Advice, Attached Love, Attachment, Clinging, Human Nature, Life, Living, Love, Lovers, Meditation, Quality of Life, Resilience, Spirituality, The Art of Living Well, Well Being

The Good News and the Bad News About Love

(About a 1 minute read)

The bad news is that you cannot love without risking almost certain pain now and then.  Even the most skillful and conscientious lover will now and then inadvertently hurt you. Even the greatest loves will someday come to an end — and often tragically (that is, in the ancient sense of tragedy — due to a flaw in human nature).

The good news is most — but never all — of the suffering most of us experience when loving someone comes from clinging unnecessarily to someone in an attempt to preserve the pleasures or avoid the pains of loving them.  If you can see this, and see it very clearly, you will put an end to the clinging, and with it, most of the suffering.

You need not do anything else.  You need only see it.  Once seen, your mind will reflexively avoid clinging like it would reflexively avoid a snake in the grass.

That is not something you should believe.  No matter how strongly you believe that, belief will not bring about an end to the suffering.  You must see it, instead.  You must watch it happening.  You much watch the whole process of clinging producing suffering — and no one can watch it for you.  No one can change a thing merely by telling you about it.

The way to watch it is through meditation.   Not introspection. Not contemplation.  Meditation.

Just my two cents.

Andrea Dinardo, Anxiety, Emotions, Eudaimonia, Fear, Free Spirit, Happiness, Health, Human Nature, Life, Living, Meditation, Mental and Emotional Health, Nature, Quality of Life, Resilience, Spirituality, The Art of Living Well, Well Being, Wilderness

The Power of Nature to Combat Anxiety, Dread, and Fear

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul discusses how spending time in nature — and especially spending time meditating in nature — can combat anxiety, dread, and fear.

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THE CRITICS EXPLODE! “Paul Sunstone knows no more about nature than Rupert Snider, the Denver tourist, once knew about the ravenous hunger of bears fresh out of hibernation.  To the horror of his tour group, Snider tried to pet a black bear in the spring of ’98.  The last he saw of his arm up to the elbow was its being carried off in the mouth of a mamma bear on her way back to share it with her cubs.  To the horror of his readers, Paul Sunstone has written yet another one of is eternally ignorant nature posts. The world would be a better place if a bear could be persuaded to make off with both his typing fingers.”  — Gus “Gunning Gus” Johnson, The Blog Critic’s Column, “Leper’s Gulch Gazette”, Leper’s Gulch, Colorado, USA.

Continue reading “The Power of Nature to Combat Anxiety, Dread, and Fear”

Belief, Buddhahood, Buddhism, Christianity, Consciousness, Cultural Traits, Culture, Enlightenment, Ideas, Islam, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Knowledge, Meditation, Memes, Mysticism, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Satori, Self-Integration, Spirituality, Transformative Experience, Zen

“Help! She’s Going About It All Wrong!”

SUMMARY:  The importance of having the right beliefs in order to attain spiritual enlightenment is grossly over-emphasized both in Western and Middle Eastern cultures.

(About a 5 minute read)

I have a friend who, in my esteemed opinion (esteemed by me, at least), is going about it all wrong.  By “it”, I mean spiritual enlightenment, of course.  She’s going about it all wrong.

Not that I myself am an authority on spiritual enlightenment.  The closest I ever came to it was that time I saw Terri’s breasts in the moonlight.  My friend — who is not Terri — has never shown me her breasts despite incessant hours of begging on my part and hence, I don’t know yet if she’s a reincarnation of the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, or not. But even if she is, she’s going about it all wrong.

Continue reading ““Help! She’s Going About It All Wrong!””

Allies, Attachment, Consciousness, Death, Dying, Enlightenment, Fear, Friends, Human Nature, Impermance, Life, Living, Lovers, Meaning, Meditation, Mysticism, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Satori, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Transformative Experience

The Fear of Death and Dying

Disclaimer: The following opinions are my own — I am usually wrong about most things — and so you should examine these issues for yourself. On the other hand, only a boring, bumbling, berkle-snozer would disagree with me about anything.​

(About a 5 minute read)

It is my esteemed and noble opinion that the fear of death is a major factor in how folks experience life, and a major motive behind much of human behavior.

