Coming Down




Jan 22, 2006 was a dramatic experience for me. In a way it was freeing, but it also messed me up a bit, and I imagine the problem has to do with my constant thinking. My search for Truth (note the capital) has been largely bound up with concepts… a quest for the RIGHT thing to know. This is an error which my teacher helps me with, but old habits die hard, and perhaps old mental habits die particularly hard for intellectuals—at least that’s what I tell myself.

The "empty holodeck" that I experienced that day plainly showed me that "Truth" is empty, but my attachment to the conceptual search caused me to feel somewhat empty since then… I don’t mean that I’ve been depressed or anything, but things have been, well, different, and rather than being freed by the pure and simple emptiness of the mental answer, it’s been somewhat frustrating for me. My mind wants there to be a "there," there.

And many of my postings have reflected my attempts to make sense of what is beyond sense… While briefly comforting or mentally entertaining, the delusion has persisted… there is the Answer out there… the Experience… Enlightenment.

I may be "coming down" now… finally starting to learn that "This" is what counts, not "That." What’s important is this present moment, and this present place. God is here so we can see him… the most ardent atheist loves God if he or she loves anyone. All the human forms are moving… here, there… As windsocks give visibility to the movements of the air, so bodies give visibility to the movement of God.

More later.

Tien, and a few other notes

I’m reading my first novel in Esperanto, now, a book called Tien, by Claude Piron, under the pseudonym "Johano Valano." It’s ostensibly a science-fiction story, but really it’s about spiritual transformation… really surprising how some of the (co)incidences are lining up between things in my world and it right now… kind of like the movie "23."

The "subtle lesson" is continuing. I’ll write more about that soon, after I do enough processing to figure about how to put it into words.

And a question… are phone books now a complete waste of paper? Two different stacks of phone books have been delivered to my apartment building. I think one person (out of the six of us) has picked up theirs. I haven’t—I’m not even sure I ever used a phone book last year… what about you?

A subtle lesson

Sometimes the difficulty of blogging is that what seems blog-worthy is so subtle, it’s very difficult to express. That’s what’s been going on with me, recently. Nothing big, dramatic, or exciting. Subtle things.

For instance, I had an experience recently with getting off on a bad start one morning having to listen to a political discussion that deeply offended me. Now, I can discuss religion with Fundamentalists, atheists and Wiccans, but politics, I can’t discuss, period, except for close friends, and even that can be very challenging for me. So, I was greeted to a political discussion at the beginning of the day dominated by a couple of loudmouth opinionbags whose presence I find intolerable when they’re in "rant" mode. I don’t join in such discussions, even when there’s a certain level of mutual respect and freedom to express one’s opinions–and honestly, there was then.

Except that I was the one that lacked mutual respect. The others might not have respected my opinion, but they do respect me. But when  certain politics comes up, I lose respect for the holders of those points-of-view themselves. And so, the day started progressing, with me despising some people I didn’t want to despise.

Soon a realization came to mind. It was something that Thich Nhat Hahn had once written, but I experienced it internally, as something I knew, not as something to consider: If I had had the same experiences, I would have the same views. I mean all the same experiences, (and only those): genetics, environment, reading, travels, past-life experiences and karma, etc. There is nothing in me that was different than which was in them.  Well. no room for despising after that.

I want so much to believe that I am "special:" The ego  frames us with a smoke screen that looks strong enough to hang a picture on: Because I believe my opinions, my politics, and POV is right, I’m bolstered into feeling "I" am right. And if I am, you definitely ain’t.

Every now and then, grace blows the smoke away.

An Experiment

"Your life is your practice." The masters all say it. My teacher says it, Socrates said it to Dan in Peaceful Warrior, Tolle teaches it in his books. St. Paul taught the principle (Whatever you do, do as for the Lord). The list goes on.

And yet for me, it’s been hard to resist a certain escapism in my spirituality. I think I might know the reasons for this, but it’s certainly related to the fact that in everything, my attention is almost always divided between a "here" and a "there." The emphasis on the present moment seems sometimes a hopeless ideal… I’ll be thinking about being in the present moment rather than just being in it right now. My mind creates a meta-reality that often feels more natural for me than simple Isness. And regarding my life as practice, I’ve got to say my life would not strike anyone as being marked by any degree of consciousness or mastery at all.

I procrastinate like crazy. I have huge avoidance issues when it comes to something I "have" to do, particularly if it’s "uninteresting." I’ve tried many times to get a handle on this… listening and reading the self-help masters, trying to be "more disciplined" (whatever that means), and so forth.  So many of their ideas have so much merit, yet my mind still ends up enticing me away from my life.  In the Zen ox pictures, that’s illustrated by the mind (the ox) leading the person.There’s always something more interesting to do than this, always somewhere other to be than right now.

