When you go into openness, the listening attention, you have become something good. You are something good rather than trying to feel good. You also have become in terms of: you don’t need to learn, you don’t need to think, you don’t need to analyze, compare, use concepts. You’re out of the thinking mind. You are, you’re awareness, the listening attention. In that state all the thinking, comparing, etc., are seen as lower states of the body mind. They have their functions, but they cannot tell you what you are; the lower cannot create the higher.
This is how you describe becoming rather than learning. You go from experiencing and thinking to just existing, to being. This doesn’t happen by constantly trying to get thoughts in the right order, get the thinking right then you can become, it’s more like you have to get sick of the thinking and clearly see that’s it’s a dead end and drop it. There’s no thinking that has to happen per se, it’s only the realization of what thinking is, and how it doesn’t ever lead anywhere in terms of becoming.
“The key to the whole process lies in the fact that there is a fountain-spring of endless guidance and information within every human being. One only has to learn to get out of its way, to let the consciousness generate in a stilled and quiet mind. – The fountainhead lies totally within.” – Jim Burns
One of my favorite songs as a child was ‘Desert Pete’ by the Kingston Trio. The dilemma of the thirsty traveler in the song fascinated me. What would I do if came upon an old well in the desert, and found the bottle of water for priming the pump? Would I pour it into the well, acting on faith that the message in the note was correct, that there was just enough water to prime the old pump? Or would I take the easy path, and drink it?
Our spiritual life poses much the same dilemma. Do we spend all of our time and energy on life and its pursuits? Or can we invest some of it towards future understanding and possible transformation? Do we have faith that our investment will come to fruit? Are we even aware that we have energy and time, and that they can be re-directed, invested towards something higher, rather than living from day to day, spending it all on whatever desire or fear presents itself moment by moment?
The Parable of the Talents presents a similar lesson. We are given energy and life, talents, which we can invest through faith, or we can covet the energy, bury the talent in the ground, and through fear of the higher(the Master in the parable) keep our self-love intact. The servants who invested their master’s money were rewarded for their efforts, while the one who buried his talent(no pun intended) had it taken from him and was thrown into darkness.
The song tells a similar tale. Do we trust in a higher power, and pour the precious water into the well, invest it, or do we take the way of fear and need, and drink it up?
Jim Burns talked about the hidden spring within each of us, and how all spiritual work was designed to re-connect us with this wellhead. To uncover the inner fountain of spirit through faith is, in a fundamental sense, our task. Life’s trials and tribulations can plunge us deep into ourselves, and at the bottom of this dark well, we may find spiritual gold. We come to see there is something higher, that comes from deep within. That the world and its desire/fear system lead nowhere but farther into need and separation. We gain faith through insight and intuition, and one day ‘prime the pump’. We start to question our need to drink all water as soon as we are given it. We are able to resist the world and its promises, the easy bottle, and to stop doubting ourselves. This saves the energy of the moment. It’s invested instead. We are starting to have faith. The pump is primed, the inner connection is re-established. The water of wisdom and love can come forth from our own inner well.
We are given many notes on how to prime the pump, how to have Faith. Teachers and spiritual systems have been presenting this message for centuries.
One day, we may realize we have been investing, priming the pump, through simple acts such as prayer and meditation, seeing others as ourselves, and listening to our heart. The inner connection will clear, the wellhead will have been uncovered. Then the cool clear water of our inner divinity will spring forth, healing our mind and heart, guiding us back to the Source.
The best day of my life – my rebirthday, so to speak – was when I found I had no head. This is not a literary gambit, a witticism designed to arouse interest at any cost. I mean it in all seriousness: I have no head.
It was eighteen years ago, when I was thirty-three, that I made the discovery. Though it certainly came out of the blue, it did so in response to an urgent enquiry; I had for several months been absorbed in the question: what am I? The fact that I happened to be walking in the Himalayas at the time probably had little to do with it; though in that country unusual states of mind are said to come more easily. However that may be, a very still clear day, and a view from the ridge where I stood, over misty blue valleys to the highest mountain range in the world, with Kangchenjunga and Everest unprominent among its snow-peaks, made a setting worthy of the grandest vision.
What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking. A peculiar quiet, an odd kind of alert limpness or numbness, came over me. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouserlegs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in – absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head.
It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the contrary, it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything – room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snowpeaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.
It was all, quite literally, breathtaking. I seemed to stop breathing altogether, absorbed in the Given. Here it was, this superb scene, brightly shining in the clear air, alone and unsupported, mysteriously suspended in the void, and (and this was the real miracle, the wonder and delight) utterly free of “me”, unstained by any observer. Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul. Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around.
