specialness and the ego

i remember watching a collection of videos of UG krishnamurti some time ago and being both shocked and delighted by his unconventional--to put it mildly--delivery.

for whatever reason, one of UG's messages that really struck home was that we humans are capable of taking just about anything and weaving it into a means for distracting us from the truth. of course by that point in my spiritual journey i thought i already understood this kind of thing, but the lesson i learned was that the drive for enlightenment can--and very often does--serve this purpose as well (and perhaps even more insidiously than more conventional distractions).

this shocked me, and i think it marked the beginning of a bout of self-reckoning that eventually forced me to acknowledge that i had been playing out the role of a spiritual person in order to feel special, unique, valuable, and above the "common herd."

the last thing i wanted, i realized, was to be common. i'd given up TV, meat, even music and socializing... pretty much everything except meditation, school, and work. in my mind, i was doing something those around me couldn't fathom, crafting myself into the rarest of human beings, putting lightyears between myself and average joe.

years later, i realized that the closer you are to truth, the closer you are to those around you. the larger the sense of separation, the deeper the delusion. when one is perfectly content with things as they are, one is not only quite happy but extraordinarily grateful to be "common." it was easy at this point to look back and see a certain stage in my "spiritual development" where i was actually quite stuck because i was using my newfound "wisdom" to set me apart in my imagination from others.

UG said something like: "i became enlightened in spite of my sadhana [spiritual practice]." when i first heard this, it was hard to imagine how things like meditation and abstinence could actually be an obstacle to truth-realization. to me, it was a simple equation: sadhana + time = enlightenment.

in reality, there is nothing we can "do" to realize truth. any action or accomplishment designed to "bring about" enlightenment is merely illusory, since the truth is already real and doesn't need to be "brought about."

as beginning spiritual seekers, it's natural that we should approach truth-realization the same way we've been taught to approach everything else: by planning and executing a set of actions. but the truth isn't the effect of anything; nothing can cause it. it doesn't even need to be caused--our only job is to realize it as it is. in order for this to happen, we have to "stop doing" rather than "do more."

stop doing what? that which distracts us from the truth: selfing, identifying, constantly investing in an illusory image of self. this is something that we literally devote 99% of our waking (and even much of our non-waking) energy to. it has taken on a life and momentum of its own, but with the practice of awareness we can stop investing in it and let the inertial drive run itself out. the question is, are we truly prepared to dismantle that which we think we are?

please feel free to post any thoughts/reactions/questions related to this post.


the causal loop

a feedback loop occurs when a system's output feeds back into its own input source, creating a self-sustaining and ever-potentiating circuit. one example is the screeching noise heard at rock concerts when too much sound from the speakers filters back into the microphones; if the phenomenon isn't checked, it can destroy the sound system.

the ego-identified mind can operate much in the same way. disconnected from its true source, it projects outward in search of a lost sense of connection and completion. it references inner value externally (where it can never be found), each failure exacerbating the sense of alienation and inadequacy.

the causal loop of egoic suffering is particularly insidious because its apparent solution--seeking external means of healing--is its very fuel. under this faulty paradigm, the harder we try, the more entrapped we become. and to complicate things further, the only real solution seems completely counterintuitive, even nonsensical.

despite all this, the way out of existential chaos is startlingly simple. ultimately we're all only looking for ourselves. this means there's nowhere to go, nothing to learn or attain, because we already are what we are. the only thing separating us from this realization is the disturbed, outward-reaching state of egoic consciousness. when we turn around to meet ourselves, we know beyond all possible doubt that we already are everything we need. we never were, and could never possibly be, separated from what we are.


fear of nothingness

when you look inside, what do you see? is there anything you can point to and say, "this is what i am"? the fact that there isn't a single tangible thing we can grasp onto as the essence of what we are creates a deeply unconscious fear within us, the fear of nothingness. this leads us to project outward and struggle to create an identity where we believe one is lacking. hence, the ego and all of the suffering and insecurity that comes with trying our damnedest to believe we're something we know is not real.

fortunately, none of this is necessary, because nothingness (no-thing-ness) is not the same as nonexistence. it's true that we're not a "thing," but realizing and accepting this unconditionally is not life-negating, but profoundly liberating and life-affirming. we're not a thing, but we still are. and since we're not a thing, we're not subject to all of the perils of objecthood. it's up to us to discover what it means to be, but not to be as an object, as a thing.


no such thing as meditation

meditation is extremely fruitful to the unfoldment of consciousness, especially when it becomes a bridge towards the transformation of our daily, "mundane" experience. if, however, we rely on meditational practice as a kind of crutch, believing that simply by virtue of "putting in the hours" we're getting closer to truth-realization, the practice can actually become an obstacle to genuine spiritual development.

in fact, the whole "spiritual game" can become just another trap, and a particularly insidious one at that -- even if we unrealistically took for granted the integrity and efficacy of every spiritual teacher out there. but then again, genuine spiritual teachings, teachers, and practices are absolutely essential to those of us who would never have figured things out without a little help.

