(which is probably as good as it’s going to get. see below.)

Forget all the paranoia, forget all the conspiracy, forget all the cataclysmic raving, and stale ideology. Forget it all, because it’s the wrong door.

These ways of thinking about things may have had use, but as we move forward that use will be increasingly less. It is no longer relevant to our circumstances. Anything that doesn’t involve an alert moment to moment awareness of what is happening around you, will, over time, simply cease to matter.

McLuhan said that one of the side effects of super-accelerated electronic media was to return consciousness to a state of mythic resonance. Things move too fast and change too much and are too interconnected and self reflective to have a full conscious awareness of them. The only way to interface with such a world is through an intuitive subconscious pattern recognition. Either that or a super-consciousness orders of magnitude beyond anything that has been seen on earth to date, a fusion of the frontal, and lower primordial minds, in a way that very few can pull off without becoming a process schizophrenic.

The main example, and the last thing I will say about the economy, is this: the people who are supposed to understand and manage that system, who are supposedly the best trained, paid and educated people on earth in that field, simply cannot do anything of any use. Full stop. The machine has swallowed them. the end. goodbye. I have heard nothing convincing from any quarters that is especially better or more insightfull, except perhaps to burn the thing down to a lower level of manageable complexity. But it isn’t going to happen.

Do not mistake my intent here: I am not saying this is a bad thing. Indeed, I think it may be the best thing possible for the human race. A lot of pathological material is going to be swept away at the same time as the things you cling to under the heading of ‘life as usual’. Honestly, something like this is only way that the rot in the system was ever going to be expunged. You might as well embrace it. It is all the justice we will probably ever get.

This phase change is about us crossing the line into a regime of super attenuated instability and constant reinvention. Even calling it a regime is probably misleading. It’s more like living permanently on the nose of a surfboard going down the face of the largest wave that ever existed. Except, if you fall off the wave, the only thing underneath it, is another wave.

The structures we have built to corral billions of humans into a ‘civilization’ with manageable routines and manipulable order are about to dissolve, shortly followed by their replacements. Shortly followed by what replaces the replacements, until people realize that we are in a permanent condition of telescoping phase change.

Because lets be real here: the only stable order that was in the cards for humanity was the next 25 years, at the most. That has just gone bye bye.  By the time the economic and social upheavals unleashed now start to exhaust their momentum, we’ll be well into the era of open source biotech and fractal insurgency on every level. There will be no more countries, no more governments, no more ‘economies’ as we know them and increasingly, no more human biology as we understand it. That means no more fixed racial categories, no more immutable human traits, mental or physical, no more predictable patterns of illness or death.

And by the time we’re just getting to grips with that, nano technology and pervasive AI will recast the whole thing again. And so on. and so on.

You may have heard of something called the skills ladder: it refers to how much education one increasingly needs to meaningfully participate in the job market.  So what happens when the skills ladder gets so high that nobody can meaningfully participate in the world as we currently understand it? You either throw out the model of the world you are using, or you throw out the model of the human being you are using. Or both.
Eventually you will have to get used to a very old, very fundamental truth: that who you think you are, or who thought you were, is just a story, and while you can certainly choose to get up every morning and substitute a story for your authentic conscious presence, that is going to become more and more antithetical to your mental and physical health. It is no longer sufficient to acquire a fixed body of knowledge, and plug it  into every situation life presents to you. was it ever?  does anyone really think that? Neither is it adequate to periodically ‘re-train’ to adapt yourself to a changing situation.

What it comes down to is that you are equipped with the a pseudo-consciousness that mitigates against you being awake, or learning anything.  It is what is usually called ‘ego’.
You should discard the imperatives of your dysfunctional and neurotic personalities, and choose a star to follow. I mean this in many senses, from the thelemic to the platonic. Hell, even using banal astrology is probably more useful that identifying with a shell shocked media slave who thinks that they are ‘you’. The only way to rise above the wreckage of the ego is to direct yourself with something that transcends the ego. It really is as simple as that. It just so happens that it is the only alternative to losing your mind, so that makes what is a healthy, but difficult, life-change a little more appealing, I’m sure.

