Why Buddhism is True

Despite its title, this is not a book about Buddhism being the one true religion. It’s about how secular and philosophical insights of Buddha provide practical solutions to the mind’s outdated software. How we struggle with reactivity and distortions no longer adapted to civilization. Our biology still pursues ends useful to propagating dna, but these are often starkly opposed to individual happiness and peace of mind. In fact, it turns out that as long as we procreate, nature doesn’t care whether we drop dead of stress shortly thereafter. The nerve janxed primate that jumps at every stick thinking it a snake is more likely to pass genes than the “what, me worry?” type. But the thing is, everything these days looks like snakes. We do have a nascent faculty, however, this newfangled “consciousness” thing that dropped late in our development, apparently riding in with the neocortex. (Maybe from touching that monolith back in 2001?) It can put us back in the driver’s seat —if we can figure out how to use it. And oddly enough, Buddha some 2500 years ago actually talks about how that’s done. Some of his crazy ideas about how we are caught in loops of suffering because of how we’re hardwired and hoodwinked are being corroborated by a slew of studies in the neurosciences and evolutionary biology. And his prescription for meditation has proven to bolster, even at the level of our physiologies, a resilience to stress and detachment from the conditioning (but not the conditions) that’s driving us nuts. That’s what this book is about. Although he does get sidetracked at times with a pet project, trying to come up with analytical models for non-self and emptiness.  Yeah, good luck with that.

aberrant mindmap notes here.

 

dark alleys

a little sniff, frees the mind of smell by enveloping its contents in another one with spaces and dust and crevices untold because a smell cannot be told in words nor can words be sniffed unless, unless, you have a particular kind of nose or particular kind of ears and that is rare, or perhaps not, perhaps we’ve all been cross-wired and that is the norm. It is hard to say, without a tongue, using only my ears, but perhaps that is cross-wired as well. And how do I even know of this thing about crossed wires, and what if it is only the least of the disconnections, the basic form, and there are oh so many many more in towering levels of complexity that make a simple crossed wire almost like sesame street to the esthete mind. but who knows. who cares? this writing, this thinking this a stream of song in the tawdry lines of syntax where meaning seeks to burst free for a moment or wiggle its tail happy to be noticed or enticing to be noticed and what, should I trust where it leads, because I think that words can lead to places we don’t want to go can take us, steal us, kidnap us bludgeon us down alleys of thoughts with the thugs of feeling closing in as it darkens and narrows and we are mugged of our lightness of being and left to struggle our way back to normalcy with scars with stories with a certain deadness of eye that accumulates like heavy metal in the soul when we catch any ride that words offer and steal the essence of the moment in the gutters of strange sludge in the city like gotham without batman or maybe we are all batmen and batwomen crusading our inner streets with no purpose other than the rigid mores we have been imprinted with by that show and that commercial and that sermon and that belief…

#freewriting

remember

keep a bit of crazy
for an ally
a bit of dangerous
a touch of innocence
a big scoop of freedom
blue open sky
a dash of asshole
a shake of saint
a streak of sinner
and a glow
always keep a glow
if you lose it
look for its ember
somewhere deep in your belly
don’t give yourself away
don’t sell yourself short
know that self is illusion
but a useful one
wield it skillfully
don’t let it wield you
interview your thoughts and feelings
ask what they bring to the table
task them with joy and power to accept
turn away thieves of well-being
of judgment, disdain, criticism without heart
parasites and leeches
cut away contingent love and conditions
don’t take zombies personally
don’t become one yourself
remember
remember
remember

the bubble bath

I inventory this moment
niggling irritants like transient itches
the lay this day feels stodgy with vectors
finding excursion within

“…the ability to return voluntarily on a regular basis to that deepest level of reality – the Tao – as if it were a rejuvenating spiritually scented bubble bath.”

I slip out of mind
down body
somewhere near the heart
in the corridor of breath
posture vertical
anchors below, infinity above
the sides expand embracing
the horizon

a space in the between

exploring an unfolding
deep familiar longing
sinking further down into

tinged now with anger
enough bullshit!
cutting and
slicing at every clinging
cord fastening, securing
swimming free
of that floating island of garbage and tinsel
slum dreams of hope
no spiritual bubble baths here
only directions
the mind doesn’t fanthom
found in the body
beneath
disposable debris of thought

On the Potency of Ravens

You a writer? Or pretend to be? Isn’t that what writers do? Pretend?

