Sunday, January 29, 2017
Those words – meditation is not what you think – were written on a bookmark I once received when I purchased a book from a metaphysical bookshop.
For some time – I must be slow or dim-witted – I pondered what those words meant. They seemed to be saying to me that meditation was something different from what I thought it was. Well, that was certainly true, for I was to learn that meditation was indeed something very different from what for many years was my limited understanding of the practice. Then, one day, it dawned on me what was the real ‘meaning’ of the phrase. Meditation is not what you think. Meditation is not about thinking. Meditation is not thinking at all. Meditation is something other than thinking.
What, then, is meditation? Well, meditation is many things such as waiting, listening, sitting in silence, observing, being attentive, being aware – that is, choicelessly aware – of the content of the action of our mind as well as the action of our surrounds.
Now, when we think about the activity of our mind – in particular, our conscious mind – we come to be aware of, and observe, what J. Krishnamurti (pictured) referred to as ‘the activity of the self’. Actually, there is more than one self in our mind. There is, for example, the ‘self that is judgmental’, the ‘self that hates immigrants and refugees’, the ‘self that loves pleasure’, and so on. Each of our innumerable likes, dislikes, views, opinions, beliefs, attachments and aversions is a ‘self’ of sorts. They are all our little ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ – and there are literally hundreds, even thousands, of them. The combined activity of these ‘selves’, none of which is the true person each of us is, is known as the ‘activity of the self’. This activity causes us no end of trouble. What sort of trouble? Self-obsession, self-centredness, self-absorption as well as addictions, obsessions and compulsions of various kinds. The activity of the self results in all manner of thoughts, words and deeds that are selfish
This is what Krishnamurti has to say about the activity of the self and meditation (This Light in Oneself, Seventh Public Talk in Saanen, July 1973):
Where there is the activity of the self, meditation is not possible. This is very important to understand, not verbally but actually. Meditation is a process of emptying the mind of all the activity of the self, of all the activity of the ‘me.’ If you do not understand the activity of the self, then your meditation only leads to illusion, your meditation then only leads to self-deception, your meditation then will only lead to further distortion. So to understand what mediation is, you must understand the activity of the self. …
If you watch yourself and are aware of this centre of activity, you will see that it is only the process of time, of memory, of experiencing and translating every experience according to memory; you also see that self-activity is recognition, which is the process of the mind. … Is it possible for the mind ever to be free from self-centred activity? That is a very important question first to put to ourselves, because in the very putting of it, you will find the answer. That is, if you are aware of the total process of this self-centred activity, fully cognizant of its activities at different levels of your consciousness, then surely you have to ask yourselves if it is possible for that activity to come to an end - that is, not to think in terms of time, not to think in terms of what I will be, what I have been, what I am. From such thought, the whole process of self centred activity begins; there also begin the determination to become, the determination to choose and to avoid, which are all a process of time. We see, in that process, infinite mischief, misery, confusion, distortion, deterioration taking place. Be aware of it as I am talking, in your relationship, in your mind.
In his many talks and writings Krishnamurti would often talk about the futility of self-forgetfulness, pointing out that there is no means of forgetting the self. In his Commentaries on Living, Series I, Chapter 41 ('Awareness')), we read:
Problems will always exist where the activities of the self are dominant. To be aware which are and which are not the activities of the self needs constant vigilance. This vigilance is not disciplined attention, but an extensive awareness which is choiceless. Disciplined attention gives strength to the self; it becomes a substitute and a dependence. Awareness, on the other hand, is not self-induced, nor is it the outcome of practice; it is understanding the whole content of the problem, the hidden as well as the superficial.