How much of a factor and motive, you might ask? Ernest Becker, the psychiatrist who authored, The Denial of Death, thought it unconsciously drove most of human experience and behavior. And here the word “unconsciously” is key to understanding the fear of death.

I do not agree with all of Becker’s ideas, but I am in complete agreement with him about the fear of death being very largely a hidden, unconscious fear. Ask ten people if they fear death, eight or nine will not be aware of themselves fearing it.

Continue reading “The Fear of Death and Dying”

Buddhism, Christianity, Consciousness, Enlightenment, Hinduism, Human Nature, Ideas, Islam, Judaism, Life, Meditation, Mysticism, Myth, Nontheism, Quality of Life, Religion, Satori, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Taoism, Transformative Experience, Wisdom, Zen

Why Fools Point at the Moon

(About a 7 minute read)

It is a charming, ancient conceit that fools are secretly the wisest among us.  Everyone has heard that somewhere or another.  It is pervasive not merely in Europe — home to the court fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear — but worldwide.

Every culture seems to recognize the truth of it.  In Europe, fools are fixtures at the court of kings.  In the far East, they are sages.  In Africa, they are sometimes deities who wear multi-colored hats.  And among the Native American nations, they are Raven and Coyote. Jung would recognize the fool as an archetype of what he believed was the “collective human subconscious”.

But why do humans so often think wisdom is a property of fools?  It is easy to see why we ascribe it to wise men and women, but why specifically to fools?  What does the fool actually represent to us?

Continue reading “Why Fools Point at the Moon”

Consciousness, Culture, Enlightenment, Knowledge, Learning, Meditation, Mysticism, Neuroscience, Nontheism, Religion, Satori, Self, Self-Integration, Spirituality, Thinking, Transformative Experience

Can Knowledge Bring About a Mystical Experience?

(About a 5 minute read)

It is a truth near universally recognized that you cannot become a superb mechanic unless — as a minimum requirement — you have a girlie calendar in your garage first acquire a great deal of knowledge.  Moreover, that knowledge needs to be of two sorts.

In no particular order, you must both learn the sort of stuff you can learn from instructors and books, and you must also learn the sort of stuff you can only learn hands-on, by doing something — sometimes over and over again.  The ancient Greeks called the first kind of knowledge logos, and the second kind, gnosis.  We tend to call them “knowledge” and “know-how”.

The question arises, however, whether you need one, the other, or both kinds of knowledge in order to become a superb mystic?

Put differently, must you be of any particular religious tradition or school in order to attain to a mystical experience, the sine qua non of which is a perception of all things being in some sense or way one?  Must you follow any specific teachings or practices?  And do teachings and practices even help?  Or are they really mere ways of idling away the hours before your boy or girl calendar arrives in the mail you attain to a mystical experience?

I suspect many good folks would say “yes” to most of those questions.  Perhaps it is even a cultural assumption — at least in the West — that knowledge is key here.  Especially, book or scriptural knowledge, because we in the West are so accustomed to seeing the bible as key to our spiritual development.  So if we start pursuing a mystical path, we naturally think in terms of how learning all the right things will help us.

But is that assumption borne out by the evidence?  I actually think not.  At least, not nearly so much as we might assume.

For the past forty years, I’ve been an amateur collector of mystical experiences.  When I guess someone might have had one, I prompt them a bit to tell me about it, and they sometimes do.   And something I’ve noticed: A fair number of people have been stumped what caused the experience, for they can recall having done nothing to bring it about.

Again, awhile back, a group of researchers solicited over 2000 accounts of mystical experiences and found that about 20% of them came from nontheists — atheists and agnostics.  Presumably, many of those fine folks had done nothing intentionally to bring about their experiences, although some might have.

It seems to me likely then that any kind of knowledge might not be as key to having a mystical experience as we might at first suppose.  But if that’s true, then it raises a fascinating question.

