A blog about nothing.

Friday, July 24, 2015

INTO THE KNOWER

 
“Holy sir, what is that by which all else is known?” (Mundaka Upanishad)
 
This interesting question, which occupied the lives of ancient mystics and still enraptures the eminent thinkers of today, is as confounding in the 21st century after Christ as it was as many centuries before his birth. Scientists are hunkered in their laboratories and lecture halls in a strenuous attempt to come up with a theory of everything, a scientific principle that promises to explain the whole of the cosmos at both the level of quantum physics and the level of general relativity.
 
But in their endeavor to fathom the universe by the objects in it, in their preoccupation with knowing and with things known, we often lose sight of what is most important: the knower. Without the one who thinks and understands, who questions and experiences, who witnesses the phenomena that science attempts to “know,” nothing can be known. Imagine trying to study the movement of ants pitch dark. It is in the light of Awareness that all else shines. And when you dive into the this Awareness, into the Self, you find that everything - knower, knowing and known - merge into One.
 
Recently a deep sea diver attempting to break the record for longest open saltwater scuba dive by remaining 30 feet underwater for more than 100 hours, was interviewed. The question the interviewer posed was, why the dive? Of course there was the ego-gratification of seeing his name in the record books while satisfying a bucket-list wish he had nurtured for decades, and yes there would be the requisite money raised for charity.
 
But what about the act itself? Was there any inherent worth in remaining underwater all alone for such a stretch of time? The primal calm, perhaps? The imperturbable silence? The otherworldly ambience? Maybe the exotic creatures? The diver’s answer: Apart from the physical challenges and technical hurdles, the thing he feared most was simple boredom. To combat which he planned to stream videos, play magnetic chess, and check email and Facebook in the hopes of eventually landing a film deal. In short, the solitude such an experience affords, far from being a benefit, is regarded as something to be suffered through.
 
Another adventure seeker, mountaineer George Mallory, said when asked why he attempted to climb Mt. Everest: “Because it’s there.” He was one of the privileged few who had the wherewithal to scale such lofty heights, and the reckless abandon to even try. His words epitomize the current emphasis society places on doing and achieving, and he lived nearly 100 years ago. Now more than ever, in this wheel of becoming, we have forgotten how to simply be.
 
One of astronomy’s most profound discoveries is that we are made from the ashes of stars that burned out long ago, and when we through our telescopes peer into the misty heavens at the twinkling bodies of the firmament, we glimpse our ancestral homes. As philosopher Alan Watts wrote: “You are that vast thing that you see far, far off with great telescopes.”
 
Yes, your body is quite literally composed of particles formed during the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago. So much for this capsule of flesh and bone. What of the spirit, the consciousness seated in its heart? It stands outside of time, unborn, undying, eternal. And it is most acutely experienced in silence, stillness, solitude. Why isn’t this the focus of anybody’s attention?
 
By turning inward you are supremely Self-sufficient. You carry instant bliss with you wherever you go. Nothing else, nothing external, no Internet or magnetic chess is required, no sponsors, no “others,” because there is no other. The Self is all that is. And thou art that.
 
There is only one renunciation in life. It is renunciation of identification with the body. There is only one choice, to act from the lower self or to remain fixed in the fullness of the Supreme. You make this choice every minute of every day, whether in some coral reef or on some mountain peak or any place in between.
 
Though he made several expeditions, Mallory never made it to the top of Everest. On his third and final try, he was last seen 800 feet beneath the summit before disappearing in a snow storm - his body, and all the stardust in it, never to be found.
 
But you can be a deep sea diver of the soul, a mountain climber of the spirit. By turning within you can plunge into the deep sea of pure consciousness and reach its sublime peak, simultaneously. Because the Self is all around you, in you, is you. When asked why meditate on the Self, you can say, “Because It is everywhere.”
 
There is nothing but the Self. Sink into it. The lower self, like our climber’s remains, may disappear, but you will not die; it is the beginning of life, for who you truly are is immortal. No craggy peak or rock-strewn sea is needed; you can do it from the comfort of your living room couch. Or if you prefer, the bedroom floor. Realize the timeless Self. It’s a great way to pass one’s days.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

ON APPLES AND ORANGUTANS

I recently read in some periodical that experts are debating the purpose of consciousness. It exists, they say, but we don’t know why. The happenings of the world could take place just as easily without “someone” doing them, in fact more easily, as this would take out the element of human choice, and error, doubts, second thoughts, confusion, all the stuff that makes daily life so complicated. And maybe also interesting.

But imagine a world in which there wasn’t a thinker to dread getting out of bed in the morning. It would be a much easier world to live in. We’d all be up at the crack at dawn, maybe getting an easy 10 miles in before a breakfast of wheat grass and Metamucil. In short, living robots, always doing the right thing. Because when we don’t, who’s to blame but the doubter, and what’s the doubter if not the mind, and why is the mind so often mistaken for consciousness anyway?

Imagine a world without heartache, but for it there are such lovely songs as this.
 
 
I may be overthinking the matter. But I posit that these experts are going about it all wrong. Rather than attempt to identify the purpose of consciousness in the grand scheme of things, it is I think more accurate to view consciousness as the cause and source of all things, which then pervades everything, as an energy or a force, thereby giving it life. For without this energy, force, or current that is consciousness, there would be no events of life. No universe as we know it.

The problem then is in the definition of consciousness. Scientists and many philosophers view it in the narrow sense of personal identity. They equate it with the mind. But the mystics and metaphysicians take the broader view of consciousness as creative force, the canvass on which all takes place. It has been said by those far wiser than I that this force or current is present not only in life forms - humans, the lower animals and plants - but also in the constituents that make up life, not just cells but molecules, atoms, even subatomic particles.

Consider how it is that the electron knows to orbit the atom’s nucleus. Does it think? Has it a will of its own? Or does it merely act in accordance with scientific principles? If so, who put these principles in place? The physicist says no one, it is simply how the universe is made up. Who is responsible for the order of the universe if not some higher power? The argument from design would suggest an intelligent maker. But who is running the show? The religious person says that’s easy: God. The scientist stifles a guffaw. If God exists and is all-good, why did God make evil? he secretly mutters to himself. If God is all-powerful, can he circumvent the cosmic order? Let’s see your God make orangutans speak Spanish and apples rise from the tree instead of fall; let your intelligent maker try and beat blackjack with a pair of 10s. You can see why the religious person and the scientists don’t often meet for coffee. But this is not about that. It is about consciousness – itself a term many consider to be synonymous with God, but we’ll let that slide.

