The Buddha ate my blog, or, The Peskiness of nondual insight
Well, I’m back from another long hiatus. It’s been four weeks since my last confession—er, blog post. I’m certainly making good on my previous claim, circa early September, that my foreseeable activity here at The Teeming Brain would be sporadic.
At the moment I thought I’d drop in to mention that this downturn in blog activity isn’t due solely to an upsurge in real-life busyness, although that certainly has played and continues to play a role (as with my 13-hour work day yesterday, culminating in my returning home last night around 10 o’clock and leaving again for work this morning around 8). What’s also factoring into the situation is a downturn in my overall motivation to take part in the life of the Internet. And that, in turn, is a result of certain inner changes that have occurred in me over a several-month span.
In a nutshell, I’ve started receiving or experiencing flashes of nondual insight that have put flesh, as it were, on the bones of the spiritual, philosophical, and theological ideas that have occupied my attention for most of my life. Readers of this blog, as well as of my formally published fiction and nonfiction, are well aware of my philosophical and spiritual proclivities. So they (you) may (or may not) be interested to learn that this latest development kicked off in earnest last spring and has continued pretty much unabated ever since. Hints of it appear in some of the posts I’ve published here. The change has taken the form of an intensification of things I initially began to realize some years ago—first intellectually and then existentially—about time, consciousness, and identity. I used to read the words of various sages and spiritual teachers who said things like, “You are not your mind,” “You are not your experiences but the experiencer of them,” “The world happens inside you, not vice versa,” and so on. And I really dug it. Delving into this kind of thing, seeking and savoring books and ideas along these lines, became a way of life for me. My thoughts and bookshelves were, and still are, populated by things relating to meditation, mysticism, theology, Zen Buddhism, nondualism, esoteric Christianity, comparative religion, existentialism, consciousness studies, depth psychology, and more.
But for the most part, my experience of all these things was purely intellectual. I was pursuing not real experience but intellectual ideas—“mere thoughts in your head,” as Eckhart Tolle would say—which I, with my particular personality and set of predilections, found appealing, intriguing, and exciting. Only I didn’t realize this, since I mistook the ideas for the realities.
Now, recently, this situation has undergone a substantial change. It didn’t happen all at once but instead arose, as mentioned above, as an intensifying of something that had already started. I’ve experienced various “awakenings” over the years but this recent change has been more fundamental and extensive than anything that’s come before. My frequent thought/feeling has been, “So that’s what the words always meant!” Another frequent thought/feeling, often accompanied by a fleeting, cackling laughter, has been, “You’ve got to be shitting me” (addressed to no one in particular, or perhaps to myself).
Several side effects have accrued, including an interesting shift in the tenor of my personal relationships and the aforementioned lessening and loosening of my attachment to the Internet. The latter isn’t permanent, I think, since it’s primarily a spin-off of the fact that the fundamental motivations that have fueled a great many of my lifelong pursuits, including my writing (including my activity here at The Teeming Brain), are presently called into question. I’m undergoing a bit of an internal reorganization.
In truth, the whole thing is a lot like what Josh Baran describes as his awakening experience in his excellent and even essential little book of quotations, 365 Nirvana Here and Now. Baran says that after many years of reading books and practicing various spiritual techniques, he flew to Nepal “to receive Dzogchen teachings from a revered master, Tulku Urgyen,” in whose presence he “found my ‘self’ instantly stopped cold. There were no fireworks, no thunder—just the sudden, obvious, stunning realization of the pure awareness that I had overlooked my entire life, not hidden or elsewhere.”
He goes on to write: “In the face of this presence or nowness, all seeking, wandering, and waiting vanished before my eyes. I saw how much of my life’s energies had been focused on looking forward to some imagined future, rather than simply celebrating the all-pervasive present: trying to get ‘there’ instead of being ‘here.’ My previous years of forced meditation and effort seemed, in retrospect, useless.”
Lately, whenever I read Baran’s words and others like them, I find that I actually understand them on a level beyond that of mere interesting thoughts.
In linear-temporal terms, this might be considered a partial fulfillment of some time I spent—virtually, in cyberspace—with the now-deceased spiritual teacher Scott Morrison during the mid-1990s. I came into contact with him via his website 21st Century Renaissance at www.openmindopenheart.org, now sadly defunct (although most of its contents are still available via the Internet Archive). Scott had just achieved a measure of recognition as a teacher of nondual wisdom via the publication of his little book There Is Only Now, which had aroused considerable excitement among Zen and nondual spirituality circles. He created 21st Century Renaissance to serve as an online community where people from all over the world could participate in an electronic version of satsang or dokusan, the Eastern spiritual practice in which disciples gather around a teacher and ask questions in order to deepen and sharpen their insight. I became one of his informal students in this manner. Several of the questions, along with Scott’s responses, that appear in the archived website are from me. He and I also struck up a private email relationship, in the course of which I was impressed to discover that he was one of the first batch of original American students of Chogyam Trungpa.
