The Eyes of Mystics

I have noticed that the term ‘Witness’ is often used interchangeably with the terms Atta and Supreme Self (i.e. that which is not one of the five aggregates). I do not think ‘Witness’ is a good term. Using this term to instruct others and yourself before or during meditation can subconsciously or consciously privilege your visual experiences – as if you should be looking for something, as if the Supreme Self is something that can be seen with either the outer or the inner eye.

Have you noticed the eyes of some ‘mystics’ (e.g. Gurdjieff [in the picture], Rasputin, Osho, Aurobindo. . .)? Their eyes look so intense, so strained – as if they have spent their whole lives struggling to see something that simply cannot be seen.

The Supreme Self can no more be seen than it can be tasted or smelled.

Can you imagine telling your Zen Master that you have tasted the Eternal Self– and that it tasted like chicken soup?

That is ridiculous. (Actually on some level that might be true, but never mind about that right now.)

That which is "prior" to the aggregates (i.e. the True Mind, the Supreme Self, the Atta) is not a sensation; it is not a sound; it is not a taste or scent; it is not a visual experience.

The term ‘Witness’ is just as inappropriate as the term ‘Smeller.’

It is just wrong!

Looking, listening, and feeling for the Supreme Self is an important exercise. It is to play the ‘that-is-not-the-Self’ game (i.e. the doctrine of anatta game). The purpose of this game is to learn what you are not. How does the game work? You look for some experience, some candidate that could be the Self, you see that the experience is transient, that it is empty of independent existence, and you throw it away (remembering to embrace it later) saying: ‘That is not the Self.” Eventually you learn to stop looking with your eyes (the Self is not infinite empty space) and you learn to stop listening with your ears (the Self is not blissful silence of the mind). One day you will realize that you have thrown everything away – that you have declared: “That is not the Self,” for the last time.

On that day, your search for the Supreme Self will have ended.

You do understand, don’t you, that you never actually see The Supreme Self, you never actually say: “This is the Self”?

You simply realize that you are "prior" to the aggregates – that you are "prior" to all that is not the Self.

You simply realize that you are free.

At least, I think that’s how it works, what do you think?


A baby girl is born!

My wife and I had a baby girl! Both are healthy and at home.

Now we have two girls – a 2 ¾ year old and a new born.

3 girls (wife included) to 1 guy, I feel very much out numbered – actually, it’s not a bad feeling.


Our newborn above. Our 2 year old and newborn below.

Puzzle Work

We are still waiting for our second child to be born. (The due date was December 9th 2009.)

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to find things to distract me – like doing jigsaw puzzles.

And it has since struck me that the path to spiritual well-being can be likened to doing a jigsaw puzzle. Each life-practice you add is like a piece of the puzzle. There are many pieces (practices):

Vipassana Meditation
Samatha Meditation
Healthy Diet
Alexander Technique
Shadow Work
Music Therapy
Kunalini Yoga
Social and Ecological Ethics
Emotional Mindfulness Practice
Tai Chi Chuan

Each one of us has his or her own puzzle to work on and it can take a lifetime to finish. It can be enormously satisfying when you find that final piece needed to complete the puzzle.

And that is the problem: Just because it happens to be the final piece, it is often mistaken to be the most essential piece.

And most likely my last piece of the puzzle will not be the same as your last piece of the puzzle. I may have been missing a little spinal alignment and you may have been missing a little aerobic exercise. Now, having found my missing piece, I’m trying to convince you of the importance of the Alexander Technique and you’re trying to convince me to start running 4 to 5 times a week.

Maybe your last piece is Tai Chi and one of your friends is an Osho devotee begging you to try something called dynamic meditation technique.

Now here is another problem, most likely I haven’t actually completed the whole puzzle. Most likely, I’ve only completed a small section of the puzzle. (While mistakenly believing that I’ve completed the whole puzzle.) Adding the last piece of just a small section of the puzzle can be very rewarding. I might even mistake the final piece of a small section for the great panacea that the world so desperately needs.

And here is yet another problem: It seems to be the case that each one of us actually has a different puzzle to complete.

So not only do I mistakenly believe that the piece that completes the puzzle or a small section of the puzzle is the most essential piece, not only do I mistakenly assume that I have completed the whole puzzle when I have only completed a small section, but I also incorrectly assume that my puzzle is the same as everyone else’s puzzle.

What a mess!

This post is a call for a little patience with each other. People, you know I’ve only listed 12 pieces above! There are hundreds of practices (pieces). Now maybe my puzzle only has 20 pieces. Your puzzle may contain a greater or fewer number of pieces, and/or it may contain a different basic break down of pieces (practices). See what I am getting at? Your last piece may have actually been my first piece and vice versa; a piece that you discovered early on may still be eluding me. You may be wondering why your friend is dwelling on some special technique he has been working on for the last 10 years since you effortlessly adopted and mastered that type of practice when you were only 11 years old. You might not even know what he or she is talking about because it is so second nature for you.

And let’s not even get into the lessons you may or may not have learned in past lives . . .

Yes, patience and humility are definitely needed in abundance.

Okay, time to get back to my puzzle.

May you cherish each and every piece, that you may find ever increasing peace.

Still waiting,


[P.S. I love searching for pieces by reading your blogs. If your blog is not on my blog roll, let me know, I’d love to try to understand your unique point of view.]

Living in the Moment: Body Awareness (5/5)

It is Sunday night. You have to get up and go to work tomorrow morning. You start dwelling upon this thought, “I have to go to work tomorrow.” You cannot help it, you imagine yourself sitting at your desk, staring at a stack of papers and a computer, and having to deal with overly demanding people all day.

You worry. You try not to, but you just cannot help it.

What is one to do?

I do not know if I have an answer for you, but I know what has worked for me.

Last post we noticed that: Sometimes it seems like we are living in the present moment. Sometimes it does not. However, really we are always living in the present moment.

So why does it sometimes seem like we are not?

I know that I feel present when I am consciously aware of the physical sensations of my body.

And I do not feel present when I am not consciously aware of the physical sensations of my body.

I think it is that simple.

‘Living in the present moment’ has very little to do with time, and very much to do with body awareness.

[Seeing this, and using the right words for the right experience (i.e. replacing the expression ‘living in the moment’ with ‘living in the body’) has really helped me.]

So why do we use the expression “living in the moment” when we really mean “living in the body?”

I think it is because often when you think about the past or the future you imagine yourself to be not only in a different time but also in a different location. And usually when you imagine yourself to be in a different location, you lose touch with the physical sensations of your real body.

Thinking about other times and other places is not the real problem.

The real problem is that we have developed an unfortunate habit of losing contact with our bodies whenever we imagine the past or future.

It happens like this: You are at home Sunday evening, and you start thinking about school or work tomorrow, that meeting, that report that is due, that test. And you can’t help it, you imagine yourself to be there, not just in a different time, but also in a different place, and therefore, you lose touch with the body. However, when we imagine ourselves to be in a different location, our body-imagination is usually very superficial. It is not simply that we replace the awareness of our real body with a comparably realistic imagined body awareness, but rather we are simply not deeply grounded in any body experience whatsoever. That is the problem.

