“The daily remembering and clear admission of our internal angst is key to the eventual ability to face the moment. It gives us energy and incentive to separate from being identified with the psychological manifestations of personality in the drama of the sleepyhead-knucklehead, and how this misidentification traps our attention in the illusions of the mind. Once relaxed, we can jump straight into the still, aware silence: the listening attention. In other words, we go straight from personality right back up to what we really Are. We gofrom being a very complicated psychology, to being a very simple two-way seeing. We learn how to listen, to just look at the facts always in front of our vision, while simultaneously looking back at what we really Are. Psychological work is used only to show us that we don’t have a quiet mind, no freedom of attention, and thus cannot tell the real from the false. Once we realize that having a quiet mind is something you simply find, it’s always there just under the surface, you no longer have to think about it, put effort into it, build it up.
It’s a retreat from complicated error and projection back to the simple truth of ourselves as aware capacity, indescribable and real”.
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.
It’s a blade of grass in the summer moonlight
A sprinkler hisses, then a mist and cold spritz
It’s a pastel sidewalk, the colors the child
A jump, a skip, a call and response
It’s a porch, its swing and lantern, the tree underlit
A mother breaking dusk, calling her son back home
A dog sniffing the ground, you can’t help but laugh
While the grasshoppers chirp and the fireflies flick
It’s the town’s outdoor pool, water twirling up and dropletting down
It’s riding at night on a Schwinn Stingray bike
On the small town streets chasing the smoke fog
of the DDT truck, the smell heaven, better than ant subway’s
It’s Wyoming on the farm, going to the Indian dance
The irrigation canals, the alfalfa and manure
Sleeping on a high bed, on soft flannel sheets
The whooshing of tires down the highway before sleep
It’s the trip down Wind River to Thermopolis Hot Springs
My mother and sister, my virgin aunt who eats her Reeses
My virgin uncle driving, he sings in the fields
My grandparents who only speak German and love
The hot soaking pools, my mother really happy
The high dive off the board, the low dive of my sister
The park with the bridges, the sulfur, the steaming streams
And riding the Screaming Mimi down into the pool
It’s Elitches Gardens, the mecca of all yeows!
The Tilt-a-Whirl, the Calypso, the Wildcat coaster
The Skyride brushing the tree branches, the Tropadero Ballroom,
The ponies, the funhouse mirror, and softie twists
The feel of bare feet on hot asphalt, then on cool grass
The slapping of street in Converse All Stars
Levi jeans, white tee shirt, no wallet
The music box rhapsody of the ice cream truck
Music lifting heavy heads behind window screens
In the parks, in passing cars, on the bed table in the dark,
The handle on the radio and the knobs gleaming fake chrome
A spaceship transporting sounds for dreaming the world
The green glow dashboard of the Plymouth Valiant
Cruising the loop over and over with bench seats filled
The Dairy Queen stop, the lime-aid and Mr. Misty
The young girls untouchable but seeable, giggly and gangly
It’s winding down in the cool basement evening
Watching TV shows before there was irony
Flickering blue plasma lava across whitewashed walls
Shirtless back stuck to the emerald green vinyl sofa
Never end day. Never end night, Never end this.
When sleep finally comes, it comes easy at first graze
Of warm skin on cool cotton, head surrendering to pillow
Dreams no more magical then life, as innocent as mornings
Children of summer, dancing and yard running
We were all awe, we were the sun god revolved ‘round
I could sing you until I couldn’t breathe anymore
Even now, knowing it was never made to last
Once you allow the ego to grab a direct experience (say of love, selflessness, or beauty), it will claim ownership, and you may never actually go back to experience the eternal quality in real time again. Instead, the mind will merely reference the memory of the experience. The ego is perfectly satisfied with memories or imagination, being unable to tell the difference in value or meaning between imagination, memory, and direct experience. We will tell ourselves we ‘know’ all about the experience when we’re actually no longer in direct contact with it, we’re just referencing an old memory, and then playing about in the imagination. It’s a subtle but ruthless trick that takes us out of present awareness and places us in a time-based illusion of the mind. As long as we believe this easy way out, of never having to be in the moment again by using memory as a cop-out, we no longer exist. We have instead become the ego of “been there, done that”.
