Here are three tricks to bridge the gap between our ego/idea of ourselves and our fact status:
When I first came across Bob Fergeson’s site and articles a couple years or so ago, two things struck a chord with me – his article on the Puer Aeternus and his description of ‘nostalgia’, the sense that I’d once been someone or had something or been somewhere that I no longer was.
The place or thing or person did not seem to matter as much as the sense of something ‘missing’, the longing of a ‘return’. It did not make immediate sense but I went back to the articles over and over.
There was something there, some truth I sensed but was not quite able to experience or realize. If there is anything different these last few years, it is that – the sense that I am finally on to something, close to something, something I’d given up on ever finding many, many times but never quite been able to get completely out of my system.
My life before that was much like anybody else’s – an attempt to get through life with the least amount of pain and the most amount of pleasure I could, trying to fit in and believe the same things that all the people around me did. The problem was that nobody was ever ‘right’ for very long… The other problem was that none of them seemed able to see that they were wrong, let alone admit it.
Everybody around me seemed to be frozen in place, like the colored blocks in the video game ‘Tetris’ that slowly descended down, down and fell into some niche, locked in by other blocks, never to move again.
For some reason that always scared the hell out of me. The only thing that scared me worse was that despite all my flailing around and so-called careful maneuverings to avoid that for myself, I seemed no more happier than they were. I could find no path out, no viable alternatives.
As a teenager I was drawn to true crime books and autobiographies of those that lived outside the rules, so much so that I would later ‘explore’ some of those options but find out they were no more fulfilling than any of the others.
I tried desperately many, many times to call off the search, pretend I didn’t care, lose myself in some other pursuit or endeavor, tried to buy into the bullshit, but eventually, every time, out would come the flashlight or flamethrower and out would go another illusion…
But then, every once in a while, I would catch wind of – something.
According to the Zen Ox Herding pictures, most of my life has been the first one – aimless searching, with the sound of cicadas droning in the background.
But then there was the second picture – the discovery of footprints in the dust and snow every once in a blue moon, just enough to keep me going on…
And then, during the last 4 or 5 years, finally, glimpses of the rear of the bull in the readings of some of the works of Richard Rose and the Tat Foundation, Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, Jed McKenna, etc., and the resonances they evoked within me.
But not much more than that until just a couple weeks ago.
Then, finally, I believe, I not only saw the whole animal but actually touched it, briefly – long enough to know it is real. The funniest, oddest, most wonderful thing about it was that suddenly a lot of things I’d read about it – ‘closer than close’, ‘the simplest thing’, ‘something you already are’, suddenly made sense. Laughingly so!
Am I ‘enlightened’? No, but I believe I’ve not only finally had a glimpse through the brick wall of the Secret Garden, but smelled and tasted the fruit.
I find myself now back at the wall, aware of what lies on the ‘other side’ (Ha!), playfully searching for another hole, another glimpse, feeling now as if it’s more of a ‘relaxing into’ that is needed than a ‘search’.
Whatever I had been doing was serving me. Robert Adams has said “Every desire every urge is a search for the Self. But we’re misdirected”. I’d agree as it seems my path has turned out to be one of reorientation. Finding my way now to a point that must be reconciled with myself. - Tim Howell
I started carrying a tape recorder about the same time as a camera, and for the same reason, to capture inspiration. And as the cameras, they’ve changed with technology. First was a cassette, then a couple of digital’s, and now the ubiquitous smart phone. They’ve been of enormous help saving ideas for writing, whether essays, material for a book, or just something I don’t want to forget on the grocery list. When I’m out walking or skiing, that’s when ideas/inspiration seem to hit, and getting them on tape before they fade away has been a life saver.
One of the many spots I associate with inspiration is shown in the blog post below:
Ennui by Ike Harijanto
It is not blind
for it has no eyes.
A glob blubbery blob, marshmallowy,
yellow, bloated Ennui
blows thick smoke from a hookah drooping
off its thick puckering lips.
For Life and Love it’s an ogre so hungry.
Beware of its smoke for it can swallow
whole and drag low,
then all motions drags a clunky
laborious chain of “Why?”
Marshmallow Ennui imperceptibly
turns into sticky molasses Depression quickly.
It’s not a morphing; it’s a giving of way,
for Depression is a desperate try
against falling so deeply asleep that is Ennui.
It drags you into a gray-brown bog,
Blowing its drowsy fog.
I fall asleep without knowing it,
thinking I’m awake, thinking I’m aware.
Ennui is a know-it-all thinking, “I know too much.”
Ennui is an armchair traveller claiming, “Been there, done that.”
Ennui is jadedness yawning, “Meh,
seen everything already.”
