The Seeker of Peace


Feeling Special
October 31, 2008, 7:05 am
Filed under: Non-duality, Suffering | Tags: , ,

I’ve been suffering another flare-up of my Crohn’s Disease. As I lay in bed this morning, unable to sleep, I suddenly had a powerful insight.

In the non-dualistic view, we all share the same underlying perfection. It’s our egos that create the illusion of separation. That means that none of us is special – any feeling along that line is just the ego’s hubris. This seems like something that should have been obvious to me long ago, but I never thought of it in that way.

My illness is something my ego clings to because it makes me special. It gets me sympathy, gives me an excuse not to do many things, and provides a distinctive part of my identity. Don’t get me wrong: if I could make it go away, I would. However, there’s a major part of ego wrapped up in having it.

I’ve been focusing on the positive things that make me feel special, such as my skills, possessions, and accomplishments. I hadn’t thought through how negative things make me feel special in exactly the same way. Again, it seems obvious now.

Anything that makes me feel special is an ego-reinforcing mechanism. I may not be able to do anything about my illness, but I can let go of judging it. It’s no more important than any other illusion, and is just more fodder for ego self-reinforcement.

I plan to create a list of all the things that make me feel special, whether positive or negative. That would then tell me where I’m still making strong judgments about myself.

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Self-Love
October 29, 2008, 11:15 am
Filed under: Forgiveness, Non-duality | Tags: , , , , ,

There’s a Sedona Method exercise in which you sit and simply give yourself love. I’ve always had a hard time with this exercise. For me, it all too often became an ego-reinforcing self-justification: “I’m not so bad. I’m actually a pretty good person. Yeah, I love myself.” It felt a little too much like something from Affirmation Girl.

I’ve long known that this wasn’t the point. The exercise is supposed to be about divine love, feeling the perfection of our underlying Beingness. That is, the point is to transcend our ego, not reinforce it. I still found the exercise very hard to do in that sense.

(As I get better at detecting my ego’s tricks, I understand my difficulty better. After all, it’s like an ego-dream come true: an opportunity to distort an exercise into something that will directly justify and reinforce the ego! It’s a great chance for an ego-preservation exercise.)

I recently realized, largely due to my work with A Course in Miracles, that my guilt keeps me from diving self-love. My self-love efforts have been a type of egocentric self-love, an exact parallel to the egocentric forgiving I discussed last week. Trying to make my ego feel better about my ego is just like trying to make my ego feel better about someone else’s ego: a pointless exercise, even if I succeed.

Thus, a simple change in the exercise helped me a lot. If I sit and give myself forgiveness, there’s much less opportunity for ego distortion. My ego can’t truly forgive, because it can’t let go of judging. So, sitting and forgiving myself, in the sense of realizing that there’s perfection underneath the ego, gets me much more in touch with that divine love.

Egocentric love, whether loving myself or someone else, is just another form of judging. I find giving myself forgiveness to be much more effective at helping me lay down the burden of judgment.



Voices in My Head
October 28, 2008, 9:13 am
Filed under: spirituality, Suffering | Tags: , , , ,

I wrote a few days ago that I’m getting better at recognizing the tricks my ego plays. Since then, my ego has launched a particularly aggressive strike: making my head so full of thoughts that it’s hard to focus on spiritual practice.

In the past, I’ve had success quieting my mind using a mixture of a Zen technique and the Sedona Method. The Zen technique is to catch each thought I have, and consciously repeat it. The Sedona Method part I added is to find the want underlying each thought and release it. So, I might catch myself replaying a client meeting that went well, and say, “I’m reliving that meeting, because I want approval. Could I let go of wanting approval?” Doing this consistently has always helped.

This time, it’s as if my ego is launching an all-out attack. Every time I clear my mind, the thoughts come rushing in. Trying to clear my mind is like a battle.

Just today, a member on a Sedona Method board I follow made a very relevant point (it’s message #6 here). (Maybe it’s synchronicity, or not.) He said, “If happiness comes from accepting what it, then that would include our thoughts.”

I’ve had an expectation that, as I follow the path, my mind will become quieter and quieter. An expectation is just a belief, and beliefs are never helpful.

