Sunday, February 26, 2012

YOUR MIND IS ITS OWN PRISON



In one of his famous 1948 Mumbai talks the late J Krishnamurti (pictured left) said, 'The mind is its own prison;  therefore, transformation and liberation from suffering can only be achieved by ending of the ceaseless activities of the mind.’

Now that statement is very profound, for has it ever occurred to you that the only problem you really have is entirely---yes, entirely---of your own creation?

True, you may be facing various ‘challenges.’ Some may be financial, others may concern difficulties at work or at home, but, at the end of the day, the only problem you really have is this---you have a conditioned belief system which tends to prevent you from seeing things as they really are. Worse, this conditioned belief system results in your unconsciously attracting into your life all sorts of negative experiences which cause you much pain and suffering.

Let me explain. We perceive life through our senses and our conscious mind. Over time, beginning from the very moment of our birth, sensory perceptions harden into memories formed out of aggregates of thought and feeling. In time, the illusion of a separate 'witnessing self' emerges. However, as I have said many times before, our mental continuity and sense of identity and existence are simply the result of habit, memory and conditioning. Also, genetics has a bit to do with it as well. Hundreds and thousands of separate, ever-changing and ever-so-transient mental occurrences harden into a mental construct of sorts which is no more than a confluence of impermanent components (‘I-moments’) cleverly synthesized by the mind in a way which appears to give them a singularity and a separate and independent existence and life of their own.

Now, it is through this perception of an internally created sense of 'self' that we experience, process and interpret all external reality. For example, if you see yourself as inferior to others, you will invariably find that life takes you at your own estimation of yourself, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself being treated as a doormat. Your every experience will tend to confirm what you fear most---‘I am indeed inferior to others, and others think so, too.’ Ditto if you perceive yourself as full of fear. Your life experience will be one long self-fulfilling prophecy, and you will find yourself identifying with Job in the Bible who uttered those immortal words, ‘For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me’ (Job 3:25).

But how, exactly, is the mind its own prison? Well, the mental construct of ‘self’ which we have each built up over many years imposes limitations on how we see life. All too often, life’s experiences are filtered through a distorted lens comprised of the totality of our various self-images. Although we are always in direct contact with what is, we rarely see things as they really are because of this distorted lens. How you experience what happens to you will be determined very largely by how you see yourself.


And what are those 'ceaseless activities of the mind' of which Krishnamurti spoke? Well, our mind spends most of the day engrossed in satisfying the seemingly insatiable 'needs' of our intellect, emotions and will---not to mention the supposed 'needs' of our body as well. These so-called 'needs' are for the most part nothing other than selfish self-indulgences of innumerable kinds. We are talking about all manner of selfishness, self-centredness, self-absorption and self-obsession---self, self, self! It really is a lot of work---so much work that we seem to have no time to become acquainted with the real 'you' and 'me.' I will have more to say about that shortly. Anyway, I am reminded of what the well-known British New Thought writer James Allen wrote: 'Self is the lusting, coveting, desiring of the heart, and it is this that must be yielded up before Truth can be known, with its abiding calm and endless peace.'

Well, I almost hear you ask, 'What can I do about this state of affairs?' A lot. The first thing to do is to accept that you are a ‘person’---a vital and integral part of life's self-expression. That is what you are. You are not that 'witnessing self' which is nothing more than the aggregation of the hundreds and thousands of ‘I-moments’ you have manufactured in your lifetime. The second thing to do is to recognize that you are always in direct contact with external reality---that is, with what is. Now, once you have fully accepted that fact, you can start to live differently. To do that, you need to observe life as if there were no observer. A familiar theme of Krishnamurti was the need for observation 'without the observer.' Why? Because where there is an 'observer' there is a conditioned mind and a conditioned point of view. In other words, where there is an observer, there is a distorting lens which experiences, processes and interprets---and distorts---all that happens in our lives through an amalgam of thoughts, memories, beliefs, opinions, prejudices and biases---all of which is the past.

