• September 11, 2022

    Work on self is utterly dependent on observation of self, not just the big events of anger and fear but also the small flutterings of sensation that lie beneath my actions, words, thoughts and gestures. Ambitious people on the spiritual path overlook this fact. They are so busy trying to do the ‘work’ that they do not know they are not reliable enough to have a connection to it.

    I must become reliable. What does this mean? I must see exactly what is going on in me and be able to shift it, even the most minute reactions, in real time. Failing this, I must be able to account for all my uneasiness…the residual disturbances of sensation…after the fact of making them, and correct them. Cleaning up the mess in aisle 6 as it were.

    This knowing of self in not analytical. It is perceiving in real time. The why of it is an indulgence, a backward look. What is wanted is the ability to dance among my own phenomena, using them or dismissing them as they arise.

    Attention, attention attention. I have no other genuine tool for transforming me.

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  • November 14, 2019

    Have you noticed how little we depend on sensing? The headbrain is the tireless translator of my experience. I have replacement thoughts for just about everything I experience in my senses.

    I see the vastness of the sky filled with stars and I think about how far away the stars are, that the light I see was emitted billions of years ago by stars now long dead. The sensing lasts only a moment, if at all, and then it is replaced by thinking. Instant translation to the mental sphere. My ancestors had far less ‘knowledge’ of these things but they had a much greater possibility of being in relationship with the heavens.

    Perhaps you think this is not important, that what matters are the facts? Perhaps you think that realism is based in knowing the facts? In my view, this is an enormously limited understanding of our capacity to know and the potential of knowing through sensing.

    My observation is this: sensing engages me in a relationship with what is sensed and that relationship does not arise from thinking. In my sensing, I can relate to phenomena outside of my limited location in time and space. And the extraordinary added benefit to entering into sensation, penetrating it with attention and holding it without mental translation, is that it also opens up the realm of feeling…higher emotions as they are sometimes called. Thinking rarely provides this bridge to feeling unless it first engages sensation.

    Try this at home. Watch an insect or small animal. Sense in yourself how it moves. Notice that it very often responds to your attention if you do not get caught in your thinking.

    How does sensing engage feeling? In my view, sensations have parallel feelings. The sensation of lowering the head may invoke humility. The sensation of remorse may invoke compassion. The sensation of beauty may invoke ecstasy. Can I learn to fill my senses with these sensations? In my experience, learning means to not let thinking interfere. This is a skill that opens many doors.

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  • May 27, 2019

    I attended a concert in which two splendidly trained musicians played cello concerti by Beethoven and Grieg. It was enlightening to experience the difference in the compositions.

    The Beethoven communicated extraordinary order. What do I mean by order? There was a delightful balance between the two instruments, a dialogue in which one unfolded and revealed the other, coherence in the melody lines, evolution of the theme and reprise where it was needed. The concerto unveiled the intimate connection between order and beauty. In classical Indian philosophy, this is sattva (goodness, constructiveness, harmony).

    By order I do not mean the squared off, static nature of modern office buildings but rather the dynamic balancing and rebalancing of the elements which characterize living systems and real creative endeavour. Beauty requires order but not all order is beautiful.

    The Grieg composition was emotional and incoherent. Ideas were begun and abandoned without development. The two instruments were at odds with each other. The pace was feverish and every line seemed to end in higher volume. In Sanskrit, it would be categorized as tamas (darkness, destructive, chaotic).

    Perhaps this is a commentary on the possible range of the human condition?

    Do I give too much importance to emotion, by which I tend to mean passion? This rarely amounts to feeling; more often it reflects an intensity of sensation. The ‘higher emotions’ of clarity, order and beauty are perhaps too subtle to attract and hold my attention yet these are the ones most open to possible discovery and transformation. To apprehend these qualities, I must have order in myself. For this, certain music may be helpful.

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  • July 27, 2017

    Our intentions rarely have the force to proceed. Why is that? If they do have force, it’s because they serve our vanity.

    Intentions are just thoughts, are they not? To have effect, they need to be connected to the unconscious forces that actually motivate me.

    My doctor shocked me yesterday, telling me I should lose some weight or my health will suffer. He seemed very stern with me so I was worried when I left his office. Of course, I could not have known that he was in a bad mood after his wife had run up the credit cards. His demands seemed rational at the time. I formed a vague intention to exercise more and eat less, but not much changed until that hot new girl joined accounting.

    I see my reflection in the window, how unpleasingly rotund I have become. She will never pay any attention to me. So now I resolve to take the doctor’s orders seriously. My intentions are reinforced every time I see myself in a mirror. I have a motive, although I tell everyone “I’m just following doctor’s orders” when I grandly turn down a second piece of cake at dinner. And I believe it too.