Familiarity turns into a malady.
But don’t waste your life feeling guilty,
For it’s not you
who says, “All is done; nothing to do.”
How did I fall asleep? I don’t know;
Didn’t catch myself nodding.
In this thick heavy fog, God of Light, please show
Just a needle of Your Light piercing.
From this aggressive vortex pull of Sleep,
I want out, I want to wake!
What are you, Ennui?
A resistance born of negativity,
a lack of meaning of life, or merely,
a superfluous entity?
What an irritating allergy
this chronic, addictive serving of me.
Why are you here? What are you trying to tell me?
More importantly, how do I
widely open my eye?
Thrill is not its remedy,
for Ennui’s not a hole
for the Muse to fill with lively creativity.
Maybe it’s a bothersome additional
to simply shoo, shoo.
Can’t reason with that entity.
Need I take it so seriously?
Ennui, ennui, go away
Come back another…
Well actually, don’t bother!
- Ike Harijanto
* The hookah is a reference to a poem by Charles Baudelaire entitled “To the Reader” in his Flowers of Evil
At some point early in life a feeling came that I was eccentric. I thought I wanted something no one around me seemed to want, and that was sincere, dependable love. All I found from people, young and old alike, was instead indifference, rejection, untrustworthiness, unpredictability. So I thought, if I was able to so intensely want something that seemed unimportant to others, that must have meant I was insane. Only in God could I put my trust, because a God unknown, unseen, nebulous certainly would not, could not betray me. God was the center of my devotion, my life. Slowly, though, the considerable commotion in my head I called intellect and reason made me abandon it.
Several more rejections and betrayals of trust from those around me, and I declared, “Love is a myth.” I was furiously baffled at the way I was created, feeling such a strong desire for something that could never be true. By declaring–––pretending, really–––I knew the truth about love, I unwittingly saved myself from feeling utterly devastated by the conviction that it closed its door on me. I began keeping a journal. Only in the blank pages of my journal could I confide safely. Something that doesn’t have any capacity of returning my love would not, could not reject me.
Young adulthood was a period of restlessness and confusion from not knowing what I sought in life. I thought I was unrealistic, “too philosophical,” wanting and doubting too much. Moreover, I saw that I was a different person from one day to the next, unable to keep a promise I made to myself. I became unpredictable and untrustworthy, exactly like those I had condemned. I looked around at my peers and saw them sail away, seeming to know where they were going. There I was, an enigma to myself, feeling I was left behind. “Did I miss a class everybody took?”
As loneliness pervaded uncontrollably, I isolated myself more by turning toward texts and dead scholars, looking for hard, solid, steely wisdom. I had a notion that it would take me superiorly beyond any dependence on others, and I would then be impervious to the pain of rejection. And dead people, they surely would not, could not reject me. The search for wisdom gave a purpose, a grand one, in fact, and a direction to my life.
My notion of wisdom at the time was a kind of knowledge I would swallow or possess, and the best chance of finding it was in the academic humanities. So I made a plan to lock myself in the university ivory tower and shut the door on any personal relationships. I was convinced that anything to do with my heart was a major distraction, complication, obstruction. I was on a lone secret mission, believing no one would understand it, or worse, they would ridicule me if they found out. I was not going to let myself be rejected ever again.
Shortly after the plan was made but not yet realized, my father died. The incident gave me an intimate preview that we all die, and we die alone, without exception. But my newly found purpose protected me, for better or worse, from being in touch with the situation of my heart. My rocket was on and nothing was to stop me.
Before the first semester even began, I met Art Ticknor at a meeting of the Philosophical Self Inquiry in Pittsburgh. During that first meeting he engaged me one-on-one, and I was surprised to find myself saying things I would never have said to others. Shortly after came another surprise in the form of trust. Brief though it may be, it was impressive because my life hitherto has shown it to be impossible. There was also an element of judging Art by his cover, as well, I suppose. He dressed typically, and I tend to peer with suspicion at people in robes living in the 21st century Western world. A massive gong fell and hit my head when I received my first major confrontation: “The direction is within,” he said. With all my might I tried to yell “No!”––but to my dismay, I was convinced he spoke the truth. I had just moved across the world on a search that had barely begun, when I realized I was to turn around. A giant monkey wrench thrown into my plan. Nonetheless I was compelled to turn around and look at the only “within” I knew. What I saw then, what was brought to light, was how separated I had been, alone and thoroughly lost in the wilderness. It reminded me of the preview I’d seen, that we all die, and we die alone. I was a lost sheep feeling certain that if ever there was God, It was not looking for me. The feeling of utter aloneness combined with an immediate conviction that the project I had taken on was too big for this little me led to the onset of a depressive period like I had never thought possible.