This weekend, as I was catching up on a massive stack of overdue mail, I wondered: What would it be like if I found whatever I need to do fascinating? What if I really accepted that there’s no "escape" (and no need for one)? What if I were devoted to living my life well, with full devotion and attention? To some of you this may seem so obvious as to nearly be incomprehensible… how could anyone not actually take their life as their foundation for what they will do?  But for me, this is a radical experiment. I’m practicing being fascinated by what I need to do.

More later.

Language rules my life.

I told my teacher today that my life has become language. In addition to studying, “classical” ASP, OOP, and C#, my boss asked me a few days ago to become an expert in XML and XSL. (He knew I’d love those languages.) I said yes.

Regarding my study of human languages, over the last ten months, I’ve gotten a very decent start in Esperanto, Catalan, and Spanish. I wasn’t able to take my dream vacation to Spain this year, but I’m continuing to study those languages. I decided to try to “finish” them (i.e. attain conversational competence) over the rest of this year and next year in the order of increasing difficulty: Esperanto first, then Catalan, then Spanish. I expect to be able to translate the “spirituality” section of the site into Esperanto not too long from now. (Also, with the load of computer languages I’ve got to study, Esperanto is the only human language I can handle.)

When I spend more time staring at screens and books, racking my brain to try to force new association, it becomes even more important to take frequent breaks, and re-root myself into what is beyond words, beyond logic, beyond association and thought. I feel it in the presence of my teacher. And in playing with my cat, and in watching the sun shatter itself upon a million ripples on the Elizabeth River.

That’s always what’s really important. Even more important now. I haven’t forgotten.

Open Mind, Empty Mind

Well, I’m honored (and a little embarrassed) that Darrell Hamsa Grizzell has awarded me the Open Mind Blogger Award, a recognition of “respect towards others, research and consideration of opposing views, free-flowing conversation with commenters, and an overall spirit of civility and openness.” Well, I often lack those qualities, but I do deeply respect his initiative from Politics and Religion. And I can easily name five other people who deserve this recognition more than me:

(There are more of course, but most of the ones I would think of have already been awarded by Darrell.)

I’ve generally been growing indifferent, if not negative, to the “pass it on” memes that pop up on the Web, but this one means something. Regaining the open mind (and when we were kids, we all had open minds) I think is an essential part of Jesus’ “come as a child” teaching. It’s certainly an essential step in pursuing the “empty mind” of Zen practice. You can’t empty your habitual thoughts, identifications, prejudices and biases unless you’re first open to the fact that you might need to. And you can’t empty anything unless it has an opening.

These folks, and the ones Darrell awarded, definitely fit the bill–they show that wonderful quality of opening and emptying–presenting themselves to Isness anew, ready to engage the world as bias-free as possible. Thanks to you all.

Hofstadter and this last week

This week has been good. To explain it, I’m going to have to start with my college days. During my undergrad years in El Paso, I was in an extremely conservative congregation. My desire to know God had been subverted, as it is with so many of us, to know “about” God, or more accurately, to know the teachings of a single religious perspective about God and become ever more deeply immersed in it, distrusting everything else.

However, I discovered a wonderful book that kept my mind from being completely nailed shut: Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by the mathematician Douglas Hofstadter. Hofstadter’s book was written for the layman, and was entertaining. funny, and delightful. True to the title, he referred frequently to the works of mathematician Kurt Gödel, artist M.C. Escher, and Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach. The theme was the principle of what Hofstadter called “strange loopiness”—patterns that turn themselves inside out or strangely embed themselves within themselves, and this was years before the first popular books on chaos theory or fractals would appear.

Hofstadter explained not only what Gödel’s theorem was, but how its principle applied to the world at large. The theorem was a mathematical proof (and when something’s proven in math, it’s proven like nobody’s business) that it is impossible for any arithmetical system to be completely free of contradiction. For instance, in the set of positive integers, 5 – 7 is contradiction. To deal with it, negative numbers had to be created. (Remember when you were a kid how weird negative numbers seemed at first?) Taking it farther, in the realm of real numbers, the square root of a negative number was a contradiction. So enter the imaginaries, as if all numbers weren’t imaginary.


Hofstadter playfully, lovingly, danced open invitations to a universe of contradiction, containing itself and looping back on itself; Möbius strips and Klein pitchers, Escher’s hands drawing themselves into existence, Carroll’s Jabberwockies gyring and gimbling in the wabe of Bach’s cancrizan canons inverting and reversing themselves, Zen koans turning assumptions inside out until there’s no-thing left to know.

After reading G,E,B, I continued as a zealous Fundamentalist for quite some time (before many spiritual morphings), but one thing had changed forever, and that was that I would never be able to fall for the idea that everything could be explained by reason.

Let’s fast forward a couple of decades: On January 22, 2006, I had a glimpse of the nature of the world. Yes, it was unsettling at first, but strangely empowering as well. But it didn’t last long: The actual glimpse was just that—a second or two—and the knowing (as opposed to thinking) of the “empty holodeck” lasted only a few days.