so what's needed, then, is a balance that allows us to take productively from the existing spiritual arena and apply its lessons to the subject matter of our daily lives. we need to be able both to learn from the exterior and to trust the interior. this means not creating a rift that separates our practice and spiritual ideals from our actual approach to life at the most fundamental level.

one way to test whether we're actually maturing spiritually is to assess our precognitive response to life. what is our basic response to potentially fearful situations? how pervasively do thorny emotional states like anger and depression -- certainly not problematic in and of themselves -- take hold of us? when we see something good happening to someone else, is our instant response that of jealousy or of sympathetic joy? when we become exposed to the intense suffering of another, do we close down in self-protection and rational justification or compassionately open ourselves to the heart-piercing pain of undeniable tragedy?

if we're honest in our assessment (and that can be a big "if," since we're often so heavily invested in our self-conception as spiritually aware people), these are good ways to test for real spiritual progress as opposed to simply inquiring into our surface beliefs and attitudes. searching the mind for spiritual progress can be tricky because it's so easy to simply change the very surface arrangement of our mental furniture to take on a remodeled spiritual theme. after all, switching our life-theme in this way is nothing new: teenagers craft a rebellious identity that asserts their independence from family and become drawn towards one cultural movement or another; later in life, young adults often become obsessed with reconfiguring their identity to align with career interests. "becoming spiritual" can be just another one of these superficial realignments undertaken for entertainment's sake and, ultimately, to keep ourselves distracted from a truth too threatening to face.

to take it back to the topic addressed at the beginning of this post, meditation -- like all things "spiritual" -- can be tremendously transformative. or, it can bring about spiritual stagnation. it all depends on how we relate to it. if we can learn to both take it seriously ("this is the very purpose of my life") and approach it lightly ("what's the big deal/hurry?"), to both practice meditation and realize that there is no such thing as meditation (or, perhaps more accurately, that there is no such thing as non-meditation), then we're probably well-poised for some natural insight to leak through and actually transform our lives from the inside out.


are you you?

the hardest belief in the world to shake is the belief that "i am me." yet this "me" we so unquestionably believe in is a fiction, as real as a character in a book or a movie. it's a character we've been taught to identify with to such a degree that we lose the capacity to remember it's just a creation of the mind.

if the entire contents of your mind were utterly wiped out as you slept tonight, who would you be upon awakening tomorrow? who would it be, sitting upright in that bed, eyes open, breathing? the you you think you are would be gone - but what aspect of your current experience would remain even then?


lies are loud, truth is humble

not speaking runs counter to ego because the illusory self feels a constant need to assert itself.

if the belief in ego as the ultimate source of identity is to be perpetuated, a constant level of noisemaking must be maintained; otherwise, what existence would our fabricated identities have? it is thoughts, whether
externally voiced or internally recorded, that are used to construct the highly complex and ultimately false body of evidence that, as long as we continue offering worship to, keeps us alienated from the simple experience of truth.

truth is that which doesn't require theatricity but is already (and immutably) real. as opposed to illusion, we don't have to do absolutely anything in order for truth to be real. nothing we do or fail to do, nothing that happens or fails to happen, can make reality any more or less real. in silence, then - the backdrop of which is always present - truth emerges of its own.

truth is not some philosophical concept or unattainable goal. it is very personal and very relevant. it is what we are.


losing all and getting everything in return

the spiritual quest is not one of striving to bring about or attain truth, but of allowing truth to reveal itself as it already is.

one fundamental misperception we suffer under in the quest for spiritual realization is that enlightenment must be gotten, as if it were some kind of accessory that can be added on to pre-existing identity structures. in this fantasy we'd become supercharged versions of our same basic selves; new and improved in certain respects, but maintaining the same old foundational belief in our intrinsic being as existing separately from everything else.

in other words, we'd like to have our cake (holding on to our belief in separate selfhood) and eat it too (experiencing the clarity and peace of enlightenment). these conflicting drives can keep us in a potentially endless loop where seemingly sincere spiritual striving is sabotaged by the underlying fear of letting go of erroneous yet intensely familiar interpretations of reality.

often as spiritual seekers, rather than being willing to give something up, what we really want is to get more. this is simply an extension of the same impulse that tells us we need a newer car, bigger house, better hairstyle. the impulse to get more, to have new things - material or spiritual - is based upon a fundamental resistance to things as they are. this resistance is exactly what keeps us separated from the actual experience of enlightenment, which is nothing more than the realization of what we really are and the accompanying understanding that what we previously thought ourselves to be was a misperception - an illusion.

in a certain sense, realization comes at a price. we must sacrifice our illusory beliefs before the blinding veil can be dispensed with and things revealed as they truly are. in feeding our fantasies we remain blinded to the truth, but they have become so familiar to us that giving them up can be extremely difficult. the problem is that we have become so identified with the illusion that we believe it is what we are, and letting it go seems tantamount to losing ourselves - in a sense, dying.

