A Guide to the Good Life

It’s a shame that all we remember of Stoic philosophy is a single impoverished adjective. A sequestered modifier ill-suited to capture its historical relevance. Its unattributed influence infuses our culture, revealed in aphorism and scattered parlance— “don’t ask for an easy life, ask for the strength to handle a difficult one.” In appreciating simple pleasures rather than gourmet commodities, with gratitude for both. And the suspicion that forever trying to satisfy desire as the golden path to happiness may not be a feasible pursuit.

Starting around 300 BC,  Stoics suspected seeking an easy life was a fool’s game and a sure-fire path to pain and suffering. This is a book review, of sorts, of The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine. But also a spoiler, imparting some Stoic strategies still applicable to modern times.

My last book review on Buddhism spoke to how we may suffer through clinging to impermanence. And by taking whatever we think or feel without circumscription. Buddha’s prescription was meditation: observe the mind. By noticing thoughts as they occur, we notice our relationship with them. We gain a little space, a little freedom. A little less robotic reaction.

The Stoics are equally cynical of the current state of psychological affairs: we are led by the noses by our appetites and fears. We never find lasting happiness but blindly pursue, and are manipulated by, our hardwired dopamine dependencies1. By biochemistry rather than free will. Their remedy, however, differs from the Buddha: reflect rather than observe. Use skillful thoughts to dismantle dysfunctional ones. Jump into the fray swinging rather than detaching.

With sleights of mind like taking time occasionally to imagine losing all possessions, abilities, freedom, loved ones. Imagine ourselves dying, suddenly or through protracted illness and pain. Sound morbid? They claim it’s a vaccine. Rather than blithely assuming such things will never happen to us and it shattering our worlds when they do, Stoics accounted for possibilities to build resilience. And by doing so they bring a deeper appreciation and gratitude into the moment. By imagining the death of loved ones, we can appreciate our time with them now. And if, or when, they depart we may harbor fewer regrets. And by imaging our own demise we gain greater clarity about priorities. What’s actually significant in our day-to-day. And what isn’t.

A passage meaningful to recovery groups everywhere: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” is a touchstone of Stoic philosophy: not letting what we can’t control mess with our zen. In fact, they warn against setting external goals entirely. Much better to set ones we accomplish within ourselves, like doing our best. And living our virtues. And to unsubscribe to all the ways we are pulled into validating ourselves to the world or proving ourselves “worthy.” Whatever that might mean. We have no control over what people think about us, even on our best behavior2. So why pin our happiness and well-being on public opinion and external circumstance?

There’s a fatalism about the past and present with the Stoics, but not the future. The present is what it is. Deal with it they’d say. But they would add: and here’s how. The future can be changed if we avoid allowing our past to be our sole defining characteristic, with its automatic thoughts and feelings propelling us blindly into our karma. Free will is possible, but not a given.

To that end, a tactic used for building will and resilience was avoiding the easy way now and then. Intentionally making things harder, by practicing deferred gratification (incidentally, the ability to do this seems to lead to better lives in a series of studies.) Examples might be intermittent fasting, cold showers, things that might frustrate us if imposed by circumstance create a subtle pleasure of mastery when chosen for practice. And when we are inconvenienced or tripped up by obstacles during the day, it makes it that much easier to bear.

Unlike the Buddhists, the Stoics were troublemakers. While Buddhism shares common virtues, like compassion, the Stoics were tasked with finding their own set of values, important to the individual. Stoics were Kings (Marcus Aurelius, widely regarded as the best King in Roman history) and advisors to Kings (Seneca to Nero) but were often exiled and sometimes executed in pursuit of their values. They had certain virtues in common, like avoiding the pursuit of fame or wealth, but this was primarily because these were external goals. And yet their internal compass for doing their best, and living a good life however they defined it, seemed to result naturally in fame or riches; which were gratefully accepted but always held lightly.