Consider the human cell. The microscopic meeting point of inanimate matter (the atom) and the living world of apples and orangutans. The average cell is a complex entity. It has various functions depending on its location in the body. The liver cells detoxify. The skin cells protect. The lung cells process oxygen. The kidney cells secrete waste. Etc. These are so many nationalities. And like the human body, the cell has various parts. Its organelles - mitochondria, ribosomes, lysosomes, Golgi apparatus, and so on - can be said to correspond to the human body’s organs.
 
 
The cell is filled with fluid and enclosed in a membrane, like us. Like us it is alive, though not in the way we breathing, bleeding humans are alive, because individually it does not breathe or bleed. It does so collectively, the way the residents of America make up our country, which then has a pastime and national anthem, erects monuments, wages war, falls into debt and cuts deals. But does the cell think? Again, it doesn’t have a brain, although the neurons of the CNS make up that important organ. But is the cell conscious, in the way you and I are? In other words, is it aware of its existence, of its individuality as an identity separate from those around it?

How does a cell know what functions to perform? The immune cells, for example, are programmed to respond to invaders. They react to a foreign presence via a coordinated series of signals mediated by messengers ranging from cytokines to neurotransmitters and hormones. But what governs their individual actions? The genes in the nuclear DNA? Maybe in part. The actions of other cells? Is it simply the way they are built? Yes, if you believe form dictates function. And if cells are conscious - and why would they not be, as individual life forms just like us? Let’s remind ourselves that we eukaryotes (multicellular organisms) did evolve from the single-celled prokaryote, the modern-day individual cell; only now you have as many trillion cells swimming around your insides as your body weight in kilograms – but, I say, if cells are thinking beings, and also programmed to act a certain way depending on their structure and location within the body, then what about free will? Do our cells as conscious entities get together and debate their own existence and freedom of choice? Even if they could, they are doubtlessly too busy with the upkeep and maintenance of the body. And so they leave it to those of us humans with time on our hands.

But suppose you could ask a hepatocyte, a cell in the liver tasked with purifying the blood, whether it had a choice in the matter. Must it break down the alcohol in that martini you just drank? Or does it like a human fancy that it can move away from home and say, go live in bone marrow? There’s a name for cells that behave this way. It’s called cancer. Luckily your liver cells stay put. Alcohol is a heady thing. Free will, too.

And if cells are not conscious, if they simply perform their functions as a function of a response to their environment in accordance with their physical make-up and genetic constitution, then it makes one wonder whether consciousness even exists, since what we humans do is much like the activities of these microscopic units that fill us. Watch us in traffic on the freeway. Such a coordinated endeavor, each car responding to others in a way that is almost symphonic, making accidents extremely unlikely. Accidents do happen, of course; just like they do at the cellular level. It’s called cancer.

Are we really conscious? Are we really thinking? Is the mind illusion? Is doership a myth? And what about free will? Are we just predestined and programmed to respond to our environment in a certain way, given the situation? Is the whole individual just a macrocosm of the cells that make her up? There was once a time in our history that primitive humans endowed the elements with consciousness, even with volition. There was the god of thunder, and wind, and the sea deity. Mother Nature and Mother Earth are modern day throwbacks. As our understanding of science grew we identified the formerly mysterious processes underlying our environment and left the various cults behind. And so we freed ourselves from false notions. Maybe the cult of the mind is the final link in the chain.

I would argue that before symbols like these words you’re reading, before language, before civilization, our relationship with the environment was much different than it is today. It is the mind that processes symbols, and in a world where fewer symbols existed, the mind would not be so hyper-developed as it is today. Individuals would directly experience their environment; they would act less as individuals and more as parts of a whole. A symbiosis would exist. Identity would be less about a person’s body and safety, and more about the safety of the community.

Isn’t this what cells do? They don’t have books to read, TV to watch, these questions to consider (perhaps that’s a good thing); their every action is geared to the well-being of the organism, on maintaining and protecting themselves sure, but only so the being as a whole can thrive. A cell will even kill itself once it has become damaged or old. This is called apoptosis, or programmed cell death, and it’s done for the good of the organism, whose performance would suffer for the existence of another broken piece.

Cells sacrifice individuality for the sake of totality. Perhaps because at the cellular level there is no concept of individuality. Because there is no mind. Just consciousness. And without mind the body seems to work just fine. We humans should take a cue from our microscopic parts and kick the habit of thinking. It’s such a heady thing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

THE WHEEL


Samsara is a Sanskrit term for the continuous cycle of birth, life and death we humans are said to trudge through for all eternity. Which is why it is often represented by a wheel, which spins round and round and comes back to the beginning. Literally meaning "a wandering through," this belief is common to several major world religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Even the Bible hints at the notion of reincarnation, a concept which the Fathers of the Church almost included among the tenets of Christianity. Too bad, otherwise we’d all be united. Fox's world-religion, in which all are guided by an Inner Light, may not be a pipe dream. After all the Christian's Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, is shared by the Hindus who have their Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver) and Shiva (Destroyer). So we’re getting there.

But what is this wheel of perpetual becoming, this endless cycle of birth and death which the individual wanders through as though blind? Must we give credence to the notion of past and future lives, to be atoned for on the one hand and suffered through on the other? Or could it be in a symbolic light that reincarnation, the wheel of becoming, is to be viewed? For it has been said that each day is like a lifetime. We stir from the sea of unconsciousness on waking and come to life as though born; then go about our daily business, living our lives; and finally, night and again, we sink back into sleep, the individual consciousness merging with pure Awareness, not unlike what is said to occur at bodily death. And then we do it again and again, thousands upon thousands of times in the course of one earthly life. Is it possible to transcend the wheel while in body, to be liberated from the cycle of birth and death while still alive, right now? To do so we must make a conscious decision to stop perpetuating this cycle.
 
Let's take a closer look at just how this wheel works. It begins with a thought, usually in the form of “I,” as an individual apart from others. And the “I” gives rise to thoughts of “me” and “mine.” From this identity with the body, desire springs. The desire to become this, or to have that. As the desire grows, the ego is enthralled and the will marshaled, and the individual is launched into worldly activity. A vast amount of energy is summoned and directed in order to fulfill this desire. The actions themselves engender more thoughts, manifested as additional activity, and the fulfillment of desires begets new desires, which lead to further mental and physical unrest. Thus, in the plainest terms, we have our wheel: this is the cycle of birth (of desire), life (work), death (fulfillment of desire, bringing additional desires). This is Samsara, which most people would call an average day’s work! I call it exhausting, chasing phantasms, catering to the false self, a sheer waste of time.
 
Adi Shankara, the mystic, poet and theorist behind the doctrines that supplanted Buddhism in India so he's a force to be reckoned with, writes in his Crest-Jewel of Wisdom: "From the growth of mind-images (thoughts, desires) comes action; from action the mind-image grows; hence the (individual's) pilgrimage ceases not. It is therefore from thoughts and works undertaken to fulfill them that the soul's pilgrimage arises.”
 