So, my ego’s latest trick is more subtle than I had appreciated at first. I’ve locked myself into an all-out war around clearing my mind. The result? I can tell you it’s not inner peace. In fact, a friend told me yesterday that I looked unusually tense.

I hope I can stop judging my progress. Ironically, usually I would use Byron Katie’s The Work to stop judging. However, she doesn’t explain how one does a turnaround when the subject of your judgment is “my thinking!” With luck, just recognizing the judgment and its underlying belief will be enough.



Ego Tricks
October 25, 2008, 9:14 am
Filed under: Non-duality, spirituality | Tags: , ,

As I thought more about Thursday’s post on synchronicity, I realized how much my ego keeps tricking me into doing detailed analysis like that. I was lucky that time to realize the trap before I had wasted too much time on it.

And, it was just last Sunday that I was feeling stuck and tempted to start reading, looking for new techniques and insights. Again, I was fortunate to realize the nature of the ego trap before falling prey to it.

Yesterday, I started to realize just how much energy my ego puts into defending itself. Its techniques are so incredibly clever that I can’t help but have a grudging admiration. However, I’m getting much better at seeing these tricks for what they are.

This is where the Sedona Method, which started me on my spiritual path, seems to fall short. The Method focuses on letting go of the thoughts, emotions, and desires that are the hallmark of the go. However, it didn’t prepare me well to recognize the tricks my ego would use to reassert control.

Indeed, as you would expect from a profit-making enterprise, Sedona Training Associates has plenty of products to let you keep “learning” more. Unfortunately, this makes it very easy for someone like me to keep learning about the Method rather than practicing the Method more. That’s not to say that the advanced products aren’t helpful for some people. It would just be nice if they had big warnings, saying, “Are you sure you want to buy this? Lester Levenson really thought you should spend more time meditating!”

As I see the ego’s tricks more and more, I’m getting better at recognizing and avoiding them. That in itself is a reassuring sign of progress for me.



Synchronicity vs. Apophenia
October 23, 2008, 4:43 pm
Filed under: God, World | Tags: , , ,

A few days ago, I mentioned that I had received what seemed to be a fortune cookie from God. As is typical for me, I’m second-guessing the significance of it.

Getting a degree in engineering only reinforced my rational/physical view of the world. (Please don’t give me that oft-quoted drivel about how quantum physics “proves” that we create our own reality. Because I actually know something about quantum physics, I know how absurd that claim is.)

Until recently, I would have put down any claims of the supernatural to Littlewood’s Law. John Littlewood was a mathematician who defined a “miracle” as an event that was exceptional and of special significance. He figured the odds of an event being a “miracle” at 1,000,000 to 1. Since an event occurs to us about every second that we’re awake, simple math shows that “miracles” should happen to us roughly monthly. Littlewood’s Law would say that something seemingly significant, whether my fortune cookie or something equally improbable, was actually bound to happen sooner or later.

Was receiving my fortune cookie an example of synchronicity? Carl Jung coined the term to refer to events that are related, but outside the direct realm of cause and effect. Jung believed that the “collective unconscious” governed the whole human experience and could cause such things. Except for theological differences, such as who created what, Jung’s collective unconscious is a lot like the idea of an immanent god. The collective unconscious has a vision of the ideal self, and could cause me to get my fortune cookie to help drive me towards self-actualization.

Another argument is called apophenia. Klaus Conrad coined the term to refer to our tendency to see connections where none exists. I’ve been studying spirituality, and many fortune cookies have vaguely spiritual themes. The odds are good that I could find relevance there, just as I likely could by opening to a random page in the Bible. That is, it was pure coincidence, but I want there to be meaning, so I see it.

Where does this leave me? This may sound like a cop-out, but I don’t think it matters which is true. I can’t prove any of the theories, which means I’d just be picking a belief. As I wrote last week, I’m finding all beliefs detrimental to my progress. Instead, I am going to go based on what I can actually know from personal experience.

I know that I’m happier when my mind is quiet and peaceful. I know that most of my ego’s thoughts are negative and destructive. I know that the more loving and less judgmental I can be, the better I feel about other people. Against that knowledge, does it matter whether or not the fortune cookie was a sign from God? Just as seeing a gum commercial can remind me to schedule my dental checkup, seeing the fortune cookie reminded me not to neglect an important part of my spiritual practice.

