Stung by a Scorpion

Imagine if, due to some incredible miracle, all of the conflicts around the globe were to cease. Imagine if peace were to break out, and all the sources of antagonism and friction among people were resolved equitably, with everyone getting what they believed they were voting, fighting, or dying for. Additionally, imagine if all the forms of inequality, poverty, and despair were eradicated across all classes, genders, and races, so that utopian-type conditions came to prevail.

Even if all that were to happen, we would still be faced with the inescapable specter of an underlying stress, a contraction or knot in the being from which we have only been temporarily distracted by the apparently external events and circumstances which heretofore have dominated our attention.

The whole search for freedom and happiness which has defined our existence and driven us even to the point of slaughtering each other has a basis, or source, that is the same in each one of us, regardless of our nominal affiliations and predilections.

Indeed, if we were to stop right now and inspect our own being, if we were to turn the light around which we have been casting into the outer world and take a close look at what is happening within us, at the core of our thoughts and feelings, we would notice that this chronic contraction is what has been propelling us like a leaf in the wind.

That is, everything we think and do is essentially an attempt to pacify, loosen, or be liberated from this essential stress. All of our religious conflicts, all of our political conflicts, all of our financial conflicts, all of our social conflicts, and even down to the cellular level — all is spinning around in the cyclical orbit of this core contraction.

And what is it? It is consciousness itself. We have become so fixated in identification with this transient consciousness that we have come to believe it represents who and what we are. Hence, we suffer. We suffer because we cling to the impermanent – consciousness — and ignore our true nature, which is prior to consciousness.

When he was near death in 1981, the Sage Nisargadatta Maharaj told his followers: “Eknath, a country sage who has written wonderful poems, said, ‘I am stung by a scorpion!’ It is the consciousness. This knowingness is the scorpion, which is giving me all the pain in the form of various experiences and concepts. I am telling you with the authority of a jnani, everything is unreal. This is all the play due to your consciousness . . .”

That is, mind projects a world and we subsequently take it to be real. Why? Because we habitually look outward, at the effects, and so fail to recognize the source of that projected world. This is why the wise suggest we delve into the essence of mind, because only by coming to directly and intimately understand how we create our own suffering can we free ourselves of it. We want the world to be at peace, we want all inequality to end, we want happiness to prevail, but we too often imagine that process involves manipulating the changing props on the world stage, rather than going straight to the screenwriter and addressing him or her in our own mirror.


See also:


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Standing Up for My Values

The apparent randomness of phenomena is a reflection of our ignorance about the thing being observed, rather than something that is inherent to it. Just so, we can’t really describe the universe in terms of certain things being in definite places. It may not exactly be chaos, but some degree of uncertainty about the nature of existence is a fundamental part of our comprehension. Resonances of indeterminate size somehow party together to form the world which we experience, leaving in their wake a great conceptual void inhabited by unanswerable questions.

Likewise, when we begin to question what we assume to be our own values, something interesting begins to reveal itself. In a way, it is like peering closely into our basic atomic structure, which consists of 99% empty space, though from the conventional vantage point, there appears to be an undeniably solid person.

That being said, if we are willing and able to thoroughly investigate how we arrived at the particular value systems to which we currently adhere, we might find a kind of programming code at the root. However, that code itself, when deconstructed, turns out to be nothing more than bits and parts of other bits and parts, ad infinitum.

There is really nothing there but a play of various ephemeral energies, rotating around a phantom nucleus called “I”, and amounting to nothing in particular, except whatever reality we might tend to momentarily grant it, based upon our own unique accumulated filters and the relatively plastic menagerie of possibilities and probabilities.

Then there is the appearance of “the other”. Soon after we make our appearance in this psycho-physical realm, or density, we gradually begin to notice other ghostly figures arising and then disappearing from our view. For some reason, we generally come to assume that they all share our essential value system, perhaps because they all seem to be composed of the same or similar component parts.

At a certain point, we are surprised and perhaps dismayed to discover that we do not all share the same value systems, and hence we project from the storehouse of magical thinking a morality based on the duality of what we come to regard as “right and wrong”, or “good and evil”.

Of course, from our filtered fantasy of interpretation on perception, our personal position is desirable, righteous, and goodly, while the competing value system is characterized by the undesirable, the wrong-headed, the bad. Clearly, we cannot live and let live together, something must be done about the glaring discrepancies. We are not sure why, and such uncertainty renders us reluctant to inspect the matter, except to assume that conflict is necessary and inevitable, and hence we learn to make war.

Before long, we are living in a perpetual state of war — war with our fellow ghosts, war with our make-believe environment, and mostly war with those elements within our own atomically spacious and empty structure that we nevertheless find to be in any way disagreeable.

We might be surprised to learn that even those who claim to be affiliated with a particular value system actually adhere to their own unique system, their own variation on some religion or political position. Everyone is a member of the cult of one — the “one” being that accumulated bundle of thoughts and feelings which seem to imply a distinct and enduring individual, even if there is no such person in reality.

Nobody like that has ever existed, whether randomly or deterministically. There has never been an actual value system, only endless conceptual superimpositions upon a passing notion, a fleeting idea which mind then employs to fabricate that phantom nucleus, around which numerous filmy energies rotate for the span of a flickering lifetime, only to at last dissolve playfully back to the indescribability from whence they once had come.


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Like Lightning

We tend to think that each of us is a substantial and enduring individual being, because we remember moments from the past, and so imagine there is some continuity of a personal self. However, in the same way we awake and quickly forget the various adventures we participated in while dreaming, so too does the same fate befall much of what transpired in the past. Where is that wonderful Pinot Noir I drank last week? Where is the one who drank it? There is a memory, but it is fading even now (not to mention the character who was driven around in a baby carriage, who saw a flying bird for the first time, who fell in love with clouds while reclining on the backyard lawn).

Yes, some things seem to stick with us, and even serve to define who we take ourselves to be today. We dwell on these past events and experiences, and in doing so, we give them some power to confirm our sense of self. In this way, we come to believe in an orderly principle of cause and effect, otherwise known as “karma” in spiritual terminology. It gives us a hedge on what otherwise might seem to be a very disturbing chaos. Yes, I have all this karma, which explains my appearance in the midst of the confusing situation I find myself, by virtue of simply being born.