Well, yeah, but they have to write also.

Why?

Because it’s part of the pretending, it kind of makes it more real and has its own shape of things.

Are you talking about poetry?

Yeah, but any writing too. Opening a channel between thoughts and physical expression. Sometimes thoughts stay in line, other times…

They start imaginary dialogs?

For one, yeah. But seriously, how else can you use thought to explore something? Because it’s hard to hold big ideas or sprawling ruminations in the head. And then things like “ruminate” pop out and need investigating, street omens, one of those stutters in the stitch of time… I discover “rumination” listed in the pathology section of psychology on wikipedia…

Extensive research on the effects of rumination, or the tendency to self-reflect, shows that the negative form of rumination (associated with dysphoria) interferes with people’s ability to focus on problem-solving and results in dwelling on negative thoughts about past failures. Evidence from studies suggests that the negative implications of rumination are due to cognitive biases, such as memory and attentional biases, which predispose ruminators to selectively devote attention to negative stimuli.

This. This use of “self-reflection” in psychology is fascinating because it is mindless. Or rather, not the mindful definition of self reflection as a pure awareness without judgment as in meditation —but rather as a faceted awareness, an awareness of one self distinct from another self; both within us. In fact, a common hypothesis in psychology is we each have many selves. Some at odds with one another. Taking turns being in charge.

So rumination, as pathology, is one of our selves screwing with another of our selves with trash talk and scary stories. And the gnarly parts thrive and grow through being observed and, more importantly, reacted to. If there were no shocked, angry or anguished “reflector”, it would lose psychic energy, to be replaced with another grab for attention by other complexes. But if the observer were simply awareness itself, with no position or preference in negative or positive, it would take a lot of fun out of the torture. By accepting it completely.

The Perfect Man uses his mind like a mirror – going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing.
― Zhuangzi, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu

This also reflects a curious property of attention. Attention paid to specific thoughts amplify them. Attention withdrawn, distracted or distributed, weakens them. Balanced attention leads to and restores equilibrium. Balanced attention neither focuses upon nor withdraws from any thought or feeling. It merely stays present and to see what happens. It may even be eating popcorn. It’s like an ET landed in our brain, or a Stranger in a Strange Land.

In tales of lore, Odin sends out two ravens every day: hugin and munin, usually translated as “thought” and “memory.”

Hugin and Munin fly each day
over the spacious earth.
I fear for Hugin, that he come not back,
yet more anxious am I for Munin.
– Odin as Grimnir in Poetic Edda

I suspect hugin and munin are not thought and memory, as commonly translated, but attention and awareness. Awareness as self-remembering. And Odin uses these two magical abilities, the only true abilities we possess and share:

  1. To direct attention, which he worries over the control of, but most importantly…

  2. Remembering ourselves and being present to what’s happening right now. Which is the only way we notice when we’re asleep and how our attention is being directed “for” us.

Awareness and attention. Expand attention to bliss out in open awareness and flow or vegetate. Or contract it to a point and hold it to train putting energy into containments of thought. Focusing on breath, mantra or kasina are punching bags for manifesting and steering mood and energy states. Work on steering first. It’s fun. Plus we finally get to drive!

Now where was I…

Soul Mirrors

we’ve muggled enough with mindfulness.

Let’s talk magic. Magic comes in flavors as varied as fad diets, and like diets, much of magic is hype and misinformation. Many may have heard the call of magic since childhood, only to become disillusioned in later life, after years of make-believe with what proved little more than personality flairs and broken promises.

For magic to be magic, in my book, it has to achieve three things:

  1. It must demonstrate that reality is an illusion by allowing a more expansive range of reproducible possibilities than consensual hallucination or present conditioning permits.
  2. It must not lock me deeper into automatic machinations of my ego that meditation practices have already revealed as ultimately pointless and unfulfilling.
  3. It must not be dull.