So, instead of experiencing reality in a direct and immediate way, we find ourselves locked in the past, and where there is the past, there can be no mindfulness. Of course, in an empirical sense there will always be an observer, in the form of the 'person' that each one of us is, but that is about the extent of it. If you can be choicelessly aware of whatever happens---that is, if you simply let be whatever impressions come to your mind, and cease to judge, analyze, compare, evaluate and interpret them---you will instantaneously liberate yourself from the bondage of self. Krishnamurti had this to say about the matter:

For the mind which is the known and the product of the past, to dissolve is the very opposite process. It means the cessation of all seeking, all thought, [for] all the mind’s activities in the nature of clinging or grasping are directed at self-assertion.

We love to assert our ‘self,’ yet it is a paradox of enormous proportions that we are always trying to escape an unwanted ‘self.’ Alcoholics and other addicts know that all too well. The mind is a prison because it lives in the past. That's right---the past. Everything in it is the past and the product of the past. Even when you try (yuk!) to act spontaneously, you will always end up acting out of your past---from habit, memory and conditioning.  However, there is hope---there is a way out! The regular practice of mindfulness, in the form of the presence of bare attention to, and choiceless awareness of, the action of the present moment experienced as the Eternal (that is, ever-present) Now will enable you, the person that you are, to use your mind to liberate the mind from the bondage of the past and the conditioned ‘self.’ It is a wondrous thing to behold! If you can stop identifying with the conditioned 'self'---indeed, if you can let it go---then you will experience a state of mind---and Be-ing---which is the essence of 'no-thing-ness'. It is almost like---death! But it is really anything but that. Krishnamurti had this to say about the matter in a 1978 talk:


video


Another one of my favourite authors, Eckhart Tolle, expresses it well in his wonderful book The Power of Now:

You will not be free of [your] pain until you cease to derive your sense of self from identification with the mind, which is to say from ego. As long as I am my mind, I am those cravings, needs, wants, attachments and diversions and apart from them, there is no I.

Spiritual philosopher Vernon Howard wrote, 'We must clear the mind of its habitual obstacles.' That's good advice---if you really want to be free. Now, know this, for this is where all change for the better begins. You are a person among persons. In the words of Max Ehrmann (pictured right), the author of the world-famous poem Desiderata,’ ‘You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.’ That is the only 'basis' on which you can come to a realization of your ‘True Self’---the Self which is always manifesting and expressing Itself in and as all things---and that is what I mean when I use the words, ‘a person among persons.’ Your mind---and its offspring (the intellect, the emotions, and the will)---together with your body are not 'you.' They are only the expression of your 'Be-ing-ness' (your 'I Am-ness'), and that Be-ing-ness is an expression of 'All-Being,' that is, life in all its fulness and totality. The True Self is that which is always in the act or state of Be-ing, and nothing---absolutely nothing---can be without manifesting and expressing some phase or aspect of this 'I,' which is the one reality that forever lives and moves and has its be-ing in and as all things.

Yes, there is an 'I' which is not one of those many false 'I's' and 'me's' that wax and wane but nevertheless make life miserable for you. This 'I'---and there is only one such 'I'---is that 'part' (for want of a better word) of you which says 'I am' and which is in fact that 'I Am.' Your 'I Am-ness' is your True Self---that in you, and in me, and in all persons and things, which simply IS. And when you come to know this Self---the very self-livingness and self-givingness of your life---to be One with all that lives, you will have succeeded in liberating yourself from the terrible bondage of self. The result? Well, those 'ceaseless activities of the mind' of which Krishnamurti spoke will---cease!

Never forget this fact---that which you think you are, you are not. It is only an illusion---a 'shadow' of the 'real' you---the person that you are. Get to know the 'real' you. How? Stop identifying with your false, illusory sense of self. In the words of Norman Vincent Peale, shift from a ‘sense of self to a sense of non-self’ (or be-ing). Live mindfully, and experience each new thing with shoshin (a ‘beginner’s mind’)---that is, with curiosity, eagerness and openness and without the conditioning of the past.