‘Problems will always exist when the activities of the self are dominant.’ How true that is! It is especially true of the addict – and we are all addicts of one kind or another. Not all of us are addicted to alcohol or other drugs but each one of us is addicted to certain ways of thinking, feeling and acting. We are addicted to our own views, opinions and beliefs, our own likes and dislikes. Meditation, practised as choiceless awareness, helps us to disengage, to dis-identify, from the objects of our addictions. When we observe – non-judgmentally – the activity of the self diminishes and reduces in intensity. In the words of Krishnamurti, we come to understand ‘the whole content of the problem, the hidden as well as the superficial’.
Meditation is not what you think. Meditation is not thought or words. Learn to empty your mind of the activity of the self. Refuse to identify with it. You are not those false selves that cause you so much grief and angst. You are a person among persons. A person caught up in the activity of the self is never free. He or she is in perpetual bondage to self. However, it need not be so. Meditate. Practise emptying your mind of the activity of the self. Let it go. Don’t hold onto it. Then, and only then, will you be free.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
‘Relieve me of the bondage of self …’ — from Chapter 5
of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (the ‘Big Book’ of AA).
There’s nothing like fairy tales for telling it like it really is. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of the best. It depicts just how terrible it is to be in bondage to self.
An old queen sits sewing at an open window during a winter snowfall. She pricks her finger with her needle. Three drops of blood fall onto the snow on the ebony window frame. The queen admires the beauty of the red on white. ‘Oh, how I wish that I had a daughter that is as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as that wood of the window frame,’ she says to herself. Shortly thereafter, the queen indeed gives birth to a baby girl as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and with hair as black as ebony. Snow White is her name. Then the old queen dies. A new era begins.
A year later, the king marries again. His new wife—the new queen—is beautiful but also wicked and terribly vain. As in other fairy tales such as Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel we have the familiar appearance of an evil stepmother. It makes you wonder if there are any nice stepmothers out there! Of course, there are plenty of them—nice ones, that is—but never, it seems, in fairy tales. The new queen has a magic mirror. Every morning she turns to the mirror and asks, ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest in the land?’ The mirror always replies, ‘You, my Queen, are the fairest in the land.’ This new queen is very much involved with herself. Indeed, she is in total bondage to herself. Far too many of us are like her. It’s a terrible predicament to be in, for there is no joy being in bondage to self.
Time passes. Snow White is now aged seven. She is very beautiful and much more beautiful than her stepmother, the new queen. So, when the stepmother queen asks her magic mirror, it responds, ‘My Queen, you are the fairest here so true. But Snow White is a thousand times more beautiful than you.’ This comes as a great shock to the queen, to put it mildly. Funny, isn’t it? We only like to hear what we want to hear. The stepmother queen becomes yellow and then green with envy. Her heart turns against Snow White. Indeed, with every following day she hates Snow White more and more. So, the stepmother queen orders a huntsman to take Snow White into the deepest woods and kill her. She orders the huntsman to return with Snow White’s lungs and liver. That way, she will know for sure that Snow White is finally dead. The huntsman takes Snow White into the forest but is unable to kill her. He leaves her behind alive. ‘She will be eaten by some wild animal,’ he says to himself. Instead, he brings the stepmother queen the lungs and liver of a young boar, which is prepared by the cook and eaten by the queen. (This is an unsuccessful attempt on the queen’s part to relieve herself of her bondage to self.
Snow White wanders through the forest for some time. Eventually, she discovers a tiny cottage which belongs to a group of seven dwarfs. (In sacred numerology—that is, in myths, fairy tales, sacred literature and so on—the number ‘seven’ represents such things as fullness, individual completeness (the number ‘twelve’ representing corporate completeness), the perfection of the human soul and grace. It is considered to be the divine number and thus the most spiritual of all numbers. Read the Bible and the sacred texts and you will see that I am right on that.