It is a problem because when you think about the future this lack of presence in the body can cause you to worry. (Or at least it can greatly contribute to your worry because lack of body awareness makes you feel powerless – you are not in control of our own body.)

How do you feel when you are worried? You are anxious, you are shaking, you are nervous, you are vibrating too fast, you have butterflies in your stomach, you are dizzy, etc...

Your body is trying to tell you something. It is saying, “Be physically present. Experience me! Be in contact with me please.”

Therefore, the first thing to do is to get physically grounded in the body.

Try this exercise:

Sit down in a chair. Close your eyes and become aware of the physical sensations of your body – become physically grounded. Be in the body. Feel it. Breathe, and breathe deeply. Keep coming back to your breathing if you get distracted. Feel relaxed – that is, feel that your muscles are heavy and supported by your skeleton. Notice that you are supported by the chair and by the floor. Let yourself sink into every corner of your body. Take your time. Enjoy being so relaxed.

Next, still with your eyes closed, imagine that you are actually sitting in a completely different chair in a different location, but do not lose awareness of the physical sensations of your real body. That is to say, visualize a new environment – news walls, colours, furniture, books, dishes, etc – and yet at the same time never lose contact with the physical sensations of your real body.

Next, imagine yourself sitting in various different locations: in the kitchen, at a friend’s house, at the beach, and yes, at work – and again, the whole time never lose awareness of the physical sensations of your real body.

Now try this exercise again but add one relatively superficial difference – pretend that it is tomorrow while you imagine yourself sitting in different locations.

The key is never to lose contact with the physical sensations of you real body. And therefore, even though you are thinking about the future, it will still feel like you are living in the present moment.

In summary, I want to tell you the three things that I do when I want to stop worrying about the future. First, I make sure that I am physically grounded in my body. Second, I make sure that I am prepared, to the best of my ability, for the future. Often my preparation involves picturing myself in a different time and place while never losing contact with the physical sensation of my real body. And finally, again to the best of my ability, I try to surrender to the uncertainty of life by giving up my need to control what I simply cannot control. This has really helped me. I hope it helps you too. However, it does take practice.

Given enough time I hope you will find that your worries about tomorrow have been gently replaced by a deep confidence in your ability to handle tomorrow’s challenges and yet still honour the reality of the always already now moment.

Let me know how it goes.


[P.S. I may not be posting for a while. My wife and I are expecting our second child to be born any day now. (The due date was December 9th, 2009) Things are about to get wonderfully crazy around here. Until next time – peace to you all, and Happy Holidays! Bye for now. Tallis]

Living in the Moment: What is Time? (4/5)

Remember that precious experience you had that changed your life forever? Maybe you’ve had more than one. I’ve had a few: the birth of my daughter – seeing her for the first time; falling in love – my wedding day; and that lucid dream I had where I was flying toward the sunrise – and it felt as real as real could be.

And many of us have had and/or will have an experience similar to this: A moment when you suddenly escape the tangles of your busy mind and sink into a state of silent awareness – a moment when you feel so intensely present that the simplest activities spark divine revelations – when you realize with absolute certainty that this very moment contains . . . , no is the secret of existence!”

What an amazing and precious experience. I love that one!

The experience I just described of dropping out of the mind and into this moment is an essential part of the awakening process.

But be careful, because sometimes when we see a particular truth it’s as though we see it reflected in a well-polished mirror. Even though things may appear perfectly clear to us, we may still have it exactly backwards.

Time (and specifically the present moment), the subject of this post, is I think liable to be seen and understood in just such a manner, as if it were reflected in a mirror.

Therefore, let us proceed carefully.

Most of us picture time as consisting of three components: the past, the present, and the future.

We imagine that the ‘present moment’ (what Eckhart Tolle is fond of calling the “NOW”) is 1) a specific point in time and 2) a point that is moving from the past and into the future.

There it is in our timeline diagram above, the ‘now moment’ represented as a point.

With regard to this ‘now moment,’ Zen teachers (the New Age type) often say things like, “your true nature can only be discovered in the present moment – therefore return to the present moment again and again and you will eventually discover who you really are.” (You know that sort of thing.)

Such a promise, that returning to the present moment will allow you to unravel the mystery of who you really are, can easily distract us from an even more pressing question: What does it mean to return to the present moment?

Since most of us picture the present moment as that elusive point sandwiched in between the past and the future, then presumably most of us believe that living and remaining in the present moment is rather difficult because it is so elusive. And difficult also because it means that we have to stop focusing on and thinking about the past and the future which most of us find nearly impossible to do for very long.

Is this what it means to ‘live in the present moment’ – to stop thinking about the past and the future?


Definitely not!

In fact, that is pretty much the opposite of what ‘living in the present moment’ means, as I see it.

The above timeline diagram does not represent our experience of the past, the future, and the ‘now moment’, but rather it represents our somewhat confused attempt to fit the ‘now-moment-experience’ into an objective framework. Stop it!

The ‘now-moment-experience’ is not objective. It is subjective.

Subjective things cannot be placed on objective timelines.

It is absolutely impossible.

And that is where we go wrong – we confuse objective time with subjective time.

Objective time (a timeline) is just an idea – like an idea in a book, a book that is on some shelf, in some bookcase, in some library, somewhere.

Subjective time is in you. It is this moment – it is every moment. It is experience itself!

The subjective ‘now moment’ is the sound and feel of raking the leaves on a cool crisp autumn afternoon. But it is also the memory of such an experience. (Because even the act of remembering such an experience necessarily takes place in the present moment.) Again, it is every moment.

Subjective time, the ‘now moment,’ is not a point. It is nothing like a point. Mathematically a point has no length, no duration. It is impossible to live in a point, and trying to will make it feel like you are boxing yourself in, cutting up reality into smaller and smaller moments, reducing experience ultimately to nothing whatsoever. This is hell. Thankfully living in a ‘point-like-now-moment’ is just not the point of ‘living in the moment.’ The point is to be consciously aware of your experiences and to notice that your thoughts, even your thoughts about the past and the future, are happening right now.

Living in the now should not be restricting. Ultimately one should feel perfectly free to imagine the past and the future, knowing and feeling that those visualized experiences are happening right now, which is to say that they are subjectively happening. We don’t really need the word now, do we?

Subjectively, the present moment is just your experience. Using the word ‘now’ is redundant. It is always now! (Subjectively, that is.) The now is not just a small or focussed moment in time. The now is not small or short. Nor is it large or long for that matter. The ‘now’ is simply whatever is being experienced.

Let’s look at the picture below. Think of the picture below as that ‘pin-point-now-moment’ from the timeline diagram above, but expanded. (Yes, I am that good of an artist!)

Our friend in the diagram is showing us how to live in the (subjective) ‘now.’ Notice that thoughts of the past and future are included in the ‘now.’ Something else to be noted is that the ‘now moment’ does not move from the past and into the future. Subjective moments don’t move – that is, they don’t turn into new moments. There is only one subjective ‘now moment,’ and it is always already being experienced.