That is the only way to be free ... and to be truly alive.






IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

MINDFULNESS ACCORDING TO THE BHAGAVAD GĪTĀ


Here is some wisdom from the 700-verse Hindu scripture known as the Bhagavad Gītā (§2.70-72):

One attains peace in whose mind all desires enter without creating any disturbance, as river waters enter the full ocean without creating a disturbance. One who desires material objects is never peaceful.

One who abandons all desires and becomes free from longing and the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘my’ attains peace.

O Arjuna, this is the Braahmee or superconscious state.  Attaining this [state], one is no longer deluded.  Gaining this state, even at the end of one's life, a person attains oneness with the Supreme.

There is much in the above that is worthy of attention and comment. Note, for example, that it is stated that desires ‘enter’ the mind. One might have thought the word ‘arise’ would be more suitable, but I think the word ‘enter’ is correct. Thoughts, desires, feelings and sensations will not only arise, they will inevitably enter our consciousness. It is often not in our conscious power or control to prevent these things from ‘entering’ our consciousness. However, the advice we are given is that if we want peace we should let these things enter ‘without creating any disturbance.’ Buddha Shakyamuni gave the same advice, saying: 

Whatever suffering arises
Has a reaction as its cause.
If all reactions cease to be
Then there is no more suffering.

We experience a ‘sensation,’ which may be physical or mental. If we react to that sensation with ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ – that is, with craving, attachment or aversion – the sensation ‘creates a disturbance.’ The result? Pain, suffering or distress---because we fail to be one with whatever be the experience of the moment. That is the essence of mindfulness---being one with the activity in which we are momentarily involved. For that to happen---if 'happen' be the right word---we must be consciously and choicelessly aware in the present moment, from one moment to the next, regardless of what we are doing, and regardless of what is taking place in and around us. Simple as that. 

Now, if we simply allow ourselves to be dispassionately and choicelessly aware of sensations as and when they arise---that is, if we act mindfully---then there is no ‘cause’ to produce any pain, suffering or distress. In other words, no reaction, no cause … and no effect. It is only when we act and react mindlessly that we create and suffer from ‘disturbances.’ Remember, mindfulness is not about stopping the mind, thoughts or sensations; it's about allowing thoughts and sensations to be present in the mind but not letting them 'run' you---that is, 'create a disturbance.'

Elsewhere in the Gita (in more than one place) we are told to develop and maintain a 'stable mind'---'Becoming stable, without seeing here and there,/ Concentrating vision on the tip of [one's] nose,/ With mind fully not roaming here and there'  (§6.13-14). A stable mind is, to use my phrase, a 'mindful mind of no-mind', that is, a mind which is fixed and focused in the moment, choicelessly aware of whatever is. A stable mind is a mind which, despite constant flux, and even in the midst of disturbance---for sometimes that is inevitable---is nevertheless focused on what is appropriate for our spiritual growth. A stable mind does not discriminate, nor does it 'roam here and there'---the latter being a very good description of mindlessness. Unless the mind be stable, it is impossible to have any peace of mind whatsoever. However, don't think for one moment that a stable mind is an 'unthinking' mind. No, a stable mind is a mind which has ceased to think mindlessly, and which avoids attachments, entanglements and aversions of all kinds. It is a mind which accepts relative 'good' and 'bad' equally as the way of life---that is, the way things are.

I love the statement that those who desire material objects are never peaceful. Of course that is the case, for the people in question are never without fear. There is the fear of failure---that one might fail to secure the material things sought after. Material things, once gained, tend to generate more fear---especially the fear of loss, that what has been gained might disappear ... and then what? Also, attachment to material things always results in an outflow of power to outside things, and that comes at a great cost. You see, you can't have your power as well as your attachments and entanglements. It's one or the other. Never forget that.

