Inspirations, Thoughts on Life and Wellness, Poetry

Talk About Dying

Have you noticed that it is not OK to talk about wanting to die? And yet, the thought itself is a simple, normal, and harmless thing in and of itself. My guess is that pushes some buttons, but let me clarify before you call the ethics board.

The thought of wanting to die, like any thought, it harmful only to the degree that we attached to it and let it drive our behaviours. If seen as just a thought, it is an interesting philosophical and theoretical direction of imagining that drives intelligence about the worth of life, can ignite change, and can lend profound spiritual insight.

Where would the world of poetry, art, religion and philosophy be without allowing ourselves to openly entertain death? And how can we openly entertain death without considering it for ourselves? How can we understand the thanatic drive in others who suffer, and in our own subconscious minds, without allowing the mind to take a stroll down the lane of personal annihilation?

To make the subject taboo makes it something that we have to hide. This is always the tragedy of societal norms. As necessary as they are, shame is born alongside every cultural rule of appropriateness.

The problem is not that many, most (all?) of us at one point or another have a thought in us that wants to move towards death. The problem is that we don’t want to look at that thought. And when we don’t look at a thought it doesn’t mean that it ceases to be, it means that it ceases to be conscious. And one way, certainly, to talk about the aim of life must be one of increasing consciousness.

In fact, if we look at the aim of life, the consideration of death is obviously necessary. Moreso, if we look at the aim of life, even the consideration and yes, the drive to death, may also be quite necessary. For if our aim is one of consciousness, of truly rich and vital freedom in every moment, then our purpose is one where the fractured, suffering aspect of self is essentially no more.

What if the wish to die is in fact the very thing that kindles the spiritual journey?

What if the impetus for the known self to end is simply a confused statement of wish to end suffering, which is merely the signature of that separate self?

What if the wish to die is that which is necessary for us to – (I can’t help but use this phrase)– be born again?

I believe that those people that cannot de-fuse from their thoughts of death, and become actually suicidal, are those whose minds are tormented and tormenting, and those persons know no other way out of suffering besides entertaining the death of the physical body. However, it is more truly the death of their mind that they would – if we could theoretically give them a choice – actually desire. And I will acknowledge that even if you offered that to them, they may not even see it.

However, I have sat with this idea in myself, checked where it comes from and why, and I can see that the idea can be scary if we believe that thoughts might have power over us. When that is true, life can indeed become hellish.

But when we revisit the idea from a more psychological- spiritual perspective, it may be a very, very sane idea. It is perhaps a bit confused, but it is not worth throwing out.

I don’t want to die, but I certainly want my suffering to end.

The problem is when I believe my identity and self is fused to a body. And let’s be clear that this is, essentially, the root problem of everything to begin with!

But if I know that my essence is more a psyche than a biology (at the very least) then the we can see that the wish to die is perhaps more accurately a wish to be enlightened, a wish to have the monkey-mind cease, a confused wish to know God.

We say that it is lucky to be born, but I know just as well as Walt Whitman that it is just as lucky to die, and equal in any real measure. Life is, and passes from my sprouting grey hair to the green grass of the field, which is here today and in the bread ovens tomorrow. There is a part of us that wants to end – a part of us that will end – and a part of us which is eternal and never started and wants to be fully present right now. There is a tight thread like a super-string that ties these together in a tug-of-war, and perhaps all I’m saying here is that we may benefit from seeing it.

Thoughts of death, when stripped of fear, can draw us into greater present moment aliveness.

In my imagination I have gone to the end of this body, and all that happens there is that the web of consciousness that was identified with the body is then released. It is only the end of the personal. The real Self, the impersonal awareness, doesn’t go anywhere.

Because it never came from anywhere.

That is why death be not proud – it achieves nothing. I invite it. I am willing for it. And that, that is why I am so incredible here.

So present.

So real.

Mindfulness For Sale

I started my meditation practice spontaneously when I was 17 years old. I remember it quite clearly. I’m not sure where I got the idea from, but I must have read something about it. At any rate, it was a hot summer day and I was at an enormous outdoor rock festival. I had just come out of a the mosh pit, having received several boots to the head and slams to the body. I was having a blast. But it was also pretty sore. I decided I needed a break so I headed down the gully away from the crowd and decided to just sit and hopefully recuperate.

I only remember the feeling of great light entering me, a sense of clarity and cool reprieve, and was shocked when I stood up that I felt refreshed and no longer sore in my previously aching head. I was sold – on whatever that was.

That was over twenty years ago now, and meditation has never been far from me in all those long years. Though this doesn’t by any means make me an expert, it gives me at least substantial experience. I’ve done my time in ashrams, monasteries, and science-based trainings.