Is there a way out? Shankara provides one: "The thorough dispersal of mind-images is freedom," he says; "this is called freedom even in life." In other words, be desireless. How to go about this? “By looking on all as the Eternal, everywhere, in every way."

In other words, see all as one. When you go beyond the illusion of separateness, become rooted in the Self, perfectly content, eternally free, what is there for which to strive? You are as one “free even in life.” Rather than revolve endlessly at the periphery of the wheel of karma, spinning dizzily from one craving and urge to the next like some rusty, squeaky, flimsy spoke, you, having become the adept, dwell in silence, "like the center of a wheel, having neither doubts nor desires."

Watch your desires as they spring up. Note their origins, their catalysts. Is it the radio ad, the TV, the Internet pop-up? A casual conversation in which an acquaintance brings up a certain must-have trinket? Ask yourself, do I really need this (fill in the blank thing, pleasure or past-time). Is it necessary for my life and well-being? Does it conduce to my enjoyment or upliftment? What are the consequences of attaining said desire? Experience tells us that desires lead us into actions that are ramified and multiplied and aren’t clearly identified at the outset. We’ve all heard of the money pit, the lemon, the can of worms. These are not old-wives’ tales but hard and fast facts of life.

Even the so-called noble desires, born in the heart from the urge to serve others, are thinly veiled plots to pamper the ego and get ahead, the rocky road to their fulfillment fraught with difficulties and snagged with brambles, their final destination unknown, possibly dead ended. The simple desire to pursue an advanced degree and cure disease leads to a dreary life that breaks your body down and leaves you fractured and forlorn. But hey, no one can take away that stretch on the tropical isle, where you work on your tan while memorizing the muscles of the body, although the two years you spend in the sun pale by comparison to the community hospital in the sticks they stick you in afterwards, where in the armpit of America you slog on like an ox at the plow prescribing meds your patients don't take because they can't afford them, and the side effects are intolerable anyway; speaking a language they can't understand, “hating your life and wishing you were dead,” as you write in a text to friends, all the while feeding the machine that is modern medicine. And then to working at a teaching hospital where traumatized by the ungodly sites you witness in the ER and terrorized by superiors you walk around with your tail between your legs, wearing plaid shirts and cotton Dockers; clean shaven and hair parted you are little more than a glorified grade school teacher, although with half the pay, twice the hours and three times the paperwork, adding another anti-hypertensive to the 3 your patient doesn’t take, doing less for the common good than you would if you had stuck to teaching kids how to write complete sentences, far from home and all alone, and how fast those five years fly by! But I am not bitter.

So, live simply my friend. Dwell in the Self. Remember, "The road to a Yea lies through a Nay." To paraphrase the mystic Evelyn Underhill, the preliminary step in the freedom from bondage to the senses and liberation from the cycle of rebirth in this life consists in the first deliberate NO to the relentless “claim which the world of appearance makes to a total possession of your consciousness.” Tonight you die for the very last time.

As you go from the unreal (transient world of the senses) to the real (fixed in the Awareness of Self) you wake up to the World of Reality. That, more than dirty bandages and drug overdoses, more than decompensated diabetes and uncompensated heart failure and suicide attempts, is what is meant by truly living. For in order to truly live your suicide must succeed. Kill the lower self. Liberation is thereby achieved.

As for reincarnation, leave it to the collectors of concepts. Concepts help some along the path to a better life. But when you've got wings, you don't need roads.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

SAGE OR SINNER, DO THEY DIFFER?


All major religions, at least in their more esoteric forms, place great emphasis on becoming liberated while in the body. Realizing the God that dwells within lies in transcending the individualized personality with its greedy, grasping, self-serving nature and merging with the higher Self, pure Awareness, changeless, deathless, ever free.

But if the end result for the worldly individual and the realized master, of the sinner and the sage, is the same - namely, the death of body and the individual consciousness merging like a drop of water back into the ocean of pure Awareness, then why go through the trouble of being holy? The lonely path to pure consciousness is so difficult it has been compared to the razor's edge, and the strenuous solitude it requires can endure for years. Men have lived in caves, served gurus, begged for food, mortified their flesh, abandoned the security of home, all in the name of finding God. This while their contemporaries are raising a family, living comfortably in the world, enjoying its simple pleasures, possibly even aging gracefully and dying peacefully.

So, why bother?

The difference lies in the individual personality. Those of the mystical bent are particularly suited to solitude, asceticism and steadfast worship of the highest ideal. While others worship through love, of nature, of family, of community, and in its highest form, unconditional love of all. Either path, that of the holy person and of the householder, leads to fulfillment. It's the ones in the middle who have it rough. One foot in the higher realm, another rooted in worldly concerns, spread thin, pulled apart, not knowing which way to turn and stuck. These unfortunate souls aren't content living an exclusively ascetic life, which doesn't stimulate their senses enough, and are often bored by the drudge and drear of marital concerns.

And so the discontented majority must choose for themselves how much spiritual practice is enough, and none may suffice. Ignorance can bring bliss, in the short term. It is these who are not purified by meditation nor by unconditional love who have need for religion, a personalized God, and the moral code a system of worship provides. Finding no meaning within, it must be imposed upon them from without. Those who are fixed in Reality, filled with blissful love, have no need for a moral code. Goodness flows freely from them, for the divine is their nature. Once you have established your identity with the Self, source of all that is, once you not only feel love but are Love, being kind to one's neighbor flows automatically.

The individual path is a personal problem with as many answers as there are people. Is there an afterlife where the sage is rewarded with heavenly realms and the dutiful householder may enjoy some effects of past deeds before journeying back to Earth, while the sinner is scorched by undying flame? So the scriptures in their various manifestations would have us believe. But these philosophies were developed by individuals like you and me, individuals grappling with notions of good and evil, struggling to obtain answers in a world of confusion, men and women who took an interest in personal safety and wished above all to preserve it.

In the interest of peace, notions of heaven and hell and reincarnation evolved. As Karl Marx once said, religion is the opiate of the masses. And yet, for the spirit to be realized in its fullness, religion along with worldly trappings must be left behind. For how can one, however "inspired" or "enlightened," speak authoritatively of an afterlife without having experienced it firsthand? Are visions and voices any proof? We all hear visions and voices in dreams which when we awaken are revealed to be fancies and figments of the imagination - however real they may have seemed!