Art showed me a direction I thought I already had. First and foremost, he showed me trust and friendship I had stopped looking for. Deep down, though, I couldn’t help but still wanting them. To a sick, sick person, however, sweet water tasted bitter. The confrontations hit so many sensitive spots that I recoiled from pain and fright, and contracted inside. I was unable to see friendship, I saw only threats. Fortunately (I can say this now), I kept on coming to the meetings, albeit all closed up like a porcupine ball, compelled by a force I could neither understand nor ignored. Left to reason alone, it would not have made sense to keep on touching a hot stove when I already knew it was hot. But something other than reason told me I needed to take the bitter medicine to get cure.
I received my diagnosis early and am grateful for that. The sickness turns out to be ec-centricity, that is, being off-center–––that childhood feeling confirmed. The rejections I perceived in my childhood may not be the cause but actually the result of this feeling. I had lost my center long before I abandoned my childhood God. I don’t even remember how and when this happened. But once upon a time….
My life so far seems less about finding cure, than it is about realizing the pervasiveness of the sickness. Being out of center seems to also mean out of touch with reality. The idea of becoming schizophrenic, out of touch with reality, used to spiral me into panic. But reviewing over a decade of journals shows me undeniably, time and again: I live in the mind, not in the world; I interact with perceptions and stories, not reality. After years of psychological work and spiritual education, I am no more ethereal, no more sober, no more liberated. I wonder if I myself may be the cave of Plato, and not simply in it.
Coming in contact with Art and TAT rocked my boat till it almost flipped over. My life-cruising and life-building slowed down considerably. A good thing, I think, for I was only building a house of cards, and cruising through life as a sleepwalker, shutting my eyes to where my life will inevitably conclude, as I saw with my father’s. Adding spirituality to my life doesn’t seem to redirect its course either. My life is still going nowhere but toward the cemetery. For a while I used depression to deny it, but now it feels like a returning to reality. (Every impressive, sometimes seemingly out of the world, insights I ever had feel now like a simple return to reality, not an addition of knowledge like I had expected in my grand search for wisdom.) I can no longer pretend that death belongs to some distant, nebulous future and won’t really happen to me. I can no longer believe that aging is going to magically prepare me for it. My father did not have time to prepare for his death and spent his last moments in panic. If truly we all die, and we die alone, I don’t want to die in panic. Even then I still forget all too often.
That said, if self-inquiry has resulted in anything so far, it is only that I became less and less sure I know the self whose life and death I’ve been so concerned about, the one in this story, telling it, reading it. Honestly, I only claim to be a self-inquirer without having actually done much of it, because I was so confident I knew the “I” I was referring to. But everything I can refer to, perceive, sense, conceive of seems to be the mind through and through; an experience all the way down, including myself, my existence. What then? Do I just wait till this experience is over, since experience comes and goes? Is there something, anything, beyond experience? I’ve heard there’s a place: within. The work now is figuring out where within really is. I thought I knew, and that resulted in a deeper depression because I unquestioningly accepted what I saw there as “that’s it. Nothing more. Nothing else to be done. Might as well be dead now.” Pretending to know is a heavy burden, indeed!–––one I’m so prone to fall into. Truly, one must doubt everything especially one’s claim to knowledge.
Here’s another way to say it all over again. A principal intuition is confirmed, one that has been driving my life but I tried to deny. Behind the devastation of rejection and the desire for friendship and trust is a feeling for, pull toward, Utter Love. Because It was inconceivable to my mind, in my bewildered anger I called It a myth, a mere idea that could never, ever be real. Along the way, though, I learned that inconceivability does not equal impossibility. Love is possible. My contact with Art, to name only one person, has made me doubt my claim that It is impossible. Moreover, the search for Love turns out to not be a lone endeavor. It is acknowledged, praise the Lord, through my contact with fellow eccentric, off-center seekers. And this is another confrontation to one of my beloved beliefs: a challenge to the belief of being an individual doesn’t have to always be painful, after all. Now I finally hear what a French philosopher, Henri the black cat, said a while ago: “The life of a philosopher cat is nothing without friends. Perhaps I should share my treats with others.”
I still don’t know what Love is. So yes, you can say this “business of seeking” has not turned its full “profit” (though thinking of anything in terms of a business upsets the bohemian in me). But acknowledging the possibility of Love, isn’t this itself already a miracle? This acknowledgment is really the restoring of my faith in Love, because faith is always in relation to something one can’t conceive of but sense possible. This alone is already worth more than whatever it has cost, if it did cost anything of value!
