence summons me in.
Muffled echoes brood over the stone
And under the pews offering
Neither text nor tune nor shaft of light
But mute all until even waiting falls away.
The silence inhales me into itself.
A pilgrim enters from the back;
His footsteps echo inside me.
He prostrates himself on the floor.
The flagstone is cold against my forehead.

~ Passing through North Carolina? Check out The Hawk and Ivy Bed and Breakfast run by James and Eve Davis.

I Knew That There was Something Really Wrong
by David Weimer

I gave a woman my bill after a recent renovation job and we talked about her husband's Alzheimer's.
She was more accepting than I could imagine her being. "It's a sucky way to go," she said. She told me something that struck me and stuck with me: that she knew that there was something really wrong one day when he couldn't tell time anymore.
I had worked in their home for two weeks and had observed their interaction and the man's behavior. I had picked up a melancholy contact buzz from the situation I saw unfolding.
I'd done plaster repair and regularly walked by on my way for more tools and the like. This concrete fact of an individual's consciousness gradually closing its eyes intrigues me, to say the least.
Our relationship to time, and how someone not tethered to schedules and routines experiences duration are things that I saw in a different light during those days in the company of a retiring couple from Wheeling. What is it like to be? is something endlessly fascinating to me. The man has since died.

I knew that there was something really wrong
one day when his ticking wristwatch marched away from my sweetheart's mind.
It was such a simple thing.

I watched him blink at strangers that first time: an odd, jerking dark sliver,
numbers in a circle, two dark sticks.

In time, I saw him accept these strangers as familiar unknowns
in a brave new world of faces, places, sights and sounds in a growing aquarium of

Each day, I watched my husband receding from me, wearing his new digital wristwatch
that I bought for him.
He insisted on wearing this new friend; and although they didn't speak
they drew comfort from their mutual lack of comprehension.

I miss him, more every day, although he's still by my side or behind me
always by my side or behind me.
We share our empty laughter and I feel like crying, and I do.
Our past dangles from both sides of a gorge with a ferocious river below.
Footbridge planks are stuck down there between rocks.
Most have floated downstream.

I wear him now, always now, my lonely watch with that face that I recognize.
And his hands, I watch them; I watch them moving apart from meaning.
A strong fading familiarity is what we have left each second.

My husband is my wristwatch that ticks every second faithfully
slower and slower as its tension lessens, releasing our life together
our passing life.

Crossing the Line, and The Greatest Grace
by David Scoma

Transcribed from his talk at the SIG Enlightenment and Grace conference, October 10th, 2009.

Enlightenment really is death, in the truest sense. And I know people say that, and it's very easy to hear that and have it click in your mind…but it's really the ONLY real death. This isn't like even a near death experience. This can come about through a near death experience, but most NDE's are not what we talk about when we say death of the mind.

Somebody sent me an article saying that the UK Times had reported a study that was done in Great Britain where 15% of the cardiac arrest patients that were being resuscitated were reporting near death experiences. And this student I was working with said "What do you make of this?" And I said "Well, they're having experiences, and I'm sure they're coming back with a renewed sense of life and that there's a vitality in what they're seeing. But 15% of them AREN'T coming back awake."

Because that near death experience isn't that "crossing the line" that we're necessarily talking about—when that line gets crossed. However, this friend of mine who's in the medical field told me a story not too long ago. He said that there was a patient he was working with. She wasn't critical at all. I mean, she was sick, but they didn't have her on ventilators or anything. She was unconscious at one point, and he walked into her room and was going through her charts or whatever. And all of the sudden, out of her unconsciousness, she bolted straight up. And she goes "WOW—I just died!"

flatline And he looked at her, and he looked at her statistics and at all the equipment, and he goes, "No you didn't, you're fine." And she looked at him, and she said, "No," with a certainty. "I just died." And he couldn't talk her out of it. She said "I'm sorry, that's what happened—I just died." He left her room and went about his business.

Fifteen minutes later, she coded. She had a heart attack and the body passed away. Now, the body passed away fifteen minutes later, but she died when she told him she died—THAT'S the kind of death I'm talking about. She crossed that line at that point. The rest was just waiting it out—whether it's fifteen minutes or fifty years.

The greatest grace that you can have as a seeker is your discontent. Or whatever is motivating you. When I say discontent, that's not a bad thing. Whatever is motivating you right now to seek and look into this, whatever that drive is, that's a beautiful grace.

It should be the foundation of your life as a seeker to varying degrees. The second greatest grace is when that discontent comes to an end. The second greatest grace might not be in the story. But you still have the first greatest grace, which is; what's right in front of you right now is looking into the nature of life and reality—and there's no greater adventure.

Don't squander it. Don't take it for granted. It's amazing. It's an amazing period. It's an amazing life, an amazing life journey. Regardless of the outcome. You can't stay away from what you really are forever—it's what you really are.



There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says,
"Morning, boys. How's the water?"
And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes,
"What the hell is water?"

~ David Foster Wallace
(from a commencement speech given at Kenyon College, May 21, 2005)

hanging by a thread

Reader Commentary

Recently I have been listening to the mp3 files in the audio section of the TAT site. They are a great addition to the site, the tone of voice sometimes transmits something extra that text hasn't.

When I get lost in everyday problems, reading the forum or something related to TAT effectively reminds me of what´s most important in life, and takes me out of a aimlessness or of a deep immersion in daily trivialities.

I think TAT has been my number one source of inspiration regarding the spiritual search. (also books like Nisargadatta's have been very useful to me, but TAT is more available and monthly sends more good quality writings than any other source of inspiration).

I'm very thankful to Rose and you and the other TAT members, and the best way of expressing that thankfulness would be to share what TAT makes available with others, and to continue with my attempts to retreat from untruth.

~ Sergio F, Buenos Aires

Dear Editor,

I very much appreciate all those who put together the TAT Forum. I have been a silent reader for years. Many of the contributors are clearly seekers like myself, but others are clearly silent spiritual giants offering hints and tricks to bypass the maze of our minds.

Below is a little free-verse about the TAT Forum.

After searching for years
I found a cure for life
But the medicine was too strong
So I consumed it in small doses
Bit-by-bit, and day-by-day
I swallowed a little pill
Until, one day
lying on my death bed
I was startled to realize
I had only gained immunity
to the cure.

~ Anonymous

Spiritual Correctness

I've recently been hanging out on the some of the spiritual discussion forums and have noticed a disturbing trend among the non-dualists. Many of them spout what I call "spiritual correctness" in a manner similar to how one would think of "political correctness". Let me explain. While the understanding of spiritual experiences has its value, to hold a spiritual explanation based on consensus strikes me as the essence of duality. On the one side we have experience, and on the other we have the accepted explanation. If that doesn't drive one crazy, I don't know what will!

Spiritual experience, or any experience for that matter, does not require an explanation, it just is. For those traversing the spiritual path, there is really no need to be an analytical scholar at the same time—just take life it as it comes, it is much simpler that way.

The spiritual journey is mostly experienced in darkness; that is, without "knowing" leading the way. As you learn to walk without explanations we also learn to "see" in the dark. And our vision will become very acute. Metaphors aside, explanations often give us the illusion of understanding, the illusion that we have accomplished something spiritually. If we could all agree by consensus then we should just go home content that we have worked out our spiritual issues in our head. But that would only be a delusion.

We need to discover the spiritual spark within and let it grow. It grows by staying focused on it and it shrinks by thinking and cogitating on it. Keep it simple, and for God's sake, don't think it to death!

~ Larry D.

Did you enjoy the Forum? Then buy the book! Beyond Mind, Beyond Death is available at Amazon.com.


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