Scientists have even debunked out-of-body experiences, where souls are said to elevate and experience the environment. But without organs of sense, the eyes and ears, what is seeing and hearing? These experiences are pieced together from memory, like the events and articles of a dream. Before you were born you had no mind nor organs of expression. You as pure consciousness assumed this bodily vehicle at birth, and after death these reductive organs will be discarded. What the nature of the afterlife is we cannot say, since the very organs which seek to understand life after death, the mind and senses, won't be around to cognize it. Ask the fish what the world is like outside of the water that surrounds and runs through it. How can the minnow know? How can it even speculate? Such a life is not within the realm of its experience. It won't know dry land until it's dead, and then it won't be around to formulate an opinion.

So why, if we cannot fathom the future without a mind and body, are we so preoccupied with its nature? Thus is the nature of the mind, ever curious, always doubting, seeking to establish personal identity and to preserve this separateness at all costs. I want to live forever, the mind says, mistaking itself for the individual form and psyche. But this I does live forever. This I always exists. It is God. And it is all around, shining in the heart, radiating in the eyes, running through all that is.

Perhaps we can access the unfathomable realm. To do so we must stop fathoming. In meditation, when you subdue the senses, still the mind, and center the attention within, you enter the realm of pure Being, of Oneness, freedom from mind and the senses and the world, the Absolute. This is an out of body experience in real time. Conscious immortality. Whether this experience changes what comes after you leave your body is a matter for speculation. We'll leave it to the "inspired writers" to judge. But it doesn't really matter, since without a mind you have no concern for the notions of space and time.

Here on earth we know that as humans we tend to be products of our prior thoughts and creatures of habit. With practice, things become second nature. If you get used to dwelling in the Self maybe after leaving your body and exiting this imagined realm of space and time it is as the Self that you'll spend eternity. Make it second nature. And remember, you're not really human.

Monday, July 20, 2015

DROP IT LIKE IT'S HOT

I remember the time my brother Justin procured some LSD, one tab each for himself, me and our younger brother George. And so it was that one Friday night during the spring of my second year at college we three elected to "drop it" as the saying goes. Justin's friend Omar happened to be over that night. Omar said he'd taken acid before and would happily guide us through our experience, or "trip" as they call it, so we wouldn't trip out. He would be the sober one. I didn't feel comfortable with Omar as my guide for anything. For starters, he was younger than I, who was 20 at the time, and therefore still a teenager. The phrase responsible teen is so ludicrous it makes me laugh. Furthermore, Omar was just as crazy as my brother, his best friend, and Justin was as wild as it got. Also I think he may have had a criminal record.

Therefore I would not be dropping acid that night, no sir. But when the time came - the hour was around 10 - I pretended to ingest my tab, so as not to dampen the mood or kill the vibe, and I hung out with Omar and my brothers for a portion of the evening. Eventually things got pretty wild. They were laughing at nothing I thought very funny and making more and more noise. Raucous fun, as they say. A real ruckus. I prefer the placid and serene. So I quietly excused myself and locked myself in my bedroom. Omar would have to act as my brothers' guide, though I'd be gently eavesdropping in case the situation got out of hand.

As I began dozing off I was awakened by a loud pounding at the door. My brother George wanted in, to check on me. He was worried that I was having a bad trip. Imagine. I the sober one! Of course he didn't know, and I assured him I was okay. But he wanted to chitchat, so I invited him to sit with me on my bed. It was past my bedtime so I was slowly phasing out, but not George. His eyes were bursting out of the sockets, pupils dilated. He looked a bit crazed. But he was in good spirits, so, his version of fun. Until he proceeded to harangue me for "beating" him, was the phrase he used, when he was as a kid. He was only 16 on acid, so I presumed he meant when he was a littler kid, as in when we attended parochial school together. Yes that was it. And for telling the nuns on him, and for not playing catch with him out in the street, which forced him to erect a hopscotch grid and play by himself. It was guilt trip central. At least he got good at hopscotch.

But I wasn't aware until then that he held so many grudges. Best I could remember, I was a good big brother. Dutiful at least. Picking him up from school, dropping him off, helping him with homework, lending him my term papers to copy verbatim whenever he wished. Though I was on trial I didn't defend myself. I'd let the facts shine however dimly in my memory. And maybe it was good for him to get these feelings off his chest. Cathartic. Eventually George got tired of venting and bored with my reticence and rejoined the others in the kitchen for some fun. And eventually the party wound itself down, Omar went home, my brothers to bed, and I to sleep.

But I was resolved to have my good time, too, doggoneit. So the next morning, a sunny Saturday, rather than accompanying my father to do the weekly family grocery shopping at Costco, I elected to stay in. I showered, made my bed, and went out into our garden where I found a manicured spot on the grass beneath the shade of a large tree. I took with me a blanket and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. The plan was to pop my tab, then sit cross-legged and meditate, perhaps read a passage for inspiration and meditate some more, until the drug kicked in. That never happened. No sooner had I taken the acid than I developed an overwhelming preoccupation with flies. They were everywhere, buzzing furiously, dive bombing my skin. And these were no ordinary flies. They were acrobatic flies on speed. Way too fast to swat and they would not leave me alone. And they just reeked filth, as flies do. I may have squashed one and been morbidly fascinated by the sight of its blood. I couldn't concentrate on my meditation, so no sooner had I set up shop outside than I was back in my room.

I was beginning to feel that taking acid was a terrible mistake. Something felt off. I felt unclean. I showered again, but this didn't help. So I stuck my finger in my mouth and attempted to vomit out the tab, but having fasted since the prior night (thinking it would intensify my high) I couldn't bring anything up. Then I took a picture of the holy man Sai Baba off the shelf and prayed to him to help me get through this. I lay down on the carpet face up and began breathing deeply while focused on the ceiling. But the shifting shapes made in the cottage cheese pattern attracted my attention. It was like a swirling sea of faces, each stranger, more hideous than the one before. A white-washed region of hell, for sure. So I closed my eyes. Next I became cognizant of a vibration. It passed through me, and was not altogether unpleasant. Quite the contrary, it was as if my whole body was having an orgasm, fitfully contracting in these paroxisms that made me groan. But it felt somehow not right, unclean. Maybe because I had been raised in Catholic school and taught to consider myself a sinner. And drugs and full-bodied orgasms were probably sins, felt too good not to be.

I took another shower, my third of the day and it was not yet noon. Then I walked around the house. My dad was shopping, my mother was at work, and it was just me and my two brothers. The drugs had worn off, and they were quiet. The air was peaceful; my mind was not. Everything seemed dirty. The hand grease on the door, the spots on the windows. Dust everywhere, and the beige carpet looked like leopard print. I deep cleaned my room, found a spot behind the night stand that had a layer of dust about an inch thick, or so it seemed to my heightened perception. How could I not have noticed this before, I wondered.

