Monday, May 30, 2016

Turtles and sweaters

We've looked a few times at how to investigate the nature of experience. As you do so, you probably notice that nothing is immune to the investigation: every texture, every color, every thought is itself nothing but this pure self-knowing "stuff" called consciousness (or whatever label you give it). The belief that this process works; the belief that it doesn't; the belief that it points to something true; the belief that it doesn't... all are felled in precisely the same way.

The belief in time, the seeming experience of it, the belief in a self, the seeming experience of it, the fear that this may be heading somewhere beyond your control, the sense liberation in realizing just where it is leading... all succumb.

As this process deepens and uproots, there are sticking points. Places where you plant down a stake and proclaim "dammit, this shall not vanish!" It doesn't feel like an act of will, of course: the best and cleverest strongholds are the ones upheld by legitimate, objective, external evidence. There are also those that play to your moral intuitions: if this vanishes as an objective truth, I'll turn into a monster!

But sooner or later, they will all fall by the same process. The process that started the deconstruction is like a turtle that walked away with a thread of the sweater in its mouth. It's not letting go.

So it's fine: take a rest on whatever certainty you've found conviction in. There's a long journey ahead, and there's no reason you shouldn't be allowed to stop and catch your breath.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

You are the universe experiencing itself?

What do you feel when you read quotes like these?

You are the universe experiencing itself.

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”

Probably a little bit of awe and wonder. Pretty neat, huh? We're made of star dust and stuff.

But how literally do you take the quotes? How deep do they really point?

If you're into meditation, try this out (for a century or two, if you have to): discover whether the feeling you call "I", and the thing(s) you call "all of existence" are actually different. I'm sure you can get at least a whiff of it if you're honest for a few seconds. "The things I experience" are made up of the very same "stuff" I marvel at when I notice that "I'm alive."

What happens when you become still to the point where you discover that they're actually precisely the same?

I'll give you a hint: it's not a little bit of awe and wonder to discover that you've -- you have -- created an entire cosmos out of yourself for the sheer spectacle of it. Or so I've heard.

But so what if that's is what you experience? It's just the brain playing tricks with itself, putting a cute spin on the world as best it can. You are, after all, just an individual, trying to make sense of the world through very limited physical capacities.

And that's the story you shall continue to tell yourself, until finally one day you can't hold in the joke any longer.

Monday, May 23, 2016


Is everyone doing the best they can? It's easy to come up with arguments for both "yes" and "no."

Which one is right? If I have good arguments for both, it's probably because neither one is true. Maybe people only sometimes do the best they can? Or maybe they're always doing reasonably well?

I think the answer is actually more interesting. People are always doing the best they can, in a meaningful sense -- but that doesn't mean we need to behave as though they were. It's possible to hold both in mind at the same time: people only ever do the one thing they are able to do in a given moment with all of its constraints, but that doesn't mean that they're not capable of more.

I was reminded of this after seeing a sign I liked that went something like: "be kind to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise." Contrast that to another favorite quote of mine: "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

Could it be that everyone is simultaneously an angel or buddha, and also deserving your utmost kindness? That they're perfectly capable of handling their own suffering, but that paradoxically this doesn't reduce your responsibility one bit?

If you need to save everyone, you end up with conceit, guilt, pity. If nobody needs your help, you fall into apathy. The solution isn't as simple as only some people needing your help.

Everybody does, and nobody does.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Breaking down the mystery

There's a hilarious scene from the show Silicon Valley where this guy is giving a eulogy:

We do this with the Great Mystery. You have the big epiphany. HOLY. SHIT. WHERE THE... HOW THE...?!

And then the conceptual mind takes over.

"Let's break it down into its three component elements: space, time, and stuff..."