gaining real spiritual insight involves a radical process of letting go, not necessarily of material possessions (that would make it easy) but of our very foundational beliefs about who and what we are. our mind-made identity is what's nearest and dearest to us. it's the hardest thing to give up, but it must be surrendered in order to break free from the trap of egoic consciousness. the very thing we'd most like to hold on to (or to be more accurate, what we most fear letting go of) is the very thing that's holding us back from enlightened awareness.

paradoxically, when we become motivated by enough faith and courage to let even our most foundational beliefs about self evaporate (in other words, to release absolutely everything by dying to our moment-to-moment conception of self as we know it), at the very moment when it seems we will indeed evaporate, die, and forever disappear into oblivion, our limited egoic consciousness dissolves into a larger awareness that acknowledges itself as inseparable from everything - as one with all that is.


peace is not a product

real peace (the experiential aspect of self-aware awareness) is not the product of anything. it need not be sought through achievements. it has no prerequisites attached to it. true peace is a natural state accessible to one and all regardless of circumstances. it is the unconditional, ever-present quality of consciousness resting within itself.

the perceived lack of peace, on the other hand, does come as a result of conditions. although peace is always present and accessible, it becomes obscured by mind-noise. when the mind and its stories loudly take over, the undercurrent of peace is overlooked and forgotten. all attention becomes diverted away from the
infinitely fulfilling and nurturing experience of pure consciousness. distracting and often meaningless thought structures take center stage, are invested with overdue importance, and with the reference point of self-aware awareness receding from experiential memory, the experience of existential confusion and suffering sets in.

the human experience can become extremely complex and fraught with stress, yet even at its most challenging and chaotic moments the simplicity of peace has not gone anywhere. it is where it always is and always will be: here, now. the experienced absence of peace is only an illusion created by the inability - or often the unwillingness - to perceive it as the basic underlying quality of existence.

although the undercurrent of peace is profoundly simple and subtle (and therefore easy to miss), it is nevertheless extremely powerful. it is much more powerful than any product of mind since it endures absolutely everything and remains unchanged and perfectly unblemished throughout it all. it cannot be touched or altered in any way; it always, perfectly, indestructibly, is.

it is precisely this quality of permanent presence and accessibility that simultaneously allows us to take the experience of peace for granted and makes it the most powerful force in our lives. it is sadly ironic that our greatest asset is the one we most readily devalue, forget, and lose touch with.


one step forward, two steps back

finding a life stance that genuinely brings us into increased alignment with the unperturbed, desire-free state of our truest nature (beyond mind) is incredibly liberating. by contrast, the mind-content-dominated life experience always ends up leading us into varying degrees of claustrophobia, confusion, stress.

if there's any one thing we have real control over, it's the approach we take to life. life is handed to us with all of its complexity and challenges, and our way of handling that raw material determines our experience of it. a life stance that allows our inherent freedom to emerge can take many forms, from a formal spiritual practice like daily meditation to a more subtle inner alertness to consciousness throughout all ranges of experience. 

real and lasting change usually comes as a result of having integrated lessons learned in formal practice into our basic approach to life, so that it becomes our natural modus operandi. but often with new lessons, and even sometimes with lessons we thought we'd long since learned, it's possible to get sidetracked and stop living in accord to that lesson. 

many times this happens when we reap the positive benefit of a lesson: suddenly we're much more comfortable and happy than we were (the very pain that propelled us to learn the lesson now being absent), and we no longer feel compelled to do anything in particular to improve our experience. while certainly understandable, enough of this complacent attitude can have us backsliding into the very difficulties we were plagued with initially that acted as catalyst to bring us to higher ground in the first place. 

we humans have a natural tendency to gravitate towards pleasant experiences and avoid pain and discomfort. this explains why during challenging phases of our life we can become so committed to improving our experience, and in times of ease and comfort we can so easily lose focus. if transcending pain is our only incentive to grow, where does that leave us when pain is absent? taking two steps backward. 

since the temporary abscence of suffering doesn't signify the attainment of any goal, the trick is to be motivated by more than merely seeking comfort; to be inspired instead, for example, by the passion for discovery of self. the difference between the former and the latter is like the difference between running away from something (directionless) and moving steadily toward something (intentionality), or like the difference between being propelled by the bloody whip and finding heavenly guidance in the north star.            


beneath all good and bad

it feels good to feel good, and it feels bad to feel bad. but what remains constant in both pleasure and pain? there is one thing that is unchangeable in this life, and that - and only that - is what we are. this essential nature or ground of being is so simple and silent, our content-geared minds simply skip over it. but when awareness is centered on it, the impact on our consciousness is immeasurable. it's like coming home after a long hard night in the freezing, alienating cold, but then indescribably more settling.