Next, George came into my room. No hard feelings about last night. He saw a traffic citation on my desk. The day before I had been cited for jaywalking on my way home from school. The ticketing officer accepted my address on faith since I didn't have my ID. When my brother heard this he couldn't believe I hadn't provided a false identity. I could not believe he would recommend lying, and to an officer of the law. What kind of guy is this! My sensibilities were outraged, but I couldn't form any words. My tongue was tied. GT went back to his room. I reflected that I too had considered giving the cop a phony name.

I needed some fresh air so ambled outside where I encountered Justin. Casually he mentioned the evening before, and wanted to know, did I feel anything. Now it was my turn to lie. No, I said. Not a thing. Justin seemed depressed by this. How he wanted me to have a good experience. I looked closely at my brother. He looked like an alien, like a character from a cartoon, like joker from a Batman movie not yet made, like Flattop from Dick Tracy. His hair an unearthly shade of orange, his features coarse and pockmarked with acne, and his skin an inhuman shade of white so translucent you could see the veins in his neck. This kid is demonic, I thought. He has it in for me. Probably wished to poison me with this acid. Maybe even put a curse on it. No that can't be true, I'm tripping. But my brother really does not look well. Maybe he is just hung over. Will I look that way tomorrow? "You're depressing" Justin said as he went back inside. As I watched him go I was seized by an overwhelming urge to embrace him, hold him fast, tell him how much I love him, and never let him go. The moment passed.

I remained in the back yard, in the small basketball court my father had installed when I was in grade school. I picked up the ball, its leather faded and cracked, and shot a few baskets alone. I remember thinking that if I focused with extreme intensity I could will the ball into the net. It worked about half the time, which is the average field goal percentage of a pro. I was unguarded and shooting lay-ups. I was overcome by guilt. I began to berate myself for spending a day wasting time outside shooting hoops. I should be out in the world, accomplishing things, making my mark, getting stuff done! That's how I was raised, going from one event to another. And now, tossing this dirty ball around in the middle of the afternoon. The definition of failure. That song by Tool.

Thus began the period of intense self-evaluation wherein I became my own worst critic. I looked in the mirror. My muscles were bulging out of my shirt. I looked like a muscle-head, a gym rat (at the time I was). I couldn't relate to myself. And here I had asked my father to buy a tray of chicken breasts. All those poor mutilated animals, dying so I could feed the biceps and pecs I no longer wanted. I vowed to once again become a vegetarian. How long would it take to detox the meat from my system? Lessee, I'd been eating meat every day, several times. How to calculate this? O the future was too remote. The present was hardly worth living. No doubt I had gone too far in the wrong direction, with this acid. I was unclean. I needed to start over, start afresh, free of drugs and animal flesh. Free from lies. But I couldn't do it in this life. It must be as a newborn. I needed to be born again, that was it! (And this is how we kill ourselves.) These feelings were so intense. The judgment continued.

And I realized. This is what it must feel like at the Last Judgement, where they say God evaluates you on the merits and demerits of your earthly life and assigns you to heaven or hell or purgatory accordingly. But the catch is, unlike what the Christians tell you, you are not judged by some outside party. It is you who judges you, but not this individual version of you; rather it is a you divested of its ego with its self-righteousness and rationalizations and justifications. You see yourself in the stark light of objectivity and render judgement without leniency, in cold blood. No breaks, gimmes, or excuses. The facts shall speak! How did I fare? None too well. I was a hypocrite. A liar. Unclean. A drug user. Self-righteous. Wasting time. Too into my appearance. Suddenly I was visited with a ravenous hunger, but two bites of a mango made me want to throw up. I sat down at my desk to try to get some homework done, but I could make no sense of my Spanish lessons. It was like reading Greek!

My dad returns from the store and after helping him in with the groceries I watch him sit himself at the kitchen table. And I see him, really see him, tired, old, fed up, a little indignant that I had left him alone to do the shopping when he had worked his butt off all week to make the money to buy the groceries, but too macho to say so. He looks like a grandpa! I forget he has just come from the Valley, where the oppressive air sucks the life out of a person. And my mother comes home from work and she is for sure an extraterrestrial. The things issuing from her mouth. Wacko! No sooner do I have this thought and she says, "You think I'm an alien, don't you?" Proving she clearly is.

I spend an hour meticulously putting away the groceries after first deep cleaning the fridge. My mother remarks how patient I am in scrubbing that hard-to-reach area beneath the crisper drawers. The acid I'd come to find was laced with speed, and aren't we all Cinderellas on speed. Then Justin and I do a few sets of chest on the bench press I have in my room. I make like a trainer and push him real hard - get that last rep, maggot! - and he collapses under the weight, curses me out and storms off. I call a girl I knew in high school. I can hear her friend in the background. I think suddenly, she is in love with me. I have known her for years and only now is it dawning on me! She asks to make plans but I cannot commit to getting through this night so I hang up.

Later she comes over with my best friend from high school, Jason. I berate him mercilessly for coming over unannounced, how outrageous!, then suddenly self-conscious I excuse myself to take a shower in my parents' bathroom, leaving them waiting for me on my bed. I return from my fourth shower and dim the lights. Why am I so uncomfortable with myself! I think you guys need to go, I say. But we just got here, they say. So they stay. Thankfully because it is tax season and I don't know how to file taxes. This is before the Internet and everything needs to be done by hand. Hearing this Jason calls his accountant friend who gives me excellent advice about what to write off. I am so touched that he'd do this for me, a stranger, and free of charge. It makes me want to cry. I say goodbye and realize I have forgotten all he told me, but the feeling of his tender attention remains.

My friends finally leave and I lie down to bed but cannot sleep though it is nearing midnight. A new me has replaced the old me, I come to find, and I don't like him. I wonder if the old me, the complacent, kick-back, self-righteous one who is good at Spanish and loves lifting weights, will ever return. Or am I doomed to be this intense, critical person for the rest of my days? Because if I am permanently altered by this experience, there won't be many days left. Dun dun dun dunnn...

Eventually I do go to sleep, and the following day my father helps me with my taxes. Reluctantly and with such irritation it makes me want to cry. And he a CPA! Who happens to owe thousands in back taxes so perhaps the exercise hits a nerve. It is Mother's Day or Easter. We take a picture out front of our house before leaving for my Aunt Linda's. I have on Girbaud jeans and a violet dress shirt made of satin, tucked in of course. My hair is short and parted on the side. I look very clean cut. You'd never know I was still sort of tripping. On the way to my aunt's house I notice my parents are bickering over something. I remark how different they are as individuals. Like night and day. And that if I can only strike a balance between my grim and somber father and my blithe and flippant mother I'd be perfect. It's a hard balance to strike and easy to swing wide either way.