We believe we are the result of what has gone before, even though what has proceeded us no longer exists. Indeed, there was never a quantifiable moment when it did. We cannot go back and grasp any of it, in the very same way we cannot grasp the entity we might assume ourselves to be at this moment. Is there even a “moment”, a discrete piece of time, separate from other pieces, such as past and future? Of course, all such grasping and mirror-gazing is self-reinforcing, and the complex destiny of an enduring person is projected on the basis of mind stringing together certain memory associations and physical sensations, which are assembled by the brain into the “reality” we take for granted.

On the other hand, perhaps we have heard various sage-like people talk about “emptiness”. Now we imagine all sorts of implications to that concept, as if we could somehow solidify enough to stand apart from something else and label it “empty”. In whatever way mind attempts to configure experience, it is still just emptiness chasing its own tail like a dog. On further inspection, the whole totality of universal manifestation is just one thing, so to speak, wanting to have the experience of subject and object. Hence, there is this dreaming which we take to be the self, the world, reality, God. There is dreaming, but the source of this dreaming is none other than dreaming itself. Dreaming is dreaming.

Just so, who or what is this “we” that is projecting a self, a world, a God, the dream, but emptiness itself projecting a separate entity, a separate reality which it can stand apart from and observe, critique, define, explain, or manipulate? See, when we try and pin this supposed entity down, we end up grasping at air. There is no answer to “Who am I?” There couldn’t be, because we would have to separate out from the essential emptiness to observe such a character, and we can’t, any more than water can separate itself from wetness, or a dream from dreaming.

Where is our past? It only exists as an arbitrary and fleeting mental formulation, just as our supposed present does. Never mind about the future. None of it can be stopped for a moment and considered actually existent. There is no solidity to any of it, even down to the sub-atomic level. Our thoughts, which we take to be “ours”, have no endurance. That is easy enough to recognize. But outside of thoughts, what is there? There is an apparent physical body, but we know that it is always changing, always replacing cells, for example, so that the body of yesterday is no longer, and the body of today will be different tomorrow. Which one am “I”? There is actually no body, but simply the appearance of a body. If we examine the body we will find atoms separated by vast distances of empty space.

Within this vast empty body, certain physiological processes swoosh together like fluids and electrons, producing the sensation of existence, and from there all sorts of phenomena seem to be implied, like an objective world, for example. Certainly, if a big rock lands on my toe, it will create the feeling of pain, but when I fall asleep later, where is the rock, the pain, the toe? When this body returns to the elements, where is any such experience of rock, toe, pain, self, world? Literally, we are already the “walking dead” — dead to whatever previously transpired, which is now more like a movie which we once watched, but are now in the process of forgetting (along with the one who watched it). It is all so elusive, we are barely able to take a breath!

In the midst of this whirl of sensation, experience, perception, and perpetually modifying consciousness, there does appear to be one constant, one unchanging element, but it is not ours, not personal, not graspable, not even perceivable. It is not an object to itself, and it is empty of even emptiness. “Awareness” has been designated as who and what we really are, but there is no identity to it, no standing apart from it and claiming “This is it!”

Although it is simple and obvious — Awareness — such a term really means nothing. All terms have no objective meaning, except what mind grants to them in its illusion of knowing. If we were to be totally honest, however, we must admit that we know nothing. We have many ideas about things, but do not know a single thing. All this presumption of knowing only prolongs the magic act which we take to be “our life”. We may have the feeling that there is some essence waiting deep in the innermost layers of heart and mind that “knows”, but that too is just a play of consciousness, a trick, not real.

We are never going to arrive at some exalted destination where we suddenly “know”. If there is such a destination, it only manifests when all knowing drops away, along with the presumption of a knower. That is our actual “state”, even now, which is only obscured by our presumptions that things are otherwise, that we are other than the pure awareness in which all knowing, all presumption, all appearance arises and dissolves, and that we are in the deplorable condition of having to jump through all sorts of hoops to arrive at the place which we have truly never left. What a horror!

The entire apparent universe is composed of mental formations, illusory objects that appear and disappear based on mechanisms which surpass the human persona’s capacity to comprehend, much less control. The human persona itself is one of those illusory formations, flashing in and out of time like bits of lightning during a sudden summer storm that sweeps through the sky and then is gone. Did it even happen? In that sense, nothing actually happens. Nothing has ever happened, except a breath-taking play of imagination, a compelling tryst of mind, memory, and magic. Isn’t it all so amazing?



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Projection of Mind

“Not realizing that everything is nothing other than

the manifestation of one’s mind

is called samsara.”


Over time, people have various extra-ordinary experiences which they in turn may believe reveal universal truths. Subsequently, many go on to become gurus, teachers, prophets, cult leaders, and book hawkers. Most religious movements, for example, have been founded on some charismatic person’s vision, experience, or testimony which was believed to have been accessed from “Divine” sources in the form of a sacred revelation, awakening, or realization.

In reality, what they were shown or experienced was a complex product or projection of their own mind, and applicable mostly to them. However, having been thoroughly impressed by the seeming profundity their “special” experience, some are typically moved to spread the word, so to speak, and humans being herd animals, various believers or followers are attracted to these alpha-type individuals. Sometimes communities are formed around this convinced character and their seductive message. Alternately, if the societal circumstances are contrary, the individual may be ostracized as a fool, a heretic, or a trouble-maker. Human history is rife with both examples — either elevating the individual with hagiographic stories, or burning them at the stake.

In any case, the reason for so many variations and discrepancies in so-called “revealed” visionary or experiential reports, including NDEs, OBEs, and STEs, is precisely due to the fact that fundamentally they are mental projections of the individual (and usually filtered through a conditioned cultural framework). Somebody believes they have met Jesus, for example, and returns to proselytize for a Christian point of view, while another visionary doesn’t encounter the traditional theological memes, value systems, or archetypes, and as a result is convinced that there is no merit in such beliefs.