No one is at home in the dwarfs’ cottage. So, Snow White decides to eat something, drink some wine and then test all the beds. Finally, the last bed is comfortable enough for her and she falls asleep. In due course, the seven dwarfs return home and discover Snow White asleep. (Life is very much trial and error. We experiment and we experience.) The dwarfs come home and find Show White there. She wakes up and explains to them what happened. The dwarfs take pity on her, saying: ‘If you will keep house for us, and cook, make beds, wash, sew, and knit, and keep everything clean and orderly, then you can stay with us, and you shall have everything that you want.’ (A bit old-fashioned, that. Where are the feminists?) The dwarfs warn Snow White to be careful when alone at home and not to let anyone in when they are away in the mountains during the day.
Meanwhile, the stepmother queen asks her mirror once again: ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest in the land?’ The mirror replies, ‘My Queen, you are the fairest here so true. But Snow White beyond the mountains at the seven dwarfs is a thousand times more beautiful than you.’ The queen is livid. She realises she was betrayed by the huntsman. Worse still, Snow White is still alive. All the stepmother queen can think of is how to get rid of Snow White. So, she disguises herself as an old peddler, walks to the cottage of the dwarfs, and offers Snow White colourful, silky laced bodices. She convinces Snow White to take the most beautiful bodice as a present, then she laces it so tight that Snow White faints. The queen leaves her for dead. However, the dwarfs return just in time and Snow White revives when the dwarfs loosen the laces.
Next morning, the stepmother queen consults her mirror again. Shock, horror! She is told that Snow White is still alive. The queen is incensed. She is aflame with rage and hatred. She decides to dress up as a comb seller and pays Snow White a visit. She manages to convince Snow White to take a pretty comb as a present and proceeds to brush Snow White's hair with the comb. Unfortunately, the comb is poisoned. Snow White faints again but is revived by the dwarfs. The next morning the mirror tells the queen that Snow White is still 'a thousand times more beautiful' than the queen. The queen is now apoplectic with rage. She makes a poisoned apple and, in the disguise of a farmer's wife, she offers it to Snow White, who is at first hesitant to accept it, so the queen cuts the apple in half, eats the white harmless part, and gives the red poisoned part to Snow White. (I am a bit like Snow White. I can resist anything except temptation.) Snow White takes a bite of the apple—the poisoned part—and falls into a state of suspended animation. This time the dwarfs are unable to revive the girl because they can't find the source of Snow White's poor health and, assuming that she is dead, they place her in a glass coffin.
A prince travelling through the land sees Snow White. He strides to her coffin and, enchanted by her beauty, instantly falls in love with her. The dwarfs succumb to his entreaties to let him have the coffin, and as his servants carry the coffin away, they stumble on some roots. The tremor caused by the stumbling causes the piece of poisoned apple to dislodge from Snow White's throat, awakening her. The prince then declares his love for her, and soon a wedding is planned. The couple invites every queen and king to come to the wedding party, including Snow White's stepmother. Meanwhile, the queen, still believing that Snow White is dead, again asks her magic mirror who is the fairest in the land. The mirror says: ‘You, my Queen, are fair so true. But the young queen is a thousand times fairer than you.’
The stepmother queen reluctantly accepts the invitation to attend the wedding. Why? Well, call it fate, karma or destiny. We cannot escape our destiny. A pair of glowing-hot iron shoes are brought forth with tongs and are placed before the queen. She is forced to step into the burning shoes and to dance until she drops dead.
Well, what are we to make of all this? I have already given you a few clues above. Remember, this is my take on the fairy tale.
The story begins with the old queen who has a vision of a beautiful, joyous human being. Such a person will have overcome their bondage to self. He or she is enlightened, so to speak. Of course, we don’t become such a person overnight, and the path to becoming a fully functioning human being is fraught with difficulties. Inside each of us are hundreds of little, false selves in the form of our many likes, dislikes, opinions, beliefs, attachments and aversions. The process of dis-identifying with self is never easy. The new queen appears. Unfortunately, she is very vain and proud, and she seeks to use selfish powers and wisdom for her own entirely selfish purposes. As I see it, the new queen represents any one or more of our false selves which we mistakenly believe are the person that we are. The seven dwarfs symbolise different aspects or facets of the person each of us is. For example, among others there’s Happy, and Sleepy, and Bashful, and Dopey. The latter is especially me! Anyhow, take your pick. One thing to remember. These ‘dwarfs’ are very important and they can help you and me. They are all facets of the spiritually developing person.