My preferred system starts with #2 above using devices called soul mirrors. Even if you’re not interested in magic, these devices can rock your world. And if you are into magic, they become training ground for criteria #1 where we can practice some cool whiz-bang stuff (#3.) Their first proof of effectiveness is in removing the biggest obstacles to what we want in life. Almost like, uhm, magic? And after we get our own illusions tamed a bit, we can wade deeper into pools of the consensual dream.

To construct soul mirrors we first ask this: what do we want in this life? It may be a challenging question. Hey, no one said magic was easy. Well, those diet books did, but they lie. It’s a difficult question because here’s the thing: it’s not about what others want for us. Not what we think we’re supposed to want to fulfill whatever social contract makes us a “good” person, not what some system of belief mandates for our eternal salvation or enlightenment, but simply: what do WE want. Really. The good news is we don’t need a complete answer.

A glimmer of an answer is ok, it doesn’t have to (although it can) be a full blown blueprint.  Without at least a spark of our soul, a whisper from our heart, we won’t have enough mojo to pursue magic effectively, much less vibrantly. And magic should be vibrant and engaged in life, in my opinion. Otherwise, why bother?

With a spark to work from and hint of direction, which just needs to be like headlights in our car on a dark road, showing us a little ahead, maybe it’s not a detailed route yet, or ever, but it is a direction. And with this direction in hand we can ask ourselves: what are my character “flaws”, my negative traits, beliefs and habits, my internal adversaries that are major obstacles to following this path that calls me? This becomes our black soul mirror. It requires a compassionate but objective accounting. It’s not an exercise in wallowing in shortcomings, guilt or blame; it’s a first step in developing a clarity about what is preventing us from becoming what our spark partially illuminates.

The next mirror is built in a similar fashion by asking what traits, behaviors and habits we possess which are working for our benefit in this world, that have helped with our pursuits and have at least kept that spark alive. Our internal allies. Again, this is not to pat ourselves on the back, boost our ego or self-esteem, it’s just taking inventory. Because there’s something big brewing, yet to come, with how these ingredients can launch a magical life. (The general advice is to aim for 100 entries in each list 🙂

Through the white and black soul mirrors, we’ve assessed our strengths and what resources we bring to the table, and our enemy: which behaviors, traits, patterns work to sabotage our efforts. And we’re rekindling our flame and focus.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” -Sun Tzu

The next step with the soul mirrors is to identify the one negative in the black mirror that is currently the greatest obstacle in achieving what we most want in life and then tackle it with both intent, and at least 5 other more magical tools we’ll discuss in the next post, in order to:

  • Take on our biggest obstacle in ways that it doesn’t know what hit it.
  • Get our first experience using tools that once fully developed will warp our illusionary worlds.
  • Learn about the make-up of our strengths and flaws at an elemental level so we can keep balanced and free of ego puffery when we start channeling more energy to do wilder stuff.

“We take our minds, our inner worlds, for granted, and do practically nothing to develop their real potential. That this potential exists, and that it is, if not limitless, at least far greater than any of us ever suspect…” -from the introduction to The Mind Parasites, by Colin Wilson.

Resources

For those curious about the system above, these authors will help in part to bring it to life. The other part is up to us.

The Elemental Equilibrium: Notes on The Foundation of Magical Adepthood  
Virgil (Author), Rostik Balash (Illustrator) (The analogy of Sun Tzu and some important clarifications on the first step in Bardon’s initiatory system were cribbed above from this book.)

A Bardon Companion: A practical companion for the student of Franz Bardon’s system of Hermetic initiation
by Rawn Clark

Heretics of Mindfulness

A fellow amigo, rocker of boats and raconteur writes a wicked blog over on Grachalacha and posed some provocative points related to a previous post here.

In the mindfulness haze that has taken pop psychology by storm (yeah, I butcher metaphors —there will be pieces strewn everywhere!)… some of us have a few basic questions about all this “awareness” as the answer-to-everything-doctrine being bandied about. We keep our voices low because these aren’t PC questions to the gurus and zeitgeist of our times. These happiest monks in the world, neuroscientist geeks of enlightenment or non-dualists on YouTube staring at us deadpan, saying nothing, smug in their ineffable states of “being.”

Let’s uncork this. This will be a non-linear ride, so hang on to your llamas. What?! What kind of heathen has no llama!? Come back with a llama!