Yet in spite of the magical and uncanny quality of this vision, it was no dream, no esoteric revelation. Quite the reverse: it felt like a sudden waking from the sleep of ordinary life, an end to dreaming. It was self-luminous reality for once swept clean of all obscuring mind. It was the revelation, at long last, of the perfectly obvious. It was a lucid moment in a confused life-history. It was a ceasing to ignore something which (since early childhood at any rate) I had always been too busy or too clever to see. It was naked, uncritical attention to what had all along been staring me in the face – my utter facelessness. In short, it was all perfectly simple and plain and straightforward, beyond argument, thought, and words. There arose no questions, no reference beyond the experience itself, but only peace and a quiet joy, and the sensation of having dropped an intolerable burden.
– Douglas Harding
This is an extract fromOn Having No Headby Douglas Harding, first published in 1961, available now through the Sholland Trust.
Hi Folks, I’d like to talk with you today about a meditation exercise, that I’ve mentioned and made a little video about in the past, called breathing underwater. To me this exercise, which could be called stilling the mind, placing our attention into the quiet, the stillness, so that there’s no movement of the attention. This can feel at first like you’re breathing underwater because you’re so used to allowing the attention to run free. We’ve been taught to let this attention run out into the world for two reasons: One is the adventure of it. You could call this entertainment. The ego wants to go out into the adventure of the world to entertain itself, to look at all the strange things out here, and to identify with them, put our sense of “I” into them, so that we think we’re the ‘doer’. To get back past that sense of doership to the real reality that we’re just the observer, we keep this attention still, we can allow the will of God to come forth. This is like a trick of surrender. We can’t surrender on purpose, that’s just another ego move. What we can do is keep the attention still. Another thing we’ve learned is to try to escape. To let the attention run out into the things of the world in order to get away from the bad feelings inside of us, that may have been put there in our childhood, through school, through being told we’re inferior, bad. This is unconscious mostly, it’s not our fault, but if we can still this escape mechanism, not try to fix it, solve all the little details of it with analysis, but simply to be still and watch it and see that it’s not us. This little attention thing is like a cursor on your computer. If you hold it still and don’t click on it, then things stay still and there’s silence. This is like I said, a strange form of surrender, and that we can let our mind be still, but the world still flows through. Then God’s will is manifest rather than ours. This can be pretty scary at first to let go, it takes a long time for us to have Faith, so we don’t think the world will either fall apart, or go nuts on us, if we don’t have our little will in there trying to control it every minute. This practice, the more we do it, the more we try to hold our breath, our attention, our will, the easier it becomes until we find we can do it without effort, and that the world goes on. It can go from being brief seconds to being minutes, of allowing God to take over, and we can just relax and sit back and watch the show.
“The magical side of self-observation is to give yourself a little time before you react to incoming impressions. ” – Maurice Nicoll
The ego has been said to be legion, meaning that it can take on infinite forms in order to hide and maintain its power. One of its main tricks is to keep us identified with a series of emotionally based reactions which color our thinking, feeling, and sense of self, while believing we are observing life and ourselves objectively. Roy Masters once remarked that most of us live in an emotionally based day dream state of thought; patterns of belief formed through unconscious emotional reactions to experience. Continued belief and identification with these patterns ensures the ego’s dominance.
Another of its tricks is to pass the buck, to split itself in two: the ego1-ego2 game. It labels the separated part as ‘ego’(ego2), while it hides in judgment as ‘ego1’; the pot calling the kettle black.
The ego1-ego2 game is perpetuated by emotionally based judgment and self-critical reaction, rather than non-critical, non-judgmental self-observation. This ‘method of maintaining egocentricity’ was first mentioned by Alfred Pulyan, and describes the ego’s schizoid ability to split itself in two in order to maintain its position as ultimate boss. An example goes like this: “I’m destroying my ego, I’m never going to let it mess up my life again”, says ego as ego1, referring to ego2 as ‘ego’. In this manner, it can maintain a safe position all the while allowing the ‘me’(ego1) the feeling it’s making progress by destroying the ego(ego2) This trick insures it’s hypnotic hold over our awareness.