I think it is a confused mind that sees the ‘now moment’ as an elusive point that is constantly turning into new ‘now moments’ as it travels from the past and into the future. Such an understanding leads us to treat the ‘now moment’ as something that needs to be located, aligned with, and/or grasped. I think a better way of understanding the ‘now moment’ is to see it as your total field of experience – a field of experience that is in a continuous state of flux, for that is the nature of experience, it is always changing. But this changing flux is not going anywhere; it is not travelling from the past and into the future, at least not subjectively as your experience. Things are just changing, that is all.

(And you are the unchanging and unmoving witness at the centre of this changing flux, but you are also one with this flux of experiences, and yet still you are neither of these extremes. You are simply mysterious!)

This flux of experience is time. Without experience, (which is to say without something that changes) there would be no subjective time.

It is a mistake to attempt to reduce our experiences down to some hypothetical ‘pin-point-now-moment.’ (Attempting to cut out all thinking is a fine and perhaps necessary meditation practice on the path to enlightenment, but living in such a limiting manner should certainly not be our ultimate aim.) A better approach is to eventually let the ‘now moment’ expand, so to speak, to encompass every possible kind of experience, including those experiences we call thoughts of the past and thoughts of the future. (Or rather to notice that this already is the case – that any type of experience may potentially arise in and as the ‘now moment.’)

Okay, so we are always living in the present moment, but then why does it sometimes seem like we are not living in the present moment? (For example, when we are imagining ourselves at work Monday morning when it is in fact still Sunday night.)

In other words, how can we freely think about the past and the future and yet still feel like we are fully grounded in ‘this moment,’ – still feel like those thoughts about the past and the future are happening right now?

Sounds like a question for next time.

See you in the objective future.


Just a reminder . . .

So I just wanted to remind everyone that reads this blog that because I’m really not that smart please don’t take anything I say very seriously – of course.

I mean in all the ways that intelligence can be measured – from traditional I.Q. tests (and E.Q. tests) to understanding and perhaps explaining emptiness – we are really not so swift in the brain or the rest of the body, relatively speaking that is.

Let’s say that my I.Q. is around 170, (it’s not, but let’s just say it is) that’s pretty smart by today’s standards, but I can see how in a few centuries with developments in technology (medical bio-computers etc . . .) that a good number of people’s I.Q.s might be pushing 1000. (They’d have to design new I.Q. tests for sure.) What about in a few millennia?

Someone with an I.Q. of 2000 might not have much in common with somebody with an I.Q. of 170. (Factor in the fact that the I.Q scale itself increases exponentially and you can pretty much equate an I.Q. of 2000 with God’s Intelligence give or take a few infinities.)

That is how I look at everybody’s advice and insight – relatively.

I look at the Buddha’s sutras and I pretty much think that this guy was probably not so bright, just like the rest of us. I mean we have a lot to learn.

Anyway, what I am saying is that relatively speaking we are all morons.

I think that would be a good club to start: “The relative morons of the 21st century.”

(Maybe they could rename Mensa something like ‘The Mensa Morons’ – kind of has a nice ring to it.)

Yes we are all relative morons! Let us celebrate all relative moronicalness!

So what was I talking about?, oh yes: What is time? Okay next post I’ll get back to that . . . really. Hmmm, does that mean that God is a moron too, relatively speaking? Of course, God isn’t relative, God is Absolute! – Does that mean that God is an Absolute moron? No, I’m getting confused again. Which reminds me of the point of this post . . . I'm a little slow in the head sometimes so please don’t take anything I say very seriously. (But I bet you’ve already figured that out.)

Anyway, thank you for reading.


Living in the Moment: Always Already Now (3/5)

Before we continue from the last post, let’s revisit our original question: How do we stop worrying?

Now I thought about just giving you a list of techniques such as:

1. Write your worries down and tell yourself that you’ll think about them later. (Apparently this really does work.)

2. Be prepared. Take action!

3. Forgive the universe; let the universe forgive you. (That’s kind of vague.)

4. Accept the uncertainty of life. Surrender, give up.

5. Whatever you’re worrying about, figure out how you would handle the worst case scenario. Realize that the worst case scenario is either very unlikely to occur and/or not so bad after all.

6. Eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep.

7. Be grateful. Notice how blessed/fortunate you are.

8. Simplify your life, and eat more chocolate.

9. Love your neighbour, and in turn act as though (imagine that) everybody cares deeply about you. (Even if it’s not true.) Work on feeling accepted/loved by others and yourself.

10. Breathe deeply. Relax.

Those techniques may really help, as far as one can carry them out, and yet I feel as though there is still something more to be said or noticed here.

And that brings us back to last day’s challenge: Try to consciously not live in the present moment. Can you do it?

Taken literally, of course you can’t do it. It is impossible to not live in the present moment because it always already is the present moment. You don’t have to try to live in this moment. Even when you think about the future, those thoughts are happening right now. Likewise with thoughts of the past – when you think of the past, you have no choice, those thoughts necessarily occur in the present moment. You see, you are always living right now, in this moment. So why does it sometimes seem like we are not living in the present moment? We’ll come back to that question later. But for now let’s agree upon the following fact:

You cannot not live in the present moment.

And so the commonly heard and given advice – “live in the present moment” – is rather confused, isn’t it? You can’t live anytime else! This is it!

To the above statement I would reply (if I were talking to myself, that is): “Okay, yes, technically it’s true, it is always now, but when people say to live in the present moment, we know what they mean. They mean stop dwelling on the future. They mean stop obsessing over the past. They mean focus on what you are doing in this moment.”

But you see we’ve already gotten ourselves into a bit of a fix by speaking of ‘this moment’. What exactly is a moment in time? How long does the present moment last? And how in the world does one moment turn into the next moment if it is always already this moment?

Okay, it’s time to ask one of those borderline meaningless questions: What is time?

See you next post.


Living in the Moment: Try this! (2/5)

How do we stop worrying?

In particular, how do we stop worrying about tomorrow?

This is a complex issue. Our worry has many sources.

But focusing on the present moment, not thinking about the future, not thinking about tomorrow morning for example, is definitely not a good technique to use to stop yourself from worrying. (It is not a good “technique” to use because it is incomplete, and more than a little bit confused. We’ll return to this point later.)

Sure, focusing on the present moment can work for a time. Or rather, it can seem to work for a time. But those thoughts about the past and the future will arise no matter what you do – if not consciously, then unconsciously – if not in your waking life, then in your dreams.

If you’ve heard and believe that living in the present moment is the key to enlightenment, or at least the key to ending worry, then you may want to read the next posts.

It is in the next posts that I want to share with you something very special, something that I’ve learned about the relationship between living in the present moment and worrying.

But for now, I’ll leave you with this experiment:

Try to consciously not live in the present moment. Can you do it? (What does that even mean – ‘to consciously not live in the present moment’?)


Living in the Moment: Worrying (1/5)

I remember feeling like this sometimes, maybe you do too.

It is Sunday night. You have to get up and go to work tomorrow morning. You start dwelling upon this thought, “I have to go to work tomorrow.” You cannot help it, you imagine yourself sitting at your desk, staring at a stack of papers and a computer, and having to deal with overly demanding people all day.

You worry.

You try not to think about it, you try to live in the moment. But it is useless. You just can’t help it. Your mind keeps throwing up images of tomorrow.