I’ve been living my life for a distant goal. Be serious and work hard now, and reap the reward later. If ever. But it was probably no seriousness, no real work, but a playing around in a make-belief of what life was about and the proper way to live it. But I did not know life, and do not still. Now that depression and panic have slackened their claim to knowledge about life and death, I want to play. Not to play around, for, God help me, I no longer want to live a make-believe life toward an imaginary, distant dream. But to play to get in touch with I-know-not-what, call it my heart, that is most authentic, most alive, most actual. Then to express it, or to get out of the way so thoroughly that that Genuine What may come forth unobstructedly. To live a life of devotion again. To live in love and wonder every instant. It’s a feeling that every day I’ve been striving to contact and approach. Still much frustration, that at the end of the day I somehow miss, and I go to bed with an unfinished business. Strangely, writing this wish feels already like a prayer come true.
Coda: In telling this story I sounded like I knew what was happening at the time it was happening, and where everything was leading to. Actually, though, the directing and the shaping only happen here in telling the story, in selecting certain things and leaving out many others. In telling it, the story loses solidity. It’s all so neat and tidy. It may well be a creation, for my whole life is a memory.
- Ike Harijanto
To read Paul Schimdt’s Seeker’s Story, click here:
A Zen teacher once remarked that one of the things we can do to get started on the spiritual path is something very simple: take a walk around the block. Give ourselves a break and some time to think about spiritual things. Take a simple walk around the block, and do some thinking on your feet. Take a few minutes where you’re not being disturbed, turn off your phone, don’t think about work, and let your mind drift towards spiritual matters. Allow your deeper questions to come to the surface, while you’re walking along. Just the simple act of walking can give the body/mind enough to do so it will give us a break to look at higher things. Too often our minds believe spiritual matters to be affairs of the head and the imagination only, not something we actually have to do.
This teacher also said that until we realize we do nothing, we must face the fact that we are what we do, not what we imagine ourselves to be. The simple act of walking while allowing our inner problems and questions to surface for review can lead us into two places. One, a greater consciousness of who, or what, we really are and what we need to work on: our blocks and obstacles that stand in the way of our direct realization of ourselves.
And two, we begin to equate walking or ‘doing’ with spiritual work. We perform the simple act of walking around the block, with the even simpler act of allowing ourselves to take a look at our selves. We may eventually come to see that we ‘do’ nothing, but this is not an intellectual concept or conclusion. It comes after much work and loss of face. We can only become that which is nothing, that which is One, from the position of the doer, not the imagination. We then will walk while noticing that the body/mind (that which is walking) is not us, and we are only the witness of the action. Not in our imagination, just after the fact, but as it takes place in real time. Then, our mind can take a walk, while we rest easy in our Self.
So give yourself a break by ‘doing’ some work: take a walk.
- Bob Fergeson
I started seeking as a finder. I joined an eastern Bhakti path early in youth, complete with a guru and the promise to clear my way to God. It afforded me a direction, meaning, fellowship and family. I left the path after being disappointed and finding it unable to fulfill its promises. Leaving a committed path after 20 years was no easy matter. I had however gained a direction in life that had in the least given me a practical ego. Here my attitude towards spiritual transformation led me truly to become a seeker. I made an intention to look in all directions, turn over every rock however mundane. I had had a guru so it was easy for me to ignore the circus around the “stars” of groups and traditions I found. Looking directly into what was being offered during my search changed my focus as a seeker from the heart to the head. I dug into inquiry with quite an amount of zeal. I was largely solitary in my approach without guru, peers or friends on the way. After 5 years of this I made an intention to find someone with integrity to help me drive this new direction home. Almost immediately I found TAT and Richard Rose. Where I hadn’t felt any integrity from the spiritual types I encountered Rose seemed to personify it. I contacted the local rep and started attending get togethers. After a time the fog and confusions of all the various teachings and traditions, my beliefs and attitudes, began to par down. I was shown to see past them to what was more real. The path became one more accessible to me directly. It wasn’t on high and available to those who please a divinity or until one acquired the requisite qualifications .These new influences led to the recognition of the simple message that all the teachings and traditions east and west ancient and contemporary are trying to direct our distracted attention.
I thought at one time I had gone too far off. Going this way and that. Traveling away from the goal. Progress seemed slow and hard come by. Complaining about this to a friend he commented that I have never left the path. Whatever I had been doing was serving me. Robert Adams has said “Every desire every urge is a search for the Self. But we’re misdirected”. I’d agree as it seems my path has turned out to be one of reorientation. Finding my way now to a point that must be reconciled with myself.
- Tim Howell