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.