We are told to ‘abandon’ all desires and become ‘free from longing and the feeling of “I” and “my”.’ Anyone who is walking a spiritual path---regardless of the particular tradition---knows that there can be no peace or freedom when there are cravings, longings, attachments and the like. However, there is something even more fundamental, and that is our continued assertions of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’---that is, our identification with our false self. Whenever we say, ‘I want X,’ we are strengthening our bondage to our false self---the self that is never satisfied, the self that is always wanting more, the self that is always fearful and anxious. If you want peace of mind, stop identifying with this false self and start living as the person that you are. All these little ‘selves’ within you are not the real person that you are. They are simply ‘disturbance’ in the mind---mere mental agitation (‘mental wallpaper’) which we mistakenly take to be our true being.

The ‘Braahmee or superconscious state’ referred to in the portion of the Bhagavad-Gītā set out above is the state of dwelling in God (Truth, the One, the [True] Self). Christian mystics would often say, ‘I have my being in God,’ for it is written in the New Testament that ‘in [God] we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). Powerful words. The goal of all spiritual practice is to achieve this state of ‘at-one-ment’ with the Sacred or Divine. Even if you do not believe in a self-existent, unconditioned Supreme Being in the traditional sense, you may still have a sense of the self-sufficient ground of all being or the livingness of life. Be-ing Itself, if you wish. One may have problems with the concept of a ‘life force’---I certainly do---but it is hard to deny that life consists of living things living out their livingness, and this self-livingness of life itself is surely Sacred or Divine. Have you ever had a moment---perhaps while watching a beautiful sunset or sitting quietly by a tranquil lake---when you have felt ‘at-one’ with all life? Well, that is what I am talking about, only the ‘Braahmee or superconscious state’ is perhaps deeper and more unshakeable.

When you have attained---that is, consciously experienced---this state of ‘at-one-ment’ with all that is, you will never want to lose it. In truth, you can't lose it, but we do tend to forget our oneness with the Divine. When you become a spiritually minded person the things of earth become strangely dim---and, what’s more, you will no longer be ‘deluded.’ Now, we are not necessarily talking about ‘delusion’ in a clinical sense but it is a fact that we are ‘deluded’ when we look without for that which can only be found within us. Yes, I say this to you---if, when you hear the word 'God' or 'Christ' or 'Lord' you start to think of some Power, Presence, Person, Being, Thing or Principle outside of yourself, then your thinking is horribly awry. (That is the tragedy of mainstream Christianity, which would have you look without. It is analogous to looking for the living among the dead [cf Lk 24:5].) True, this ‘Thing’ of which I speak is much greater than you are and, being self-existent and unlimited, it also subsists in persons and things other than you, but you will never find or experience this ‘Thing’ unless you---look within! And when you look within, the veil of illusion covering your mind is lifted---and that is a wondrous thing!

This state of ‘oneness with the Supreme’ is the only thing of any importance in this life. We seek so many things---material possessions, relationships, food and drugs---hoping that those things will bring us happiness, security and peace of mind, but we neglect to seek the one ‘Thing’ of any value and lasting importance---and the only ‘Thing’ we can take with us, as us, when we depart this earthly life.

Abandon your desires. Become free from longing. And stop identifying with your innumerable false selves. Remain focused on whatever is, under all circumstances. In short, be the person that in Truth you are.


RELATED POSTS





YOU SHALL CEASE TO BE NEVER!

THE RENEWAL OF YOUR MIND

MINDFULNESS ACCORDING TO VIVEKANANDA AND YOGANANDA




Wednesday, February 15, 2012

MINDFULNESS MAY ASSIST WITH BIPOLAR DISORDER

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) may improve mood, emotional regulation, well-being, and functioning in individuals with bipolar disorder, according to a study published in the February 2012 issue of CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics.