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38 thoughts on “Some Thoughts in Progress…

  1. Yeah, seriously. Welcome back.

    The unchanging ego’s getting burnt out by the very friction that it causes. We all have to let go of it soon, or we’ll burn right along with it.

    We’re like the baby that had to learn the hard way not to put our hand on the stove. Except that it took thousands of years for the heat to register in our awareness…

  2. Mostly lurking since quite a while, and I greatly appreciate you sharing your thoughts again. I feel too that it is all going to gently melt away (relatively speaking). I have never shared your post singular vision of home biotech and such, but who knows, only time will tell. Loved the ‘fractal insurgency’ concept on the other hand, I’ll google that.

  3. Zac, in reviewing your work here, there is something I wonder about: are you stuck trying to reconcile two things that are fundamentally opposed? Let me explain:

    You have a strongly Buddhist background to your thinking, which, at its core, teaches that the individual should transcend the narrow boundaries of what we term “ego” and service the greater good. At the same time, you have a strongly magical background to your thinking which, at its core, teaches that the individual should attempt to manipulate physical reality to service egoistic desires.

    Do you view these two paths as fundamentally incompatible, or do you still feel that they can be reconciled?

  4. those are two contradictory impulses, but they aren’t the exclusive property of magick or buddhism especially. there are plenty of egotistical self grasping buddhists, you can be sure, and many wonderfull selfless magick users, especially when you get down to the shamanic level of healing and whatnot.

    I don’t see magick as fundamentally egotistical or selfish. there are quite extensive schools of buddhist magick, incidentally. it’s just another tool.

    that said, I’m all about reconciling opposites. that’s pretty much what alchemy is, after all.

    I did take kind of a hard line traditionalist stance on magickal powers for a awhile, but once i got enough material out there to nuance the discussion, i set it aside.

  5. Zac, baby. I’ve missed you 🙂
    I’ll need to read this through again later, but for now a simple, possibly off-topic, question:
    I’ve noticed you’ve used the surfing metaphor before in different ways, so are you a surfer?
    Satisfy my curiosity, please.

  6. Lyle- no, not really. I tried a couple times but it didn’t really agree with me. maybe later in life.

    Pavel- nopthing to be worried about. exploring extreme, or even pathological, mindspaces is just part of the job. if it doesn’t feel real and threatening at the time, then there’s no benefit in transcending it.

  7. Good to see you back in action, Zac. Let it not be forgotten that you accurately predicted much of the crap we’re presently swimming through, many months ahead of its occurence. I look forward to following your change in direction with great interest.

    I get the impression that the illusion of ego is still inflating within our culture, and probably still has some course to run, even whilst geo-social circumstances render it more and more unsustainable. All we can do is keep plugging away at trying to persuade others (and ourselves) to give it up.

  8. This is the most interesting post I’ve read today, and I’ve just gone through about 50 articles I missed when I was on a 10 day vipassana retreat. (actually the same retreat that Duncan (above) went on a while back – I shared in his cosmic realisation of hateful bastardness)

    “Anything that doesn’t involve an alert moment to moment awareness of what is happening around you, will, over time, simply cease to matter.”

    I discovered this the hard way: by constantly trying to cling and attach ideas to the incredible flux occuring inside and outside my little impermanent body. My first retreat really helped with that; after much suffering, I developed some real equanimity and started focusing on what is going on around me, right now, constantly. I think it requires an elegance to move from “what shall I put on my pasta” to to “how am I projecting the illusion of a self onto these impermanent unsatisfactory sensations.” Anicca, anicca…

  9. I argued with an acquaintance through email about this notion, trying to convince him of the importance of the dissolution of the ego. He had this to say:

    “Things are metaphysically individual. It’s hard to accept, being that you probably dropped more acid than all the hippies from the summer of love combined, but what the fuck that’s life. You are you, you are not one with the tree. You are a human. An animal, that is rational (generally). Get used to it, and enjoy your metaphysical individualism.”