The spiritually developing person Snow White, like you and me, is attacked in various ways. Of course, our worst enemy is ourselves—that is, our ‘selves’. The task for each one of us is to overcome the bondage of self. Ultimately, as I’ve said over and over again, we need a power-not-ourselves (that is, a power-not-our-false-selves’) to be relieved of the bondage to self. In the fairy story of Snow White and the seven Dwarfs that power comes in the form of the prince.
The stepmother queen is a graphic representation of all our inner demons—our unruly passions, hates, aversions and attachments. Our ego-self, if you like. It is a paradox of immense proportions that, for something which has no separate, independent existential reality of its own, the ego-self causes us so much damn trouble? Why? Because we let it.
The ego-self has to be thrown off-centre, and if we wish to be truly happy we must give up all things that stand in the way of our spiritual development—things like bad habits, obsessions, addictions, hatreds and resentments. In fact, all forms of self-obsession. Norman Vincent Peale (pictured left), who for 32 years was the senior minister of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, wrote in his book Sin, Sex and Self-Control (Doubleday, 1966) that each of us must experience ‘a shift in emphasis from self to non-self’. However, there’s a problem. Self cannot overcome the problem of self. The ‘self that tries to overcome self’ is just one more self, having no power in and of itself. In my many blogs and other writings I have quoted often these immortal words of William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘For the trouble is that we are self-centred, and no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavour.’ What this means is that each of us needs to find a power-not-our-false-selves to overcome the problem of self and bondage to self. In one of his memorable so-called ‘Zen sayings’ Jesus said that we must lose our ‘selves’ in order to find ourselves (cf Mk 8:35). So true.
Snow White—the real person each one of us is—wanders from the path that leads to being a fully functioning human being. The illusory power of our false selves can and does cause that to happen. Eventually, she comes to see the false as false and the real as real. The prince opens her eyes to what is real. Experience, and trial and error, can do that. So, can mindfulness, that is, living with choiceless awareness of what is.
When we practise mindfulness, we learn, bit by bit, to dis-identify with our false selves. It may be our angry self, our resentful self or our frightened self. We learn to give those selves no power. They are not the person that we are. They are images in our mind which we have created over time. Yes, they are quite persistent and, if we allow them to dominate and take over, they can almost come to define the person that we are. However, they are never, never, never in truth the person that we are. You and I are persons among persons. Live as such. Overcome the bondage to self. No effort of the self can do that, but you, the person that you are, is power-other-than-self. Only the latter is real.
I will finish with these words from G K Chesterton. In his book Orthodoxy, in the chapter titled ‘The Maniac’, Chesterton wrote, ‘How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it … .' Indeed.
I will finish with these words from G K Chesterton. In his book Orthodoxy, in the chapter titled ‘The Maniac’, Chesterton wrote, ‘How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it … .' Indeed.
Sunday, January 1, 2017
A New Year begins. It’s a time for taking charge of one’s life and for giving up the old and embracing the new.
It is said that we are born free. Well, never entirely free. You see, part of the price we pay for Spirit (pure Be-ing) descending into matter, for the Word becoming flesh, so to speak, is that we invariably find ourselves caught up, indeed trapped, in a time-bound, self-centred prison which is not entirely of our own making but which becomes more and more escape-proof as we choose, hundreds and thousands of times, to identify with our false sense of ‘self’ in the form of our innumerable likes, dislikes, views, opinions, beliefs, attachments and aversions.