Bipolar disorder is a serious brain condition that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy and functioning. The condition, which is characterised by episodes of mania and depression that can last from days to months, usually begins in late adolescence but it can begin in early childhood or as late as a person's 40s or 50s. There appears to be a strong genetic component related to bipolar disorder, but genetics do not always predict who will develop the disorder. Bipolar disorder is a chronic and generally life-long condition, requiring life-long treatment. The illness can be managed, but unfortunately not cured---at least not as yet.

Dr Thilo Deckersbach (pictured above), of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and associates explored the role of MBCT in 12 patients with bipolar disorder. Participants underwent a baseline clinical assessment, and were then treated with 12 group MBCT sessions. Participants were assessed after treatment and at a 3-month follow-up.

The researchers found that participants demonstrated the following (both at the end of the MBCT sessions as well as at the 3-month follow-up): improved mindfulness; fewer residual depressive mood symptoms; less difficulty paying attention; and increased emotion-regulation abilities, psychological well-being, positive affect and psychosocial functioning.

‘Results of this clinical trial suggest that it may be worthwhile to further investigate whether this version of MBCT for bipolar disorder may become a treatment option for patients with residual mood symptoms in the menu of already empirically supported approaches (eg family therapy, interpersonal and social rhythm therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy), especially for patients with a more chronic course of the illness,’ the authors write.


Resource: Deckersbach, D, et al. ‘Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Nonremitted Patients with Bipolar Disorder’, CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, vol 18, issue 2, 133–141 (Feb 2012). DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-5949.2011.00236.x
IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org


Thursday, February 9, 2012

WALKING IN THE ETERNAL NOW


It was the spiritual psychologist and teacher Vernon Howard who said, ‘Real life is a timeless renewal in the present moment.’ I like that.

I think so-called ‘time’ and ‘space’ – which are really one – are no more than mediums in which all things exist. Life is movement---ceaseless movement--- and life itself is timeless and spaceless. That much is clear. Another thing is clear---everything is contained within ‘the Now.’ All duration – or time – is total and complete in the Now. There is an ‘eternal’ quality about the Now. It is forever new. The present moment has its unfolding in the Now. The past, in the form of memories, inherited characteristics and tendencies, the karmic consequences of past actions---all that is no more than the expression of a ‘present’ reality, being a present ‘window link’ to the eternity of the Now. It’s the same as respects the future---any ideas about or hopes for the future are present ideas and hopes. Yes, the present is simply that which presents itself before us in the Now---so the present embraces past, present and future. Amazing!

My favourite Christian theologian Paul Tillich says as much in his wonderful book The Eternal Now. Tillich writes, 'The mystery of the future and the mystery of the past are united in the mystery of the present. Our time, the time we have, is the time in which we have "presence." ... Each of the modes of time has its peculiar mystery, each of them carries its peculiar anxiety. Each of them drives us to an ultimate question. There is one answer to these questions -- the eternal. There is one power that surpasses the all-consuming power of time -- the eternal ... .' 

Here are some other words I like. They really resonate with me. The words come from the influential New Thought minister, lecturer and writer Dr Emmet Fox (pictured below left), who had this to say about the 'Now':

Has it ever occurred to you that the only time you ever have is the present moment? We have all heard this said many times but probably few of us realize, even slightly, all that it implies.

It means that you can only live in the present. It means that you can only act in the present. It means that you can only experience in the present.

Above all, it means that the only thing you have to heal is the present thought. Get that right and the whole picture will change into one of harmony and joy. When some students hear this statement they may think, ‘Oh yes, I know that. I have known it for years’; but the chances are that they have not yet understood it thoroughly.

When they do, remarkable results will follow. All that you can know is your present thought, and all that you can experience is the outer expression of all the thoughts and beliefs that you are holding at the present time.

What you call the past can only be your memory of the past. The seeming consequences of past events, be they good or bad, are still but the expression of your present state of mind (including, of course, the subconscious). What are all the future things that you may be planning, or things that you may be dreading - all this is still but a present state of mind. This is the real meaning of the traditional phrase, The Eternal Now.

