Fellow TAT member and friend Shawn Nevins has written a clear, personal account of his search, along with tips for seekers of all types, well worth a read:
This story of friendship, love, and the darkest nights of the soul, follows a young spiritual seeker who drops out of graduate school and spends the next decade in a spiritual search that leads from a Zen master in the wilds of West Virginia, to an iconoclastic Christian mystic in the heart of Los Angeles, and an architect-turned-sage in England. Entertaining storytelling combined with practical tips and lessons from the path of spiritual awakening make this a must-have edition for those both curious and passionate about the mysteries of life, death, and enlightenment.
Four members of the TAT Foundation have now been interviewed by conscious.tv. These interviews are an open invitation to the wisdom these folks have become. Thanks to interviewers Ian and Renate McNay, the lives, tribulations and paths of each of these members is available on youtube under one play list.
Tess Hughes: Fear of death through an experience when she was only eight, set Tess off on a journey to find the meaning of life. After 30 years of inquiry into her mind and experience she woke up to find there was NO SELF. From reading the work of Saint Teresa of Avila and through her personal experience, Tess has come to see that the most difficult obstacle on one’s own path is the overcoming of self-esteem. She also believes that taking full responsibility for your own Awakening will set us free.
Bob Fergeson: Bob is author of the book ‘The Listening Attention. He talks about his life and awakening: ‘I was taken beyond myself into the place of no concern. The years of wondering, of alternating between pleasure and misery came to an end along with the searching and longing it generated. I saw that in all that time I had never really moved; rather I simply woke up.’
Art Ticknor: Author of the book ‘ ‘Solid Ground Of Being’ Art talks about his search for The Truth as his life, though perfect in one way, lacked purpose and meaning. After many years working with Richard Rose’s TAT groups and many individual retreats and Douglas Harding’s work a breakthrough occurred, ‘Art Ticknor was never alive, something broke the identification with the observer, there was no regret in seeing the sense of separate self go.’
Shawn Nevins: ‘The Way Of Subtraction’ Interview by Iain McNay Shawn is author of four books including ‘Subtraction: The Simple Math Of Enlightenment.‘ In the foreword he says, ‘This book answers the question of how to find out the answer to who and what you are beyond any shadow of a doubt.’ His spiritual search ended on December 28th 1999 having started 7 years earlier. During that time he meditated for thousands of hours, fasted, prayed, retreated, met spiritual teachers, and never gave up. His primary teacher was Richard Rose but he also spent time with Bernadette Roberts, Douglas Harding and others. His breakthrough came when he read through a transcript of a talk by Franklin Merrell-Wolff. Shawn’s story has many ups and downs. His sincerity during his search shines through and his many realizations on his path are tangible.
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.
I once had a dream of having another head on top of the original, like an appendage emanating from the present noggin. In the dream I was told that I was using spiritual work to build this second head, the ‘double head-head’. Instead of using self-observation to see my present personality pattern, the pattern of experience built up through my present life forming what I called my ‘self’, I was engaging in a strange fantasy. I was manufacturing a second head, which I then ‘worked on’, rather than observing the original. This kept me safe. I didn’t have to actually face anything unpleasant about myself, for everything in this second head was created with the express purpose of keeping the ego intact and unassailed. This new head was all I really knew, it was ‘me’.
I could keep being ‘myself’ while thinking I was engaged in serious spiritual work. I could ‘see’ things about myself freely, for they would be recommended and okayed by the ego. The realization struck me that I had been doing this for decades, living in a false self-created ‘self’ that kept me a stranger to the relatively real me. I was a mystery to me, but not, apparently, to everyone.
After the shock of the dream, I began to look more closely at myself, hoping to catch glimpses of the double head-head, and how it worked. Listening to others when they offered advice or criticism began to hold value too. Group work suddenly held a new purpose. How did this work? Could I see it in others as well? How could one be so naïve?
Later, I came to understand what Alfred Pulyan had called the Ego1-Ego2 game, the ego splitting itself in two, and calling the separated part ‘ego’, thus keeping itself safe from scrutiny. And also Carl Jung’s work on the ‘shadow’, that hitherto mysterious dark side of which I was sure I was immune.
Working in an illusion serves the ego’s prime directive: survival. It feels threatened with annihilation when things such as self-observation and looking at one self directly are entertained. In order to survive, it creates an ‘ego2’, a second head, on top of itself.
This process has been going on all of our life. Many of our phobias, inferiorities, and grandiose imaginings about ourselves are only in this second head. Once we cut it off through self-inquiry, a form of productive thinking, we are free, free to begin the real work of facing the original head.
To give an example, we may feel we have something wrong with us, stemming from the negative criticism of a parent figure when we were too small to understand or protect ourselves. This may have given us a feeling of inferiority, for God as the parent has told us we are lacking. Later in life this feeling of something being wrong is what is answered to. We may be engaged in spiritual work to compensate for this: to fix our inferiority complex. In actuality, we are working on a fantasy, an incorrect idea of ourselves injected into us from outside. We may never have even begun to act on our innate positive potentials due to being sidetracked: trying to fix a false problem. Have we ever tried to find what we are, inside, without relying on what we have been told? Has this outside information kept us down, or inflated us with a grandiose expectation of things?
Living in our imagination will not set us free, for what we seek freedom from is our own false conception of ourselves. Take courage and patience, learn to look for the facts of your life, not the fantasy of the double head-head.
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.
This past Sunday, March the 20th, I was privileged to talk with Regina Dawn Akers from Awakening Together. We discussed many topics relevant to the spiritual search, a good evening that I hope will be informative to those longing to look within.
The audio of the interview is available on their web site through this link:
Ever wondered about the connection between Zen and self-knowledge? If you have even a glimmer of interest in these matters, this book can open a new dimension for you. This much prized knowledge is delivered via the friendship that develops between a lost young man and a Zen master.
Nostalgiawest photographer Bob Fergeson has just released a new book, set in the swamps of Louisiana. Bob couches Zen lessons and a methodology for spiritual development into a simple story that allows the teachings to shine through. This book has something to offer the complete beginner and the more seasoned seeker – simple explanations of profound truths.
The book is available on amazon, in both print and Kindle editions. The Kindle version has full color photos taken by the author in southern Louisiana.