And at this point, I have to say that a lot of this mindfulness movement pisses me off. don’t get me wrong – i think it is nothing short of a miracle that the Western world is embracing this idea en masse. It is currently on the cover of Time magazine. I mean, if we are to somehow not destroy ourselves and the planet, it is mindfulness that it going to be a necessary, germane factor in our diversion. But what grinds me is the fact that the people who are talking the most about it are often those who don’t have a very good experience of it personally.

They have read the science, they have perhaps sat with their eyes closed for a few minutes, they see the value of looking within. But again and again I hear them speak and they don’t seem to have any experince of it integrating into their lives.

Mindfulness is a practice whose greatest power comes if – and only if – we make it a way of being.

It is not merely a tool to relax at night. If it is, you are not really doing it right to begin with. It is not a technique for stress relief. That’s like saying the purpose of the sun is to look pretty in the sky.

It’s not a tool to achieve anything at all, except more mindfulness. It has no end besides its own means. That’s the whole point. And when you do that, you will see that the power is that in true mindfulness, you no longer need to achieve anything more.

Young therapists tend to be the most confused on this. And I don’t blame them. They read about it in textbooks at this point, by other authors who are themselves just citing research and statistics. They get this idea in their minds what it is, and then they end up in clinical settings telling their clients to ‘be mindful’ as a ‘cure for anxiety’.

Mindfulness isn’t a cure for anxiety. It is a cure for mindlessness. It is a cure for being lost in thought. And when you aren’t utterly identified with and a slave to your thinking, it just so happens that you will very likely experience very little anxiety.

The problem is – a person can’t fully understand this concept without experiencing it personally. And a person can’t experience this personally without (generally) creating a sustained, long-term practice of it. The texture of the mind is just too sticky.

So by all means go out and buy your Happy Meditation Package from a licensed McMindfullness store. But this is not fast food for thought. This is a food that only releases its integral ingredients when chewed a hundred times. Otherwise, you’re just gulping empty calories. They have use – inasmuch as they feed the starving. However, they do not strengthen the fed.

But yes, mindfulness is potentially the thing that we have all been waiting for, the push of the wave of consciousness that, though wrought with problems and of course not exempt from the commercialism, misunderstanding and outright misuse and appropriation that comes with our culture (not unlike yoga in these ways) may nudge our clarity enough to create real change. But if that is so, the change is going to come not from the quick-fix ideals of a cover story showing cute women with their eyes closed, but the real and thoughtful men and women who integrate the organic value of being truly mindful – and let themselves be changed by it from the inside out.

If mindfulness is a cure, it is not one that can be purchased. And that is perhaps why it could really be a cure. Stop buying the books and the incense and the youtube videos. Sit quietly. Be in this moment only. Notice your own mind with equanimity.

And then, try to stay there.

Good psychotherapy

           should be challenging. At the least it should push you to acknowledge your discomfort and see things a little differently – all things that are often easily avoided in life. When you are seeing a therapist that isn’t just coddling emotions or techniqueing their way like a bushwacker in a quiet forest, this work becomes about change. And that is rarely easy, or without cost. But when intentional, is always very much worth it.

And so you deserve some recognition just for considering therapy. I believe that the people who are drawn to work with me do so because somehow they are ready for something to shift in their lives. And if a person is not ready for a shift, they will not, or will stop coming to see me. Sometimes people don’t even know what they are doing when they arrive for therapy. They just know that they don’t like what they are experiencing, and are looking for another way.

Even so, it is hard to see what you yourself are doing that isn’t quite working. It always seems that you just need to try harder and it will come. But if you are pushing something in the wrong direction, then it doesn’t matter how hard you push it – it is still never going to end up where you want it. It’s like trying to catch the horizon.

Many people get caught up in teachers and therapists and healers who claim that they can help you achieve the horizon. They appear closer, by whatever our own measures, so we assume that they know better – but they are still chasing the same thing.

Let’s stop running away. We think we need to capture the sun so that we can finally rest permanently in the light. But when we look honestly at what we are doing, we see that this is both impossible and unnecessary. Thank goodness! What a relief.

We are already a star.

We don’t need any external thing to light us up. And this is true for every single possible living person. We all long to truly know this, and suffer when we can’t believe it is true. But no matter the depth of your perceived darkness, I’ve never met a person who can’t be shown to a portion of their own light.

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Just because you can’t reach the horizon doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you. That attitude just creates shame and guilt, the biggest reinforcers of the whole game, that keep us on a treadmill for lifetimes.

We can cut the loop, break the closed circle. We can do that through seeing things with radical honesty, with impersonal, objective understanding. When we do that, we get a sense of your own light.