Yet, as Norman Vincent Peale once wrote, ‘There is a spiritual giant within us, which is always struggling to burst its way out of the prison we have made for it.’ How I love those words! The words are themselves bursting with life-changing power. Even if what Peale said were not the case, I think those words of his are nevertheless so powerful that they still could move mountains---perhaps even literally!
Deep down inside ourselves, we know that we were not meant to live as spiritual and emotional cripples. I love these oft-cited words from P D Ouspensky (In Search of the Miraculous) as he quotes George Gurdjieff (pictured right):
Freedom, liberation, this must be the aim of man. To become free, to be liberated from slavery: this is what a man ought to strive for when he becomes even a little conscious of his position. There is nothing else for him, and nothing else is possible so long as he remains a slave both inwardly and outwardly. But he cannot cease to be a slave outwardly while he remains a slave inwardly. Therefore in order to become free, man must gain inner freedom.
The first reason for man's inner slavery is his ignorance, and above all, his ignorance of himself. Without self-knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave, and the plaything of the forces acting upon him.
This is why in all ancient teachings the first demand at the beginning of the way to liberation was: ‘Know thyself.’
Know thyself. That has always been the message of the great teachers, mystics, saints and holy ones. In the words of Dr Peale, 'Self-knowledge leads to a cure. Self-knowledge is the beginning of self-correction. The first step toward being what you can be is to know what you are.' Yes, until we know we are in bondage -- and until we acknowledge that fact -- there is really no hope for us. However, as soon as we admit to ourselves that we are in bondage, that there is something seriously 'wrong' with and in us, there is hope for us. Further, when we say to ourselves, ‘I want to be free, more than anything else in the world,’ then our walk to freedom begins, but we must be prepared to go to any length to get it.
Do you really want to be free? Well, then, ask yourself this question, ‘Who has bound me?’ No voice answers back -- except perhaps your own -- and if you are in touch with the reality of your being you will come to realize that, in truth, you, the person that you are, have always been free and unlimited.
True, you may have attached your ‘self’ to all kinds of things and persons -- for it is a fact that the 'self' always wants opportunities for gratification of various kinds -- but once you lose the illusion of self your mental states will no longer revert to negativity. Know this: you are not a 'self,' but a person among persons in the All-in-All of Life. If you have trouble accepting the fact that there is no 'self,' I suspect the reason for that is this---your attachment to 'self' is very strong. If so, get rid of your 'self.' Drop it---now! You don't need it, and it only gets in the way of your true Be-ing.
Yes, the person that you are is part of life’s self-expression, and the life of you is always free and unlimited. Life, which is forever engaged in a timeless renewal of itself from one moment to the next, is never in bondage or slavery, but we can and so often do make a veritable prison for ourselves out of our ‘selves’. Never forget that. But we can still assert our innate spiritual freedom---at any time!
Vernon Howard (pictured left) wrote, 'To change what we get we must change who we are.' We need to start living from and in that centre of life-consciousness which is the very ground of your being---the very livingness of your life---right now! You see, this ground of your being is nothing less than the individualised, personalised, condensed totality of Be-ing itself, and this ‘energy-base’ is closer to you than breathing and nearer than hands and feet.
Yes, Be-ing indwells, infuses, animates and expresses all persons and all material creation – indeed, all life! Nothing, absolutely nothing, exists which is outside the orbit and presence of pure Be-ing, and you are at all times immersed, indeed saturated, in that Be-ing -- that All-in-All -- as It forever lives out Its livingness in and as you, the person that you are. Once you fully awaken to that fact, and start living that fact, you are free. Yes, really!
Those who are free are those who are not in trouble with themselves. They no longer react mechanically, that is, from conditioned thought. They live in awareness. They are not obsessed with the need to be happy. They do not care how others should treat them or behave toward them. They know that the answer to every problem lies within themselves. Further, they know that, for each of us, the only real problem is---ourself, that is, our 'self.'
Do you want to be free? Really? How greatly do you want to be free? Are you prepared to go to any length to be free?
Happy New Year!