What is the actual truth? There is no actual truth, except the truth of mind. If one directly realizes the essence of mind, recognizing that whatever appears is a transient modification of consciousness, then none of the visions, as entertaining or impressive as they may be, have any enduring significance. Upon recognizing the essential nature of mind, one on the contrary becomes simple and ordinary in their life and relations. Hope and fear no longer have a foothold in their life. They do not dwell on the past or the future, nor are they bent on some persuasive missionary activity. A natural compassion arises easily in their heart, since they now understand how nearly everyone suffers from conflicts generated in their own minds.

Since they are no longer swept away by any dogma or -ism, they are happy, because happiness is the natural state, when left unobstructed by the afflictive belief systems that rule this realm. They no longer depend on experiential testimonies, claims, teachings, beliefs or what somebody says in the pulpit, on TV, online, or in a book. Mostly, they become rather quiet, because they are no longer invested in their own or others’ mental formations, which eventually become obsolete due to a lack of enthusiasm for them. Stillness prevails as pure awareness.

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All Is Well

When we consider the nature of our own apparently fragile existence, as well as that of the world and all of its varied phenomena, many questions tend to arise, so let’s take a brief moment and see if we can recognize what’s actually going on.

First of all, it’s obvious, with a bit of clear observation, that we are not living this body which we presumptuously call “mine”. Rather, this body itself is being lived. That is, we don’t willfully expand and contract our lungs, beat our heart, pump blood through our veins, grow our hair and fingernails, and so forth. What does?

Well, all sorts of answers have been proposed over the ages, but when it really comes down to it, we don’t really know. Our actual condition, we must finally admit, is one of not knowing, despite all the machinations of the human persona’s intellect.

Perhaps we can just say “life”. Life is living us, and likewise, it is living everything. Furthermore, nothing is happening independently of anything else, so we can also see that everything exists “dependently”. Nothing is really separate from anything else. Everything is connected.

Also, we can notice that we are not the same person we were as children. Everything has changed, everything except our awareness of being-ness itself. When all is stripped away, there is that one thing that has not changed: awareness. This awareness — it is not even “ours”, is it? We did not bring it into being, and whatever we do, it remains just as it is, regardless of the modifications of consciousness stemming from our fleeting notions, agendas, and experiences.

The more we step back, turn our attention around, and become aware of being aware, the more the vagaries of existence cease to puzzle and trouble us. All the questions we once imagined were so critical now crumble and dissolve, as we proceed with this simple practice of being aware of being aware. We are immersed for the first time in a silence. This silence, if we are to persist in it, reveals something wonderful — the most amazing miracle! It is indescribable, but those who have plunged into it will know.

In retrospect, the initial recognition which we all seem to share is “everything is real”. Beyond that, the next realization (perhaps after a spiritually transformative experience, like a profound NDE) is “nothing is real”. Both stages depend on the idea of a personal self experiencing them. When even that idea is eventually seen through (because we have recognized that everything is appearing dependently, and is being lived by a power or process beyond its own design), pure awareness spontaneously comes to the forefront. The emotional highs and lows spawned by hope and fear are replaced by simple ordinary living, undefined and unlimited by the previous self-absorption. We grasp at nothing, we turn nothing away, because that is just the natural way of being.

With grace, a kind of unconditional love begins to peek its head out from beneath the covers. It is unconditional, because it does not depend on satisfying the desires or soothing the fears of a personal self. The sense of personal self remains as a navigation tool in the midst of the objective world, but we know now that the objective world itself is a very provisional proposition, a kind of holographic projection, as is everything but this simple awareness that is prior to the body, and prior even to the consciousness which forms the constituent essence of all appearances.

The natural affection we now feel for all of life springs from the realization of both its amazing beauty — that there is something at all, rather than nothing — and also its impermanence — that nothing lasts, it is all just appearing, thriving, and disappearing in waves of some kind of ecstasy for which nobody has a name. It is one indivisible whole, a bright flash of light in an ebony dark, and even though it is also a kind of mirage, we can still say, with the same confidence of the illumined mystics, “All is well”.


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Self and Other

The great Buddhist master Shantideva, in his famous guide to cultivating the mind of enlightenment, which is translated as “The Way of the Bodhisattva”, wrote:

“Whoever wishes quickly to become a refuge for himself and others should undertake this sacred mystery, to take the place of others, giving them his own.”

A wise commentator on this verse, the late adept Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, noted:

“We attach great importance to what we conceive of as I, Myself, and therefore to such thoughts as my body, my mind, my father, my mother, my brother, my sister, my friend. But the concept of others we neglect and ignore. We may indeed be generous to beggars and give food to who need it, but it is a fact that we do not care for them as much as we care for ourselves. This however is precisely what we should do; and conversely, just as we are now able to ignore others, we should be able to ignore ourselves.”

 An admirable ideal, no doubt, but for all but an extremely rare few, the above is more of an aspiration than a reality in terms of our everyday life experience. Even Dilgo Rinpoche mentioned that it was not yet true of him in his own practice. Why is it so rare? Because we are composed of both soul and human components, and as long as there is a human component, there will typically be self-interest. It is the nature of the animal. This is also why there is so much emphasis in the esoteric schools on mind training, because our usual human inclinations are anything but selfless. Taming the mind is the foundation of such methods, because it is at the level of thought that our attitudes and behaviors are spawned and enlivened.

Just as a child needs to be taught how to behave, often against its own desires and preferences, so too do we in our human personas find that real self-surrender in relationships — true unconditional loving kindness — does not come easily. A brief review of any day’s news headlines makes that abundantly clear, but we don’t need such reports to clarify our usual state – all we need do is self-inspect our habitual motives to recognize how thoroughly we are driven by self-interest, even at the expense of others.

It is the testimony of the wisdom bearers that we come here from the realm of the unconditional in order to experience the conditional. Our original spirit nature is unconditional love, but apparently we set that aside temporarily in order to fully participate in the human experience. We are typically attracted to such an incarnational opportunity because it represents something so different than our actual state as light being souls, and hence is intriguing to us in our natural curiosity and trajectory towards infinitely expanding Self-awareness.