By the party's end I become myself again, but not entirely. At least I didn't kill myself. But there are other ways to be "born again" other than in body. Just ask some Christians. If more people knew this there'd be a lot fewer suicides. And indeed the "twice born" Hindu achieves something similar to what the Catholic's Confirmation or Hebrew's Bar Mitzvah is meant to stand for. Through of all things LSD I had been initiated in some higher, more spiritual sense, eligible to access a more esoteric realm unknown to the adolescent and for that matter to the common rung of individuals, whose interest rarely strays from the purely mundane.

And yet I lost a certain innocence on that full-spectrum day now two decades away. It was as if I'd eaten from the tree, tasted good and evil, became conscious of sin, and conscious of my nakedness. A frequent refrain for me. But if innocence is a necessary casualty in the war for wisdom, so be it. Because once tasted, the fruits of the flesh can be transcended. And thus began the gradual wearing away of my identification with the lower self, the self-interested ego-based personality that lives life on the surface, small-minded, rooted in personal opinion, hounded by an insistent interest in things of the world. The real Self, witness of all, the backdrop on which all happens, the shining light of Awareness on which all takes place, cannot know sin, is not unclean, cannot take drugs or for that matter eat flesh and gain muscle. It is beyond all this, yet envelops and contains the material. It always is, waiting to be recognized.

The steps of spiritual progress are these. First, recognize that you are not the body and the mind. That you are the Awareness apart from these which also includes them. Clear the mind of thought. See that all multiplicity, like various colors of the spectrum arising from white light, has its origins in the One. To the extent that you can always remember this Self that is your real identity, if you are fixed in pure consciousness every minute of every day, you are "realized" as they say. And that's the real high, with no lull, low or hang-over.

I have done acid a couple of times since then, usually at a club "scoping chicks," always with a few drinks. I didn't feel much. Maybe the alcohol dulled my perception. Maybe the atmosphere wasn't ripe for another life-changing experience. Maybe the sensitive psyche can only handle so much heavy stuff. But the flashbacks can be fun. Everyone should drop it like it's hot at least once. Just mind the flies.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

WHO'S MOONIN' WHO


One afternoon while idling at a stoplight I happened to look over my shoulder at the local fire station. On the front lawn was a group of children, ages ranging from 5 to 7 or thereabouts. They were playing while their mothers or teachers were around the corner with the crew. It was before the age of helicopter parenting. "Must be on a field trip to meet the chief," I said inwardly, remembering how when I was young my mother took me and my brothers on just such a trip. We got to ride in a truck, even looked up the name of a distant relative of ours, my mother's uncle I think it was, who had been a firefighter and died in the line of duty.

As my eyes wandered over the kids running along the grass, I gave a nostalgic sigh, then looked more closely at what they were doing. I saw one of them at the center. A girl, a bit taller than the other girls, skin bronzed by the sun, eyes bright and defiant. The ringleader of the bunch. They were all watching her, and she was putting on a kind of performance where she'd run up to an unexpecting kid and quickly pull down her shorts and underwear, massage herself for a second or two before running along to her next oblivious victim. In short she was flashing her friends! Ah, the games kids play at that age in a world free and full of discovery. This precocious child must have felt my eye on her because she looked over at me, blushed red as a beet, and quit her antics. Busted! The all-knowing, suspicious eye of the adult was on her. Game over. The light turned green and I moved on. I was blushing too.

And I thought of my own youth, to those times when I too was running free and playing unconventional games only to be caught in the act by some adult probably more embarrassed than me. I could think of three such times, all of them occurring around the age of our little miss, that is between 5 and 7 or 8. The first involved my younger brother Justin. Our parents were out for the evening and our grandmother was babysitting. We called her nana. We were watching TV and nana was in the other room. We got it in our heads to take out my mother's vibrating face massager, which is shaped somewhat like a phallus, put it between us at the level of the groin, and then Justin got on top of me and we enjoyed the soothing vibration of my mother's tool as it massaged our nether regions. How we laughed and laughed!

My nana must have heard us and smelled something fishy. She came into the room and immediately the fun ended. Funny thing was, nana didn't even have to say anything. All she did was pop her head in the room wearing a serious expression for like 15 seconds and the spell was broken. She disappeared back in the other room and we resumed watching our cartoons. I don't think we ever talked about that game or played it again.

The second time involved my friend Harry, a chubby boy from up the street who was a couple years older than me but would let me and my brothers in on his games. He liked to do things like pee in soda bottles then dig ditches and hide them in the vacant lot around the corner in case invaders happened upon our neighborhood and we needed to do battle with them. He was older and had a go-cart so therefore cool. Which is why I went along with these games which I didn't think were cool.

We were in the same bedroom as above and I got it into my head to play a game of my own with him. I slid my index finger down my shorts and wiped it along my butt crack then held it up for Harry. "Here have a whiff of this potion," I said. "To be used on the villainous traitors should they seek us out." Something like this but in the parlance of a 2nd grader. Before Harry could sniff my finger my father walked in the room and seemingly apropos of nothing said, "Why don't you kids quit grab-assing!" A favorite term of his for knock off whatever it is and behave. I sheepishly went and washed my hands.

The third time me and a couple neighborhood boys from the block assemble on the side of my house and get it into our heads to moon each other. That's right, in a "you show me yours I'll show you mine" spirit we proudly revealed our backsides, like a selfie from the reverse end and without the phone. It was strange and somewhat invigorating, to look at another person's butt crack. If you have not done so, I suggest you ask a friend to have a look, though you may need to show her yours as well. Now you may think this game of ours homoerotic, that were we budding homosexuals; but really it was just experimentation and discovery in an age before video games and DVD. And when you're 7, boys and girls look pretty much the same from where the sun don't shine. Besides there weren't any girls in the neighborhood, or else the mooning party would probably have been bigger.

Well, just at the height of our enjoyment, the father of one of the boys pops his head around the wall separating our house from his and squints at us for a moment then scurries away. His look was probably one of curiosity to see what we were doing, but it looked to me like a disapproving frown. That's all he had to do. It was pants up to our nipples and cheeks clenched tight and see you tomorrow guys! Again the adult in question, like my father and nana before him, didn't have to say anything, showed his face only briefly, and appeared as nonplussed as the perpetrators.