You continue to worry, until you find some distraction . . . maybe a book and some wine.

So much for living in the moment, so much for years of meditation – you can’t even face a routine Sunday night without worrying about tomorrow morning.

What is one to do?

I want to return to this question in the next post.

See you then.


Describing Enlightenment Again . . .

Suddenly it happens . . . there is no separation between you and your experiences. You are no longer on the inside looking out, nor on the outside looking in. But rather the inside and the outside are one, and you are that one.

There is nothing to grasp . . .

I am listening to my 2 year old daughter sing while I type these words.

She is sitting beside me on the sofa.

We look at one another and smile; she begins to giggle through her song.

Now she is laughing.

This is it . . .

I cherish her and this moment.

This is enlightenment. (Well . . . one definition anyway.)


Something happened . . .

Midway through my 16th year a major shift in the way I perceived the world and myself occurred.

I started to have various types of astral/lucid dreams. And it suddenly occurred to me that I was not, at least not primarily, a physical being.

Oh that sounded so New Age. Sorry about that . . .

Anyway, lucid dreaming really threw me for a loop. Before this time I viewed dreams as pretty pale echoes of waking reality.

But everything changed when I began to have lucid dreams. They often seemed more real than waking life. (Lucid dream reality is usually less stable than waking reality, but the lucid dream experiences themselves are often richer – more colourful, more vibrant, etc. . .)

Have you ever tested your dream senses in order to see how real they are? Reading in a dream is very hard because the printed dream page rarely stays constant for long enough to read more than a few words. However when, in a dream, I feel the texture of a brick wall, or taste the sweetness of a piece of chocolate cake, or say listen to the beautiful sound of a Mozart piano concerto, I am frequently amazed by the depth and richness of the experience.

Lucid dreaming was a major turning point for me.

Before having lucid dreams I think I always defined myself pretty much as my brain – as the physical. But when I was fifteen I began to realize that what was most intimately me were my experiences.

Even though I more or less still believed that my brain created my experiences, I considered that the moment to moment experiences themselves were more me than my brain – for my experiences were really all I could know directly; and the source of my experiences, whatever that might be, a brain or a soul, seemed secondary to me.

Primarily, I identified myself as whatever I happened to be experiencing in any given moment.

I understand myself a little differently today, but that shift 19 years ago was, I believe, one of the most crucial and necessary steps along my “spiritual journey.” It was the shift from the outer world to the inner world. (I very loosely define the inner world as ‘experience itself’ and the outer world as ‘physical/spiritual reality.’) (Transcending the inner world of moment to moment experience is another matter altogether and I’ll save that topic for future posts.)

What about you – do you identify primarily with the inner or the outer world (or neither)? Is this even the right question? Anyway, before I make this question too complicated, what would you say – are you an inny or an outy?


An Inner Resistance to Meditate

Have you noticed a great aversion to meditate? Have you seen it? Have you felt it – an inner resistance to meditate? Is not our resistance evidence of a subconscious fear that meditation will lead to remarkable change?

We have much to lose by looking inward – a deep-seated attachment to a false and complex identity that touches every aspect of our lives. What happens if that false identity begins to collapse? Who would not be afraid?

And yet we have much more to gain by looking inward - an immense and profound freedom/understanding that reaches far beneath and beyond our currently contrived sense of self.

So take the resistance as a good indication. It is a sign that your meditation is genuine, that your meditation is beginning to touch formerly unseen places. It is a sign that an amazing transformation could happen at any moment. It is to be sure, a very good sign.


It was a dark and stormy morning; the rain fell in torrents . . .

This morning when I awoke it was dark, cold, windy and raining. I really didn’t want to go for my morning run. (I mean it was really raining.)

Then I remembered my promise to myself. I would run every day. To keep my promise all I had to do was to start running each day, the duration didn’t matter. I could run for 60 minutes or 60 seconds. Since starting is the hardest part, as they say, simply starting to run each day was and is my promise to myself.

Anyway, as it turns out I had a wonderful run. Gusting winds and rain is a beautiful thing: the rain keeps you hydrated and purifies the air; the wind provides a visual treat by blowing trees and bushes in impossible ways; and the sound . . . like being right inside a Stravinsky composition.

It’s amazing how terrible a judge of what I’ll enjoy I can be sometimes.

Starting, it’s a nice way to begin. I’ll end there for now . . .


Zen in a Wine Glass

I’ve spent very little time speaking/writing lately.
I suppose I’ve been listening.

For example, I was just listening to myself transfer the wine glasses from the sink to the china cabinet. What a beautiful sound a vibrating wine glass makes.

And I could destroy that sound in an instant simply by grasping the glass with my hand.

This is what destroys beauty – holding it too tightly.

For beauty to be beauty it needs to be free – as free as a singing wine glass, a vibrating string. But to hear and feel beauty not only does the object of beauty need to be free, but you also need to be free. This freedom is faith – a deep trusting in the universe, being in a state of let go – letting the divine sing through you. It is falling in love with existence, becoming intoxicated with life itself.

But things can go wrong, and they usually do. Our natural/spiritual attraction to beauty can so easily turn into obsession – because being free can fill us with fear, we want to hold onto something, and hold onto it tightly. And of course once we do that, like grasping a singing wine glass, we’ve destroyed its song. When this happens authentic faith (trusting/letting go) is replaced by inauthentic faith (grasping).

Is this not what has happened to many of the “great” religions? Perhaps they began with one person or a group of people, who lived a life of authentic faith. Naturally others would be attracted to such individuals. But it never takes long for new followers to misunderstand. Their desire for authentic faith turns into grasping – they want to possess the beauty of the divine, but by grasping they destroy it – they live a life of inauthentic faith. For such misguided followers faith means holding tightly to a set of fundamental tenets – the stronger your grasp (beliefs), the stronger your faith. This type of faith (doctrinal) almost always becomes the foundation of a religion.

Most religions, therefore, become their own antithesis. Instead of the followers being in a state of let go, they are continuously in a state of never let go (of their cherished beliefs).

Instead of enjoying heavenly music, their hearts tighten into dissonant knots.

Rather than being lifted up by spiritual/natural beauty, they are let down by their own failing grasp.

Instead of focusing on the divine, they focus on the strength of their own convictions in the divine.

No, I haven’t spent a lot of time writing lately.

I suppose I’ve been listening – to the sound of vibrating wine glasses, to my daughter playing silently, to the miraculous song of existence . . . yes becoming drunk with beauty is as easy as listening and trusting in life. You don’t even need the wine, just the glasses.



Embracing Imperfections

People who know me know how imperfect I am. Buddhists, on the whole, have an odd relationship with imperfection. I remember in an interview Barbara Walter’s asked the Dalai Lama if he was enlightened. Here is the exchange:

Barbara Walters: Are you enlightened, your Holiness?

Dalai Lama: No. I do not know what would happen tonight. I do not know. And my memory – what details? . . . what happened yesterday? – I’ve already forget.

Barbara Walters: If you were enlightened you would remember everything?

Dalai Lama: Oh yes.

Barbara Walters: You haven’t reached that stage yet?

Dalai Lama: No.