Although the human intellect may be puzzled and even dismayed as to why we would choose birth on this often harsh and primitives world, those who have been granted a “glimpse behind the curtain” are unanimous in suggesting that there is a bigger picture to appreciate, and that our appearance here makes perfect sense within that more encompassing view. All of the various challenges we may find ourselves confronting are actually chosen by us, although we do arrive with a temporary amnesia in order to provide the adventure with a more visceral impact.

Imagine, for example, if you are gifted with access to Universal Knowledge. Wouldn’t it be interesting to set that aside for a moment (which is all this human life really is, in the greater scheme of things), and enjoy the thrill of not knowing how everything turns out?

This is also why the comparison of this life to a virtual reality scenario is often employed, a situation in which we temporarily assume the fictional “avatar” identity to play the game of materiality. It does seem that our time here in this density is generally all about the experience of duality. Indeed, that is the nature of this realm, and it is an experiential adventure which we apparently are eager to dive into, judging by the vast multitudes of incarnated beings who have taken the plunge, so to speak.

It is also useful to remember that “nondual” does not mean “not dual”. If we examine the nature of emptiness, for example, we can also recognize that it does not exclude anything, even duality. It expresses itself through all of it, just as the ocean expresses itself through every wave, large and small. So many imagine that spirituality involves rising beyond or even escaping the realm of the physical, but perhaps it is actually more about imbuing the physical with the spiritual, bringing heaven to earth.

In any case, to the extent that we can accept ourselves for what we are during our sojourn here, we are that much closer to real freedom, because we have thereby relinquished the chronic and contractive inner conflict generated by the various idealistic self-improvement schemes which humans tend to inflict upon themselves, based on borrowed notions and faulty programming.

As we do come to embody such acceptance, interestingly enough, we can also recognize that “the other” is not really different from us, not at all as separate as they may have initially appeared, and so the sense of oneness can ripen naturally. As always, it is important to remember that love is all that matters, regardless of what dimension we may be sampling. Such remembrance is critical to our full enjoyment and appreciation of this and any other realm’s possibilities.

Of course, acts of genuine selflessness are certainly not impossible while we are here. There can be grace-filled moments of profound remembrance, and even some rare few who have managed to stabilize to some significant extent in that blessed state, such as the late 20th century saint Ramana Maharshi. On the other hand, I have observed those who preach that “there is no other” act in ways that are very much contrary to that claim. Likewise, there are certain Near Death Experiencers who are granted the vision of unconditional love and oneness while “on the other side”, but upon return, all that becomes more like a cherished memory, and not necessarily indicative of their current state.

Consequently, for most of us, it may remain an inspiring ideal and wonderful aspiration, and certainly worthy of emulating. However, we might also notice that we often tend to congratulate ourselves after any episode of apparent generosity on our part, so being aware of how easily the ego-mind can co-opt even such moments is always sobering.

In that sense, and in order to actualize a mature quality of compassion in our life and relationships, it would be productive to first recognize the essential role of mind and its thought projections. Indeed, without such a realization, countless well-meaning care-givers end up burning themselves out on the job. Add to that the religious aspirants over the centuries who have attempted to embody their idealistic and misunderstood concepts about self-abnegation. More often than not, they have only ended up reinforcing the ego-self position, despite their original intent, and even harming themselves with ignorantly-prescribed self-mortifications and so forth.

A well-worn but nevertheless still-wise admonition warns us that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Other teachers, such as the late Chogyam Trunpa Rinpoche, caution against what he termed “idiot compassion”. I have previously elaborated on the ramifications of this issue in my essay “To Do Something”. As an antidote to such mistaken views and possible dead ends, one of my favorite guides in these matters, Sparrow, wrote:

“As an empathic being you are going to want to immerse yourself in this sacred gift of sensitivity and connection. What you are going to want to do is train yourself to remain open and sensitive yet to relinquish your focus and necessity for personal ego and persona. This is to say, you are going to learn to become a silent witness to events as they take place without adding your personal ego, your personal perspective and your own memory infrastructure. Basically you are going to let go of that which you perceive is ‘you’ and become one with that which you are being empathic to. But, the most important part, you are going to need to let go of it once you have experienced one-ness with it in order to relinquish ownership of it and its influence when returning to your human persona. That is the difficult part, but it is possible by learning to let go of thought altogether.”

 In that regard, he notes: “You will arrive at the dawn of realization to this when you have learnt to let go of all thought. For when there is no thought, there is no judgement or clouded interpretation; there is no re-enacted learnt behaviour; there is no past and no future; there becomes only one-ness with the present. This seems alien to you because you have not stepped into such a place. Such a place you are trying to place in your mind, but your mind is already too full of contradicting thoughts to accept it. Such a place cannot and will not exist in mind, not as an accurate idea or concept, but must be a condition beyond [the thinking] mind.”

 Thus, we return in this, as in so many similar considerations, to contemplating mind and the critical role our thoughts play in determining our attitudes and behaviors, be they predominantly selfish or aspiring to the selfless model. Indeed, it is our conditioned thinking which inevitably contributes to whether our orientation will tend towards service to self or service to others.

However, it’s also true that those who truly act in a selfless manner are not thinking “I am now being selfless”. Instead, they are acting from “no mind”. That is, they are just doing what needs to be done, without adding the superfluous self-consciousness of a “do-gooder”. They transcend the thinking mind, and thus their activity burns itself up, like a good bonfire, in the process.

Truly “taking the place of others and giving them our own” is just that way – spontaneous, and without studied regard for one’s own personal benefit or aggrandizement. Thus, it is genuinely “the right thing to do”, because there is no fixed identification with an ego-self concept lurking in the activity, attempting to claim the experience for itself. The more our activities take place without the burden of our complex and often ambivalent personal regard, the closer we will approach the authentic “enlightenment-mind” which strives toward awakening, empathy, and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings, a recognition in which service to others is simultaneously and unmistakably service to Self. In this activity, we also discover the fulfillment of the Golden Rule – treating others as ourselves — because of the dawning realization that they are indeed “not two”.