  10. sigh…

    more trite and superficial arguments from someone who doesn’t even understand the question.

    ego is not fundamentally about being separate or not, or dissolving into some pleuroma of unity, or not. there are many degrees of dependence, interdependence, intradependance and independence in the universe. that’s not the issue.

    ego is about taking a false image of the self as being one’s identity. and clinging to it as a fixed entity. the way I like to talk about it with people is to imagine that you had an imaginary friend, and he only existed in your head, and he had all these needs that he insisted on meeting.

    now imagine that you were so confused about what was going on, that you thought you were your own imaginary friend, and that his needs were in fact your needs. to compound the issue, because your ego is imaginary, and so are it’s needs for nonexistent quantities, you can never really satisfy them. so you’re continually frustrated by not being to satisfy the delusional desires of a non-existent entity.

  11. “Anything that doesn’t involve an alert moment to moment awareness of what is happening around you, will, over time, simply cease to matter.”

    I’m not so sure about that. For the most part, the things that happen around me aren’t that interesting. I’d say it’s the meaning that I derive from my circumstances that, over time, matters more than anything. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be doing much more than robotically processing sensory data.

  12. Hamble: Well, apart from robotically processing sensory data, you also robotically derive meaning from your circumstances (you think) – your senses and thoughts, as well as your understanding of yourself, or your sense of identity (ego), are illusory constructs, they are reactions, they are robotic. They may be very smart constructs, they may be very believable, but that doesnt make them real.

    Direct experience is non-reactionary.

    You may not find that what happens around you is particularly interesting (try paying attention), but its not so much about whats interesting, as it is about what is and what isnt. And it isnt what you think it is.

  13. Now, don’t misunderstand me, Pavel; I said “most” of what happens around me isn’t particularly interesting. What it feels like to be sitting in my chair, the sound of cars passing on the street outside–my mind processes this information, but my attention skips over it. My attention is usually occupied by issues related to my relationships with loved ones, ruminations about what I’m going to eat for dinner, etc.

    Is that a bad thing? Sometimes, it can be, as the process can be painful–no argument there! But, why attempt to abandon it? Doesn’t it make us human?

  14. You will find that if you pay full attention to what is happening in/to you then the issues that are otherwise occupying your mind will slow down, loose strength, loose importance, stop (this is easily verifiable through the practice of meditation). That is why, for example boredom, does not exist in any other form than as the opposite of paying attention. As an actual, real quality, boredom, or lack of interest do not exist. There is just your attention/focus/what you are tuning in on.

    The factory setting on the mind is to be reactionary, uncontrolled, wild. The Zen Buddhists call it ‘monkey mind’.

    So, it is not an issue of abandonment (especially not the abandonment of what it is to be ‘human’), but an issue of self-control. Not even of self-control in the absolute sense, rather of self-understanding and self-knowledge, which allows for intelligent self-use. When the robot becomes self-aware, he/she receives the choice to attempt to stop being a robot.

    As for what makes us human, well, most people appear to be interested in slightly different issues than me (ie., security, food, pleasure, copulation), if you take the behaviour of the majority as the determining factor then the strife for the satisfaction of those 4 qualities is what makes us human (albeit somehow robotically human, predeterminedly so). If this is what makes us human then perhaps allowing your conditioned mind to rule over you, instead of you ruling over it, is also a condition of humanity.

    I don’t know – do you think that you are human because you have no power of discrimination over what your mind processes and what attitude you take towards it? Are you human because you feel that it is more important to think about loved ones, or food, then to pay attention to the here-and-now?

    I believe that the strife for perfection is what makes us human, and as there is only one form of perfection (in the absolute sense), that is what we strive towards, that is what we are. In a way it appears to me that finding out what it is to be human is what makes us human.

  15. “You will find that if you pay full attention to what is happening in/to you then the issues that are otherwise occupying your mind will slow down, loose strength, loose importance, stop (this is easily verifiable through the practice of meditation).”

    Certainly, and I think that one of the great strengths of meditation is that, by disengaging from these “issues,” they can gain a new sense of focus. I think hallucinogenic drugs serve a similar function. But, if they are to gain any focus at all, then one is inevitably beckoned to return to them. If one does not wish to understand those issues, then perhaps an eternity in meditative bliss is a good way of accomplishing that end. For the individual who, on the other hand, demands to gain meaning and understanding from one’s issues and circumstances . . . well, escape isn’t exactly an option.

