• June 17, 2016

    I sense that at every step my life is impeded. Nothing happens easily. Everything I do seems to be a struggle involving effort and conflict. Sometimes I’m not moved to do anything at all.

    In part it is like weather. There are periods of wind and rain and there are times when the sun shines. The conditions of the environment are changeable and influenced by many factors. Sensing these conditions, just as one senses the weather, can you tell when it is more possible to act and when to hold back. It isn’t necessary to know the exact nature of the forces at work. You can never really know them in full and you can lose a lot of time trying to analyze them. Worse, you can imagine that you do know something based on astrology or whatever, rather than relying on your own sensing.

    Mastery of self is knowing how to read, and be advised by, one’s sensations. In a world that is full of contradictory forces, where it is nonetheless necessary to act, you must be able to follow the path of slightly less resistance.

    But there is much more to this. Is it possible to cultivate an unimpeded state? In Vajrayana it is said that the essence of reality is emptiness, its nature is luminous and its expression is unimpeded. What is meant by unimpeded? To gain insight into this question, it is necessary to begin at the beginning, which is emptiness.

    So much of what we do seems to come from thinking. And much of our thinking is compulsively centered on what we should do, or what we always do out of habit. Clearly, these actions do not come from emptiness. We think that nothing can come from emptiness. We are very uncomfortable with the whole notion. If I don’t make efforts based on what I think I would do if I could do what I should do, what’s going to happen? Nothing, right? Wrong.

    Observe yourself. Mostly, you are a bundle of habitual reactions. Stimulus from outside followed by habitual reaction. But there are other rarer events. Sometimes an impulse arises that has no observable external cause. Where do these impulses arise from? This is truly a mystery if you follow this inquiry. Do they arise from the emptiness? Can you see that they begin as luminous expressions of love, of joy, that precede thought?

    To remain unimpeded, the impulse must pass cleanly through the self—body and mind—without diversion. This is where we are most impeded. Our inner contradictions and habitual editing prevent unimpeded expression even more than the conditions of the external world. There are antidotes for this confusion…repeated exposure to voluntary presence and attention and especially impartial observation. Conditioning breaks down over time. This is a path of inner surrender which goes hand-in-hand with growing indifference to yourself and your conditioning. Indifference has a great power to change.

    You can learn to find emptiness, embrace it and trust it to move you, slowly passing the power to act from outside to inside. Of course, as long as you live in this world you will have a list of shoulds and you should probably honour them if you can, as long as they remain shoulds. You have to be mindful of consequences. But unimpeded expression comes from the emptiness within.

    “Like a long-legged fly upon the stream. His mind moves upon silence.” W.B.Yeats

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  • June 3, 2015

    When we looked into mastery earlier, you talked about checking or withholding the mechanical impulses of the sleeping machine. What is the purpose of making such efforts?

    Humans are biological energy transformers. The one who pursues mastery must limit energy expenditures and transform energy of a lower quality into higher forms which are able to fund real work.

    The automatic functioning of body and mind uses automatic energy, an energy that can easily perform repetitive tasks by rote but does not notice or comprehend. You drive home and barely remember anything. Your foot automatically brakes based on your speed and the approaching intersection. Rudimentary passive awareness is all that’s required. Working with the same energy, your thinking consists of daydreams which roll over and over and have nothing to do with what’s actually happening around you.

    Withholding the impulse to eat or sit down or look at a moving object interrupts the automatic functioning of the body/mind. This begins by noticing the automatic impulse to do these things. At any given time, you are likely to have enough sensitive energy to notice that the machine is on automatic. Sensitive energy is able to notice, which can act as a reminder to summon voluntary attention. Attention separates from automaticity and introduces the possibility of choice.

    Now, let us suppose you choose to withhold an impulse of the machine. The impulse is energy. Withholding its expression saves that energy. Attention on that energy transforms some of it. Attention on mechanical movements increases sensitivity and noticing self and environment; sensitive energy in the presence of voluntary attention becomes conscious energy which has the property of enabling thinking, sensing and feeling to proceed together, harmoniously … the energy of multi-tasking. In fact, the heart does not operate as the organ of feeling unless it has access to conscious energy.

    How can I do all this if I am asleep?

    The only trick is to notice your machine is asleep in the present moment. Ordinary life gives us this opportunity very frequently, especially as we engage with other people. Noticing sleep behavior is a reminder to summon attention. You may find that engagement summons attention directly, triggering the energy exchanges that bring you into the present. That is the point. Mastery means being able to be present in the present. This in turn means seeing and responding to what is actually happening rather than reacting to subjective and false interpretations based on past experience. And having access to the energies required for all-centers functioning enables one to act according to the needs of the situation and in accordance with work aims.

    Ironically, sleep is the key to waking up. When you have observed your sleep and learned its tell-tale signs, sleep itself will wake you. This is not the only stratagem but it is a good one. Some of you may be easily shocked by the rough edges of life in the world or you may be unusually susceptible to beauty and order. The sudden impact of experiencing these factors can engage attention but you need to take care that the energy is not co-opted by clinging and averting or lost down the rabbit hole of self-indulgent emotions such as self-pity or sentimentality.

    Can we say therefore that we experience presence many times a day?

    Yes, but these moments are quickly overcome by the momentum of sleep in the machine. Can you learn to observe the exact process of falling asleep? If so, could presence then be able to remain present? Hahnemann called being present in the present our ‘natural state’. Our body/mind adopts an effective response to a challenge. The response is learned and it continues after the circumstances have changed. What was effective is now a block. Hahnemann considered this the root of illness. We call it sleep.