[End Quote]

If you were enlightened then you would remember everything? Now I’m going to give the Dalai Lama the benefit of the doubt here. He was asked on national (worldwide?) television if he was enlightened. How can you possibly answer such a question and still appear to be both humble and wise? His was a good answer: In effect he said, “If you think that being enlightened means being perfect and all-knowing – then I am not enlightened. I don’t know, maybe the Dalai Lama really believes that the Buddha was omniscient. Maybe he doesn’t. But that’s not the point.

The point is that many Buddhists do equate enlightenment with this kind of perfection. (They equate enlightenment with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual perfection.)

And this is very unfortunate.

Enlightenment has nothing whatsoever to do with being perfect, period.

It seems to me that the closest an enlightened person might ever come to being perfect is in the acceptance of his or her own imperfections. (Although I suspect even his or her acceptance would be imperfect.)

Suppose (pre-enlightenment) you have a poor memory (are always forgetting people’s names), can’t roll your “R’s”, have unattractive feet, can’t hit a golf ball straight, are losing your hair, wear contact lens, have allergies, and . . . well you can’t even count the number of imperfections you have for there are so many (plus you’ve never been that good at math anyway), and have a habit of writing run-on sentences, then post-enlightenment you will most likely still have all of those imperfections. Maybe you wouldn’t even consider those imperfections.

This is kind of a nice thought. I mean if you’re a little insecure about your shortcomings now – the thought that even enlightenment wouldn’t fix them is, I think, a little comforting. I mean what more do you want?

In fact, I suspect that the closer you are to enlightenment the more imperfections you would notice in yourself.

What about character imperfections? Surely an enlightened person would have no character flaws. Can you imagine an enlightened individual who is either arrogant or humourless? The Buddha couldn’t possibly have been conceited or stubborn.

Maybe, maybe not – what do you think?

Certain imperfections you just can’t change. Some you can. Certain flaws slowly change through their very acceptance. Sometimes you just can’t remember why you ever considered a particular “imperfection” a flaw in the first place. Perhaps for some individuals enlightenment is easy and all the real work is done after enlightenment. In the sutras, Buddha occasionally comes across a little conceited. Might it have been the case that he was just plain arrogant and had to work on this character flaw for years following his enlightenment? Maybe he never quite licked it.

I really like the following excerpt from the song ‘Anthem’ by Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

This is beautiful. How could the light get in if you had no cracks? And I might add that those cracks (imperfections) are also needed for the light to get out. The more imperfections you notice in yourself the better! More imperfections = more light.

Oh, how wonderful! Noticing and accepting your many flaws – perhaps this is the ultimate spiritual practice.

Radiant spiritual light is shining through the multitude of our embraced (even partially embraced) imperfections!

Wow! Doesn’t the mere thought of this make you want to go stand naked in front of a full length mirror under bright lights in order to search for and embrace your own imperfections? (Uhh . . . maybe it’s just me, never mind.)


Addicted to Silence

Most people are addicted to thinking – letting a voice incessantly rambling on and on inside their minds.

But some people are addicted to silence – they “incessantly” don’t think about anything whatsoever. (The space between thoughts has expanded to such a degree that their minds are usually absolutely silent.)

In some ways being addicted to silence is even worse than being addicted to thinking.

Why worse?

Well, worse if silence is confused with emptiness (śūnyatā: all phenomena are dependent and conditioned on other phenomena and therefore are without essence).

Worse if silence is equated with nothing, is mistaken for Enlightenment – because if that’s the case you may start giving people some pretty terrible advice.

And worse still because, let’s face it, silence of the mind gets a bit boring after awhile.

If you’ve reached a state of silence of the mind and feel slightly let down, wondering, “Is that all? Is this it?” – don’t worry, that is not all, this is not it.

There is still more to come . . .

So you have silence of the mind – now what?

Sit with it. Notice that silence is something. I like to notice that silence is a type of sound – that it is a type of auditory experience. Notice that you are not this experience.

Just wait . . . while sitting in silence with the realization that you are not silence – something rather remarkable is bound to happen . . .


The Disappearing Self

I’m watching the French Open. (Federer just lost the first set.) Anyway, my daughter keeps standing too close to the TV. And I keep telling her to move back. Telling her for the third time gave rise to following idea:

I was thinking about how when you move up close to the television screen the picture disappears – all you see are a bunch of dots (pixels). But then, of course, when you move back out a few feet there is the picture again.

This is like the experience of being a self. When you move deeply into the experience of being a self, it seems that the self disappears. But move back out a “few feet” and there is the self again.

So which position or state shows the situation as it really is? I suppose they both do. It all depends on your point of view. (Although, in the case of the television, sitting back a few feet is usually more practical.)

Okay, I need to go watch the rest of this tennis match.

[2 hours later]

(Federer won the match.)

I’m thinking that the deeper truth is not revealed in either the experience of being a self or the experience of being a no-self. But rather, the deeper truth is revealed in the movement between these states.

This is the miracle of an enlightened moment – freely moving between the experiences of self and no-self.


Playing Catch

Today I’m playing catch with my daughter. (With a large soft Dora the Explorer ball.) She is two years old. She loves it. She says, “Catch again Daddy! Catch again!” I suppose she likes the motion.

This got me thinking about experiences. All experiences are in motion. They are vibrations – on and off; Neurons firing – on/off; Light waves, sound waves – on/off.

Playing catch is a slow vibration. Throw – catch – throw – catch.

There are perhaps an endless number of such pairs:

Birth/Death, Sleeping/Waking, Breathing: In/out.

I’ve noticed that I get into trouble when I interfere with any particular vibration – when I try to make-permanent only one half of a vibrating pair.

Try only breathing in. Trouble! (Okay that was an extreme example.)

The experience of being a self is a kind of vibration. It is really the experience of self and not-self. It is like breathing. You can’t just breathe in. Likewise, you can’t just feel like a self. The feeling of being a self is dependent upon a corresponding experience of not-self.

For example, the computer before you is definitely not you (relatively speaking). Maybe you look at it (and feel not-self) and a split second later get a sense (perhaps a gentle tension around your eyes) that it is you that is reading. You can’t have one experience (self) without the other (not-self). Together they form a vibrating pair.

So we could say that there is a small experience of self which is one pole of the self/not-self vibration.

And we could say that there is a larger experience of Self – which includes both vibrating poles: self and not-self.

We don’t want to stop the sense of small-self from arising any more than we want to stop breathing in. But rather, we want to notice that the experiences that are masquerading as the small-self, are arising in the context of a greater self/not-self experience.

You are this greater “self/not-self experience.”

When you notice this something rather interesting happens.

Okay time to play again . . .



I awoke this morning to find my wife and daughter playing. I opened my eyes to see beautiful long flowing hair dancing in the sunlight. It must be my wife, I thought. She turned around – no it was my daughter. (Wow, when did she turn into a little girl?) She smiled and said, “Daddy’s wake,” – a nice way to begin the day.

Jhana and the Formless Spheres

I remember reading about the Jhana and the formless spheres when I was a teenager. (The Jhana are deep meditative states. There are four stages of Jhana. In addition to the Jhana, there are four higher meditative states known as the formless spheres. ) They sounded very cool! Wow, to make it to the fourth Jhana, pure consciousness, the beginning of psychic powers! Or to enter into the sphere of infinite space, to become one with the universe! Wow!!