What I call ‘energy knots’ or ‘buzz balls’ are key to this. These are reaction patterns formed from emotional energy tied to an event. The attached energy keeps the event/memory alive and running in the mind. When we are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of these patterns in real time, and are caught off guard so as not to lapse into the ego1-ego2 trap by immediately reacting in a negative manner, we have a rare opportunity. These afflictions to the individuality sense show us ourselves and our patterns. Witnessed in real time, riled up and spinning, these energy knots give us the chance to see our ‘self’ clearly, if we observe non-critically. We then stand a chance of raising ourselves out of dualistic observation and judgment, and look with pure observation: awareness. As soon as we judge the pattern, we slip down into the ego1-ego2 trap. When we criticize and judge a part, labeling it in effect as ego2, we become the same; another ‘part’, ego1. You can’t see your pattern, much less your ego, from its own level. You have to raise yourself up to a different dimension; a non-dualistic awareness.
A facet of this non-judgmental observation is discernment. We need discernment, which is innocence, as opposed to judgment, which is fueled by fear, resentment, and guilt. If we look at these reactions to seeing ourselves (one part judging another) we can see that judging is a negative emotion, a reaction only, not an awareness. It’s on the same level as ego. If we don’t have a sense of innocence, a pure mind operating on a level above belief, we tend to lapse into judgment and negative emotion, which is again, ego.
To rise above the ego, to separate from it, we need to return to our original innocence. We can find that lost innocent state through refined nostalgia: discernment based on retreating from what is less than pure to that which is simpler, more original. This ‘spiritual nostalgia’ is a longing for simplicity, the truth, not a sentimental attachment to the past and memory. Rising above the dualistic trap of ego1–ego2 we return to true discernment, the emotional element of which is nostalgia, which has no basis in criticism or judgment. From this perspective we can see how the ego1-ego2 trap works. We can climb above it as awareness, a simple witnessing, not from judgment.
A real time pure observation of a buzz ball releases the bound up energy from the mind, giving us a sense of lightness and clarity. We are freed from a belief. It’s a backing away from the gestalts of emotionally based thinking and feeling, leading to patience and the ability to witness without reaction: true freedom.
I was thinking this morning of how I have attempted to accomplish control over the fear of death. I saw that I was comparing my efforts to accept death, and the failure to do so, only within the context of what I believed. I realized this could never be accomplished; it was trying to change an idea with an idea, working only in the realm of thought, rather than becoming that which observes thought.
It strikes me that much of what we call ‘spiritual work’, but isn’t direct inquiry, is this phenomenon in one form or another.
Whether it be death, anger, or whatever else we believe we need to make peace with or become, before we awaken.
Awakening is not an accomplishment. Its road is not a series of modifications, but rather a direct seeing of what is.
This is not the same as struggling with thought to ‘remove’ thought. You see thought directly. You are ‘behind’ even thought.
It’s when we believe we see from the same level as thought (that seeing is possessed by an object we take as our self) that we attempt to modify it. We believe this modification will allow a more direct seeing as the object we believe ourselves to be changes.
You cannot see through objects. Thought cannot be made more transparent (a movement to its opposition) or more opaque (a movement towards its reinforcement) and thus solve the problem of identity.
When thought is seen as an object and not as a lens, you may ‘see’ seeing itself and thus be the truth of yourself, even here, in the world.
You can’t accept anything before its actuality presents. This ‘acceptance’ would only be an idea and ideas can only be believed in. They should not be accepted at their own level, the level of ideas. True acceptance comes as the ‘I’ is chased down.
The pride of accomplishment is a sneaky bastard. Be it positive (I did good) or negative (I did bad)
The pride of accomplishment and the pride of ownership are the same pride as that of doer-ship. They occur at the unquestioned level of identity. An identity of thought only pointed at but never fleshed out in what can be directly viewed as actual. Much suffering comes from this.
To receive answers to important spiritual questions, questions that concern the inner self, such as ‘who am I’, ‘what should I be doing with my life’, we will need to use the appropriate method. Big questions such as these shouldn’t be put into the emotionally based associative thinking we habitually use, the kind of thinking we use to balance our checkbook or schedule the day. In answering higher questions associate thinking gets us nowhere. Being cast into the wrong realm, these questions endlessly spin around the brain in a negative feedback loop, tying up our mind.
For great questions, we need a different level of mind, something patient and insightful. There is a gap between our associative spin thinking, and the place of tension that can contain the great question; a quiet space in which to ponder. We find this space through meditation; practicing methods to strengthen and calm the mind. People who are really busy, with kids and careers, will tell you they don’t have time to ponder. If you were as busy as they were, they insist, you’d know this. But would they meditate 2 to 3 times a day, conscientiously, they will find sooner or later that they do have time to ponder. Most of our so called thinking, is actually an emotionally based form of worry, guilt, or anxiety; it doesn’t serve a valid function. Once you see this through self-inquiry and meditation, the worry and anxiety will begin to evaporate. You find you do have time to ponder. You begin to understand how to put spiritual questions to the inner self, the unknown.
