Stop Pretending

“One day a six-year-old friend said to me, ‘Pretend you are surrounded by a thousand hungry tigers. What would you do?’ I visualized the situation as he had suggested and, coming up with no viable plan of action, said, ‘Wow, I don’t know. What would you do?’ And he replied, ‘I’d stop pretending.'”

~Catherine Ingram

tiger and pigs

Most of us will typically point to our body, and then to our family, our job, our religion, our political affiliation, and so forth, in order to confirm the solidity of our independent existence. However, the problem remains that all those things keep changing, and so how is one really going to pin down and validate their own existence? Indeed, upon thorough inspection, we can recognize that nothing which we can perceive or conceive has any enduring reality, and that includes the pretenses and self-images that we’ve worked so hard to accumulate, nourish, assert, and defend.

If none of that is real, what is? Only Reality is real. It has nothing to do with names, forms, or temporary states of mind. Since it is limitless itself, it underlies all these superficial conditions. It is what is, exactly as it is. It transcends words and concepts like “existence” or “non-existence”. When all the false assumptions and presumptions and mental constructs fall away, what remains is what’s real. It is our own native awareness itself, the only thing that doesn’t change. It is what we are, even while we might be busy pretending that we are this, that, or the other.

Moreover, we cannot attain this awareness. Any effort to acquire it will only push us farther away. Since we are awareness, there is no need to chase after it, trying to add it to the ego-mind’s collection of self-confirming assets. It can never be an object of consciousness, since it is always prior to consciousness. Rather than trying to grasp the Real, a wiser approach would be to simply cease investing our attention and belief in the unreal. The unreal includes everything that we can think, feel, know, or imagine. Only then can reality emerge from behind the curtain of our self-imposed ignorance, and only then can we truly enjoy this present circumstance, whatever or wherever it might be.

Ignorance and un-enjoyment consist of imputing reality to that which is not real. The more we grant reality to that which is not, the more confused and unhappy we will be, and the more we will run around seeking here and there, trying to alleviate ourselves of the ensuing imaginary dis-ease. In fact, the only cure for the imaginary disease is to stop granting it reality. Stop pretending that the story of “me & mine” is what life is about, that we are an independent and alienated person in the midst of dangerous waters, and that there is some reason to be fearful and anxious about our own fictional creations.

Of course, saying that is one thing, but directly realizing it, and then actualizing such a liberating recognition in our life and relations, is obviously another matter altogether. The question is, how do we stop pretending to be what we are not, and awaken to who and what we really are? Fortunately, we have some useful guidance passed down from illumined sages on how to proceed — guidance which has the benefit of being time-tested and proven effective, when applied with devotion and discipline. It entails embarking upon a conscious process of listening, contemplating, meditating, and then cultivating/stabilizing.

Listening: If we don’t listen, then we won’t learn. Consequently, listening is the first step in the process of awakening. The opportunity may come through a variety of avenues, such as reading a certain text, or hearing an exposition from a teacher, watching a video presentation, or receiving some counsel from a friend or associate. In any case, something that we hear strikes us, penetrating our habitual fog, and resonating deep down in our being.

As the great Sage Sri Nisargadatta noted, “What you hear must enter you like an arrow and hit something deep within you. There must be an internal reaction; without the reaction what you hear won’t do you any good. You should know it when the arrow reaches its mark.”

In the common vernacular, we’ve heard of “Aha moments”, indicating a defining moment of sudden clarity, realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension. For example, we might encounter someone who tells us that we are not the body that we have heretofore taken ourselves to be – that in fact we are much more than the physical manifestation. Living as we do within a material culture, we may have never considered such a possibility before, but now our interest has been aroused, and we begin to pay attention and listen more carefully.

This may lead to us pursuing more study on the subject, in effect listening to what various teachers have to say in regard to who and what we really are. By granting our attention in this manner, we have begun the process of exploration and inquiry which can open the door to eventual self-realization.

Contemplation: Having first listened, the next step is contemplation. In other words, we begin the process of pondering over what we have heard. “Is it true, and if so, what are the implications?”