To my teenager mind these states sounded so lofty, so grand, that they might as well have been unattainable. Now, when I listen to an individual (including myself) speak about his/her own experiences and attainment of these states, I can usually hear an awkward mix of false humility and pride. That’s okay. We are human.

But the thing is: these states are very subtle, you really can’t exclaim “wow!” while in them; you’d kind of ruin it.

The first thing I want to say is that everyone already knows these states in a manner of speaking.

For example, does entering into a profoundly deep meditative state in which you are oblivious to all external sensations seem a little incredible to you?

But perhaps you already know this state. While having a dream (or a lucid dream would be closer to the state) someone could tap you on the shoulder and call your name and you might not notice.

That state doesn’t sound so special anymore. (Have you ever had a lucid dream and in the dream you’re meditating and your mind is absolutely silent? That would be very close to the state of the second or third Jhana.)

I am trying to make these states sound less impressive. They are very natural.

As we sleep we move through all of these states; it’s just that we are usually unconscious. I remember the first time I fell asleep consciously. I realized that these states are very ordinary, very familiar. Idealizing them will prevent you from entering into them consciously.

Something else to remember about these states is that they are subjective. They are your states. They may not match up perfectly to someone else’s description of them, even Siddhartha’s. There is a lot of disagreement and confusion concerning these states. I think what is important and what is most universally agreed upon is that with each successive Jhana or sphere what you previously took to be nothing is now discovered to be something.

What do I mean by that?

Here is an example: Say after years of meditating you have finally learned how to let your mind become silent. There is no sound. There is nothing. Wonderful! Maybe you are enlightened! Life goes on. You continue to meditate, enjoying your nothingness. But then one day you realize that the silence is in fact not nothing after all. You notice that silence is a type of sound. You realize that silence is an auditory experience. You discover that nothing (that is, what you mistook as nothing) is actually something.

This is the process of transcendence. The Witness is learning to differentiate itself from its experiences. With each successive Jhana or sphere the experiences become finer and finer. After each differentiation there arrives a new state that is taken to be nothing. You can’t see it because you are identified with it. However, given enough time you learn to see it, or hear it, and therefore differentiate yourself from it. The process of transcendence continues.

The same thing happens with inner body silence. Not the sound, but the feeling. You might not even notice the feeling. It is so subtle. You think that it is nothing at all. But one day you suddenly realize that the inner feeling of stillness is actually an experience. You may call it bliss.

And again the same thing happens with inner visual silence. Infinite space, the first formless sphere – at first you don’t notice it. It seems to be just infinite vast formless emptiness/nothingness. But then one day you notice that it is a type of visual experience. You differentiate from it; you see it as something. (It is when you begin to see it that you need to sit with it.)

And on and on you go in like manner.

Each time subtler and subtler experiences are discovered to be masquerading as the Witness or Experiencer. (Experiencer isn’t a real word, but I try to avoid the term Witness because the word seems to privilege visual experiences over other experiences. I should say “Witness”.)

What do these “altered states” have to do with enlightenment?

The answer is: Everything and nothing.

Everything, because you learn what you are not in these states.

Nothing, because Enlightenment does not necessarily take place while in any of these “altered states.”

When you are ready, it could happen at any time. When you are ready, you are hanging on by the finest thread. The attachment and therefore the “Witness” can go at any moment.

Finally, one day, perhaps while sitting in the park watching and listening to the flurry of activity around you, it happens, the “Witness” collapses into that which is experienced. The process of transcendence has worked itself to completion in the ordinary day to day waking state. Now, in that freedom, you simply see clearly, you are awake.


Zen Mirrors, Don't-Know Mind, and Blue Whales

Part One: Exploring don’t-know mind

Here’s a game you can play while in the state of ‘don’t-know mind.’ (no-mind)

Close your eyes and let your mind become silent; let it rest into don’t-know mind. Then let a little bit of knowing return. By letting just a hint of a thought arise you can trick yourself into believing that you are anything whatsoever. You can pretend that you are a cat, your best friend, or even God.

Don’t give away the fact that you are only pretending. Stay close to the state of ‘don’t-know mind’.

How far can you take this game?

Now pretend that you really are you. (Let just a hint of a “you-thought” arise.)

But then again maybe you aren’t really you? Maybe you are actually a butterfly or a blue whale.

Now you may start getting confused. So what or who are you?

Return to the state of don’t-know mind. (no-mind)

I love this state!

When you are done playing it is good to once again embrace your present personality and life situation.

What is the point of playing this game?

I suppose it is fun.

Part Two: Transcending the mind

The true don’t-know mind or enlightened mind is something more than the playful state described above.

It is not only silence or clarity of the mind, but rather it is no-mind or mind-transcended.

What does it mean to transcend the mind?

In order to understand what it means to transcend the mind, let’s compare it to transcending the body.

What does it mean to transcend the body (to be trans-physical)?

A rock is not trans-physical. It does not have a brain or a mind.

A human being is trans-physical. We have brains. We have minds.

You are trans-physical. You can control your body with your brain-mind. The average human being can:

i) Rest: You can sit down in a chair and not move. It takes no effort. It is relaxing.
ii) Move (controlled): You can easily stand up and go for a walk.
iii) Move (uncontrolled): You can let your hands move freely as you talk, or maybe you can even let your entire body dance wildly, completely uninhibited.

These are the three basic states of the transcended body: resting, moving (controlled), and moving (uncontrolled).

Likewise, there are three basic states of the transcended mind: silent mind (resting), thinking mind (controlled), and thinking mind (uncontrolled):

i) A silent mind means that there is no internal voice; it means that no images, symbols, or concepts arise. If the mind is transcended, then not thinking is effortless, just as resting your body in a chair is effortless. (You simply let it drop.)
ii) A thinking mind (controlled) means that thoughts are consciously guided.
iii) A thinking mind (uncontrolled) means that thoughts are consciously allowed to wander - such as when daydreaming or even thinking and vocalizing nonsensical babble.

These are the three basic states of the transcended mind. (Ken Wilber would say that there are more, but let’s keep this simple for now.)

So we see that a mind transcended is not necessarily silent.
Sometimes it is noisy.

Now there is a very old Zen metaphor that equates the enlightened mind with a perfectly polished mirror. When thoughts arise they are clearly reflected in the mirror; when no thoughts arise they are clearly not reflected in the mirror.

This is a beautiful metaphor. However, it doesn’t seem to me that this metaphor quite captures the nature of the enlightenment event. Enlightenment is more than seeing clearly. It is realizing that you are free – and realizing this is always an event. It is an event that takes place after years, perhaps lifetimes, of polishing your mirror.

Maybe we could add something to this mirror metaphor to make it more complete. We could say that the enlightenment event does not take place the moment you attain a perfectly polished mirror – that is only a precursor - but rather the enlightenment event takes place the moment you walk through the mirror’s frame and realize that there actually is no mirror, there is just empty space.