And you start to see that it is enough.

Of Course in Miracles

A Course in Miracles (ACIM) is a contemporary English exposition of radical non-dualism, written with a Christian symbolic image-language, and presented in a large volume that is easily called ‘biblical’ in its scope, import and intentions. It is comprised of three sections: the largest is the text (700 pages) which is the exposition of the philosophy itself, the workbook comprised of exercises meant to help the student embody the teachings he has been theoretically learning in the text, and then the manual for teachers which is the smallest piece (written in fact for students) meant to assist the student in the ideal that to teach is the best way to learn.

                This book has arguably inspired the greatest of the English, north American spiritual literature of the last half of the 29th century. It was written in 1976 by Dr. Helen Shucman who states that in writing this, she was actually acting as a scribe to the words of Christ, who dictated to her. It is considered by many teachers – even those whose teaching depends on it or at least draws from its wisdom – to be impenetrable and even sometimes a waste time. Authors such as Paul Ferrini – who I would put into this category (though I don’t know how he would presently feel about this) have said that people should basically burn the book and certainly not read it.

                It is certainly not widely read, though it is tremendously well referenced. I myself know literally zero persons who have actually read the text (but to be clear I don’t know many who might be interested).   I think there are a few reasons for this: one is that the language of the text is of an idiom that is not an English that is familiar to contemporary north americans. In fact it is set in a prose that is often in iambic pentameter (non-rhyming) which if you don’t know, is the same format that Shakespeare used. So you can imagine taking Shakespeare, modernizing the language, and writing 700 pages of non-rhyming prose on intricately detailed psycho-spiritual philosophy. You can get a sense that it might be considered difficult to read. It is certainly not a page turner for even the most devoted.    

But that is just one reason – the other reason is the simple fact that the spiritual philosophy that it professes is completely foreign to the Westerner and extremely difficult to wrap one’s mind around. In fact even most of the authors that I have seen who either draw on the course or even pose to be teachers, they themselves pose horrendous errors in how they portray the course, and virtually seem to refuse what the course says, likely mostly because it is simply so challenging to accept what the course is actually saying without interpreting it through a Judaeo-Christian lens.

                As for myself, having first studied Vedanta and the non-dualism of the eastern traditions, like Ramana Maharshi, pure Taoism, old Zen writings, the writings of Shankara, since I read those first before coming to ACIM, I was able to see what one author (I believe Bill Thetford) said – that ACIM is like a Christian Vedanta. It is the end word. It is nondualism expressed in a language of our time. It is likely one of the most important writings of our time and I would liken it to the early writings of the Bible – that were certainly not recognized for their importance in their first hundred years at least. However it is a blessing that such a pure teaching has come in a language of our Judaeo- Christian heritage, reimagining some of the cryptic and debated words from the Christian theology and making them new in an expression of non-duality. I am pleased that it is allowing me greater appreciation and entry into the theology of Christianity, allowing me to appreciate some of the symbols and words and music and scripture that surrounds me here in this culture – but giving me meaning that I can relate to. Even if the words of the course are from a human mind and not from the supposed Christ presence, this is a stroke of daring genius. For though non-dualism is The Way, however you want to call it – to express it in the language that is arguably the most important language on the planet (and the only one not to have its own expression of this pure spirituality in a popularized sense) is a long overdue act.

I am currently reading the text, the commentaries, and the workbook with 365 lessons – intended for one a day for a year – but I am finding it impossible to do at this rate. I have been diligent at this for at least seven months, but have only reached lesson 120 or so.

                I did try to read this book once about ten years ago. But I guess I wasn’t ready for it. But now for some reason it is fresh, it is engaging, it is alive and intriguing and incredible. And I am constantly amazed at the fierce, radical and unswervingly ‘airtight’ theology of nondualism expressed in this course that just refuses to budge. It challenges us on the most fundamental levels. And indeed, if we want to make change in this world, this is precisely what must be done – we must question and think utterly outside the box, and find solutions on a level different from that of the questions. ACIM suggests and helps us do exactly that.

                I am not suggesting this course to anyone. You have certainly read things that are inspired by it. I am amazed and humbled to tears that some of the things that came through me in my earlier book, LAG, were almost copied from ACIM, and I had no idea. No wonder people would talk to me about it. I had one man come up to me after a session at a Unity church and say with a cheeky smirk, “Well you’ve obviously studied ACIM and know it inside and out.” And I had to reply, “No. sorry. Never even read it.” I don’t think he believed me. Whatever. I’m glad that I’ve come to it now and I wonder how long it will satisfy my spirituality? Maybe I’ll let you know in a few years when I’ve finished reading it and doing the workbook – for the first time…