What, if anything, does the fact knowledge has relatively little to do with mystical experiences tell us about the experiences themselves?

I think it underscores or emphasizes how fundamentally mystical experiences are shifts in perception, rather than gestalt-like experiences.  By “gestalt”  I mean an event in which what you know “comes together at once” to create a new understanding of something.

Of course, that is sometimes called “a new perception” of something, but that’s not what I mean by perception here.  “Perception” in this context is the frame of our sensory fields.  For instance, we see, taste, touch, and feel thirst.  Each of those is a sensory field.  Perception frames them in the sense that it provides or adds to them certain characteristics that are not the things we see, taste, etc.

An example would be our sense that what we are seeing at the moment is real.  That perception of realness is not a property of the thing itself, but rather a property or characteristic of our sensory field of sight.  Again, we perceive things as being us or not us.  That once more is a characteristic of our perceptual frames.

A mystical experience can be seen as an abrupt shift from how we normally perceive things to a different way of perceiving things.   One of the frames that is lost during that shift is our perception of the world as divided between us and not us.

So now we might ask: Do we need to know much for such a shift to come about?

I think not.  For one thing, the neural sciences have now revealed that mystical experiences involve at least a reduction in activity in the parietal brain lobe, most likely an increase in activity in the thalamus, and perhaps a change in dopamine levels, among other things.  Those are things that could be influenced by some kind of conscious or subconscious knowledge, but they don’t necessarily need to be.

Again, there are no techniques of bringing about a mystical experience that guarantee you will have one, but Eastern meditative techniques have been relatively successful.  These, however, do not generally depend on more than the knowledge of how to practice them.

Last, some traditions, such as Zen, are full of stories of people who attain to mystical experiences without need of scriptures, or much need of instruction.  So I think it’s pretty clear that, for those and other reasons, knowledge is not much use in bringing about a mystical experience.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, by the way, was adamant on that point.  He routinely went even further to state that too much knowledge hindered or prevented mystical experiences.  One of his key points was that, if you set off in pursuit of a specific experience, you were likely to find it soon or later, but it would turn out to be a construct of your knowledge.

So there might be a way in which knowledge is not only unnecessary, but actually detrimental.  But where does that leave us?

In a word, calendars!  Krishnamurti had a beautiful metaphor.  Imagine you are inside your house (i.e your mind) and wish for a breeze to come in (i.e. a mystical experience). What can you do to make that breeze happen?  Nothing, of course.

You simply can’t force a breeze to rise.  However,  you can open your windows and doors.  That is, you can remove the obstacles to a breeze coming in, should one arise.

Rumi also said much the same thing: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Attachment, Authenticity, Consciousness, Free Spirit, Happiness, Human Nature, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Meditation, Oppression, People, Quality of Life, Relationships, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Self-Realization, Spirituality

One Reason We Oppress Ourselves

In some conversations, topics change so fast that the conversation itself is more than a wee bit like a time-lapse movie in which a whole 24 hour day rushes past you in just a few minutes.  Such conversations can be fun or exasperating, depending on your mood.  Yesterday evening, I was very much in the mood, and my friends Ami and Karina were obliging me with a rush of ideas.  Here’s a snippet of that conversation:

At some point near the middle of the conversation, Karina stated that, “Ben Franklin never said, ‘Some people are dead at 25, but not buried until 75’, even though that proverb is often attributed to him”.

Karina’s remark prompted Ami to say, “I think we often limit ourselves by saying something is uncharacteristic of us”.

And, naturally, that got me thinking about black raspberry ice cream.

Of course, on the surface, Karina’s statement, Ami’s remark, and my thought might appear to have nothing to do with each other.  Indeed, I must admit I can see how people other than Karina, Ami, and I might be put in danger of being driven insane trying to figure out the link between them.

But the three of us are in no danger — if only because we each are already so thoroughly maxed when it comes to insanity that we cannot be driven any further in the direction of it.   In fact, the link between Karina’s statement, Ami’s remark, and my thought is actually a tight one.  And the rest of this blog post will drive you just as bonkers as the three of us already are safely reveal to you how very tight that link is.