We find great answers by putting our great question up against the unknown, and holding it there with attention. We wait patiently for the unknown to respond. It requires true patience and courage, for the answer may not come immediately, it’s not associative. The process takes a while. Maybe a minute, an hour, maybe a year, even longer. Sooner or later, if we keep the tension there, against the unknown, the Inner Self will be stressed to respond with the answer, bringing resolution.
This tension-based thinking is hard to do, for there’s often no immediate satisfaction. It requires being able to both hold tension and be patient. The tension and waiting serve to break the associative loop, putting the question instead to a higher source, something not in space and time. Emotional thinking and rationalization are on the mundane level, and have no access to matters beyond.
One caveat is that we may find we’re getting answers in this tension based thinking, but not to the questions we expect. Instead of our present question, questions in the background can be suddenly answered, for the tension, once created, will jump to the next question on our list, whether we’re conscious of it or not. This can happen because the questions we’re putting to the unknown may not interest the inner self, or we may not have put them in in the right form and need to rephrase and clarify them. Or, we may not be ready for the answer, we might refuse it.
Questions held with tension in a quiet mind draw to them the corresponding answers; a process of resolution. Patience, courage, and humility are key. Remember, we ask a question because we do not have the answer; we are admitting our ignorance, and are asking for release in a determined and humble manner.
The purpose of meditation isn’t to make us feel good or to continually inspire us, so that we feel emotionally motivated in our life. It’s also not about changing our feelings; to make us feel good, and not feel bad. It’s about leading your feelings and thoughts from a higher perspective. In other words, we meditate in order to generate a spiritual quantum or spiritual direction, a vector, which can help us to act over and above our feelings and thoughts. If we don’t feel like meditating, and this tells our thoughts to look for reasons to cop out, the spiritual direction can help us to meditate anyway, regardless of how we feel.
This is why we need to meditate on a regular basis, to develop a routine, whether we feel like it or not. Meditation will provide the energy and incentive for meditation. It’s not about “I don’t feel like meditating and need instead to lay around until I figure out how to get to where I feel like it”. It’s not about adopting ‘thought disciplines’ that make bold directives and use the guilt trips of ‘should of’s’ to force us to meditate. It’s about generating a spiritual quantum, which is over and above feeling and thought. This will enable us to act, and meditate, without the ego energy. We’re so used to acting only through ego energy, feeling good, feeling bad, and their accompanying rationalizations, that we don’t know there’s another way. Proper meditation and connection with a higher power is what gives us this ability. This is what we’re striving for, not for endless bliss, endless inspiration, or some trick to help us get high, to distract us. What we’re looking for is something above and beyond this; a change in character, a change in being.
We must somehow acquire a quiescent mind in order to truly turn the head and go within. To initiate contact with the inner self, or higher centers, the mind must be capable of receiving from within, as opposed to its usual obsession with the unconscious projection of thought. Now, if we find we are not capable of a quiet mind, one that can discriminate within the inner realm, to receive intuition and insight, why not? What is bothering us? It is usually compensations based on our chief feature. Since we are largely unconscious of our chief trait or pattern, observing the compensations we have in place to deal with it may be our best bet. We may even think the compensations are themselves our chief feature, meaning we’re even further out from our center than we thought. We must deal with what our problem presently really is. We cannot afford to get lost in imagination, such as the realm of archetypes, or concept structures such as ‘oneness’ or ‘non-duality’.
If we can observe our compensations, our psychological habit patterns that keep us spinning in thought and obsession, and accept them, we can perhaps look beneath them and see their opposite, our chief feature. We do not want to fight and destroy them, or rationalize them away as meaningless. We must accept that too, if we are to be objective. We are not to blame or judge ourselves for any of this, but to bring it into consciousness and allow the higher power to do what it will.
Once we are blessed with a true understanding of how our mind keeps itself in charge through the compensations and chief feature, we open the possibility to find the quiet mind, what I call the listening attention. From here, we can go within; allow contact with higher centers. This itself is paradoxical, for we need the insight and intuition from higher centers to understand this, but how do we make contact until we do? Know that paradox is the sign you have reached the outer limits of the mind. From there, one must allow oneself to become; paradox yet again.