The only joy you can experience is the joy you experience now. A happy memory is a present joy. The only pain you can experience is the pain of the present moment. Sad memories are present pain. Get the present moment right. Realize peace, harmony, joy, good will, in the present moment. By dwelling upon these things and claiming them-and forgetting during the treatment, all other things-the past and future problems alike will take care of themselves.


If you are reading this, you are alive---although it is necessarily the case that some people are more alive than others. (Sorry, the motivational preacher in me gets carried away at times.) Also, where you are right now is where you are---right now. (Deep stuff, all this.) These things must be taken to be axiomatic. Further, we can never escape the Now, so why not live fully---and mindfully---'in' it ... now! We do not truly live in the Now when our minds are on other things. Unless we are mindfully present, from one moment to the next, we are not truly alive. Our attention---which must be choiceless and non-discriminating---has to be right here---right in the here-and-now. In addition, if we are to find any meaning or purpose in life we must find it in the eternity of the Now. The Now is omnipresence itself. No wonder mystics and holy ones have referred to God as the ‘Eternal Now’ or the ‘Eternal Presence.’ God eternally subsists and expresses Itself in Its own Being---in the Eternity of the Now---in all things and as all things.

Scott Shaw, a Zen master and teacher, has written, 'Time is a scale we created in order to measure our worldly accomplishments.' Ha! Very Zen. Yes, time – as we ordinarily understand it – is a somewhat ‘relative’ construct, but I still think it is ‘real.’ The truth is we live both in time and eternity. Now, eternity is not something we enter when we die. No, eternity is ‘something’ we are in---right now! You are part of life’s Self-expression, and life cannot die. Your body will die, and, I think, also your mind, but the life in you---well, that’s an entirely different matter. Stop identifying with your body and your mind---they are not you. Stop identifying yourself with time, for the less you think about time, and the less you concern yourself with time, the freer you will be. You can't see time. Even if you watch the hands of a clock move, you are seeing just that---movement. You are not seeing time. The fact is that if you live entirely in time, you will be afraid of death. If, however, you live fully and mindfully in the abundance of the Eternal Now, you will know that you live forever! There’s a big difference.

The disciple asked the master, ‘What is the path?’ The Zen master replied, ‘Walk on!’ Yes, the ‘meaning’ of life lies in the living---the ‘walking’---of life. Life is endless movement, and so we must walk---from one moment to the next. Any ‘meaning’ we find must and will be found in the moment-to-moment experience of the Now. Eternity is not the present time plus all the past and all the future, nor (as already mentioned) is it a postmortem experience. It is a present---indeed, ever-present---reality. In truth, there is no time after time after time. No, eternity transcends time altogether---and is despite time! The mystics and holy ones have known this for centuries---there is an ‘eternal’ element to life which moves us beyond spacetime to ‘something’ which is the very ground of our being---indeed, Being itself. No wonder Jesus exclaimed, 'Before Abraham was, I am' (Jn 8:58). He didn't say, 'I was before Abraham was.' No, he said---altering the order of the words---'I am before Abraham was.' He understood his essential and existential pre-existence, and I do not believe he was claiming that fact uniquely and exclusively for himself. No, he never did that! That was not his way. He never asserted a fact about himself which was not also applicable to---you and me! Never forget that.

Vernon Howard was right. The Eternal Now is that ‘present’ which is forever renewing itself in and as each new moment. Yes, this Eternity supersedes time itself. To understand the ‘eternity’ of the Now, you need to know that there is a ‘present’ in the present as well as a ‘present’ beyond the ‘present,’ but if you try to 'chase' the next present you will fail. Don't even bother---there is no need. This concept needs to be experienced as a present reality. Intellectual understanding only takes you so far. In a very real sense, the Eternal Now and the so-called temporal now are---one and the same! Everything is---here now! Life is eternal, and we are alive in eternity---now! What Life---God, if you like---offers us is the Eternal Now, which is anything but a time on the clock.