It would be nice to think that God had a role to play in bringing me that cookie. But not so nice as to be worth cluttering up my mind with yet another belief.



Egocentric Forgiving?
October 22, 2008, 4:27 pm
Filed under: Forgiveness | Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been working hard to become a more forgiving person. As I wrote on the day after Yom Kippur, I can see a perfect symmetry between guilt and blame. Once I realized that there’s no difference between forgiving others and forgiving myself, I redoubled my efforts.

However, today I read something in A Course in Miracles that makes me wonder if I’ve been going about forgiving the wrong way. The text seems to say that the way to forgive is not to perceive others’ errors in the first place. In contrast, perceiving the error, and then decided to overlook it, is an egocentric way to forgive.

I have to admit that I’ve tended towards the egocentric approach. I’m not even sure how to not perceive others’ errors. Perhaps I should retract everything I wrote yesterday; maybe I do need some breakthrough in perception.

At least this gives me some new clarity on Byron Katie’s approach. In her book Loving What Is, she makes the non-dualistic point that everything we blame others for is a projection of ourselves. Her “four questions” are a way to illustrate this. Until now, I’ve missed the full significance of this: her technique doesn’t help us forgive, but makes us see that there’s nothing to forgive.

At some level, I think I’ve understood this for some time. However, my ego didn’t (and still doesn’t) want to understand. And why should it? Having my ego nobly overlook someone else’s misdeed is pretty satisfying. (“Look ma! No blame! Aren’t you proud?”) My ego has tricked me again, leading me into the kind of forgiving that gives me the illusion of forward progress, while actually reinforcing the ego instead.

I had a brief flurry of activity with Byron Katie’s “Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet” a couple of months ago. (It’s simply a worksheet with her four questions on it, which you can download here if you don’t have her book.) While the process seemed very productive, I moved on to other things. I’m now sure that was because the process deeply threatened my ego. That’s a good sign it’s worth my time to revisit it!



Absence of a Breakthrough
October 21, 2008, 5:57 pm
Filed under: Non-duality | Tags: , , , , ,

A few days ago I wrote about how I was feeling stuck in my spiritual progress. I realized that part of my frustration is that I’m hoping for some sort of massive breakthrough.

I’ve read many accounts of people who had dramatic shifts in perception, often overnight. Byron Katie, Karl Renz, Echkart Tolle, and Lester Levenson all had quick transitions from deep depression to a peaceful sense of oneness. While Levenson worked to trigger his transition, the others I mentioned all had their breakthroughs seemingly without conscious effort. Apparently, these people got a helicopter ride up the mountain, while I’m taking the walking path!

In talking with a friend today, I began to wonder if I’m reading too much into these people’s seemingly random progress. All of them were in states of very deep depression when they had their breakthroughs. I know what it’s like to be deeply depressed, having gone through a bout of suicidal depression as a teenager. If I had suddenly leapt from that state to my present state of consciousness, it would have seemed like a tremendous enlightenment experience.

I am much more loving and forgiving than I used to be, and less likely to be upset by the vicissitudes of the world. If I came here suddenly from deep depression, it would have been such a transformation that I would have wept with joy. There would be no doubt in my mind that something profound had happened.

What if I have underestimated my progress? I’m waiting for the day where I wake up and suddenly perceive non-duality, see everyone as a loving reflection of myself, and transcend the illusions of my ego. Maybe I’m already close enough to the goal that I haven’t recognized my gradual progress, and maybe my further progress will seem gradual too.

Karl Renz speaks about a definite shift from dualistic to non-dualistic perception, and Jed McKenna similarly makes it sound like there’s a definite point at which one is “enlightened.” Yet I have to wonder whether Renz and McKenna actually made it to the end of the path, or just became stuck in a cul-de-sac. Both of them seem to find their states lonely and empty. I’m therefore hesitant to look towards either of them as role models.

Maybe the point of Zen’s “gateless gate” is that there’s no well-defined endpoint to the path. I know Levenson kept studying and learning long after his transformation. Byron Katie sounds like she had to keep forgiving and consolidating her gains.

As a comment on my post about feeling stuck pointed out, “Expecting something – looking ahead – is another way of avoiding the present moment, yes?” I think that my expectation for a grand breakthrough is, indeed, another ego trick to interfere with my practice.