    Since I am a member of a work group, I recognize that my infatuation and resulting motive have given me an opportunity to observe self. I observe that I am quite ridiculous. I have a self-image that is 29 years out of date. I pull in my stomach when I go to accounting. I remember how I did not like to be seen in public with my aunt who was very fat. I see that I have many little programs that revolve around my judgments of fat people…pulling back from physical contact…my aunt used to sweat a lot and I recoiled when she hugged me.

    Ok, this prejudice is something I was not conscious of before. I can work with that, first by simply noticing the physical sensations when they arise. But why am I overweight?

    I observe that I have an addiction to certain types of food at certain times. I have rationalized these addictions as habits designed to maintain blood sugar and energy levels. Perhaps, but let’s see. Over time, I observe that these presumed motives do not explain anything. It seems that at certain times of the day, I am uncomfortable if I do not have a particular sensation of fullness, even if I have eaten a good meal. Why is this? I don’t know and don’t need to know. I observe the craving for that sensation when it arises and I let it go.

    Meanwhile, the girl in accounting has been fired. My doctor is surprisingly friendly and supportive at my next check-up as he unconsciously tries to undo the effects of our last visit together. I have begun to lose a little weight.

    But more usefully, I have also begun to notice how suspect my motives are. They are a soup of unexamined impressions and unconscious desires. I dress them up as rational intentions but the motive power is almost always elsewhere, in habitualized sensations and self-images that are often completely irrational. My intentions are mostly a confusing thicket of vain ideas about myself. This realization, as it grows, has unintended consequences. I am not moved to do what I used to do; my once-avid participation in certain activities is now uninteresting and my friends don’t seem to know what to do or say around me anymore.

    Perhaps at this point I will begin to encounter intent. This is a verb, not a noun. Intending is not a word-formula holding onto some desire or benefit of personal interest to me. To tend is to care for something. One of the early meanings of tending is to move in a particular direction. Perhaps intending is to choose to face in a particular direction. To have intent is to hold and care for a point on the compass without wavering. Why? Because it is fulfilling in itself.

    Intentions are in the realm of the mind, under the influence of our vanity and our habits. Intent is in the field of the will, under the magnetic influence of something larger than me. I wish for intent.

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  • July 18, 2017

    The secret door to second wind phenomena is to ‘let it happen and go with it when it does’.

    There is a world of difference between making, or trying to make, something happen and asking for it to happen.

    If you begin with the thought that ‘I will put my attention on this activity’, attention is immediately split into pieces…there is the ‘I’ that thinks (assumes) it is directing the doing; the sensation of efforting (involving various habitual muscle contractions) that supports the idea that the right stuff is being done; the activity that is being attended to; and an evaluator who tries to figure out how you (or he) is doing. In this division there is very little chance of second wind phenomena.

    How to clean up the mess?

    The problem is that wrong intention has placed ‘me’ at the center of things where I do not do well. Generally speaking, humans are good participants but poor commanders. Much is gained by agreeing to see that the center is elsewhere.

    What would right intention look like?

    If I become unselfconsciously ‘interested’ in something, I may find that attention naturally continues to be absorbed in it. But without intention, I may become habitual and unconscious altogether. The beauty of the activity is lost and so is my participation in it. As one of my teachers once said: “The blessing of life is in the consciousness of the blessing.”

    What is intent anyway? Is it not a sense of direction or a feeling of orientation, a right connection to the context and meaning of my actions? Surely it’s not the little voice in my head telling ‘me’ what to do next.

    So, I conceive the idea that I wish to ask for attention to attend to my sensations. I wish to be the object of attention. I invoke attention. Not my attention; I don’t want the responsibility and I don’t want it limited to me. There is attention. I call it. I sense it when it arises because that’s one of the things attention does…it lights up sensation. It’s a magic, magnetic bridge connecting me to my experience of the rest of the universe. It simultaneously touches much more than I can think about and it does so immediately, not sequentially in time.

    Attention does the work. Yes, it has taken the suggestion of the voice or thought that has called it. But it is very capable of then proceeding to be attentive. When it is allowed to do so, it enters the second wind of attention which has continuity without effort.

    I can say something about the experience of this second wind of attention, at least for me. My body is more alert but also more relaxed. The meridians seem to itch and light up; I sense myself in quite a different way, a more alive way. There is a sensation of increased energy and a feeling of being more conscious and in the present. I seem to slip in and out of a space of no thought, where attention is attentive to itself.

    Can I release attention to do the work of attention, without constant interference?

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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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