Here, we employ our intellect in a consideration on the meaning and import of our initial insights and encounters with what we have heard. The intellect is a fine tool, when properly applied to the task of discernment. It can aid us in distinguishing the significant from the superfluous, allowing us to focus more clearly and effectively on what we really need to learn and understand. We carry around with us a lot of uninspected assumptions about the nature of reality, and by employing our refined intelligence, we can see through and release a lot of useless baggage.

At best, our conceptual faculty can point to that which lies beyond the realm of concepts, which leads us to the next step in the conscious process of liberation. Beyond merely intellectualizing about reality, one must eventually come to the direct experience of one’s true nature, otherwise they will always remain “on the outside, looking in”. Hence, the next step is direct seeing, also called meditation.

Meditation: The topic of meditation has generated enough written materials to fill up a huge library, and there are certainly many diverse and illuminating presentations on the subject that one can access through the various media. Fundamentally, true meditation is a process of deepening surrender, or letting go of all that we are not – all of our self-images, our pretense, our beliefs, assumptions, and mental fabrications, and thus all the sources of our mis-identification and ensuing stress and dissatisfaction. It does not so much represent adding a new tool to the tool box, as it does emptying of the whole box itself. It’s letting go of what we never were.

True meditation begins (and ends) with the discipline of silence. Unless we are able to quiet our normally chattering minds, we won’t get very far in terms of realizing what we are (and aren’t). Helpful in this effort is the practice of non-dwelling, by which we refrain from attaching to our thoughts and projections, but simply persist in a relaxed and alert manner to witness the thought stream, without manipulation or identification. We embrace nothing, and turn nothing away. None of it is what we are. When we see nothing, we can relax into that. Such stillness is the womb of Remembrance. Moreover, we are not trying to create some new, fascinating, or sublime experience. We are simply ceasing granting reality to the unreal.

Since we come to recognize, in the midst of our meditative inquiry, that everything which we thought we knew is not so, we can let go of our reliance on limiting beliefs and fall into the Unknown. In such surrender, a space is opened up for the shine of pure awareness to emerge from the background. It is the light behind the mind, which grants the universe the power to exist. Some may call it Love, but no term or description can really be applied, since it is beyond name or form.

At first, we may simply catch a glimpse, and as powerful as that initial insight may be, the power of our old habitual way of living and thinking usually returns to its dominant position in our psyche. The ego-mind is not so easy to dethrone, having ruled the roost for so long. It is a rare soul indeed who, having opened their eyes, is able to keep them open from there on in. Typically, it takes a lot of cultivation to fully embody the realization and so transcend all limits and boundaries.

Cultivation/Stabilization: As mentioned, old habits die hard. Even in the midst of profound realization, ego-mind can usually still be found trying to co-opt and claim it as its own, thereby affirming and confirming its existence. The great Sage Ramana Maharshi noted that, even if one were able to absorb themselves in high states of concentrative bliss (Nirvikalpa samadhi), they would be no closer to true liberation, at least until they were able to “root out the vasanas” (afflictions). In other words, even though we may glimpse our true nature, the poisons of greed, hatred, envy, arrogance, and ignorance still must be eliminated if we are to realize our immortal freedom and peace at heart.

This is where proper cultivation applies, in order that we may come to stabilize in recognition of our true nature, and reflect it in the way we behave and relate. Living with full integrity is the art of life, and being so, it requires all of our life, intention, and attention. There are many aspirants who have had deep realizations, but nevertheless still fail to embody what they have learned, because they have not thoroughly used that recognition which they gained in moments of insight to correspondingly see through and release chronic fixations and dysfunctional positions.

This is why it is traditionally recommended that one seek out a relationship with a qualified living Guide – someone who has been down this road already and can help one see straight and avoid the various pitfalls which can obstruct the way. It is not absolutely necessary, but there are very few who can go it alone, without some assistance, especially at critical junctures and turning points. Ego-mind is clever, our capacity to fool ourselves is enormous, and we all have blind spots which obscure and impede, often without our conscious knowledge.

What remains after this process is the same as what pertained prior to its inception, and it has only been our ignorance which has ever obscured it from us at any point. Awareness has not changed, only our appreciation of our true condition, or identity, has. We can’t strive to be this Awareness, since we already are this Awareness, prior to any sense of individual consciousness. We cannot become what we already are, we can only be “it”.