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Oneness and Individuality

Consciousness may express and experience itself through the sense of individuality and apparent separation just as much as it might through the majestic sense of oneness — it is clinging to or seeking one and avoiding the other which creates the chronic dissatisfaction which plagues most spiritual seekers. What we can recognize, upon inspection, is that both views are just that – views – and as such are essentially fantasies of interpretation on perception, projections of mind.

Moreover, the sense of individuality, as well as that of unity consciousness, are equally natural expressions of the incarnated being, contrary to the claims of some teachers who disparage one and elevate the other. In life, it is only fixation in any state that turns out to be the hindrance, not the state itself, which is, after all, a transient and non-binding modification of consciousness.

Light and shadow alternate. This realm is a platform for the complementary play of opposites, of yin and yang, and in fact it is one that makes the other “meaningful”. On the other hand, there are many so-called spiritual authorities who preach that the sense of separation and individuality is a lesser, or undesirable, state. One popular Western neo-advaita teacher, Adyashanti, wrote: “The state of consciousness that a great majority of humanity is in is not natural. It’s altered. We do not need to go looking for altered states of consciousness; humanity is already in an altered state of consciousness. It’s called separation. Separation is the ultimate altered state of consciousness.”

However, consciousness itself is perpetually changed by experience, so in that sense, it is always “altered”. In that regard, the sense of unity or oneness is also an altered state. Since there is no fixed and permanently established consciousness, it is all flux. Consequently, the effort to cling to some preferred, idealistic state (such as un-separate-ness) inevitable results in stress and suffering. One can verify this through their own experience.

It seems that there are a lot of myths swirling around the experience of “oneness”, perpetuated by our fellow human personas who would like to imagine the victorious acquisition of idealistic and superior states, along with the sense of some finality to the spiritual search. In reality, such an awakening to “oneness” may grant another perspective, a shift in the angle of vision, but does not immediately eradicate the subconscious programs (vasanas) which continue to confuse us in our behaviors and relationships.

It is a good step, however, if properly utilized in one’s inquiry, although it can also become even more of a hindrance, as we have witnessed too many times in teachers who claim some special liberated status and yet are revealed to be all too human in their foibles. The term “Spiritual By-pass” has been employed to describe the use of spiritual blinders that lead one to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.

In fact, ego-mind can co-opt even profound awakenings, wearing the experiences as some sort of badge. This is the “Intermediate Zone” that the 20th century sage Sri Aurobindo wrote about, which can be a serious trap for those without mature and qualified guidance and mentoring. I have discussed this previously, including in the essay “Tests of Mind, Character, and Will”.

In our human adventure, we may experience both separation and oneness, and there is even a level of realization in which we recognize that what we truly are is utterly beyond any definition or temporary experiential state, whether it be one of apparent lonely isolation or exalted oneness with all the universe. Both are equally interesting to our immortal Spirit in its infinite expansion of Self-awareness.

Indeed, it is only the human persona which holds the hierarchical perception that one state is somehow better or of more value than another. In reality, different views, different states of vibration, even the different dimensions are all arising interdependently, and exist within one another, informing and influencing one another and creating new possibilities all of the time. Thus, to quote the Guide Sparrow, one state or vibrational frequency cannot be of greater value than another, for all are “interwoven as one fluid mechanism, one interconnected sentient orchestration, and one infinitely expansive and evolving interactive process — That which some call God.”


oneness 2

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The Shadow


“Malevolence exists because free will exists, and all things are permitted to exist and coexist. Life cannot know itself as one thing without knowing that which it is not. You would not know you were a loving being unless your opposite was permitted to exist and to be experienced.”


A popular theme in spiritual/psychological circles involves coming to terms with what is typically called “the shadow”, or the “dark side” of the human personality. This so-called shadow represents a semi-entified phenomena generally believed lurking in the unconscious area of the psyche, and consequently rendering it hard to access. In any case, it is believed responsible for generating all of the dubious and troublesome thoughts and deeds, motives and views, which are perceived as less than desirable in our life and relations.

When we experience episodes of greed, anger, envy, hatred, and above all, consuming self-interest, we may claim that it is our shadow side coming to the surface. Hence, it is usually designated as a negative personality figment, or at least one in need of being balanced somehow by the proper application of love, light, and thoughtful recognition to the point that it finally melts away. For example, a highly touted Western teacher, Adyashanti, writes:

“Within the unconscious lies our shadow. We call it our shadow because we often do not directly perceive it. It is usually hidden away from us deep within the unconscious. But by becoming more and more aware, we eventually begin to expose our shadow sides, those aspects of ourselves that we would rather not see and that we avoid altogether.

Mostly what is important is to simply be open to your shadow when it arises and don’t take it to be a true and real accounting of reality. Simply allow it to be without identifying with it. Don’t push it away either. Just allow it to arise without reacting to it. When you can experience it without reacting to it either positively or negatively, it will pass away on its own accord.”

In my essay entitled Prison Planet Samsara, I briefly touched on this matter, but here I am going to delve into it a little bit more, from several different perspectives, and hopefully help to clarify what is often obscured by theories and assumptions. For example, is there actually a clearly delineated dark/light dichotomy within us, or is that just another dualistic concept we employ to account for the mystery of our totality – and one that moreover ignores the many intricate grey layers that comprise the human persona? Furthermore, is it true that we can just adopt some sort of thoughtful, non-reactive attitude, and all of the various self-created disturbances that arise in the course of our lives will simply dissolve of their own accord?

Growing up, I was told there was a good angel on my right shoulder, and a bad angel on my left, and they were both whispering to me in my ears in an attempt to influence my thoughts and behavior. I decided to test that hypothesis, and so spent a lot of time in secluded areas listening to determine what I could hear. However, I noticed that I didn’t hear any angelic or devilish whispers or instructions, but only a kind of soft white noise.