Why do I bring this up? Is it merely to exhibit the embarrassing escapades of my youth? I'm hardly that much of an exhibitionist, though I do believe the world would be a more interesting place if we all just ran around in our birthday suits some of the time. But there is an element of shock factor to my tale. By sharing it with you I have basically done the same thing as flash you, revealing in a glimpse a part of myself usually kept covered. Isn't that what flashing, or mooning, really is? For surely it is not to expound on lost innocence and make analogies to the biblical story of the first couple eating of the forbidden fruit and knowing their nakedness and leaving paradise in disgrace, although there is a parallel, but disgrace was not what I felt, just busted.

I bring these episodes up to venture a speculation on an all-too inconspicuous role adults play in our life. Sure, by their mere presence grown-ups keep kids in line. You know what happens when we go unsupervised - our fingers get dirty and we play with our genitals. And then we grow out of this free phase and do these private things in the bathroom or under the covers with the lights out and the doors closed. Often alone, and if in the company of another hopefully with her consent, though not always. But even when we take our antics behind close doors, away from the quiet vigilance of our elders, even when we become adults ourselves, and our games change, isn't there someone under whose watchful gaze all our play takes place? You can never do anything that no one will ever find out about, because you, as Witness, as the Self, see everything. The omnipresent, omniscient presence catches everything you do right through your very eyes.

So even when you think nobody is watching, others may still be around (security cams have probably seen me pee in the bushes more times than I care to admit), but even if you are absolutely sure you are alone there is always an audience of one. You. And when you keep this Self in mind, when you become like our little ringleader friend, Self-conscious, it has the quite sobering effect of making you think twice about your brand of fun, and maybe not so interested in the games you once played. Think about this the next time you're under the covers with the lights out, because you might as well be out on the front lawn flashing your friends. Mooning is fun though.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

THE SCRIPTURE OF THE SOUL


Hindu Vedanta means in Sanskrit the conclusion of the Vedas and applies to the Upanishads, together with the Brahma-Sutras and Bhagavad Gita. Vedanta was promulgated by 8th century philosopher Adi Shankara. The Vedic period began in 2000 BCE and includes the mantras or hymns of poets,;the brahmanas, or elaborate ritualistic treatises which are the works of priests; and the Upanishads, the secret teachings, which are the revelations of mystics. 

These Himalayan treatises form the sources of all the later streams of Hindu thought, and their relation to the Vedic mantras is similar to the relation of the New Testament of the Bible to the Old, as expert D.S. Sharma has pointed out in his Hinduism Through the Ages. The Bhagavad Gita is the essence of the Vedas, and the Brahma-Sutras the thread which strings their flowers together.

The Upanishads date from as early as 1200 BCE, the earliest of which were formulated prior to the rise of Buddhism. Even the religion of Buddha, who was a staunch Hindu himself, is a continuation of their deepest intuitions. Indeed the ethical ideals of the two religions are not dissimilar. Buddha’s teachings are a restatement or rendition of the spirit which gave birth to the Upanishads. Originally composed in Sanskrit, the Upanishads continue to be read in their original form today. Atman, which means the God within, is usually translated as Self, though the verbal equivalent of Self appears nowhere in Hindu philosophy. Self is analogous to the Tao of Tao Te Ching; I Am of the Bible; the Way of Buddhism; etc. And the syllable OM is the symbol of Brahman, or the God without, and regarded by Hindus to be divine. Truly God then is both Atman, indwelling, and Brahman, without: that is, God is both immanent, residing in the heart of each of us, and transcendant, being all that is, both substance and sustainer of the universe.

Jesus himself is said to have travelled to India between the ages of 12 and 30, during the so-called Lost Years. The India Jesus would have encountered was steeped in the Upanishadic lore and would have informed and shaped his gospel. Indeed the influence of Vedanta has pervaded all cultures and religions, and the experiences it describes have echoed the world over to the present.

Their special concern is with the nature of reality, the concept of a single, supreme Being, known by the Sanskrit term Tat, and of knowledge directed towards reunion with It. Tat Tvam Asi. Thou art That. The equation of Atman (the Self) with Brahman (Ultimate Reality) is therefore summed up by the phrase Tat Tvam Asi.

The brief, comprehensive statements found in the 108 Upanishads, of which 16 are considered the principles, are to be viewed as self-contained wholes rather than as parts. Their nature is empirical, or supported by the evidence of personal experience. And they are considered to be the word of God only insofar as their truth is verifiable, immediately, at any moment, by the individual. They are not some distant, remote spiritual mountain to be perilously climbed; rather they are accessible to each and every one of us, in the here and now!

In this universal religion pronounced by the Upanishads, Brahman is the goal and jnana, or wisdom born by direct experience of the Self, is the means of reaching it. Throughout history it was severely individualistic, requiring private study and practice and therefore from its very nature a religion of the few. But because of the widespread dissemination of these teachings, courtesy of the Web, knowledge of Ultimate Reality is now within the humble grasp of everyone.

What requirements must you have to embark on the path of wisdom and access the Supreme? A higher degree, perhaps? Hardly. Some of the greatest proponents of Vedanta have had little more than an elementary school education. Nisargadatta Maharaj, for example, was a householder and small business owner with little knowledge of his national religion other than what he had picked up from others in casual conversation. He only adopted aspects of the Veda way because their teachings accorded with his personal experience.

For if any spiritual teaching is found on due examination not to be verifiable, it is summarily rejected. If it is verifiable at some times but not at others, it is rejected. (This would apply to the concept of a personal God, who is worshipped during the waking hours but disappears from the mind during deep sleep.) If half of a teaching is verifiable while the other is not, it is also rejected. For this reason the Maharaj rejected the belief in reincarnation, a concept for spiritual dunces which was not supported by direct experience. I have no memory of any past lives, he was known to say, why should I take it on blind trust that I lived as some individual prior in time or go on to become someone else? What is gained from such a view? All is One. The consciousness igniting this body is identical with the consciousness of "others" and present everywhere. And it is true: all one may say in this moment is "I exist." Pure consciousness, not the vehicle it happens to embody, is what really matters.

You see, for the student of Vedanta, life is not meant to uphold the scriptures; it is the scriptures that uphold life, being as they are expressions of Reality proven true by personal experience. The real study, say the Upanishads in the words of translator and sage Swami Prabhavananda, is not study of themselves but study of that "by which we realize the changeless." The real religious study is firsthand experience of God.

Consider the case of the sage Ramana Maharshi, who had an out of body experience which revealed his true nature, that of ageless, changeless, deathless spirit, and thereafter spent years sitting in solitude and silence in a cave so as to root himself in this Reality, I AM. Only later when a disciple handed him the Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, by Adi Shankara, himself a noted commentator on the Vedas, did Maharshi endorse the teachings, finding as he did that they coincided with his actual experience.