Irving’s book covers these strategies, and more, and in greater detail. He set out to create a modern school for Stoicism in the form of a book. He presents Stoic philosophy the way it was presented in ancient Greece and Rome as a school of living optimally. Where philosophy asked the hard questions so that at the end of our lives we don’t discover that we never lived. The people with whom Stoicism resonates, and it probably won’t be many, will feel like they’ve reconnected with their long-lost tribe. Asgard is not a place, Asgard is a people.3

 

[Mind map here, but it’s a monster]


  1. Dopamine has the curious property of rewarding us for first experiences, setting the hook, first one is on the house, and then rewarding us less for it each time in the future and more for the anticipation. Evolution rewards those who can’t sit still (leaving progeny that wonders why they can’t sit still.) 
  2. Not taking things personally sort of sums this up. And also recognizes that many people may not be living conscious lives, and what they think about you may say far more about who they are than you. 
  3. For those up on the latest Marvel movies. (e.g. Thor: Ragnarok) 

An Ode to Renting

Renters catch a lot of flack over their lifestyle choice. At best perhaps they’re saving for a house, at worst they’re throwing money away. Most flack comes from well-meaning home-owning friends and family, and part might come from cognitive dissonance; trying to justify a position after having made such a major commitment. It’s human nature when we have hidden doubts about our course of action to argue its virtues to others in order to convince ourselves. If others climb on board, we have more validation. If we can label them as foolish for not joining us, we feel more confident in our choice.

And it’s true, renters usually pay more than people paying mortgages, but their estate comes with exclusive benefits not available to owners. And it’s true that someday, maybe when they are old, or if they win the lotto, or get rich in their careers, or pay long enough, that homeowners will see a reduction in their payments, maybe just to property taxes and insurance and ongoing upkeep. For renters, they pretty much expect to pay the equivalent of the mortgage+ payment for the foreseeable future. So this factors into their plans.

As part of this mortgage+benefits package, a renter’s estate spans the entire world. They might have an estate in Colorado for a year, then go to an estate in South America for a few, to an estate in Asia for several months. If they don’t like the weather, neighbors or conditions in one estate, they have pretty much the world to choose from for the next. If they feel like they want to live in the mountains for a while, or the beach, or the desert, they don’t have to get a second mortgage for a vacation villa or timeshare. If it’s too hot in the summers, they can live somewhere cooler. And they don’t have to worry about their estates when they are gone.

Of course, there are issues renters cope with that the owners do not. They deal with the hassle of moving stuff. Either from place to place or place to storage and back. Which usually results in them trimming down to just what they need to make this easier. Many of them find this simplifies their lives as well. For people who need, or collect, lots of possessions, this may be a deal breaker. Homeowners also seem to be constantly working on projects to upgrade their spaces whereas renters can just relocate to a space they like better when tired of the old. And repairs? That’s somebody else’s problem and not an out of pocket expense or even a planned contingency for a renter.

Owners have their own hassles: upkeep of their place, carrying a huge debt which, in some cases, forces them to work at a certain wage. Not that renters don’t have to work, but renters can look for work in a much larger market and broader span and aren’t pinned to a limited radius from their home. Homes don’t like their owners to be away for too long, and they are like being responsible for children or pets. Mail needs to be picked up, lawns mowed. Security monitored.

Renters have to be savvier about mobility and many aspects that homeowners don’t have to consider. Passports, virtual mail, flexible communication and banking options, good insurance that’s not pinned to an HMO or limited area. But they usually enjoy the independence these adaptations provide, even when they are in a single estate for several years.

Homeowners may feel they have the flexibility of building equity, selling their homes, then they too could have the renter’s options. But they usually reinvest in another big loan, a little larger, for a little nicer place, plus things have gotten more expensive by then and they can’t do this as frequently and as easily as the termination of a yearly lease. And there’s often tons of work each time to get things fixed up and ready to sell so they don’t take a loss. So unless they take their money and become a renter, it’s a much too lumbering a dance to keep up with the fleet-footed renters.

So the decision for owning or renting is not a clear-cut financial decision but is weighted by many other factors. And I don’t think there is one right answer.

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.