Regarding this universal-awareness-as-who-we-truly-are, some of Grachalacha’s observations were:

  • Why would we ever forget such a thing in the first place?
  • Why would it take conscious attention and volition to bring us back into this desired state?
  • If this desired state lapses incoherent with our conscious, present mind – then how and why did it ever get separate from us?
  • Was this desired mindful state ever one with us in our present in an effortless way? If so, when was that? If not, why not?
  • What is it about where or how we live that possibly disjoints us from our mindfulness? Is this incoherence more due from causes within us or without? What’s the distinction?

Like the Christian fable of the fall, we have a story of separation. A fundamental flaw in our spiritual constitution that needs atonement. While the Christian crowd pins hope on obedience and faith, the awareness crowd plays a different mind game. Like: we’re not really separate, we’re all one, ego is an illusion. So it’s ok, relax, we’re already there. But why then, at the pub, aren’t I relieved when you go take a piss, being as we are all one and everything? Well, the sage answers, it’s because we’re experiencing the world through different eyes because the multi-verse is “playing” hide and seek with itself. Okey…  but then what’s next? Someone claiming everything came from a big explosion of nothing? How clueless can we (pretend to) be? Seriously?

What we have here is a problem with ideas and the limits of thought. Particularly with language. Language can fabricate conundrums just because a word seems to make sense. What’s the temperature of this molecule? Sounds reasonable, but it makes no sense. Temperature means how hyper a group of molecules colliding together are, it is meaningless to apply the term to a single molecule.  The very structure of language is also based on some ancient, out-dated philosophical assumptions. Some dating back to Aristotle, like the law of identity:

  • a=a
  • something has to be either a or not a
  • something can’t be both a and not a

This becomes semantic distortion in daily grammatical constructs like: you are either a success or you are not a success; you can’t be both a success and not a success; so which are you? Huh, punk? Sorry, sometimes my words do my thinking for me, and that essentially is the problem.

So this concept, “awareness”, gets batted around in the ball pen of language as if were some property of a thing. Like red on an apple. But the experience of awareness is something different. And a little taste of meditation, sampled correctly, reveals a distinction that can be game changing: we can be aware of our thoughts without thinking them. Awareness is not just another thought.

What the heck does that even mean? It means (it doesn’t really mean this, these are just a bunch of words that might evoke something that recreates meaning in you)… IT MEANS, that when we (aka this awareness) separate a little from our thoughts, for a short period, could be a few seconds… we sometimes make an earth shattering discovery that we aren’t our thoughts. Although usually we are. And right after we discover we aren’t —we’re mugged, duct taped and thrown in the cargo of another train of thought passing by. Sometimes we free ourselves, minutes or hours later and get back to “meditating.” Some people just give up and become hobos.

But some never had this experience of separating the two. Snarky schools of awareness call these people sleepwalkers. All they will ever know, or be, is their incessant chains of thinking and feeling which is merely a summary of where and when they were born and what they’ve experienced since. They will never observe their thoughts run themselves, without them, one colliding off another like billiard balls. They may even assume they have agency in their lives. And it’s hard to awaken people who are dreaming they’re already awake.

This dream of being awake carries into the realm of ideas and we can talk about being awake, analyze what it means to be awake, all because it is fascinating trivia to the mind. And all while we are deeply asleep.

So what’s the big deal about awareness, anyway? If I’m just aware that my thoughts are thinking themselves, that feelings come and go, that everything is transitory, how am I any better off? Just let me sleep, dammit. Or at least talk about sleeping in a more favorable light.

And the thing is, I don’t know how it works for someone awake all the time. But for someone who wakes up now and then it’s a curious affair.

On the one hand, having extra space in the head, does nothing to change or control the thoughts. And if it does, it’s not awareness, it’s a thought messing with another thought. So there’s nothing that needs to be (or can be) done, ego-wise. Nor is there anything not to do, so the ego keeps on doing its ego thing, but awareness is not enmeshed as it was before, neither is it sitting in some crow’s nest looking down on it all, everything is “flowing” through it, in it… everything is heightened…and while nothing needs to change, everything subtly shifts. It becomes a state that’s lacking something: a certain…craving. A certain dopamine janxed orientation that whispers: this moment is amiss, is not enough, there is more, there must be more! And when that neural earwig stops being our default state, which is wind in our sails when we’re on the thought trains (I warned you about the metaphors), without that dopamine spin, we find our natural state now has something added as well: an exquisite balance in the now,  that doesn’t care what the self is doing but which illuminates everything it does in a curious way.