Isolation is a period of time spent completely alone, cut-off from the world’s distractions, for gaining self-knowledge. People have ventured into deserts, forests, and mountains for thousands of years to escape their fellow men, to find peace, and to find answers to their deepest questions. Such time alone may be an undistracted attempt to delve within in search of the truth of our being. Such time may also be an escape into daydream and fantasy. For me, a few days or weeks alone each year allowed a clearer perspective on the rest of my life and was a time to pursue meditation with full intensity. At the very least, it was an amazing adventure into a tradition few modern people dare to explore. What follows are some suggestions for the process.
First, you need a reason for a stint in isolation — something you wish to think about or investigate. I remember the first time I chose to spend a day alone. I sat on a blanket by the edge of a field. Shortly, I realized I had nothing to focus on. I simply had heard that it was good to spend time alone. My mind wandered from one thought to the next for half a day. Finally, I packed up and went home. Of course, it wasn’t a total waste. You learn something from any experience if you take time to ponder what happened and why. I am trying to save you a few steps, though.
Perhaps explaining more of the benefits will help clarify your reasons for undertaking an isolation. Many people like taking a few minutes at the end or beginning of the day to review and plan. Isolation is an opportunity to review and plan for months or years of your life. Sometimes in my isolations, I reviewed my journals from the past year. This was a priceless opportunity to see how I changed, how I spent or wasted my time, and what my actions said about my priorities. In short, to learn from my history. Next, I planned for the coming year, and developed a strategy for how I wanted to live my life.
You can use isolation for reviewing and planning, or for creating and discovering. Think about the scientist working late at night in his lab, the artist in their retreat, or the Native American on a vision quest. This is isolation as meditation. Eliminating distractions so we can look within and see what arises. For a moment, we put the demands of society on hold. No cell phones, no bills to pay, and no class or job to attend. Just you and the universe — you and life at its simplest. In this case, your reasons may be harder to articulate — taking the form of a feeling or intuition.
Once you realize a reason for isolation, the question becomes how long to spend alone. I’ve spent anywhere from a half a day to thirty days in isolation. I know others who spent up to sixty days. Avoid the thirty-day marathons for your first time. Best to start out too short rather than too long, since the ramifications of extending your time are clearer than those of shortening a stay.
Life is a sticky business, so you’ll need to reserve a block of time and prepare to cut the cords of responsibility. Get your life in order so you won’t worry whether or not your dog is starving while you are supposed to be contemplating the meaning of life. The older you get the harder this becomes, as not only your dog, but your kids also might wind up starving. Few students realize the luxury of time the college age provides. One’s twenties are a window of opportunity for the grand adventure of spiritual seeking.
Where to go is the next consideration. There are numerous spiritual retreats and even a book or two listing them (such as Sanctuaries: The Complete United States). Make sure you will be left alone. It is best to not even see another person for the duration. Having to dine with others, or listen to singing and chanting can be distracting. There are options besides official retreats. Maybe a friend or friend of a friend with land where you could pitch a tent. Parks and National Forests are possibilities. I know people who simply holed up in a cheap motel room for the weekend. What is wrong with using your own home? Many reminders of your life in the everyday world, easy to be disturbed by friends or family, and too many distracting temptations like the television.
Wherever you go, plan to keep your life simple while you are there. Food preparation can become a time-consuming chore or a major distraction. Some people simply choose not to eat. Fasting is worth a try. Over-eating will make you sleepy, as will lack of exercise. The more primitive your housing situation, the more planning it may take to keep things simple — how will you cook, clean, use the toilet? Beware of too broad a focus for your isolation. Don’t plan to read ten books in two days. Or plan to decide on a career, a mate, and to discover the source of thoughts. Plan a major thrust for your isolation time and let all other actions be in support of that goal.
So you found a reason, a place to go, and a plan to make your isolation happen. Now you are there, so what are the unexpected hurdles? Typically, people find reasons to leave. You decide isolation was a stupid idea, or you are not prepared, or now is not the best time, you feel weak or sick, you have too much nervous energy (can’t focus), or there is some emergency at home. My advice is to not shorten you isolation. If you said you would stay a week, stay a week. However, use your best judgement. If you vomit blood once (I’ve seen it happen), don’t panic and leave. If you vomit blood for two days, and are unable to identify and correct the cause, then you’ve got a problem.