Of course, having been brought up as a Christian, I was regularly informed that there is always some kind of battle going on between the forces of good and evil, and that endless celestial war plays out on the individual level in a contest for our soul. If we align with the good guys and follow their rules, commandments, and teachings, we are rewarded after death with eternal salvation in heaven, but if we “sin” and “go bad”, so to speak, we are damned to the relentless fires of hell.

Almost all human religions preach some variation on this mostly fear-based theme of reward and punishment, by means of which societies have traditionally organized themselves around desirable behavioral conditioning, aka consensus morality. Even Buddhists who claim there is no eternal soul still elaborate all sorts of colorful hells and “inferior rebirths” which one can fall into after the death of the body by failing to cultivate the prescribed (by other humans) behaviors and acceptable (to other humans) attitudes while sojourning in this suffering human realm.

What can we say about such teachings? If they are based on fear, they are certainly not doing a service at all, but rather represent deceptions and illusions. Fear does not grant wisdom, but on the contrary, only tightens the mentally fabricated chains that bind us to ignorance. To truly begin to comprehend the issue of our personal and social “shadow”, we must first discard all associations related to any dualistic religious conviction or fear-based approach to the subject.

Upon inspection, we can see that “shadow” is merely another name humans may currently attribute to something which appears contradictory to our own personal and collective value system. It is disturbing to our preconceived idealism, and that generates a programmed fear response, which in turn initiates a chain of reactivity as we scramble to tame and control it. As mentioned, religious laws and commandments have been the traditional means to do so, though in relatively recent times, a vast arsenal of new age psychological modalities are being deployed by various practitioners in the field of self-improvement to come to terms with the phenomena by dredging or coaxing it up to the surface from the “inner depths”. More often than not, the therapeutic aim is “fixing” a perceived problematic imbalance through some kind of re-integration, for instance, as if it merely represents a pesky neurotic pathology of an otherwise healthy individual.

Rather than treating the phenomena as some kind of affliction (like original sin or primordial ignorance, or even neurosis) that can become integrated, neutralized, or even rendered obsolete with the benefit of certain remedial spiritual practices, psychological techniques, and non-reactive attitudes, perhaps we would better understand the so-called “shadow” if we recognized that it fundamentally is the human persona itself. In other words, to the extent that we identify with the human bio-vehicle, to that extent we ourselves are a living manifestation of the shadow. “It” is us – not just a sketchier part of us, but what we in our human guise actually are! In that light, it’s not unlike the character Walter White, in the award-winning television series “Breaking Bad”. He was the high school science teacher turned meth amphetamine maker who famously claimed, “I am not in danger, I am the danger!”

In its absorbing play, consciousness is said to appear as both light and shadow, functioning in a complementary fashion, though in actuality that also represents a provisional view. Really, light and shadow are only linguistic terms, and terms necessarily tend to separate things into conceptual designations that are essentially one indivisible whole. In reality, there is only “what is”, and as for the human body-mind organism, it too is what it is, despite any contrived notions of value we can apply to it. From that perspective, it is a dodge to blame the “shadow”, just as it is an error to blame the “ego”, for simply being the pre-installed software programs of the total human package.

Nevertheless, there is a deeper truth at play, albeit one that we may not recognize without the benefit of an expanded and transformative self-realization, or more typically after returning to our truer nature as beings of light, once we have dropped off the material form at death. That is, we are not the human being, nor have we ever been the human. The human persona is very much like a holographic character in a virtual reality scenario, a projection of light and sound resonance. We as light being souls, or extensions of immortal Spirit, temporarily inhabit and fuse with the human persona (as we have done with many other types of species throughout the multiverse) as a way to experience and explore the 3-D physical realm. In that sense, the human persona is a kind of “space suit” for Spirit. By slowing down our vibrational frequency in order to incarnate in this denser environment, however, we as shards of Spirit Energy also accept a kind of amnesia so that our ensuing identification with the human persona can provide a realistic visceral impact to the virtual adventure.

On this current planetary stage, the human persona still tends to manifest as a rather primitive animal — clever, cunning, selfish, and often disturbingly violent. On the other hand, what some are calling “the shadow” might actually be a hard-wired evolutionary mechanism which historically has been required for survival in this relatively harsh and threatening environment. Nevertheless, it is our frequent failure to take responsibility for our animal nature (both on the macro as well as on the micro level), that creates much of the calamity and self-inflicted tragedy that passes for the daily news.

Nanci Danison (who has written extensively about what she learned during a remarkable experience characterized as a “transcendental NDE”) makes some salient points in that regard when she notes:

“While I was in the afterlife, I learned that human animals (like other animals) have the built-in character trait of refusing to take responsibility for the consequences of their own actions. So that character trait is reflected in human-created belief systems. Humans use violence to protect themselves from real and imagined potential threats to their ability to get what they want, to amass wealth in its many forms, and to exercise dominance over others. Aside from natural disasters, humans are responsible for the horror we see in daily life. Humans wage war, engage in gang violence, rob homes and businesses, sell and use mind-altering drugs, abuse children, rape, and murder. And humans alone are responsible for these actions.”

“All of the intelligence, creativity, love, compassion, emotional maturity, forgiveness, sense of humor, and other traits we cherish about humans do not belong to humans at all! Those are all traits of the Light Being soul inhabiting the human. As a species, humans do not have an innate sense of moral values. The ones who do lead exemplary lives are either extremely well trained or have Light Being souls who take control over their human hosts on a routine basis.”

“All of the evil acts in the world would stop today if we would collectively use the one tool that is available to each and every one of us–our spiritual ability to control our own human host’s actions. We see this power in action every time someone exercises ‘self control.’ Each of us can choose moment-to-moment whether to allow our host body to act out in typical selfish human fashion, or, to do what is best for all of us collectively. . . Each of us can allow human emotions and instincts to run our life or strive to live a more spiritual way. As Light Beings inhabiting humans as their souls, we have the innate power to control our bodies’ actions.”