    “As for what makes us human, well, most people appear to be interested in slightly different issues than me . . . ”

    Good! God knows the world needs people like you. However, I would like to remind you that it is security, sex, and food that allow you to tackle those issues in the first place. Even a master Zen Buddhist has to eat! So, while you have the option of denigrating the “monkey mind” as a motivation to move past it, I would say it is useful to remember that it is the very thing that brought you to this point. Maybe those four factors don’t inform the question of what it is to be human, and maybe they do. But, one thing’s for sure–without them, we wouldn’t even be asking ourselves that question to begin with.

    “I don’t know – do you think that you are human because you have no power of discrimination over what your mind processes and what attitude you take towards it? Are you human because you feel that it is more important to think about loved ones, or food, then to pay attention to the here-and-now?”

    Well, I certainly have power over what my brain processes, and the attitudes that I take over those processes, but I also understand that my powers, in that department, are limited. My powers are limited because I depend on the system, let’s call it Life, that gave me this human existence in the first place. None of us can trek to the top of a mountain and meditate our way into nirvana. We’ll either starve, get lonely, or freeze–three things that make concentration or insight practice rather difficult! Unless we return to that system, and accept the bondage that comes with it, we’ll die.

    “In a way it appears to me that finding out what it is to be human is what makes us human.”

    Bingo! And, look around you, look at all the things the humans in this world have been doing for precisely that end. They’ve been writing books, falling in love, making music, watching movies–laughing together and sharing the meaning of their experiences. How beautiful!

    And it’s all possible because of people like you; people who, as you say, strive for perfection, people who are not satisfied with occupying all their time with the demands of the “monkey mind.” The computers we use and the internet through which they connect us, these miracles of the world, were created by people like who, people who did more with their time than endlessly chase those four qualities.

    As I see it, if everyone like you tried to spend their entire lives in meditative bliss, they’d be wasting their talents, and the world would be impoverished for it. We’re all going to live and we’re all going to die. In the mean time, let’s make it mean something. As the great Helen Keller said (a spiritual teacher if ever there was one): “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

    That, my friends, is the ultimate way to let go of this thing we call “ego.”

  16. hahaha…. it only took 4 years to get you guys talking to each other instead of me. by all means continue. It might take me a week or two before i start cranking new stuff out again.

  17. Hamble: Re-reading the last 2 exchanges between us, it appears to me that we are not arguing about the same issues.

    There are some assumptions that you make that I do not agree with.

    The first one is that there is a distinction between spiritual life (meditative bliss, ‘escaping’ the real world, ‘people like me’) and real life. The two are the same – it is the intention behind the ‘real life’ that transforms it into a ‘spiritual life’ (which is still being based on and in real life). So, to draw another metaphor, it is possible to live life without intention (being lost, depressed, missing something), with a ‘base’ intention (food/sex/security), looking for intention, or with a defined and solid intention (which, in my opinion, is where spirituality/mysticism/magick lead towards). The life is the same, as you said, even a Zen master has to eat, sleep, or wipe his bum.

    It is impossible to escape, or avoid life.

    Practising spirituality, whichever (lack of) tradition or methodology happens to be chosen, is not escapist. As, all in all, the practice of spirituality is the taking on of full responsibility for one’s life, escapism does not make for a good description. Rather, spirituality is the taking on of responsibility that most people leave in the hands of:
    – parents
    – society
    – formal education
    – religion (atheism being a religion in its own right)
    – the limitations of the body and mind
    It is the taking of responsibility for finding the truth, about yourself, about life, about the world, ultimately the ultimate.

    Hardly escapist.

    The other assumption that you make is that happiness is the goal/intention of spirituality (or the method towards letting go of the ego):

    “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

    That, my friends, is the ultimate way to let go of this thing we call “ego.”