In order to do so, as the Sages remind us, we need to stop mistaking ourselves for what we are not – these bodies, associations, memories, sensations, or even consciousness at last. Our listening, contemplation, meditation, and cultivation must mature and ripen into the natural and spontaneous recognition that we are the luminous and timeless spaciousness of Awareness — Reality Itself – no longer prone to fooling ourselves that we are anything but “That”. In other words, we can finally stop pretending, let go of the unreal, and simply enjoy being who and what we truly are – the Source, the vital life, the manifest fruit, and the unfathomable beauty of Love.

“The most important thing is to enjoy your life and not be fooled by things.”

~Shunryu Suzuki


See also:

About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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33 Responses to Stop Pretending

  1. Great, Bob!! Very insightful.

  2. Candace says:

    Dear Brother,

    This post is so timely. April 8 was the birthday of “Candace,” the “physical person.” It was interesting having a birthday knowing that this “person” does not actually exist nor was it ever born. “Man is…with nothing shall be pleased ’til he be eased with being nothing” -Shakespeare

    Thank you!

    Love & Blessings!

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Dear Sister,

      Happy Birthday to the Unborn!

      Love & Blessings Every Day!

      • Candace says:

        Thank you Brother! 🙂

      • Bob OHearn says:

        As a Birthday offering:

        Unborn and imperishable is the original mind….
        Search back to the time when you were born:
        you can’t remember a thing at all!
        Keep your mind as it was when you came into the world,
        and instantly this very self is a living “thus-come-one” [tathâgata, or Buddha]….
        Clinging, craving and the like—I don’t have them on my mind.
        That’s why nowadays I can say the whole world is truly mine!

        Thinking back over the past, you find it was an evening’s dream.
        Realize that, and you’ll see everything is just a lie….
        Since, after all, this floating world is unreal,
        instead of holding onto things in your mind, go and sing!
        When you don’t attach to things, the floating world will cease to be
        [as a separate, merely objective appearance].
        Nothing is left, nothing at all.
        That’s what “living tathâgata means.”

        When you do wrong, your mind’s the demon,
        there’s no hell to be found outside.
        Abominating hell, longing for heaven,
        you make yourself suffer in a joyful world.
        Mysteries and miracles—there are no such things!
        But when you fail to understand,
        the world’s full of weird happenings.

        This is the phantom [ego-mind] who deceives,
        who makes us take the false world to be real.
        When your study of Buddhism is through,
        you find you haven’t anything new.

        Enlightenment and delusion too never existed at the start.
        They’re ideas that you picked up, things your parents never taught.
        If you think the mind that attains enlightenment is “mine”
        your thoughts will wrestle, one with the other.

        These days I’m not bothering about getting enlightenment all the time,
        and the result is that I wake up in the morning feeling fine!
        Nowadays … I just move along at my ease, letting the breath come and go.
        Die— then live day and night within the world.

        Once you’ve done this, then you can hold the world right in your hand!
        It’s the buddhas I feel sorry for; with all those ornaments they wear,
        they must be dazzled by the glare!

        The mind that’s not conditioned is originally unborn;
        what is conditioned doesn’t exist— that is why there’s no delusion.
        Though the years may creep ahead, mind itself can never age.
        This mind that’s always just the same.
        Wonderful! Marvelous!

        When you’ve searched and found at last the one who never will grow old—‘I alone!’
        The Pure Land where one communes at peace is here and now,
        it’s not remote, millions and millions of leagues away.

        Bankei Yōtaku, Zen Master of the “Unborn”


      • Candace says:

        This is beautiful! I love it! It was clearly written with such peace and joy! Thanks for sharing Brother!

        Blessings & Love!

      • Bob OHearn says:

        Thank you for providing a perfect opportunity to share!

        Love & Blessings!