My small hometown didn’t have a proper ice cream store until I was about ten or eleven years old.  Until then, the only places you could find ice cream were in the two grocery stores, and they sold only the most popular flavors: Vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.   This cruel and intolerable situation was relieved when an ice cream shop obviously devoted to saving my childhood opened up near the edge of town and began selling about a dozen flavors of frozen joy.

However, when I made my very first trip to the store, I was confronted with a seemingly insurmountable problem: I had not expected such a multitude of choices; I was completely overwhelmed; and I could not make up my mind which flavor to buy.  In the end, my mother rescued me by suggesting the black raspberry.

Never before in my life was I so convinced my mother was a genius than the moment I laid tongue to the black raspberry.  The flavor seized me and I was instantly enthralled to it.   In fact, I liked it so much that I never risked trying any of the other flavors the shop sold due to my mere suspicion they couldn’t possibly be as pleasurable as the black raspberry.  My relationship with the ice cream ran even deeper than that, however.

Most of know how something can become, not just a thing we like, but a part of us.  It’s a curious trait of our species that we can self-identify with just about anything, whether that be some tangible object like a car, a favorite sweater, or a flavor of ice cream; or it be some intangible thing like a political ideology, an idea, a religion, or even the roles we play in life of someone’s son, daughter, friend, wife, husband, etc.  That is, we frequently — indeed, we routinely — define ourselves as in part this or that thing.  Sometimes we say, “Those shoes are so me!” — and mean it.  I did exactly that with black raspberry ice cream.  I not only liked it, but I came to think of it as a part of what made me — me.

In one the most poignant tragedies of my childhood, the ice cream shop went out of business in a couple of years, and black raspberry disappeared from my town and my life.  I became a bitter, disillusioned addict in withdrawal, wandering the asphalt streets, haunting the graveled alleys of my town, living only for the memories I somehow managed to survive the closing.  But the story doesn’t end there.

A few years later while at uni I came across black raspberry again.  At first I was delighted to find it being sold in a campus shop.   That delight passed quickly though.  I discovered that my tastes had changed.  The flavor no longer grabbed me.  Indeed, it seemed surpassed by chocolate or even vanilla now.

Yet — once I rediscovered it — I kept ordering it!  Then one day, while licking a scoop of it, I had a moment when it all became clear to me: Though I no longer much cared for the flavor, I had self identified with it, and giving it up was just a bit frightening to me — as if it would mean giving up part of myself!

For reasons I don’t know, that day’s insight has never dulled in my mind.  It’s as fresh to me today as it was when it first jumped into my head.  So, the other evening, when Ami said, “I think we often limit ourselves by saying something is uncharacteristic of us”, pretty much my first thought was how well her remark tied into my experience of for a while limiting myself to black raspberry at uni even though I had by then become bored with it.

Of course, Karina’s remark that, “Some people die at 25, but are buried at 75”, also struck a chord with me.  The problem of unnecessarily limiting ourselves as a consequence of self-identification would be a very minor one if we only did it with a few things here and there, and those things were relatively unimportant to our quality of life.  But we do it routinely, and with myriads of things.  If we are not careful, we become one of those nearly ossified people who — perhaps even by an early age — has more or less ceased to develop and grow in any significant degree or way.

Yet, why does it happen?  Why do we oppress ourselves in that way?

I believe the best way to answer those questions is to make a study of the human self.  And by the “self”, I mean the psychological self, for each of us is not just a physical self, a body, but a psychological self, and it is our psychological self that identifies with things.  What, then, is the nature of this psychological self?

It seems to me that it is no mere accident that the psychological self identifies with things, but that it is its very nature to identify with things.  It can be thought of as always seeking to define itself in terms of its relationships to the things — both tangible and intangible — of this world.  It is important to recognize that it can perform that identification both positively and negatively.  That is, we can define ourselves positively — like I did — as being in some part and way my fondness for black raspberry ice cream.  But it is conceivable that I could have under other circumstances (say, I was repelled by the taste of it) defined myself negatively as being in some part and way a person who doesn’t like black raspberry ice cream.  For instance, a great many people identify themselves as not just “a progressive”, but also as “not a conservative” too.  So, I think the first thing to recognize about the psychological self is that it is always seeking to identify itself in terms of its relationships with things.