Generally, decisions to leave can be negated by changing another aspect of the isolation. Once, I meditated so long that my knees hurt day and night, so I kept changing up my sitting style so I could continue. Another time, a book I thought would be inspiring was a dud, so I used another book. I could have said my knees hurt too much or that the book was uninspiring and I might as well go home. Adapt the details of your plan in mid-stream, if necessary to preserve the whole.
There is knowledge and change that will come from the isolation experience. The answer to your deepest question may not come during isolation and you shouldn’t expect it to. On a long afternoon of the twentieth day of a thirty-day isolation, as you are wishing you could sleep away the rest of time, this will seem solely an exercise in determination. That may be one value, but other values are not realized until far in the future.
Richard Rose gave me the best description of the attitude one should take. He said not to approach isolation as challenging God or the universe for an answer. Don’t draw a circle in the sand and say you won’t come out until you are enlightened. Instead, and this is my interpretation, work as hard as you can and be thankful for whatever happens.
Isolation is an invaluable experience, but even it may outlive its usefulness. Eventually, I felt isolation was no longer useful for me. Perhaps the focus of my isolations had so permeated my everyday life that I was always alone; always looking for an answer even in the midst of an outwardly typical life. Along this line, I do not recommend a cloistered life. Escaping the world through permanent isolation will become another cage from which we must escape.
Photographer and writer Paul Rezendes has an unusual take on realization, formed from his experience outdoors as a wildlife tracker. The preface from his book,The Wild Within, gives a brilliant example of his realization, and a perfect description of the listening attention as well:
This book is an inner and outer journey into one’s self and into the wild. The journey through these pages brings us into intimate contact with the lives of wild animals and begs us to look more deeply in order to come into intimate contact with ourselves and the “wild within.” The “wild within” is not a place in space and time; it is an awareness that is unconditioned, or is uncultivated, untouched by the human hand or mind.
These pages open the door to who we are by taking us first into the forest where, through tracking and sometimes direct contact with the animals, we are able to experience and appreciate the lives of wild beings. It gives us the opportunity to see that these lives are none other than our own lives, and that no being is separate from another; that mountain, river, forest, stone, coyote, and humans are the same movement.
I have taken and opened the doors and windows to my own life, so that the reader can look in and see his or her own life in mine. This story is not just about me and the wild animals that I have tracked. It is meant to be a mirror to your own life. For instance, when I share with you my persona as a gang leader, I am hoping that you look at your persona, whether it be an identification as lawyer, doctor, artist, or academic. Most of us have an idea about who we are … it doesn’t matter what that idea is. It has the same basic effect of dividing us within and out there in the forest, as well as socially. Being the president of a motorcycle gang may not be much different than being the president of a nation when it comes to feelings of pride, fear, and power.
This book opens the door to nature, where we come face to face with love, fear, life and death. It takes you into the woodlands, and as you wander through the trees, you may suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself looking inwardly at something you never expected to see – something fresh, alive, and new about yourself that you never knew was there. That is my hope in writing this book, that you wake up to a whole new world, one that is not fragmented, but whole, open, and without fear. Ultimately, that is what The Wild Within is about. It is about what some cultures call waking up, enlightenment, self-understanding, wholeness, or realization.
What I mean by realization is living, being energy that is aware or awake to what is, or to what is arriving in the moment. An awareness that is at rest and has no intention for anything to be other than what it is. Although it is at rest and has no intention, it can have a dramatic action on the movement of thought in a person’s life. This action takes place out of time, and without a doer. It is an action that does not come from a center, nor is it linear. In other words, it is not a reaction. When a person is realized, this awareness is the unresisted perspective in a person’s life, a perspective without a center, and without fear or pride.
Before realization, a person’s perspective is coming from the center of where we believe our self to exist, or at least, that is where we “think” we exist, feel, and think from. This center, this self, this doer that we perceive ourselves to be, is what keeps us divided from nature out there in the world and our true nature within. This results in a sense of being at odds with nature, within ourselves and with others. The center, or the who we think we are, also creates divisions within our own species. I’m talking here about religious, political, sociological and ideological divisions. These divisions can easily develop into hate crimes, wars, etc. Living from this center causes conflict between what is, and what should be – who we think we are, and who we think we should be.
Self-understanding opens the door to the possibility of living without a center, fear, and the need to control nature and others. This book is about that door opening for one human being. It may be about that door opening for you as well.