But none of that meant that I really understood what he was talking about. Repeatedly, to me and lots of other inquirers, he said things like, “Give up looking for anything like ‘enlightenment’ or ‘spiritual awakening.’ You’re making it into some sort of external goal to be attained in the future. That’s the very opposite of the truth. Just focus your attention on the present moment and recognize what’s already here, what’s already true, what’s inescapably real when you drop all mental-emotional storylines.” I thought I knew what he was saying, but that was precisely the problem: I thought I understood him, which meant I was just understanding a thought, which meant I was making the whole thing into a “thought in my head,” which was exactly the delusional move that he was pointing out.
Scott died in 2000. For more than a year afterward, I didn’t know why my sporadic emails were going unanswered or why the website had fallen silent. Finally, I wrote to the people at www.sentient.org to ask if they knew what was going on (since I knew they had a page devoted to Scott). They wrote back to inform me of his early death by cancer at around age 40. I hadn’t even known he was ill.
These seven years later, it’s gratifying to return to his books and online writings and have an “Oh, that’s what he meant” experience.
I’ll close this post with two excerpts from two different authors that get at the type of awakening I’m talking about. The first is from Scott:
“What follows has been said in many, many different ways, here and elsewhere. If you are passionately interested in Self Realization, I suggest you go into this very, very slowly and carefully. If we are honest, we can’t assume anything, so don’t take my word for any of this. (What that means is that to know the truth, you have to search your own heart with as much sincerity and integrity as possible. It’s entirely up to you.) That said, it all comes down to this:
“There is only now. This is it. This is everything.
“Everything we think we think we know, in advance, about ourselves, about each other, about the world, about God, about the universe, is nothing but the play of memory, belief, and opinion, with all of its historical, emotional, psychological, social, political, economic, and intellectual baggage. This includes all spiritual, philosophical, and religious beliefs and fantasies.
“The only thing we know, for sure, is awareness.
“If attention is not fixated on self-centered ideas about things, its true nature is revealed as love, affection, insight, clarity, wisdom, equanimity, and compassion.
That true nature is what you are.
You are a verb and the universe is a verb.
“If you don’t deny that, trivialize it, or pretend it’s not so, you will discover that all of the joy, happiness, peace, and freedom you have been seeking everywhere else has been right here all along.
“However, these are all just words. If you are truly open and honest, you can put the words, too, aside.
“Without the word, ‘awareness,’ what is it?
“Without the word, ‘love,’ what is it?
“Without the word, ‘freedom,’ what is it?
“Without the word, ‘peace,’ what is it?
“Without the word, ‘now,’ what is it?”
The second is from Richard Lang, who worked with Douglas Harding for several years before the latter’s death in January of this year. Richard now carries on Douglas’s work of pointing out the reality of “headlessness,” that is, the immediate, inescapable first-person experience of being not a thing but space, or the capacity for experience, which each of us knows firsthand. Richard’s description below is wonderfully precise and lucid:
“Here’s a suggestion:
“Sit down on your own for ten minutes with the sole purpose of being awake to Who you really are. Keep guiding your attention home to this undivided Capacity for your boundless view, this Silence for the limitless soundscape, this clear Absence that is Room for the edgeless world of body sensation. Whatever you find yourself thinking about, notice these thoughts are happening in your Spaciousness, in your No-Mind. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to try and stop thinking for example, or try and feel peaceful, but simply be aware of being Space for the thinking process, or for whatever you are feeling. Attend to the Space and whatever is happening in it. As you do so, things will naturally reveal themselves, then dissolve. Just keep seeing that things unfold in the Space. It may happen that insights or understanding come to you. If this happens, observe these things too, occurring in the Space. See them arise, see them dissolve. Be aware of all of this happening there, as you look from the Mystery here. The Mystery that you are.
“If the experience is a pleasant one, be aware of that feeling in the Space. Pleasant feeling there to its Absence here—two way attention. If it’s unpleasant—say you don’t like what you are feeling or are impatient for something different to happen—also notice this reaction in the Space. In fact, when difficult feelings appear it’s good news! Now you have the opportunity to see Who you really are in a more challenging situation. See there is no one here to be challenged. Feeling there to no-feeling here. . . Reaction there to no-reaction here—to no one here. World there to Capacity for the world here. Moment by moment, stay with the obvious and visible fact that you are not a thing at Centre but capacity. This experience of staying with the truth of Who you really are in a difficult situation will then help you if you experience something unpleasant at another time. You will know that you have the capacity and power to view it from the Space here, and to respond to it from the Space here.
“It’s not a matter of trying to have any particular kind of experience but of noticing that whatever your experience is, you are viewing it from Awareness, from this boundless clear Space or Single Eye, from Freedom, from Peace.”