Why this is difficult
I like happiness as much as the next guy. But it’s not happiness that sends one in search of truth. It’s rabid and feverish, clawing madness to stop being a lie, regardless of price, come heaven or hell. This isn’t about higher consciousness or self-discovery or heaven on earth. This is about blood-caked swords and Buddha’s rotting head and self-immolation, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something they don’t have. -Jed Mckenna
If you’ve been with me on this for a while you know what we do here is to try to wake up the truth of life.
And so you probably also know what I mean when I say it’s hard.
This thing I do is compelled. It would be insane to do this out of choice. It drives me crazy. There is a back and forth nature to this which is very frustrating. There is a tendency to isolate myself. Maybe you know what I mean when I say that my external life can become messy, and there isn’t much motivation to do much about that. Everyday is an adventure. There are times of high confidence and clarity. There are times of low energy and low motivation and doubt and confusion. How this thing I do reconciles with the everyday and conventional demands of life is not an easy thing to figure out.
Some of the most popular articles on this site are related to the Dark Night of the Soul. The phrase is misleading in that it suggests it’s one night we’re talking about.
So why does this happen? Why is it hard?
A recent revelation is that the reason I experience this degree of difficulty is because of a mental conflict. The mental conflict of not getting what I want.
Here’s an illustrative example.
I quit smoking with the help of Allen Carr (Easyway method). Well, to be clearer, I’ve quit smoking many times before that time and each of those previous times was a five day long nightmare. I don’t have to describe that to smokers and ex-smokers; they know. But when I quit with Allen Carr’s method, there was no pain. It was in fact, absurdly, an enjoyable experience.
Why? What was going on?
The lesson in that was a lesson about the mental conflict of desire. Briefly, part of me wanted to smoke and part of me did not, and this conflict makes the small event of nicotine withdrawal symptoms into a horrible nightmare. Truly, the withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, are nothing, and I know smokers and ex-smokers will protest up and down about that, but when you look, they are negligible. Allen Carr is much better at explaining this than I am–don’t take this as a lesson on how to quit.
Having learned that lesson from quitting smoking, I saw the truth of it in many of my addictions and bad habits and even desires. But I don’t have clarity in those areas, so I’m not qualified to talk about that, but I do think the same thing is going on in the recovery.
I think the recovery (waking up, becoming a natural human being, whatever you want to call it) is hard because of expectation. I have some nebulous expectations of what it feels like to be free and natural. The reality of it doesn’t match up what I think I want. The difference is the mental conflict. The mental conflict leads to not-nice feelings.
It’s not even that I have any big expectations. It’s not like I want to be a guru or I have visions of being swarmed by spiritual babes. Well, maybe a little of the second.
The expectations are more subtle. They have to do with it life would feel like when there is no resistance. When decisions are easy, what to do next is easy, what to say and how to be and how act and what to think–when all that is easy. And in my experience that does happen. But it’s nothing like the mental projection from an expectation. This difference between expectation and reality manifests as a difficult recovery.
Something like that–my words are not clear yet, but I want to explore this a little further. What happens if I drop all my expectations? What happens if I notice the subtle expectations which I had not noticed before and drop them as well?
The spiritualized ego
Another thing I wanted to address has to do with some conflict that came about in the comments in the last article–accusations about spiritual advancement and spiritualized egos and so on. I want to address it but I don’t think I have the skills to clearly explain that way I see it.
If in wherever it is that you are there isn’t any room for self-questioning, it’s probably a trap. I’ve trapped myself several times. In the first year after reading The Power of Now, I was all about presence. For two years after that, I was about observance and self-honesty. That wasn’t bad actually, until I realized self-honesty is just another mental process, easily subsumed by the ego. The break came after that, when I realized that the central problem was fear, in the sense that the Buddha calls dukkha. Not the particular emotion of fear, but an entire context of mind.
And with that I gave up the mad search.
It’s not that the searching stops. It’s just no longer about anything which is not reachable in direct experience. It’s not about transcendence or enlightenment or a mystical union with the universe. It’s not about spirituality or spiritual practices or spiritual advancement. It’s not about loaded words like God and awareness and presence. It’s not even about meditation–meditate if you want to, it has some great benefits, but waking up is not one of them. It’s not about concepts which are not within my direct experience. It’s no longer about other people’s words.
And so my conjecture is that the search up to about a year and half ago, was not necessary. It wasn’t without value, but maybe I can save some people some time.
It’s very helpful to think of this in terms of fear. Not the emotion of fear. The context of fear–what the Buddha called dukkha.
Thinking about it in these terms does not require us to stretch our beliefs to anything which is not already in our direct experience. We know fear. We know the context of fear–we’ve lived it practically everyday since birth.
And in terms of the solution, we know what it means to “look at you.” We know what “you” means. It means you, the sense of existence, what it feels like to be you. We know what look means–it means attention.
The only part of this which might be outside of direct experience is why the looking cures the affliction of fear. This we have to prove or disprove to ourselves.
My experience of the looking was that first, I understood it right away. I had already seen the fear thing a few months before I went to John Sherman’s site, so I think he already had credibility with me. The looking he suggests is something I had already tried with Nisargadatta and Ramana, but John Sherman was exceptionally clear and simple, and I finally understood what was meant. I looked, whenever I remembered to, for about three months. I looked once and the urge came up to do so again and again. I felt some agitation for a couple of weeks. That went away. After about three months, the urge to look went away.
And then the intervening months were not fun. There were intertwined periods of high confidence and high doubt, of feeling very connected with life and feeling very confused. That recently cleared away, and the understanding that a lot of these not-nice feelings are due to the difference between expectation and actuality is very helpful.
That’s about where I am. I can’t say I am completely free of resistance and fear. But I can say that the looking does something, and you can explore it and prove it or disprove it for yourself.
What we want is to feel human, to feel the extra-ordinary satisfaction of being human, to feel the peace which surpasses understanding. We want this because we know it’s possible. The thing, the only thing, that’s in the way is the context of fear, Buddha’s dukkha.
So far as I can see, in the understanding of this, nothing is required which is outside of direct experience. For me, that is excellent news.
Of course, in pointing this out, the question comes up, how do I know where I am now is not a trap?
I don’t. I’m open to that. If there isn’t any room for self-questioning, it’s a trap.