I Am a Strange LoopLast Sunday, I found myself missing it. I prayed to be able to see it again, to have a spiritual refresher. Thursday, I saw that Dr. Hofstadter has published a new book: I Am a Strange Loop. I sat down with it a while and saw, to my delight, that he’s taken it to the next logical level: ego, consciousness, identity, and what’s beyond. Like Steve Pavlina, Hofstadter is one of those gifted with using non-mystical and even non-religious language to teach some of the most sublime realizations.

That night, I dreamt I was on a planet called Cascadia, abundant with mountains, waterfalls and snow. I stayed there a while, but eventually decided to leave, and booked passage on a spaceship. The spaceship somehow became an elevator, and then I realized that Cascadia was inside the Earth, and that all the planets were inside Earth, like nested concentric spheres.

Then I awoke. And I knew that all the worlds are within. Within me, as Thomas Traherne wrote centuries ago, “it’s less that I am in the world, than that the world is within me.”

Let’s talk about it.

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Blogs That Make Me Think

Thinking BloggerKay just tagged me as a “thinking blogger.” The rules of the meme are that now I need to tag five other blogs that make me think. These are mostly chosen for their “seniority” on my blogroll. Since everything on my blogroll qualifies (as well as a couple of dozen other blogs that I don’t put on there because I simply don’t have time to read them all), I went with the “seniority” approach. I’ve been reading all of these for years now:

The Sound of Diesel Musing:
Trev’s blog has always delighted me with his insight, positive spirit, and beautiful acceptance.
The Blog of the Grateful Bear:
I’d been reading Darrell’s site for years before he even began to blog. A has been never-ending well of thoughtful writing on Spirit in the world and in his life.
Eternal Awareness:
Mark’s blog is unique for its tight focus on discipleship and the essential (though hugely neglected) role of the spiritual teacher.
Isaiah Knows Nothing:
Where else can you find posts like this?
Steve Pavlina:
Steve is more than just another self-help guru. What he is, I cannot say, but he always makes me think.

Steve Pavlina on the Law of Attraction

The “Law of Attraction” is definitely buzzing around the memosphere now. The movie and book The Secret deal with the idea, although rather superficially, almost conveying the idea of magical wish fulfullment. That approach has been roundly and properly criticized, and by none other than my friend Kay.

Yet there’s something there, something about it. I can’t put it into words, for two reasons: I don’t understand it myself, and I also have done little conscious work with it. Yet, my recent posts on love and the Golden Path seem to me to be directly related to the subject, whether or not they have any overt resemblance to Napoleon Hill’s get-rich formula.

In his recent posts, Steve Pavlina is writing about the subject in great depth, and from a more universal, general perspective, than either the self-help gurus or my “feel love” posts, although the terminology he uses is unique and takes some getting used to. One point he makes is that the “Law of Attraction” becomes activated by what he calls “polarization,” essentially the decision to commit one’s entire being into either the direction of a lightworker or a “darkworker:

The decision to polarize is a decision you make with every fiber of your being. For some people it may be a natural choice, felt as a type of calling. Others have to spend a lot of time exploring both polarities to make the polarization commitment very consciously and deliberately. But most people never polarize.

If you polarize as a lightworker, you are dedicating your life to serving the greater good.

If you polarize as a darkworker, you are dedicating your life to serving yourself.

To use a Star Wars analogy, it is similar to deciding whether or not to become a Jedi or a Sith. It should be rather obvious that most people never make this kind of commitment in their entire lives. Hence, most people are neither lightworkers or darkworkers. The two extremes of committing one’s life to serving the greater good or to serving one’s own self-interest are not attractive to most people. It is simply not for them.

This makes sense to me. The real “secret” isn’t imagining or feeling or projecting thus-and-such, but the commitment to one path or the other. Then, thoughts, feelings, actions are bound to be congruent and harmonious with one’s goals.

As for myself, I’m really hoping for more to join the Jedi team.

Love your neighbor

Yesterday at work, I felt love for everyone around me. Friends, strangers, and even those whom I sometime don’t get along with so much. It’s a wonderful feeling.

It was partially a conscious decision—I want to love them. It was also grace.

And the only thing that was strange was how rare it is in my life, and I suspect, the lives of most others, to consciously feel love towards others unconditionally, outside of the safe circles of friends and family.

As a Christian, I remember being told that love isn’t a feeling, but willingness to help, and wanting the best for everyone. While that’s true, I think it’s more a starting point than anything else, or maybe even a cop-out.

Feeling love is possible! It’s fun! Yes, I had some moments of anger and frustration yesterday too, but they popped out of existence in seconds, like bubbles. Love your neighbor. It’s simpler than I thought.

I love you, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!