But let us remind ourselves that the concept is not the thing, and lest we mistake the finger pointing at the moon for that celestial orb itself, we must remember that these sacred books are the revelations however authoritative and ancient that occurred to a handful of mystics, who in the end are individuals like ourselves. Indeed the sages of the modern day urge us to go beyond the Upanishads. "Do not concern yourself with the words or beliefs or experiences of others," they tell us. "Rather, dive deep within your own being and experience God for yourself."

For your true nature, which is Absolute Reality, is beyond the grasp of the Upanishads (which use words to express concepts, and knowledge of a thing is not the thing itself). The Upanishads are a storehouse of knowledge, but knowledge is but one side of a coin whose other side is ignorance. You must go beyond knowledge and ignorance, beyond duality, to the Oneness underlying all. This is wisdom. And it cannot be described but only experienced.

Everything you can think of is a concept. You must go beyond thought. Beyond mind. Stick to the Beingness, the sense of presence, the Awareness that is your true nature. Funny how it is this presence you take for granted as being there all the time, like the toddler (lower self) who while experiencing life's many delights (and falling more than a few times) assumes that his mother (the higher Self) is ever there keeping a watchful eye on his doings. So funny that more than book knowledge it is a sense of humor that is most helpful in realizing who you are.

Read the scripture of your soul. This is truth. It is wisdom. It is the Hindu's Tat. Tat tvam asi. And Tat you are. I'll shut up now.

Friday, July 17, 2015

THE BEST SHOW ON EARTH


Thought watching is my new hobby. Actually I've been doing it for years but each day is so fresh it feels like the first time. This is because the thoughts running through my head like water in an endless stream or clouds in a limitless sky are always new and usually products of whatever I saw, heard or (egad!) thought about in the several hours leading up to the practice. Which is probably why the masters of mind control say to keep sensory stimulation to a minimum.

The brain is like a digestive organ. Its food is information. Unlike the roots and tubers our ancestors fed on, which nourished and satisfied, much of the information we obtain these days from our environment, be it from tabloid mags, news feeds, gossiping coworkers, preposterous contemporaries, radio commercials and TV, does not nourish or delight. It does not satisfy. It is junk, only it doesn't even taste all that great going down. It is tasteless junk. Cardboard. Yes we are forever bombarded and endlessly assaulted by cardboard. And the more input we receive, the more processing is necessary. Imagine eating cardboard pasta all day. Dress it up with all the butter and salt you want; it's still no good for you. And how your bowels would ache!

The transformation of experiences into brainwaves is thought-provoking to say the least. In this way thoughts are not unlike dreams, which the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud believed draw their inspiration from the prior day's experiences. Dreams are a way of assimilating what you encountered during your waking hours, just like thoughts, only a bit more realistic. But like dreams, you are the writer, director, producer and star of whatever crosses your mind. You just borrow your material from the real world. It's better than being a Quentin Tarantino of the mind; his movies shamelessly steal directly from other directors. He makes millions off the ideas of others and then calls it paying homage. The equivalent of this would be holding the same opinions and beliefs your friends think and calling them your own. Which happens all the time. Abeit unconsciously. All the more reason to thought watch.

Thought watching also feels like a new hobby to me because no matter how often I do it, or for how long, and no matter how intently I aim to still the "monkey mind," thoughts always spring up like water in the cracks of the rubble on the shore of a rock-strewn sea somewhere off the coast of Italy. And how's that for a lengthy list of prepositions! Thinking has its place.

Indeed thoughts come in various forms. First, there are the inevitable plans for later. As in: ooops, I never did pay the gas bill, better get to it before I forget; or, did I remember to start the dishwasher?; and, maybe I should call my old man because it's been a while since we last spoke. Then there are remembrances of things past. It seems we are all Marcel Prousts in our spare time. The song you just heard brings to mind the memory of that summer long ago, and who I was friends with and what I was doing and what style I wore your hair. There are so-called inspirational thoughts, as the "I bet my idea would make a great movie."

These thoughts, though pesky, are pretty harmless. Unlike guilt and anxiety, which are perverted forms of remembering and planning, and which we are all too familiar with.

Sit down in a quiet room with a pen and paper by your side. Close your eyes, count your breaths, one, two and three, and exhale. Then just wait. Wait for the first thought that crosses your mind and mark it down on the page. Quick, lest it slip away. Then close your eyes and do it again. Guess what, you probably won't get past the first thought. Because the mind, a bundle of thoughts, doesn't like to be watched. And when you look for it, you uncover the phantom menace the mind really is. You see, the mind suffers stage fright. It likes to work behind the scenes, in the dark where it can perpetrate its dastardly deeds - or maybe compose a verse or two, when inspired. Ask it to perform and it freezes up. Blankness ensues. Stillness and silence. It is really rather delightful. Last time I tried this I had just glanced at a People magazine with Melissa McCarthy on the cover. The chunky honey from Bridesmaids was promoting her new movie, Spy. I couldn't get her out of my head. Too bad it wasn't her costar Rose Byrne. In which case I wouldn't have wanted to. The lovely from Down Undie is much harder to forget.


In seeking out the mind through the thoughts that are its substance, you find the truth. There is no mind. It is nothing but an opportunistic imposter. Not that it's not a good instrument. The brain can be great at problem solving, creating art, writing these rambling posts, but the mind's only use while meditating is to commit to turning the attention inward and to wrestle itself away from the distractions it produces and back to center, or stillness. So file those insights and inspirations away. Trust me, the mind will try to break your focus and get you up to do this or that, any way to avoid uncovering its true identity, which is nothing at all.

For a while it is fun to be entertained by what your head comes up with. I bet if you put it on film it would be just as tantalizing as Pulp Fiction, more original too. So enjoy the show. But keep in mind it's much more fun to free float in the vast realm of space that is your consciousness, your inner space, like George Clooney in Gravity, which is what being thoughtless, or Interstellar's going "gently into that good night" must feel like. Movie metaphors aside, it has been said that one's spiritual progress can be gauged by the degree of thoughtlessness achieved. So get at it!

And don't worry about losing those great ideas or forgetting to fulfill commitments and appointments. You are much more efficient with a quiet mind. And don't you know how many of life's great decisions come in a flash of intuition, arising as it were in the moment, from stillness and empty space? So relax. Those great thoughts will come back to you if they're supposed to. Let stillness be your natural state, your form of idling. Better than a mind filled with static and background noise, the constant din of lawnmowers and tree trimmers and construction workers I hear at all hours issuing from the neighborhood and which make me want to scream bloody murder! But only when I'm not meditating. Because otherwise I'm fine.

Thought watching. Give it a try. You may discover, as have I, that the Katy Perry ditty you thought was in one ear and out the other dominates your inner airwaves for three long days. Some sabotage! Now excuse me while I go jot down this idea I just had for a film.