” If a thing loves, it is infinite.” – William Blake
Progress on the spiritual path can be thought of in terms of value, or love. What is most important to us is what we value the most, what we really love. The path of self-discovery can be seen in these terms. We observe ourselves, and discover what our true motivations are, leading us to see what we value. Another way to see this is by checking our fact status. What we actually do everyday tells us much about what we value, and perhaps shows us the gap between our personal storyline and our actions. If this fact checking and self-observation are carried far enough, we may begin to get a look at something called our ‘self’ or personality, and begin to see its illusive nature. We may be forced to admit to its exalted status as our real true love, despite our ego’s protestations to the contrary. Using this shock as further fuel for the search, we become a bit more honest in our future assessments. If self-inquiry is carried even further, through this process of elimination we may find something more real to love than this ‘self’. Back beyond our mind’s motion, something still and silent lies. If you find a love of truth, rather than fiction, it may take you there.
Finding this still-point depends largely on our state of satisfaction with our beloved ‘self’. If the state becomes one of dissatisfaction, we have the incentive to look for something more stable. Hearing from others that have gone before that there is something somewhere ‘within’, and that it is worth any effort to find it, also adds to our incentive. By looking at what we love, we can come to love the truth, and find there is something worthwhile inside us other than mind-motion and change. Let’s take a look at how this path might turn out, and some of the pitfalls and signposts along the way from love of ‘self’, to Love Itself.
We hear of this so-called still-point, called by such names as silence, stillness, the center, the Source, what we really are, etc., and wonder. If our intuition is not clouded by the dissipation’s of relentless pleasure seeking and the resultant fear, we may discover a longing, a nostalgia deep within that tells us we may have once known this silence, and still love it more than we might know. This longing is fed too, perhaps, by being tired of the jostling effects of life, its traumas and endless no-win scenario, leading only to death and dissolution.
So, we read the books and search the Internet, finding many who tell of the way back to this stillness. They vary from the intellectual work ofHubert Benoit, to the practical experiments of Douglas Harding. We find the paths back to this center also called by many names: ‘the inner movement’, ‘self-remembering’, a ‘double-pointed arrow of attention, one directed in, one out’, ‘observing the observer’, ‘looking back at what we are looking out of’. Many speak of ‘silence’, and even the many forms of silence. From this information alone, we may not come any closer to really knowing this still-point, but if we persist in looking, we may get lucky and discover much that it is not. We begin to see that it cannot be something of the mind, for we find the mind is motion. We may be fooled into thinking that the stillness is something we can manufacture, that it’s found only in ashrams or monasteries, or that we can force it onto the relative world through controlling the environment. Or we may decide to create it within by controlling our mind, forcing it to think only what we have been told we should think, and discover that this too, is folly.
When the still-point is finally reached, even if only for a moment, it is unmistakable. If we have allowed ourselves to hone our intuition and clear our thinking, we will find that this silent place within is not just a concept, but very real. The movement necessary to turn our attention back away from the outer and inner movies of the mind and senses is found to be also something real, and not a thought or concept at all. We find too, that we forget, and are carried back into the mind at every instant. But if our love for the silence is true, it will turn us back into it again and again, provided our previous experience with the mind and its motion has been enough, or too much.
This is where what we value or really love comes in. If our meaning is taken from the changing scene of the relative world, we will keep our attention directed towards it. We will turn away from the silence within, and our longing will be for the excitement and changes of the mind. We may declare our love for the center, but our attention will long for the agony and ecstasy of the world of form. Boredom with silence too, means our value has not yet moved inward from the world to truth, but remains trapped by the colorful kaleidoscope of the mind, and the energy releases of the body.
This part of the journey is a journey within. We retreat from our former love for motion and change, and move inwards toward simplicity and truth. After the still-point has been found, and correctly valued, our attention is then turned round, and we begin a new phase, one of our new love being tested. While we continue to hold a part of our gaze on the still-point, it being what we really are, we also turn round and engage in the world of action. This is to test our love, to see if the trials and tribulations of the outer world can knock us off course, and change our point of reference. If we come back to the center, time and time again, during and despite every trial, we find we are becoming less of the world and more of the silence. In any situation in life, no matter how difficult or how often we forget, if we eventually return to the still-point as our anchor, we find we are becoming one with it. We become that which we love.