• July 27, 2019

    One of the insights of this work form is that humans are largely repetitive and predictable, stimulated by externals. The challenge is to see this without judging or justifying, simply as fact and then perhaps with compassion. Ordinary struggle against habits—trying to prevent reactions because they are ‘wrong’, or defending them as ‘right’—does not seem to change them or lead to greater freedom.

    What does it mean to find freedom from the mechanical? Does it not mean that what we do can be done not as a habitual reaction but as an expression of love, compassion and joy? Perhaps freedom is not so much doing different things as it is doing things differently, making use of daily life to reveal the good in us. Preparing a meal, having a conversation face-to-face—these are the acts that have the potential to be liberated from our mechanical tendencies, where freedom can be found.

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  • August 1, 2016

    In our ‘modern’ society, nothing is more reviled than indifference. To be indifferent means you are without feeling, callous and uncaring, lacking in human sensibilities, probably empty-headed, tired and bored, to say nothing of boring. Imagine having no opinions, no preferences. Death would surely be an improvement.

    Such a broad consensus from the sleeping world should immediately alert you to the possibility that reality has once more been turned on its head. Indifference is a place of great potential, especially for our work but also for much ordinary accomplishment. Indifference has power.

    First, let’s consider what indifference is not. It is not dislike nor distaste, not lethargy or some other veiled negative or rejecting state. Indifference is to see no difference between one thing and another and not to prefer one thing over another. Indifference is not rejecting, but nor is it accepting. Perhaps we could say it is a special form of equanimity without the experience of pleasure usually associated with that state.

    What makes indifference useful? It offers clarity and objectivity. It is free from compulsion and fixation. It has no emotional attachment. This allows for something new and surprising to arise.

    From the work perspective, indifference offers the possibility of acting from real will. Most of our actions originate in emotion. Motive and emotion amount to the same thing for most of us.

    Emotion is a movement of sensitive energy in the nervous system with physical and biochemical components. Emotion is triggered by an external stimulus—perhaps a sensation, a word spoken, an association of one thing with another, which then proceeds habitually in terms of breath, posture, gesture, pulse as well as the thought-tapes that sustain and colour the emotion. Subsequent behaviour is predictable. This is not the action of will; rather it is precisely mechanical in nature, no matter how pleasant or productive it might be. Indifference is freedom from this loop, which allows for the possible action of will.

    Because indifference is without resistance or conflict, it can move quickly and forcefully in unexpected directions. It can also sit in the same spot for a long time, requiring the patience to wait for whispers from unknown places. In these periods between, like the Horse Latitudes, you may be severely tested. Perhaps you will panic into depression or senseless behaviour. The Sufis call this a Kemal state and it can be dangerous.

    In my understanding, the Kemal state is both a blessing and a test that begins to manifest when you have seen enough of yourself and the world. It is not an end state, nor is it something to be sought, but rather a point of possible transition to something new.

    How can indifference be separated from boredom or lethargy?

    True indifference is alert and questioning. The one who is indifferent wishes to proceed but not from dead habits.

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  • June 8, 2016

    Sometimes I get very emotional in my reactions to other people. What is my responsibility for the impact my reactions have on others?

    First, you are only truly responsible for what you do voluntarily. You may be held accountable for your reactions but it would be a stretch to say you are responsible. Your reactions are just that, reactions. They are produced automatically so why pretend otherwise? You could try to repress your expressions, which could possibly prevent communicating the emotional effect to others, but there are many unhelpful consequences of repression, as we have discussed before.

    As a member of the work group, you are responsible for attempting to observe your reactions impartially. To observe impartially, you must not repress. Why is that? Repression is hiding your reactions, is it not? Repression is almost always the result of judgment and judgment does not allow impartial observation…it is the antithesis of it. Further, repression is a learned mechanical behavior which becomes just as involuntary as the reaction that is being repressed.

    As a member of the work group, you are also responsible for not blaming your reactions on others. Blaming others is not impartial and it also biases observation.

    After much impartial observation of self, you may come to know your reactions sufficiently well, and you may have developed such an indifference to them, that it may be possible not to express reactions AND not suppress them. Perhaps we can call this voluntary suppression. The impulse to react is held as energy, not expressed, neither defended nor rejected. Only then can it be said that you are responsible for the impact of your reactions on others.

    The likelihood is that joining a real work group will make you more reactive at first because the emphasis is no longer on being polite.

    There is no room for political correctness in a work group. The essence of political correctness is the idea that people have the right not to be offended by others. In a work group, you give others the right to offend you and you in turn have the right to offend. The right to offend is given because the opportunity to observe our mechanical selves in action has great value. It does not mean you set about to offend others for sport or pleasure. But it does mean that being offended is welcomed as a work opportunity, otherwise the work group is dead.

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  • June 19, 2015

    When you were demonstrating the tapping sequence at dinner, I was building up an emotional disagreement and resisted trying the movements. I enjoyed the attachment to the emotional state, or at least enjoyed telling myself I wanted to stay there.

    Really? You seem to suggest that there was someone there deliberately ‘building up an emotional disagreement’. Was it deliberate or was it a purely mechanical reaction with a corresponding little voice in your head saying that it is in charge, deciding to resist?

    It is useful that you have observed your reaction and confessed the process of your resistance. Can you go further? It seems that you have accepted your reaction as yourself, that is, you have identified with it. In doing so, have you not made it solid, more difficult to move? Can you instead be sceptical?

    Sceptical is well on the way to impartial. Sceptical means you do not know. It does not mean that you have secretly made up your mind but you don’t want to appear unreasonable. There is much to be said for it.

    You could adopt a sceptical attitude to the tapping exercise. This would mean not rejecting it but rather examining it and its effects in you. To be sceptical is to separate from the phenomena…the exercise, learning to do it, noting the results if any…and observe. Implied in this is that you do not take anything too seriously…it’s all just data, completely impersonal. Taking ordinary reactions personally, identifying with them, this is evidence of self-importance, is it not?

    First, you would have to be sceptical of your initial reaction to the exercise. What is your reaction telling you? Can you see the pattern of your resistance as a set of physical facts, particular contractions and sensations, and release them? Your emotions would then likely dissipate. Probably this resistance is habitual, frequently expressed in your daily life. Perhaps it is a reaction to authority or learning something new or fear of not getting it right or fear of looking ridiculous. This is for you to find out. But more important than naming it is observing what it physically consists of.

    Can you get to a state where the exercise can be examined objectively? That would be a practical accomplishment of work on self, likely more valuable than the tapping exercise.

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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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