The enlightenment event takes place the moment you reach the surface, after spending years, perhaps lifetimes, climbing out of a deep and dark cave. It is realizing that you are finally free - you are even free to go back into the cave if you wish and help others find their way out.

The enlightenment event is like a dolphin crashing through the surface of the ocean and realizing it can fly . . .

And yet, none of this really matters while in the state of playful don’t-know mind, for after all maybe you are really just a butterfly pretending to be a blue whale pretending to be a butterfly.


Samsara: Around and around we go.

My two year old daughter and I just had a staring contest. I’m not sure who won. We both started laughing. Then she started running around and around our living room screaming with delight as only a little girl can.

Around and around we go. Sometimes it’s pretty sweet.


The Relationship between Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences

Do you know people like Kent and Jim?

Kent and Jim are both long time meditators.

Kent has had many extraordinary spiritual experiences.
Jim has had none.

However, both are awake to more or less the same degree.

How is this possible?

Here is an analogy:

Jim and Kent are in a very dark and deep cave. They are seeking the light of day. (Enlightenment)

i) Jim follows a tunnel to the right. The tunnel slopes up to the surface very gradually. The intensity of daylight in the tunnel also increases very gradually. Slowly, slowly Jim makes his way to the surface. He doesn’t think about the light - he simply sees more and more clearly as he moves toward the surface. It is all very ordinary and natural. Eventually, Jim reaches the light of day. He sees with a rare clarity. He is enlightened.

ii) Kent follows a steep vertical tunnel to the left. The tunnel is a series of ascending rock platforms. As he climbs to each new platform the intensity of daylight in the tunnel increases in a brilliant burst. Each burst of light overwhelms Kent’s eyes, until he adjusts to the new light level. They are extraordinary experiences. Eventually, Kent makes it to the surface. Once his eyes adjust for the last time he thinks not about the intense light, he simply sees clearly. He is enlightened. So what has happened to the brilliant light? It is still there – in the very appearance of things.

In the end, for both Kent and Jim, things are very ordinary. It is just this.

Each one of us moves into the Light in his or her own way.

It is your way.

Once they see clearly, Kent and Jim accept each other’s way.

This is beautiful.


Kensho and Satori Experiences

On the Enlightenment Path I have experienced various glimpses of the Truth. At the age of 23 (I am now 34) I had the following glimpse:

“I am in my living room. It is 1:00 am. It is quiet. I am walking toward the front door. I hear the clock above the door ticking. I hear nothing but the ticking. I look at the clock, puzzled. Something is different. Reality has changed! What is it? It is too quiet. It is often quiet at night but not this quiet. Then I realize what is different. My busy chattering mind has stopped. I mean completely stopped. There is no internal voice. It seems like I am floating out of time. It is right now. It is intensely the present moment. Every experience that arises within me is richly alive. I touch the walls and floor. It is as if the textures I feel are emotions. Thick incredible depth exists both inside and outside of me. There is no separation between myself and my experience. I walk down to the lake. I stare out across the water. I am utterly amazed with existence. Hours pass. I finally return home and fall asleep.”

This kensho or satori experience was particularly powerful, perhaps because it lasted so long, approximately 5 hours. It was also the first time that my mind stopped without any direct effort on my part. It was at this time that I added ‘statue’ meditation to my practice. I would get up before the sunrise every day, stand on the shore and stare out across the lake. I would stand in one place without moving until after noon. (Hence the name ‘statue’ meditation.) (Apparently there are health concerns involved with this kind of practice, so be careful.)

Other satori experiences have followed since that time. (Wow that was 11 years ago!) I would like to share those other experiences with you in future posts.

I am also interested in your kensho or satori experiences or trans-experiences. Would anyone like to share such an experience on his or her blog? I would love to hear more on this topic from the community. (Let me know - leave a comment here directing me to your blog.)



Naïve Realism: Part Two

Let’s continue from last day. (Read Part One)

I’m trying to convince you that the physical world doesn’t actually take up any space. (For some reason I must think that this is important.)

Remember the blind artist Esref Armagan? His understanding of shape and dimension is not grounded in any kind of visual experience. He has never known any kind of visual experience. He knows that large objects take longer to physically feel than small objects. That is how he knows whether an object is large or small. When he moves his hands along an object, say a massive oak table, what he experiences is a physical tactile sensation that lasts for a certain length of time.

That is not how sighted people experience the world, even when they have their eyes closed. It is extremely difficult for a sighted person to close his or her eyes, to feel the shape and size of an object, like a table, and not at the same time imagine the object.

What I am suggesting is that without visual experience we would not and in fact, could not arrive at the conclusion that objects were extended in space.

I’m getting the sense that this post is going to be confusing. I’ll try not to ramble. I’ll try to be concise. But I can’t promise that I’ll succeed. Okay let’s face it - I will not succeed, but I’ll try anyway.

Let’s continue by noticing a simple truth: Subjective experience happens to a subject, not an object.

That is to say, when you taste strawberry ice cream, it is you who experience the taste, not the ice cream. The ice cream isn’t sitting in your freezer before you eat it experiencing itself. It isn’t thinking and feeling to itself, “Wow I am so delicious, yum...bliss....sigh.....[wonderful sensations]!”

When we listen to Beethoven, the sound waves are not experiencing themselves as great music, but rather it is you and me having the subjective experience. (Of course, the term ‘subjective experience’ is redundant because all experience is subjective by definition. But I’ll continue to use the term in order to reinforce that very point.)

When you look at a red fire truck, the colour red is experienced by you, not by the red fire truck. The experience of red doesn’t actually exist ‘out there’ in the physical world. A certain wave length of light that corresponds to the experience of red may exist ‘out there’, but not the experience itself.

Now, in exactly the same way, the experience of size doesn’t exist ‘out there' in the external world. (And therefore the idea of ‘out there’ is ultimately meaningless.)

We don’t assume that certain light waves are in any way ‘red’.

Neither should we assume that objective space is in any way spacious.

See the parallel?

Maybe I should just repeat something for you:

The physical world doesn’t actually take up any space!

Here’s another question: When we close our eyes and imagine the physical objective world ‘out there’ devoid of all experiences, in a strictly scientific and objective way, what do we imagine? Perhaps we imagine a basic 3 dimensional space stripped of everything that we think of as a subjective experience, . . . no colours, no tastes, etc. Perhaps we see a kind of changing black and white geometrical collection of atoms floating before us in our mind’s eye.

But if we are going to picture the world correctly, and strip it of all subjective experience, we must also strip it of visual experience.

It is often overlooked that the visual experience of space is indeed an experience. But of course it is, and being an experience, it only exists in our minds. Just as a mirror’s depth is only an illusion, so too is the world’s physical size. That just happens to be the way our brains represent things.

But it certainly seems like the world takes up space. Not only can we see the spaciousness of the world with our eyes, but we can also walk about in it. Doesn’t the fact that we can walk through the world prove that it has size? No. We can dream of walking through our house, it doesn’t mean that the house in our dream actually occupies space.

Does this mean that the objective world doesn’t exist? No, it does exist! It just doesn’t take up any space.

Let’s use an analogy here to help us understand this more deeply.