  3. marcel says:

    Thanks Brother, pretending goes both ways doesnt it? and at the same time speaking of a middle creates the extremes again (of is and is not etc) At one point we discover we arent the things we thought to be, but at the same time, that too is not (true) so unless we mastered “non-dwelling” there are always the pitfalls of getting stuck. It’s funny in retrospect that “neti neti” itself is to be neti neti’d, until there’s no division left between this or that, not this or not that, silence and non silence etc etc. I have returned to the advahut and ashtavakra intensly the last month, and your guidance throughout these years have been vital.

    Giving up such distinctions as “He is what I am”, and “I am not that”,
    recognise that “Everything is myself”, and be without distinction and happy.

    “Only one thing has existed, exists and will exist in the ocean of being.
    You have no bondage or liberation. Live happily and fulfilled”

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Very insightful, Brother — and yes, those Gitas are a life-long source of nourishment and wisdom. So glad to hear that you find them to be that too!

      Here’s another little something for you:

      “Moreover, these sentient beings must have also discarded all arbitrary ideas relating to the conceptions of a personal self, other personalities, living beings and a Universal Self, because if they had not, their minds would inevitably grasp after such relative ideas. Further, these sentient beings must have already discarded all arbitrary ideas relating to the conception of the non-existence of a personal self, other personalities, living beings and a Universal Self. If they had not, their minds would still be grasping after such ideas. Therefore, every disciple who is seeking Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi should discard, not only conceptions of one’s own selfhood, other selves, living beings and a Universal Selfhood, but should discard, also, all ideas about such conceptions and all ideas about the non-existence of such conceptions.”

      – Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra [The Diamond Sutra]


  4. tonysgarden says:

    Very eloquently put. Thank you for organizing my thoughts.

  5. Commis says:

    Bob, do you reckon people could do this when/if in more high powered, intellectual jobs that require the bravado and presentation that is common in them places.

    Also, for people who have had. or may continue to garner insights of ‘how things are’, I hope the Universe has not wasted it on them (us)


    • Bob OHearn says:

      Greetings, Commis!

      First of all, we are not separate from the universe, so that which gives is the same as that which receives. That being the case, how can we speak of waste?

      Secondly, it matters very little what kind of occupation one has, in terms of being able to practice. For example, during my own career, I was a Director for a multi-billion dollar company, and I was required to perform in an extremely high-powered environment. Nevertheless, the practice of Inquiry was never far from my attention, and in fact the circumstances of my work offered plenty of opportunities to delve deeply into the inquiry.
      In any case, there is always time that can be set aside for meditation and contemplation. One need not run off and become a hermit by any means. Sri Nisargadatta, for example, simply suggests: “Just keep in mind the feeling ‘I am’, merge in it, till your mind and feeling become one. By repeated attempts you will stumble on the right balance of attention and affection and your mind will be firmly established in the thought-feeling ‘I am’. Whatever you think, say, or do, this sense of immutable and affectionate being remains as the ever-present background of the mind.”


  6. Commis says:

    Ahh Bob, I cannot fault you. Thank you..

    I have long labored under the premise that it is either or. I read your story that you also felt that way – of being in a high powered job or being in a spiritual community somewhere. I used to think that I could even teach, but I was very very wrong and it flew me (or more accurately, maybe, I flung myself) to the sidewalk for a while. So much so that I didn’t even want to look at the word spiritual, I didn’t want to feel so much of Truth. I couldn’t integrate it.

    Interesting the quote you there is a state where it can become stable..persistently even? How interesting. That would be a feat, an interesting experience in a high powered job. Not that I have one but 🙂

    Thank you again B.


    • Bob OHearn says:

      Yes, for a long time I created a conflict within myself about “either or” — reclusive spiritual circumstance or the ordinary world. Looking back now, it seems so silly to have troubled myself with imaginary choices like that, as if there was some place other than wherever I was at to practice! Ah well, the follies of youth . . . 🙂

  7. Commis says:

    Yes old fox, indeed 🙂

    Thank you!

  8. Commis says:



  9. marcel says:

    Excellent Brother, gracias!

  10. marcel says:

    ps speaking about superfluous ingredients….

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Q: What is the realization which is beyond understanding?

      Nisargadatta: Imagine a dense forest full of tigers and you in a strong steel cage. Knowing that you are well protected by the cage, you watch the tigers fearlessly. Next you find the tigers in the cage and yourself roaming about the jungle. Last – the cage disappears and you ride the tigers!


