Sat Chit Ananda

Well. The more i mess about in this new-age consciousness business, the more i think that everybody is saying exactly the same things. It can’t be described directly, of course — that’s the catch-22 of the whole game — so it must be illustrated obliquely, through yogic posture or Buddhist ritual or, most often, linguistic metaphor.

I’m convinced that two-thirds of the struggle (once one gets to the point of beginning to struggle, which is a whole epic in itself) is simply to find the metaphors that resonate most strongly with you. Some people — “seekers” — go through their whole lives from guru to guru, method to method. A lot of this is egoic procrastination — the threatened self not truly wanting to find the simple secret that will mean its dissolution — but much of it, i’m convinced, is metaphor search. 

For me, the rational, scientific argument works best. For me, yoga is just good exercise; meditation is simply ritual; far-flung foreign monasteries are but theme travel. Yet give me a good, hard-nosed, evidence-based logical argument for the empty mind and the universal self and i’ll eat it up every time. 

That’s how 1950s-60s British-American scholar and “religious entertainer” (his description) Alan Watts first kick-started me down this path, lo, those three (four? six?) long years ago. I listened, i was entertained, there were no cross-cultural references that i didn’t get … it just straight-up made sense. Eckhart Tolle was another one, speaking and writing from right here in B.C. I didn’t get through The Power of Now, but his follow-up world-wide hit A New Earth just laid it all out like … well, for me, the meta-metaphor is mathematics: a chain of small logical (or at least sensible) steps that leads like a path of stepping-stones to a conclusion that feels right on every level.

Did i say “laid it all out”? I overstated. I’ve always had questions, gaps, holes and unbridgeable interregnums in my understanding of even the relatively simple logical argument. Besides, all these myriad approaches, every one of them, is just a recipe; none of them is a cake. No matter how good, how thorough, how compelling the recipes are, until you’ve made cake, you don’t get cake. So no, it hasn’t yet been all laid out, not for me. But it feels like i’m getting there.

In pursuit of which i’ve been browsing about like mad on this marvellous Internet, here in Victoria with lots of free time, and yesterday i happily stumbled on what might be the clearest, most concise wrap-up of the whole plate o’ spaghetti that i’ve yet run across (for me, as always). It was this The Evolution of Consciousness page, and in the space of maybe 3000 words it runs neatly down a long, long evolutionary timeline. The headings: 

  • Are All Creatures Conscious?
  • Consciousness and Biological Evolution
  • Language and Consciousness
  • Self-Consciousness
  • Transcending Language
  • Sat Chit Ananda
  • Our Evolutionary Imperative

The page is on Peter Russell’s website. I don’t know anything about the guy, but i plan to look into his sizeable site over the coming days.

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Exciting times

This from the Spiritual Cowgirl site of author Sera Beak. She wrote The Red Book, and is collaborating with B.C. filmmaker Velcrow Ripper, who just released the documentary FierceLight this fall.

This is taken from Beak’s blog post about an interview with Joanna Macy – eco-philosopher and scholar of Buddhism, deep ecology, and systems theory.

Joanna began by describing how our civilization, the industrial growth society, is beginning to unravel — financially, environmentally, politically, psychologically. She said that most people are reacting to this destruction out of fear and obedience or by going numb, but she believes the spiritual challenge is to be present, to truly take in and see what is happening to our world, allow ourselves to open up and feel the pain, mourn the dishonor and destruction and loss, so we are then better able to take action based on the natural compassion that arises in us when we tap into our humanity and connection to the earth. She calls this time period The Great Turning.

There are 3 Dimensions of The Great Turning:

  1. Actions to slow down the destruction being wrought by industrial growth society. These actions are what we generally think of as “activism”. This is a call to protect life and to save as much as you can, but this alone, is not enough.
  2. Planting the seeds for new structures after the old ones fall away, such as alternative fuel, alternative ways of growing and distributing food, alternative health, alternative currency. But, this is also not enough.
  3. A revolutionary shift in consciousness is needed. A sense of awe, gratitude, wonder and devotion to this planet, life, and each other needs to arise from the heart.

Joanna told us there were 3 revolutions in human history:

  1. Agricultural Revolution
  2. Industrial Revolution
  3. This one. While the first two did not require an immense amount of consciousness and had the luxury of time, this Third revolution must be conscious and is happening fast….

In this new consciousness, there is no room for fear or self-criticism. Joanna commented on how we’ve internalized the idea that we’re somehow lacking or not good enough, that we need to buy more, look better, work harder to compete with life. It’s a distraction and false. And yes, sometimes, when we do begin to wake up, we get so overwhelmed by the negative state of the world and how we’ve dishonored this planet and each other that we want to run back to Bloomingdales, our mac and cheese, and Desperate Housewives.