H P Blavatsky (pictured left), in the first volume of Isis Unveiled, said it all when she wrote, ‘The human spirit, being of the Divine, immortal Spirit, appreciates neither past nor future, but sees all things as in the present.’

No wonder the New Testament says, ‘Exhort one another daily, while it is called today’ (Heb 3:11). We live for so long as it is still---today!


NOTE. For those who may be interested, I have compiled and published online a collection of some 2012 retreat talks of mine, the volume being entitled Walking in the Eternal Now.





Tuesday, February 7, 2012

THE MINDFUL EMILY DICKINSON AND YOUR IMAGINARY SELF-PICS

The longer I live the more I am convinced that all of our so-called problems – yes, all of them – arise and present themselves to us as problems because we persist in holding onto imaginary self-pictures in respect of the subject-matter of those problems.

That is not to say that all that happens to us is actually caused by us. For example, whilst we cause some of the sickness which befalls us, other sickness comes upon us through no ‘fault’ of our own. However, sickness only becomes a problem for us when, for example, we hold an imaginary self-picture like---in order to be happy we must always be well. The fact is we can still be happy even if we are unwell. We still have a choice as respects the decision to be or not to be happy.

A former law student of mine – let’s call him Manny [not his real name] – said to me once (about the time of his graduation from the university where I lectured), ‘I wouldn’t feel important if I were a lawyer working for the government---like you used to do.’ Not content with being the person he was, his idea of success was – and still is, I hear – being seen by most others to be a success in the law … and that entails, in Manny’s view, working as a lawyer in private practice and at the helm of his own small firm located, not surprisingly, in the so-called ‘big end’ of town. (In truth, Manny is a ‘legend in his own lunchbox,’ and most of his peers would be aware of that fact. Never mind. It’s his ‘life.’)

Manny is by no means alone. So many people hold these imaginary – that is, false – self-pictures. They must be obscenely wealthy. They must wear beautiful designer label clothes. They must be seen and photographed with the ‘right’ kind of people. They must drive expensive cars. They must eat at the most classy restaurants. And they must find partners who are similarly ‘minded,' as well as being good in bed. Yes, it is all about doing as opposed to being. These people – most people – will do anything in order not to be themselves. For the most part, they lead proverbial ‘lives of quiet desperation,’ but they will go to any length to hide that fact from themselves and others.


For so long as we hold onto imaginary pictures about ourselves, we can never be truly happy. I have written often about the ‘false self.’ The truth is each one of us has hundreds and hundreds of ‘false selves’ within us. There’s the false self which believes that we must be recognized by others to be successful in order to be so. There’s the false self that says we must earn a lot of money in order to be happy and successful. There’s the false self that says we can never be happy unless we are in relationship with or in the company of others. I could go on. Enough already. Now to Emily Dickinson (pictured above), of whom I first became aware---as best I recall---when I first heard the Simon & Garfunkel song ‘The Dangling Conversation’ (some 45 years ago) …

           
And you read your Emily Dickinson,
And I my Robert Frost,
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what we've lost.
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.
           

Emily Dickinson is now one of my all-time favourite poets. She has always been one of the most widely read and well-known American poets.  Although not a Transcendentalist as such, she was well-regarded by Ralph Waldo Emerson and other famous Transcendentalists and we know that she was very familiar with their work. Indeed, some of her own writings show the influence of Transcendentalism. Take, for instance, this 1862 gem entitled ‘Me from Myself -- to banish:

Me from Myself -- to banish --
Had I Art --
Impregnable my Fortress
Unto All Heart --

But since Myself -- assault Me --
How have I peace
Except by subjugating
Consciousness?

And since We're mutual Monarch
How this be
Except by Abdication --
Me -- of Me?