So. many. words. But if you bob to the surface of awareness like this, poking out of the thought-stream, there’s a certain feel. Though feel is the wrong word. And there is no right word.

But why would we ever forget such a thing if it was our natural state?

I believe awareness has the ability to inhabit things. It can inhabit them so completely it forgets it is not the thing. I believe this simply because of how it seems to work in meditation. And in dreams. When we awake from the dream, we realize we were dreaming. Seldom do we realize it when we are in the midst. Sometimes I’m even explaining to others, in my dream, about the nature of dreaming, without it occurring to me, that I’m in the dream. I can almost hear their snickers.

This raw awareness, when not enmeshed in thought, is the same essence we’ve had all of our lives —it hasn’t been affected one whit by any of our experiences. It may be the only thing we take with us after we die. Not our memories, just it. Though I think there will be a shit storm of a show right after death —when we are confronted by jamborees of our unhinged lived experiences. An event the Tibetan and Egyptian Book of the Dead try to walk us through so we don’t freak out and make bad choices and maybe, with guidance across the threshold, can have a final chance to escape the gravity of recurrence. Journeys with hallucinogens may also be valuable preparation in this respect.

The Tibetans have a sleep practice, maintaining awareness 24×7 through even deep stages of thoughtless sleep; and I think as long as I forget myself when I sleep and wake back up in the morning, then the self I’m living is not the Self that will remain long after I die. My self is still largely too invested in story, most of the time.

Which kind of begs the question, what’s this little, temporary self to do? It obviously can’t bootstrap itself into enlightenment through sleepwalking, and while we might drowsily observe what’s happening a few times, why are we trapped like this in the first place? And the intellectual answer may be that “we” aren’t trapped at all, never have been, although most of us probably awake between lives rather than during them because we paid for the luxury tour, the full immersion that promises the real thing. Or we’re in that stage of evolution, like with the bicameral mind, where we hear these voices but don’t yet realize they are our own. (And is asking the “purpose” of evolution like asking the temperature of a molecule?)

There are things our little selves can do. Dangerous things, subversive things, that might just blow up the whole expensive expedition for ourselves (and others.) Or jump us further along the arc of evolution than our society, and perhaps nervous system, is currently setup for. By this I mean magic. Playing with the illusions we are apparently caught in and finding out that they…wiggle. At least this gives our ego something to do besides spinning its wheels. The danger is that it could mistake the wiggling for some awesome super power it’s achieving (and how cool is that!) rather than a dismantling of beliefs in a chimerical reality where it is an impostor. The advantage of the magical approach, the way of the serpent in the traditions, is that it’s incremental. It doesn’t require the huge leap across an abyss that awakening does. More on wiggling in another post.

But a brief aside about this from Michael’s post as well:

“The practice of remembering to be mindfully aware — this itself can lead to an endless progression”

There’s an old adage in computer science that everything can be solved by abstraction except the problem of too many layers of abstraction. Awareness of being aware is the path of self-inquiry, a different branch of meditative technique than focus or mindfulness practices. In theory it could recurse, but in practice being aware of being aware is usually where the buck stops. To be aware of being aware of being aware is usually just an awareness of the thought about being previously aware. But don’t take my word for it, try it and come back with an experience. Merely holding “aware of being aware” will throw you into a very different space in the labyrinth. It seems to setup a standing wave that’s hard to hang onto for more than a few seconds. And things start crumbling.