A second thing to recognize is that it is always trying to maintain and preserve those relationships.  That is, it can be thought of as wanting them to stay fixed pretty much just the way they are.  Typically change is threatening to the psychological self unless — and this is key — the change in question amounts merely to an aggrandizement of it.

To illustrate, suppose you took up studying Hinduism and quickly came to think of yourself as “someone who is studying to become a Hindu”.  It is doubtful in those circumstances that you would feel threatened by learning more and more about Hinduism.  After all, what you are learning does not contradict your image of yourself as “someone studying to become a Hindu”.  Instead, it expands on that image, it aggrandizes it.

But now suppose you pick up a book on Islam and you come across a passage in which the author asserts that Islam is the one true religion, and that all other religions are false, including Hinduism.  Now you might feel threatened because the author’s view contradicts your image of yourself.  The psychological self readily embraces new things and changes that aggrandize it, but just as readily rejects new things and changes that diminish it.

But if all this talk of the psychological self happens to be true — and that’s something for you to decide — then why does the self behave as it does?

I believe the psychological self is essentially a defense mechanism.  More precisely, it functions to identify or define that which we should defend in order to survive.  This might not be so easily seen if all you’re thinking of is the self identifying with a scoop of ice cream.  A scoop of ice cream is certainly not all that important to our survival.  Why would we need to identify with it?  But the self identifies with much else, and much that is key to our survival.

I am reminded here of the time Jiddu Krishnamurti met a tiger.  He and a few friends were traveling in a car through a forest in India when they came upon a tiger in the road.  The driver stopped the car, and the tiger began to prowl about it.  Krishnamurti’s window was open, and as the tiger passed beneath it, Krishnamurti — who at that moment happened to be in a meditative state in which he was selfless — spontaneously moved to reach out and pet the tiger.

Even Krishnamurti himself later admitted that it was fortunate one of his friends immediately leaped to pull back his arm and then roll up the window.  The incident illustrates the importance of the psychological self.   Without it, we would not defend ourselves against many — perhaps even the overwhelming majority of — the threats and dangers we face in life.  We might still have our defensive reflexes — such as reflexively ducking when an object is thrown at our head, or throwing our arms up when a tiger is actually charging us — but we would lack an ability to imagine threats to us: To see in the non-charging tiger who is at the moment merely passing peacefully beneath our window a potential threat to our selves.   In order to conceive of something as a threat to us, we must first and perhaps foremost have some notion of an “us”.  That is, some notion of a self.   By identifying and defining what is us, the psychological self functions as a key component of our self defense.

To be sure, its functioning is by no means perfect.  For one thing, it so quite often causes us to defend when no defense is actually needed.   I think nearly everyone knows at least one or two touchy people who have some nonessential image of themselves that they nevertheless defend as vigorously as if their lives depended on it.  I once knew a woman who so self identified with the brand of cigarettes she smoked that I one day inadvertently brought her nearly to tears by saying nothing more threatening to her than, “I have never been able to stand the taste of cigarettes, including your brand.”  From what she said to me next, it was as if I’d slapped her.

The psychological self, then, by functioning to define our self images creates the self that we will strive to preserve and maintain, while allowing that self to change only in ways that aggrandize it.  Although this is a vital, albeit imperfect, component of our defense against dangers to us,  it can turn on us oppressively if we are unskillful in coping with it. When that happens, we can become as inflexible in our views, attitudes, routines and behaviors as stone, rendering us ridged, insensitive, and uncreative when meeting the challenges of life, and unable to seize upon those challenges in order to develop ourselves in new, perhaps unforeseen ways.  In short, we become the tyrant of our own lives, our own oppressor.

Your thoughts?