    Related Post:

    Mastery (1) – May 15, 2015

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  • May 15, 2015

    Is mastery a realistic aim given the fact that humans are asleep most of the time?

    Yes, it can be a real aim which begins with a clear and certain perception of the dominance of sleep in one’s own life. Mastery is not theoretical; it is highly practical and it is gained by many small victories over one’s own sleep, moment by moment. Mastery of life is mastery of self, particularly mastery of the human biological machine, otherwise known as your body and mind.

    In sleep, the body is largely insensitive and reacts unconsciously to stimuli while thinking mostly consists of repeating ‘tapes’ directed by association.  Fragmentation and identification are easily observable elements of this condition. While asleep, we live in our personal history rather than the present.

    At the same time, let’s be clear that many of the good things that happen to us occur in sleep and almost all human accomplishment takes place there as well. Sleep is neither good nor bad and those who sleep through life are simply doing their best, having uncritically accepted the story that the world has told them. Judging sleep harshly is unwise. Sleep is a shared human condition which none of us escapes. A compassionate attitude towards yourself and others serves better than a rejecting one.

    Why wake up? Do I want to have a deeper, more complete engagement with myself and others? Do I want a larger, more meaningful life? Self-mastery can provide a way.

    How is the battle with sleep actually fought?

    First, you must be convinced by direct observation that you are asleep, that you are governed by habit and that you have no will. Your life mostly consists of liking and disliking, resistance and attraction, clinging and averting, which are programmed mechanical reactions entirely lacking in real will. Let us say that your body likes to indulge in sugar. However, one of your mechanical selves is identified with being slim and dislikes being fat. You successfully reduce sugar intake and lose weight. Is this evidence of real will? Not at all. One like has overpowered another. One unconscious motivation has overcome another. This must be seen clearly and impartially. Know thyself.

    Second, it is necessary to oppose the tendencies of the machine but it must be done cleverly. You wish to rest so you do not rest. You do not like spinach so you eat it. The gain is not only the accomplishment of your aim but also what is learned about your mechanical reactions. What is the best way to overcome resistance? Find out. Do you take pride in these successes? Then you may be feeding one false self at the expense of another. Mastery of self is not self-development, it’s self-dismantling.

    Which “you” has adopted this agenda of mastery? Is it another identity that seeks to satisfy basic egoistic needs such as feeling special, powerful, secure or better than others? Or is this an expression of being, stemming from a basic wish to be free of slavish habits, able to engage in the aesthetic qualities innate to being’s nature? Genuine acts of mastery provide their own evidence as moments of presence. A mechanical impulse that is not indulged is a source of energy and a possibility of making a conscious gesture. If this energy is appropriated by the machine to fund more mechanical behavior, the action judges itself as counterfeit. Impartial observation is the cleaver separating real from false. The real is uncovered by relinquishing its counterfeit.

    Observing and interrupting your mechanical programming in this way has serious consequences. The momentum of your life is the momentum of sleep. When you begin to interfere with the programming, you lose momentum and become less able to do what you normally do. Perhaps you will be unable to do your job or hang out with your friends. You may have to find new motivations, perhaps even conscious ones. The risks are great.

    We will inquire more into this subject at another time.

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  • April 23, 2015

    I am working with the fact that I am often in disagreement with my surroundings.

    Observation of disagreement is valuable work on self. The room is too hot. The sun is too bright. The soup is too salty. I don’t want to do this right now… I want to do something else. Are we not nearly always in a state of disagreement, rejection, resistance? This is sensation-based, is it not? I seek to push things away from me that I think will not be pleasant. There is a physical contraction or recoil. My disagreement may be conditioned by past similar experience or it may arise from the fact that current experience contradicts my mood. In any case, my reaction is mechanical and it is some variant of ‘no’. Buddha called this averting.

    I would like to know if it is possible for me to move towards agreement.

    What we call agreement seems to be the opposite of disagreement.  I like my surroundings so I feel expansive. I want more of the chicken, my it’s good, this is a great party, I want to stay. I’m comfortable in my chair, listening to my music. My mood or past experience says to go with it. This is perhaps not so frequent a state as averting but it’s based on exactly the same phenomena…automatic reaction based on like instead of dislike. Buddha called this one clinging.

    Yes/no, like/dislike, grab/push. Clearly, this is all happening at the same level. We can move from one to the other but this movement does not involve a change in the nature of the experience, only its pleasantness. I would not call this agreement. It is slavery.

    Real agreement would mean aligning inner and outer. It would mean voluntarizing the present moment. It would mean participating in what is happening. Not necessarily to change it, which easily slips into disagreement, but to ride the wave and use it for its energy, its will and its possibilities. In this way, you are not separate from what is happening and you are able to influence it by your movement because you are part of the unfolding.

    Agreement is the beginning of real will…agreeing not because it is pleasant but because it opens the door to mastery of self and circumstances. Events have power over us because our mechanical reactions give them that power and cost us our mobility, our freedom to act. Can you choose when you are mechanical?

    Agreement starts small. Can you agree to be here? You may have noticed that I ask this question before meditation and zikr. Real agreement can sometimes be noticed as a sensation in the solar plexus but you cannot make this a rule and you certainly cannot engage will by squeezing your abs. That is similar to forcing hay through the wrong end of the elephant.

    But surely there are things that I must disagree with?

    Just because I speak favorably of agreement does not make it a god. Of course, this is a theoretical question on your part since you will never be able to agree to everything anyway. Real disagreement also has great value because it does not come from the machine. To stay on the path you must learn to say no and mean it. Such a no is not to avoid unpleasantness, it is to avoid betraying your conscience or your work.

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