Suppose on your computer’s monitor is a picture of a sunset. The monitor’s picture (by analogy: your visual subjective experience) has a certain size, we can measure the screen’s sun, perhaps it is 5 millimetres in diameter. But the program (by analogy: objective reality) to which the monitor’s picture corresponds, the sequence of 0's and 1's in the computer, does not have size. (At least virtually no size – let’s just say it has no size for the sake of the analogy.)

Turning off the monitor (by analogy: closing your eyes) does not mean that the computer program (by analogy: the objective world) will cease to exist.

Regardless of whether the monitor is on or off the computer program will never take up any space.

Regardless of whether your eyes are open or closed, objective space does not and cannot take up any space.


Am I saying that we are all living in the Matrix!? No. I am saying that no matter what the objective world is, it cannot actually have any size, because size is a subjective experience. And yet, objective reality can still exist and certainly does seem to exist independent of our experience of it.

Believing that the objective world actually takes up space, ‘out there,’ is part of a particular world view known to philosophers as Naïve Realism. This false belief helps to create the illusion that we are separated from each other and from the world as a whole. If we truly understood that the physical 3-dimensional world doesn’t exist ‘out there’ in the way that we assume it does, then it might help us to understand that we also do not exist ‘in here’, the way we think we do. If there is no ‘outer’, then certainly there cannot really be any ‘inner’.

It is not that only the inner exists - or for that matter only the outer exists - but rather that there is ultimately neither outer nor inner.

This reminds me of a saying attributed to Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas:

“For when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, ... [abridged]... then will you enter the Kingdom."


Naïve Realism: Part One

I’ve spent the day walking throughout the house with my eyes closed. It’s an experiment. My two year old daughter is helping. We are trying to imagine what it is like to be blind.


Well, you see last night we watched a Discovery Channel documentary on unusually gifted people. One man, Esref Armagan, was on for his ability to paint. Why was his ability to paint considered such an unusual gift? You guessed it, Mr. Armagan is blind. Although he was born without eyes, Mr. Armagan can paint the most beautiful scenes, colourful sunset landscapes with birds and trees – and all with the right rules of perspective and shading. How does he do it? We’ll return to that question later, but first back to my experiment.

So I’m walking throughout the house with my eyes closed when I have a rather painful revelation: Don’t walk about your house with your eyes closed unless you have shoes on. This may seem pretty obvious to you. Anyway, here’s something else I realized: When I was walking through the house with my eyes closed, I was not really experiencing the house as a blind person would. When a blindfolded sighted person walks through a room he or she visualizes the room. If the room is familiar, its layout is imagined, couch here, wall there, and so on,........if it is an unknown place, then just a basic space template is imagined, that is: the ground is imagined, an open space is imagined. Then when we feel objects around us, their position relative to us is imagined. None of this type of imagining happens for a person blind from birth.

If you ask a person who has been blind from birth questions related to the experience of space their answers reveal how much we take visual experience for granted. For example if you ask: Does a street sign appear smaller or larger the further away it is? Most blind people have no idea, but incorrectly guess larger for they associate larger with ‘further away’. Of course the further away an object is, the smaller it appears. For a blind person, the 3-dimensional world is not pictured ‘out there’, it is not pictured at all, but rather, it is felt.

So how can Esref Armagan, the blind artist, paint so accurately? How does he know that, for example, objects that are further away should be painted smaller than objects that are up close? “I was taught,” he says. “Not by any formal teacher, but by casual comments by friends and acquaintances.” He confides, “For a long time I figured that if an object was red, its shadow would be red too. But I was told it wasn't." How does he even know about colour? “I know that there's an important visual quality to seen objects called "colour" and that it varies from object to object.” He has memorized that apples are often red, that water is blue, and so on. For Esref, size isn’t a visual experience, but rather a temporal and tactile one. The larger an object is the more time it takes to trace with his hands. That’s how he knows it is large. A blind person learning to paint, and learning to paint well at that, is a remarkable achievement. (I can’t draw at all, so Mr. Armagan’s ability seemed, at first, borderline unbelievable to me. I feel more comfortable believing it now though. I’ve had time to understand how it is possible.)

Anyway, so here is what I’ve learned from my experiment:

I’ve learned that the physical world (universe) doesn’t actually take up any space!

And I’m going to try to convince you of this fact.

I think we mistakenly super-impose our subjective visual experience of depth, height, and width onto our idea of the objective world without knowing it. I don’t think objective space is extended the way we imagine. That is to say, (I’m really trying to make this clear) it doesn’t seem to me that objective reality actually takes up any space.

Huh? Yes you heard me. Space has no size! I mean suppose everybody were blind, would we even consider the possibility that the world took up any space? That just happens to be the particular way our eyes and brains represent objective reality. It doesn’t mean that the world really does take up space.

Maybe if I keep repeating myself again and again you will just start believing it through sheer force of delivery:

The physical world doesn’t actually take up any space!
The physical world doesn’t actually take up any space!
The physical world doesn’t actually take up any space!

Believe me yet? Great. That was easy.

Okay, for those of you who need further convincing let’s continue this next time. I’m getting tired, and the fact that I have to walk up what seems like far too many stairs from the basement to the second floor in order to get into bed is really starting to make me doubt this little revelation about distance being an illusion.


Go to Part Two

Masquerading as One and Many.

I’ve noticed:

Moment to moment experience is strangely elusive. It is both many things pretending to be one, and one thing pretending to be many.

Take for example the experience of colour. When you try to imagine a colour, let's say blue, you may find that the experience of blue consists of both an image and a feeling. It is two things. Associated with the image is a feeling. Perhaps blue feels cool and soothing to you. But no, it is not simply that blue has an associated feeling component to it but rather that the “blue feeling” is an integral part of the experience of blue. That is to say, the experience of blue just isn’t blue when the feeling aspect of the experience is missing. Blue is one thing that has at least two aspects (i.e. an image/feeling). All experiences are like this, especially the experience of being a self. The experience of being a self is both: many things pretending to be one, and one thing pretending to be many.


Watching my daughter play.

What is the meaning of life? As I watch my daughter play it seems so clear. Expression is the meaning of life. What more could life need? Expression in a thousand different forms – experiencing the dance of creation – that is the meaning.

Watch the horses as they run. Deep within them there lies a powerful force, an impulse to run. To not race across the land would cause them pain — so they run. We have that same deep impulse.

Hear the birds as they sing. Deep within them there lies an ancient drive, a yearning to sing. Without such expressive songs they would fall into sorrow — so they sing. We have that same ancient yearning.

Notice the children as they play. Deep within them there lies a creative energy, a spirit that laughs and plays. Without such fantasy they would become sick and lifeless — so they play. We all have that same creative spirit.

See how the trees grow toward the light. Deep within them there lies a strong desire, a longing for the light. Without such growth they would die — so toward the light they move. We have that same great longing.


First Welcome

Today is Tuesday. I am listening to the rain. It is peaceful. I am still now, but earlier I was working -- cleaning.

Is this how peace descends?

The loving Spirit inspires the soul with light.
The enlightened soul embraces the mind with serenity.
The serene mind fills the heart with joy.
The joyful heart endows the body with courage.
The courageous body surrenders to Spirit in love.