Dickinson was clearly aware of the ‘false self’ [or ‘ego-self’] and the ‘True Self’ [or ‘Self’ or ‘non-ego (nondual) awareness’] within all of us, and she is clearly ‘playing’ with the two levels of self. There’s the ‘false self’, which is that little (in truth, illusory) self that most people think of as who they really are. And then there’s the vast, unified Self---the very livingness of Life Itself [‘All-Being’]---which resides everywhere without boundary or limitation (other than Its own ‘Self-limitation’ in its descent into matter), but whose seat or ‘Fortress’ (Dickinson’s word) is in the human ‘heart’ or mind.

Now, despite some apparent uncertainty evident in the above poem, it is clear from a reading of Dickinson’s own life that she did indeed know how to destroy the false self (or selves) without getting rid of the True Self at the same time. See, in that regard, the wonderful book Emily Dickinson, Accidental Buddhist by R C Allen. If more evidence be required of Dickinson's preoccupation with the Self and the 'larger view' of life, read this short poem of hers entitled 'There is a solitude of space':

There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself --
Finite infinity.

Back to the 'false self' theme. When I was in recovery almost 20 years ago it was explained to me that ‘self cannot change self,’ the reason being that ‘self’ is simply ‘image’ in us. The sort of ‘images’ referred to above which we believe to be true. Yes, ‘self’ cannot change ‘self’ because, first, ‘self’ has no power and, secondly, self does not really exist---at least not as a separate, independent entity. However, the ‘person’ each of us is can change, and has power to change.

Is it possible to live without even one ‘false’ or ‘imaginary self.’ I ask you, do you really think you are alive with all those imaginary self-pictures? Come now. Get real. These self-pics are preventing you from experiencing life as it really is and from knowing the person you really are. Spiritual psychologist Vernon Howard (pictured left) would often give the following illustration in his talks. The illustration can also be found in Howard’s 1967 book The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power, which is a truly wonderful self-help book despite its ‘over-the-top’ comic book-type title. This is the illustration ...

Mr Howard would say that the way we’re living our lives is very much like we’re standing on a shaky platform watching a passing parade. Now, part of the mind tries to enjoy the passing parade, but another part of the mind is full of fear. It trembles with the shakiness beneath our feet and even interferes with our enjoyment of the parade. We sense that we need to abandon the false structure, but we also fear that will rob us of the passing parade. Actually, it wouldn’t, but because we know only this insecure platform, we are paralyzed in place. But what is beneath the platform? Solid ground---that’s what. All we have to do is stand upon it. And we can then safely watch and enjoy the passing parade. What a powerful story!

Now, suppose, for a moment, you had none of these false selves---that is, no beliefs (or rather misbeliefs) about life, God, the cosmos, happiness and success, no opinions, attitudes, preconceptions or expectations about other people or yourself, and so on. What if you had none of those things? What would it be like? Well, you would, in some oft-quoted words from the ‘Big Book’ of Alcoholics Anonymous, come to ‘know a new freedom and a new happiness’ … like you’ve never known before.

Get rid of all your beliefs about how life works or supposedly ‘should’ work. Get rid of all the expectations you have about how others ‘should’ supposedly behave toward you. Get rid of all your preconceptions, predilections and prejudices. ‘Banish’ (Dickinson’s word) the lot of them! ‘Assault’ (ditto) them. ‘Abdicate.’ Then you can start to live authentically---which is the only thing you owe to yourself and others. Is this possible? Why, yes! I have seen hundreds of people do this--- in and outside of recovery. Then, in these words of Emily Dickinson (A Death blow is a Life blow to Some’), you will be free and truly alive …
A Death blow is a Life blow to Some
Who till they died, did not alive become—
Who had they lived, had died but when
They died, Vitality begun.
So, what is holding you back … except a lot of fear as well as inertia? Yes, the thought or prospect of change always generates fear, if only as a sick and ultimately self-defeating way to keep in check the thought or prospect of change. Also, it is easier (but not in the long-term) to do nothing. Be that as it may, come! Launch a frontal assault. Abdicate. Abandon those false self-pics. Drop them. Be the ‘real’ you---the person that you are.


‘The Dangling Conversation’ was written by Paul Simon
All Rights Reserved


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