At the heart of all we think we know is the deep mystery. And at the heart of the deep mystery lies a deep knowing that is so immediate it can’t be mediated by words. A silent certainty that all is well. An unshakeable conviction that all that really matters is love. 
This is the sublimely comical insight that has been passed down to us through countless generations of men and women who’ve dared to be spiritual explorers. The simple realization which seems like nothing but changes everything. The truth that will set you free. 
Not-knowing is the doorway to all you can truly know and all you need to know. 
Enter there. 
Because that’s where the party is.
--Tim Freke, The Mystery Experience

Friday, May 13, 2016

All consciousness, all the time

Feel the sensation of your foot on the ground. That sensation is consciousness. I don’t mean that consciousness is the activity by which you experience the sensation; I mean that some stuff called consciousness has taken on a particular configuration that you describe as “me feeling my foot on the ground.”

You could also call this property “beingness.” It’s actually misleading to call it a “property,” because it’s not a property of something else. It is instead the sheer fact of existence and being-experienced-ness rolled into one.

These things — existing and being experienced — are not actually separable. That’s because they aren’t two different things, but two different concepts we’ve invented for the same thing. This probably sounds preposterous: obviously the Eiffel Tower exists even when it is not being experienced. But notice what actually happens while you are making this assertion. You imagine the Eiffel Tower (or at least the words) — that is, you experience that imagined thought — and then experience the thought “there, that thing exists even though I am not experiencing it.” But at no point in this process did you encounter some thing that existed without being experienced. (Indeed, what would that even mean?)

Which isn’t to say that the Eiffel Tower doesn’t exist when it’s not being experienced — that’s quite beside the point. I’m not trying to feed you a philosophy about the world. I’m trying to call attention to a feature of your experience that you may have overlooked before. In brief: all and everything you have ever experienced is this stuff we’re calling consciousness, including all the thoughts screaming that there must be something outside experience to explain all of this.

If you find yourself trying to intellectually confirm or deny what I’m saying, I’ve missed my goal. The goal is to repeatedly call attention to the sheer fact of experience. Not experience as some abstract activity, but as the stuff out of which everything in your present reality is made.

Your experience of time? That’s also just consciousness taking on a particular form. Spend a moment and confirm for yourself that this is true. You never actually experience time. Instead, you experience memory and anticipation, and then the thought that “therefore there must be time.” Memory, anticipations, and time are all just configurations of consciousness. What you call "time" is just another clever rearrangement of consciousness.

Brick by brick, every bit of your experienced world is revealed to be of a single flavor: the flavor of awakeness contorting itself into a marvelous display. Yet there is a bastion deep in your mind, still holding out: yes, perhaps the world I experience is all consciousness, but there is a real reality "out there" to explain all this. Maybe so. But you owe it to yourself to discover firsthand what that bastion is made out of. By now you already suspect the answer, but it will defend itself valiantly until you walk up to it with a microscope. "Don't listen to this guy." "None of this proves anything. I can prove it." "Prove-ity prove prove."

But we're not done yet. Here comes a big one.

Your sense of existing, of being someone looking out of your eyes, is just one more configuration of the same stuff. If that is so, then who is experiencing all this stuff? If you’ve been following closely, you’ll notice that the question is incoherent. Consciousness does not require a someone else to experience it. It is itself the sheer fact of experience. The feel of your foot on the ground; the pixels making up your visual field; the supposed experience of time; the thoughts in your mind; the sense of being the one experiencing all this: all just consciousness experiencing itself. It is the subject and the object. There's no "you" behind it all.

Perhaps I’ve lost you by now. If so, that’s okay: you at least have the tools to investigate what I’m saying. Why would you actually do so? Perhaps a long-buried part of you (“you”) recognizes something in these words. Perhaps bit by bit the recognition comes back: oh shit, this show is all consciousness, all the time — all pure fucking magic, all the time. If so, cultivate that recognition. (And if this has the sense of pulling the rug out from under your own feet, you're definitely on the right track.) You may already sense that it leads somewhere impossibly good.

Footnote: every time someone marvels at the existence of the universe and tries to figure out its origin, or at the existence of life and its origin, or at how the brain (supposedly) creates consciousness, they're really marveling at this. Consider: consciousness is the property whose very appearance gives you reason to exclaim "holy shit, a universe exists!" or "I exist!" or "I'm alive!"

From this perspective, all of these recognitions are just whispers of awakening bringing itself into our awareness in ways that we can appreciate intellectually -- and thus take seriously.