By accessing an expanded angle of vision – whether by the grace of mystical experience or through certain meditative means — what we can notice is that there is an infinite potential for innumerable viewpoints and value systems to be explored and experienced by sentient beings, and it would certainly be quite naïve for us with our limited human intellects and immature judgmental capacity to categorize any of them as purely positive or negative. We simply do not have access (while identified as these dense and contracted human forms) to the higher frequencies required to make such an evaluation.

Should we somehow manage to access that universal knowledge base, we would also recognize that the only place “the shadow” exists is in our own thought fabrications and perceptual interpretations of value. As the nondual Sage Nisargadatta Maharaj once noted: “Even sin and virtue, merit and demerit are not what they appear. Usually the bad and the good are matter of convention and custom and are shunned or welcomed, according to how the words are used.” In other words, just because something manifests in such a way as to conflict with our conditioned moral mindset does not automatically qualify it as a representation of the “dark side”. That is merely more simplistic human fantasy, masquerading as discernment.

Indeed, the more we examine the issue of our imaginative interpretations on perception that create the sense of some separate “shadow” element in our being – one that needs to be brought to the surface of consciousness in order to then be balanced, integrated, or dissolved — the more we need to recognize the critical role of the conditioned human mind in our habitual and arbitrary discriminatory process. This also includes clearly recognizing the nature and function of memory (an issue discussed at some length in my essay Memory Lane Revisited).

In closing, I have found the following analysis, by the Spirit Guide Sparrow, to be well worth sharing in this regard:

“Thought, to the human being, is very much a reactive program of impulsive responses. That is, thoughts present themselves to the human being from past memory fragments of learnt behaviours or belief systems. In this, thoughts will attempt to inform you and define the nature of a thing by interpreting this moment in the present from values and belief systems held from a past event. This means your thoughts are consistently programming you to re-enact sequences of behaviour and responses you have learnt and memorised as instinctive nature. Things you observe in the present moment trigger memory fragments to instruct your conscious will to behave a certain way, or to think in a certain framework of parameters. Your thoughts then are not to be trusted with any depth of clarity until that memorised self-programming has been rewritten and relinquished from its core control over you.

When you feel negatively, two things are happening. Firstly your feelings, which draw from the wisdom of your spirit, are communicating with you to inform you something is wrong. It is your spirit’s way of informing your human counterpart that something you are doing is not in alignment with your core central values and vibration. This unpleasant feeling is a signal for your human counterpart to act. If it was not unpleasant you would not then have any motivation to change your behaviour or thinking, and thusly drift away from your own spirit connection. In the same way, your physical organism communicates to you through pain signals to inform you something is wrong, and to initiate you into a form of action to prevent damage to your biological system.

The second thing which takes place is that your thoughts re-enact negative emotional states from the past. This is, they create chemical conditioned responses in your biology which you experience as surges of emotion. Certain thoughts that you have bound in cellular memory have associative chemical attractions and attachments, which when stimulated cause a release of chemical activity in your body chemistry. You then say that you are feeling negative within a specific scenario, because your thoughts about it are instructing a specific chemical response causing you to feel a dis-ease. In a sense, your thoughts are disguising themselves as feelings, and you are confused by them.

Rather than listening to your past memory regarding how you should or should not feel about what is presently taking place, focus on the source within you where you feel love comes from. You may feel it comes from your heart, or some other energetic place or source. That is the connection to your spirit and to the wisdom of your spirit. To truly know how you feel, do not think about how you should or should not feel by invoking further thought; go to the source from which Self-love resonates. As you re-member how to love yourself, your connection to your true Self will become stronger. As you learn to focus more of your energy on Self-love and Self-identified-value you will identify a source, a place for you to tune into to recognise true feelings.

Negativity, the dark side, whatever term suits the stage of your life, will always remain ever-present, in order that experiences may be attained of Self. Being spiritual, being ascended, or being a human angel does not dictate one must cower and isolate himself within the box of his own creation. It is not for the person to reject one thing and confine themselves to another. But it is for he, or she, to open the door to all things, black, white and grey. It is for you as an infinite being to stand in the presence of all things, as THEY truly are, and be as YOU truly are, without fear, without doubt, and without expectation. It is for you to recognise the process that is all things, and that such a process is not something to be feared or fought, but loved and lived.

If one is able to stand in the midst of considerable negativity, immense darkness or one’s worst nightmare and prevail in will, in integrity and in love, he has not only mastered himself, but she has also mastered the process to which we are bound, and to which all are set free.”

Shadow Zikr sm


Nanci Danison’s writings can be found in her three published books, including the groundbreaking “Backwards: Returning to Our Source for Answers”. A fourth book is reportedly on the way, and she also has a number of videos on YouTube.

Sparrow’s writings can be found on the blog Spirit Guide Sparrow




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A Little Joke

We are usually much too busy to recognize it, but prior to our engaging adventures in consciousness – that ever-changing theater of desire, knowledge, and experience — there is only awareness, the same state in which we now exist.

Somehow, in the scheme of things, a kaleidoscopic realm of time and space miraculously appears. It’s a wild, whirling world of endlessly modifying phenomena, in the midst of which I find myself just sitting, or just standing — localized in any case as the immediate matrix of attention.

Just as in deep sleep, there is no actual “myself”, no awareness of a person, until a thought manages to dredge itself up from the back lot of oblivion and create the sense or facsimile of a subject. That subject wasn’t there previously, and yet here it is now — here “I” am.

Upon inspection, we can recognize that subjective sense for what it is — a mental construct, a fabrication created out of thin air, like a rabbit pulled from a magician’s hat. Nevertheless, our habitual assumption is to take it as our personal identity, because that is how habits work — they are simply the mind’s default position in the midst of this infinite mystery. However, when we turn our attention back to the mind itself, there is nothing there that we can grasp – no mind, no thing at all. There is definitely something humorous about that – a kind of little joke — though few are those who get the punch line.

Well and good, but beyond our contrived individual self-sense, what about the “Absolute”, one might ask. Upon some investigation, what we can notice is that humans play feed-back loops of their own mental accumulations and somehow sort out from that vast collection of sense impression files and filtered memory programs one particular fantasy of interpretation on perception which they subjectively determine constitutes the “Absolute”, “God”, the “Self”, etc..