  11. Bob OHearn says:

    “There are various paths of yoga, and rituals. These activities are full of ego and greed and are associated with the pride of having achieved certain goals, and the desire to achieve further goals. All of this is rooted in the false ego sense. Being prideful, one tries hard to attain many illusory achievements which are not actually real. This is the very nature of the root of Illusion. One who recognizes this is the highest man who has no need of these imagined achievements.”

    ~ Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj

  12. Bob OHearn says:

    “Space, time, causation are all delusions. It is your disease that you think you are bound and will be free. You are the Unchangeable. Talk not. Sit down and let all things melt away… they are but dreams. There is no differentiation, no distinction; it is all superstition. Therefore be silent and know what you are… You are the essence of Bliss.”

    ~ Swami Vivekananda

  13. Bob OHearn says:

    “Since all phenomena are timelessly free, nothing need be done to free them anew through realization.
    Even the thought that freedom comes about through direct introduction is deluded. One strives to free this essence from whatever binds it, but nothing need be done to free it, for unobstructed Awareness, which has never existed as anything whatsoever, does not entail any duality of something to be realized and someone to realize it. There is equalness because nothing is improved by realization or worsened by it’s absence, so there is no need for any adventitious realization. And because there never has existed anything to realize — for the ultimate nature of phenomena is beyond ordinary consciousness — to speak of realization on even the relative level is nothing but deluded. What can be shown at this point is the transcendence of view and meditation, in which nothing need be done regarding realization, nothing need be directly introduced, and no state of meditation need be cultivated. So there is the expression ‘it is irrelevant whether or not one has realization’.”

  14. Bob OHearn says:

    “You’ve made up the whole thing. But the awakeness in you is not dreaming. Only the mind is dreaming. It tells itself stories and wants to know if you’re progressing. When you shift into wakefulness, you realize, “Wait, it’s a dream. The mind is creating an altered state of reality, a virtual reality, but it’s not true — it’s just thought.” Thought can tell a million stories inside of awareness, and it’s not going to change awareness one bit. The only thing that’s going to change is the way the body feels. If you tell yourself a sad story, the body reacts to that. And if you tell yourself a self-aggrandizing story, the body feels puffed up, confident. But when you realize it’s all stories, there can be a vast waking up out of the mind, out of the dream. You don’t awaken, what has eternally been awake realizes itself. That which is eternally awake is what you are.”


  15. Bob OHearn says:

    “As a child, you began gathering knowledge and when you became very old, you forgot everything. So all that objective knowledge was of no use. Now, I am asking, what are you at the moment? Whatever you have gathered as your identity or your form, you are in the process of losing. So what then is your real identity?”

    ~Nisargadatta Maharaj

  16. Bob OHearn says:

    And so at times we talk, and I pretend to take your struggles seriously, just as I pretended to take my own seriously. You may pretend to take your own struggles seriously from time to time, and although we pretend, we really shouldn’t forget that we are pretending, that we are making up the content of our experience; we are making up the little dramas of our lives.

    We are making up whether we need to hold on or surrender or figure it out or pray to God or be purified or have karma cleansed—it’s all a thought. We just collude in this ridiculous charade of an illusion pretending that it’s real, only to reveal that it’s not. There is no karma. There is nothing really to purify. There’s no problem. There is only what you create and believe to be so. And if you like it that way, have at it!

    But we cannot continue this absolute farce indefinitely. We cannot continue to pretend this game we play, indefinitely. It’s impossible. Everything comes back to nothing.

    And then it’s a bit harder to hold a straight face consistently for the rest of your life.

    – Adyashanti

  17. Bob OHearn says:

    We are all really Sat-chit-ananda (Being-Knowledge-Bliss) but we imagine that we are bound (by destiny) and have all this suffering.
    Ask yourself to whom this ignorance has come and you will discover that it never came to you and that you always have been Sat-chit-ananda.
    One goes through all sorts of austerities to become what one already is. All effort is simply to get rid of the mistaken impression that one is limited and bound by the woes of samsara (this life).

    ~Ramana Maharshi, Day by Day with Bhagavan

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