More about the interview, and one with author Tom Robbins, in this archive.

These are exciting times, folks, whether we want it like that or not.

Shenpa

Stumbled across in At the End of the World (Economy), What Will I Need?, by Linda Solomon in The Vancouver Observer:

Shenpa, Chodron says on her audio book Getting Unstuck, is the “hooked quality,” the “attachment that is a fundamental part of the human condition.” She says that in order to transcend staying hooked to habits that have long ceased to serve us, one must first must recognize “the habitual thing” or “the scratching thing” that can also be understood as the low hum of uneasiness most of us live with throughout or lives. Use these techniques to unhook, she says:

  • Recognizing
  • Refraining
  • Relaxing into the underlying feeling
  • Resolve
  • Lighten up, be gentle, but continue. Meditate. Meditate so that you have the tools to face the present, to be where you really are, to stop avoiding, to navigate the mess in front of you well.

It isn’t the thoughts that are the problem; what we need to address is “the sticky quality” that unhinges us. We need to interrupt the momentum of shenpa, the habituation, the strong momentum to make that shenpa stronger. It doesn’t mean our thoughts are bad and we shouldn’t have them.

You listening, H—?

—Houseboy

Destroy people’s beliefs

[In the face of repeated questions, Buddha] maintains what is called Noble Silence, sometimes later called the Thunderous Silence, because this silence, this metaphysical silence, is not a void; it is very powerful. This silence is the open window through which you can see not concepts, not ideas, not beliefs, but the very goods.

But if you say what it is that you see, you erect an image and an idol, and you misdirect people.

It’s better to destroy people’s beliefs than to give them beliefs. I know it hurts, but it is the Way. That is what cracks the eggshell and lets out the chick.

–Alan Watts, lecture series Out of Your Mind (from the section A Finger Pointirg at the Moon)

Ten difficult days

Or, Four Days in Hell, Two in Outer Space, and Back to Hell

“Prison” (the organizer’s joke word for the 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat, also mine) let out this morning, and about 50 happy people dispersed to all points of the compass. It would be difficult to describe the experience in detail, and futile because by design and intent the experience is highly individual.

As well, i managed to break almost every rule in the book during the ten days, so my experience is probably not a decent representation of the course.

One of those rules was “no reading or writing,” but by day 3 i was compulsively keeping illicit notes on what scraps of paper i could find (mostly paper towels) with a pen pilfered from the men’s washroom duty list.

If there’s a chance you may be doing a Vipassana course yourself in the next year or so, i strongly suggest you DO NOT read those notes — not because they contain anything startling or secret but because they may colour your own experience and that would be unfortunate.

That said, there are several things i wish i’d known before going into the course that would have eased my journey, so do read and heed these points:

  1. The course is canned; it’s not a living, evolving thing taught by live teachers. The whole of the instrucion is in he form of videos and taped of S.N. Goenka, the course’s Burmese founder, recorded in 1991. Don’t let that put you off; he’s a very good teacher, even on video. Just know what to expect. There are “assistant teachers” there to answer your questions.
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  2. Vipassana is the muscular, pain-is-good boot camp of spiritual traditions. I was expecting something like the feel-good experience of my only other retreat — a candy-ass Zen exercise two years ago — and i was rudely shocked by the rigor and demanding nature of this course. It took days to realign my head. Expect to work hard, and working hard at a meditation retreat means two things: sitting and meditating.
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  3. For the love of whatever god(s) you hold dear, put together some kind of meditation seat that you can perch on without moving a muscle for an hour. That’s sixty point zero minutes. Then get used to sitting in it for at least that long. At full stretch you will meditate up to 10 hours a day, and everyone on the course (even the repeat attendees) had trouble with butt, shoulder and back pain. So will you — it’s inevitable — but do what you can.
    One key thing, confirmed by the massage therapist/physical trainer i got a ride to Nelson with, is to maintain your lumbar arch: your lower back should arch forward slightly (a belly-out feeling). This stack your spine into vertical column and elps keep you from hunching forward — an invitation to back pain. Pelvic tilt is the key here: your seat should slope down to the front.
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  4. In the initial days of the course, you may descend a mineshaft of boredom so narrow and dark that you will despair of coming out of it sane. I certainly did. At this point you must place your faith in the teacher and the method, and assume there’s a point to the whole exercise. This i didn’t do, and paid the psychological price. Remember, it’s a well developed course that has been taken by probably hundreds of thousands of students. It really does go somewhere, in shipshape logical fashion. Persist. Don’t despair. Or try, at least.

For the curious, i will soon post a hidden page with the (rough, fragmentary log of my 10-day Vipassana retreat.