Subsequently, they are prone to indulge their imagination with that mentally fabricated construct until another more appealing fantasy of interpretation is formulated, based on a new set of sense impressions and filtered programs arising as perception and designated as “Transcendental”.

Because the mind cannot grasp itself, it is claimed that this so-called “Absolute” cannot be known, and that is true to the extent that it has never been other than the mind itself, in the same way that the eye cannot see itself except as a reflection. For an auditory reference, the “Absolute” is the sound of one hand clapping.

Just so, when we awaken from sleep in the morning, for a moment there is only pure awareness. Then we get busy again, weaving and superimposing an increasingly complex story line on the bare bones of existence. It’s an extended narrative centered around this fictional character with whom we are habitually identified, merely by the nature of our seeming appearance in space time, which is actually a compounded mental event too, and a humorous one at that.

Now, when there is just sitting, or just standing still, there is no history of a person, no anticipation of some future for a person, no sense of a person present here, nor regrets for past indiscretions perpetrated by any such person. There are no time calculations or projections, no creation or destruction, no wanting or avoiding, nor any Absolute to be known, felt, worshiped, or denied. None of that arises to confirm a personal identity which is subject to any of it. It is not happy or sad, nor can any quality or emotional flavor be pinned on it, since it is all transparent, like empty sky.

I love the sky, I truly do, and because it is so empty I can disappear in it, as if I never was, as if none of this ever happened, as if nothing ever happens at all. Maybe suffering means to linger on, and not disappear. How dreadful! In any case, what is there to even disappear? Nothing can actually come or go, except as a kind of cloud, a cloud of moisture’s imagination. Really, there is just the vastness of sky, stretching infinitely in all directions, and yet, we all love the first signs of rain. Just so, when we hear the phrase, “Once upon a time . . .” we anticipate a good story will follow.

Beyond all stories of rain or shine, there is awareness, but it is not self-conscious. There is no “I am the sky” or “Here comes the sun.” It is all just standing still, as the sky, as aware space, as clear light that does not even think of itself as light. It does not reflect back on itself, and so there is no “itself”, any more than there is “myself”. It is not bliss, it is not anything with a name. Some say emptiness, but it is empty of emptiness too.

Why? Because, paradoxically, it is filled with everything, everything is here. It never goes away. Things seem to come and go to the mind entangled in a duality of subject and objects, but that is only the play of consciousness, which is a kind of miracle too: that there is anything at all, rather than nothing whatsoever.

Yes, it is like a little joke, a quiet and relaxed bit of lighthearted humor that is barely noticed at all, and only mentioned because it is a good reason not to take anything seriously, especially the character called “myself”, the one sitting or standing still and just staring out into itself.

Maybe there is a slight hint of a smile, because that is all there is, this nameless mystery filled with everyone and everything — all just fervently going about the humorous business of characters juggling props in a dream theater of itself, the totality of the universal existence, both manifest and unmanifest, absolute and relative, and so forth and so on, right up to the end of this run-on sentence.

Just so, we may be both asleep and awake simultaneously, though we tend to imagine that we are this or that exclusively, based on ideas that have no real source anywhere but in our own mind. Perhaps it might seem as if others appeared who implanted programs and filters that conditioned our perception along the way. However, even that illusion has been part of the play, the convincing drama of self and others and all the stuff they get up to — tears and laughter, and sometimes just sitting or standing, like imagined characters in a dream.

We love our dream characters, because creators love their productions, and thus time enters the picture, just so that all these various interdependent stories can unfold at their perfect pace, allowing for ingenious subplots to modify consciousness and reveal the endless nature of experience as it expands, smoke-like, to infinity.

Then, once upon a time, a temple bell in primordial space reverberates at the break of dawn, and we immediately forget everything all over again. This too is part of the little joke, barely noticed in the scheme of things, the source of that smile on the Buddha’s face, the unfathomable gift of an amazing grace.


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First of all, relax.

Now, turn your attention to the thoughts that are appearing.

Notice how they are, more often than not, based on the past or the future.

In this experiment, simply continue relaxing, but refrain from entertaining any thoughts about the past or the future.

Sustain that attention for a few minutes.

When you can remain for a few minutes without thinking of the past or future, then also let go of thinking about whatever is happening now. Just withdraw your attention.

Whenever thoughts or emotions arise about the past, present, or future, don’t try to suppress them, just refuse to grant them energy, or the fuel of attention.

Now, release the mind’s focus on any sound, sight, smell, touch, taste, or any bodily contact with the environment. If any sensation does arise, don’t try to suppress it, just refuse to grant it lingering attention.

Notice here that, even though you no longer are dwelling on thoughts or physical sensations, the mind stream or the body, something is still present.

Consider now: if you are no longer identified with the body, or the thoughts and emotions which arise within the body, what is it that is still here, still present?

Does it come and go, or does it simply remain as it already is, and as it always has been?

Whatever this presence is, remain as that for as long as possible. When thoughts or sensations arise, refuse to grant them energy. They will vanish on their own. Just stay with what persists, prior to, after, and regardless of whatever appears.

When you find yourself becoming preoccupied by some thought or sensation, simply return attention to that which persists regardless of the thought or sensation — the gap between their appearance and the next appearance — this motionless timeless presence.

Notice that the more you experiment in this way, the more spacious that gap grows, and the easier it is to remain relaxed as that — free of thought or fixated identity.

This innocent, transparent presence: it is just pure awareness, without object or subject. It requires no name or praise, no temples or worship places.

It is not holy, sacred, enlightened, mysterious, superior, or magical. It is just the simple awareness that we all are, prior to, during, and after our adventures in thinking and feeling, prior to, during, and after our identification with an idea or sensation, or even of being some individual person, age, size, gender, race, nationality, or matrix of attention in time and space.

Experimenting by relaxing as this presence provides no special advantage, except freedom from the complications we tend to create for ourselves by identifying with any thought or feeling, any separate sense of person, age, size, gender, race, nationality, or matrix of attention in time and space.



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