Speaking of abstraction and levels… Gregory Bateson, a brilliant biologist and profound thinker, had an intriguing theory about levels of learning:

Level 0 – Causality. No learning takes place; a similar stimulus results in a similar response; Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence.
Level 1 – Linear learning… Pavlov’s dog…learning through conditioning that x means y; a quantum leap from level 0
Level 2 – Deutro Learning, or learning to learn, applying what we learned in one context to another; another quantum leap, employing the the very idea of learning recursively (reflexive thought, the bicameral mind?)
Level 3 – Is never found in dogs and rarely in humans, although dolphins have been known to exhibit it, it’s outboxing the contexts themselves to change the approach

Bateson believed level 3 was rarely found in individuals but rather in larger adaptive systems and, like zen, answered questions that were unsolvable in Level 2 using mechanisms that didn’t exist there.

Level 3 may be where magic and awareness converge. It may be that place that out-boxes thinking and makes thoughts into versatile tools rather than flypaper for awareness.

And, finally, as an ordained minister of the Church of Dude, I’m obligated to bring this all to close, for now, with our traditional blessing…

This has just been, like, my opinion man.

 

Small detail. Great importance

During my avid martial arts phase I was blessed to train with some true masters. And often on the razor’s edge where something may be working —yet for minutely wrong reasons— they would straighten me out. A technique I thought I understood would reveal hidden facets or covert flaws that, once corrected, took it to another level. Without such a guidance the technique would not have developed to its full potential. Or at least its potential attainable with my limited skills.

When I left Japan, my teacher told me the path was mine; I’d learned all I needed to continue, the rest would be revealed in practice. Budo. The way.

Last night my dream reminded me of something discovered only through practice. It was a small detail of great importance.

I have been exercising more daily mindfulness. For a few reasons, but one of them was in the hope it would carry over into my dreams. That I would become mindfully aware while dreaming. And last night it worked. I was watching a comedy act in a club. The comedian wasn’t funny, but hey, I wasn’t there to be entertained, I was practicing my “mindfulness.” Mindfully listening to the comedian, mindful that I wasn’t enjoying it very much, and aware of thoughts and dialog happening in my head without getting caught up. Yet the critical missing piece: I wasn’t mindful of the dreaming.

A minute but crucial detail. And a subtle flaw in implementation I often gloss over in daily practice. A flaw of omission which became readily apparent when put to the test in the dream world.

Mindfulness has become the darling of pop psychology. But a teacher in the older traditions once said something, almost as an aside, that is not usually reflected in the contemporary self-improvement approaches. He said it’s not enough to sit and be aware of our thoughts and feelings, we must also be aware that we are doing this. That we are in this place, aware of this awareness of things. When we do this, awareness becomes less of an “I” or a who and more of a “what.” As in, “what the heck is this no-thing that is aware?” Because it seems very strange to call it “me” which is just a collection of things that this no-thing is aware of and untouched by.

Words are poor containers for this point, but the point was this: simply noticing thoughts and feelings can be a type of introspection rather than a type of awareness. And introspection is just another flavor of sleep so one cannot expect lucidity from its practice. Introspection could just be an identification with the idea of detachment. With an idealized “objectivity.”  In contrast, there is an alchemy that comes with awareness of being aware.  “Self-remembrance” as fourth way1 practitioners call it. The mindful dream that was not lucid seemed to be speaking directly to this flaw in my practice.


  1. A great book on the fourth way is Self Observation: The Awakening of Conscience: an Owner’s Manual by Red Hawk. 

An Artistic Life

artistlife

In my dream an old musician told me his secret to life. He said: react to things as an artist. Here’s what I think he meant.

Normally we react to events and situations based on past experience. And usually we are quick to classify and bring to bear our summary encounters and limited purviews of personal history.

To react as an artist means opening to the moment. Not just connecting the dots deterministically and robotically. The older we get, the more autopilot seems to engage. If we’re not careful, pretty soon we’ve got everything sorted and nothing really informs us, or enlightens us, or moves us. We can travel long intervals unaware we are still at the wheel.

To react artistically, engages different parts of mind than the bookkeeping of our habitual conditioning. To play with the potential of a moment opens to a larger  field of inquiry. It’s a not so subtle difference between creating and manufacturing. Every widget is not the same. And we may have to discover this by stretching our imaginations rather than pushing shapes into slots.  Then our experiences become invitations to unfold creatively. Then we can peek into, behind and around things and ferret out umbral dimensions of illumination, connection and enchantment. Some claim this can be done with nothing but a grain of sand. Or maybe a wildflower in a pinch.