    The attainment of happiness (which is a duality, and as such inexperienceable without its opposite) is most definitely not the goal of spirituality as I understand it, neither is it a way to let go of the ego. Happiness is an emotion, it is temporary and (here we go again) reactionary.

    The goal of spirituality is the attainment/connection/experience of the divine. There are other cornerstones, roads, markers,… but the aim and goal is always the same, even if described differently. Increased happiness and blissful states are there, but they are not the aim, or the method.

  18. Hey Pavel,

    I agree with you on the first point–I had definitely made an unclear distinction between the spiritual life and the real life. You’re absolutely correct to state that anything that we can call “spiritual” has be carried out here, in the “real world.”

    On the second point, I think I read the Helen Keller quote differently than you. When she writes “happiness,” I interpret it as “meaning,” which is something altogether different and more powerful. Because, you are correct to say that happiness is temporary and can only be experienced as a duality of suffering; but, to me, that’s what it’s all about. Meaning is something that is felt by the heart–it’s the thing that makes one cry, and the thing that makes one smile. One can call tears and laughter illusory constructs of the ego–I call them the things that make life worth living. Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” explains this idea pretty well.

    The Buddhists imagine NIrvana in the same way that the Christians imagine Heaven–as places without suffering. But the thing about suffering is this: it makes you stronger, it gives life meaning, and, through it, you grow. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and somebody who knew a thing or two about suffering, wrote a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning” that explains this idea pretty well.

  19. No need to apologize.

    I am not Buddhist or Christian so I cant reply to you very accurately, but to the best of my knowledge nirvana is simply the direct experience of the divine or God or reality. I do not know whether Buddhists believe that suffering can be transcended permanently, but I do not think that they believe that this can be done through the experience of nirvana/samadhi. I would be interested to know for sure though.

    As for heaven, I always understood it metaphorically, I have a feeling that it was originally written with a different meaning in mind, not representing an actual place that souls would travel to after death. Most mystical systems get twisted and warped and rebranded into religion. Why believe what other people tell you when you can find out for yourself.

    ‘But the thing about suffering is this: it makes you stronger, it gives life meaning, and, through it, you grow.’

    I would once again disagree, you make yourself stronger, there is a source to that strength too. Challenges (or suffering) are good grounds for practising your strength, but they do not cause it, it is you (that it belongs to) and your work (that causes it and strengthens it). Life has the meaning that you give it (entirely), suffering is an odd choice, but a choice nevertheless (and most definitely your choice). And you grow because you can’t stop it, but you are in charge of the how, where and towards…

    As for me, I find a lot of suffering to be meaningless and unnecessary – most of the suffering I have gone through in my life has been self-created, whether out of self-hate, shame, guilt, or other people’s doing (and my reaction to it). I find no real use to it apart from working with it, slowly peeling the onion until I hopefully get to the core.

    If you find suffering useful, even desirable (it leads towards strength and gives meaning to life), well, that may or may not say something about you. You seem to connect well with people who have suffered, reading their words, their words resonating with you. Suffering brings out the best (and the worst) in people, but is it to be celebrated?

  20. I had a brief look around and it appears that the Buddhists do believe that enlightenment results in the end of suffering (not an escape from it, which would imply its continued existence). I do not believe that enlightenment is understood as the inability to experience emotions, which is, I think, how you defined suffering earlier (ie. the emotional state). You would have to compare your definitions with theirs to find out whether their understanding of enlightenment and suffering is similar to yours (it appears not).

  21. To be fair to the Buddhists, it’s not so just simply “suffering” that Nirvana frees us from. That’s a poor translation from an early European interpreter of Buddhism that just kind of stuck.

    What we’re freed from is “Dukkha”, which is a lot like what how it sounds, and is a rather complex concept.

    From wikipedia: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukkha)
    In classic Sanskrit, the term duḥkha was often compared to a large potter’s wheel that would screech as it was spun around, and did not turn smoothly. The opposite of dukkha was the term sukha, which brought to mind a potter’s wheel that turned smoothly and noiselessly. In other Buddhist-influenced cultures, similar imagery was used to describe dukkha. An example from China is the cart with one wheel that is slightly broken, so that the rider is jolted each time the wheel rolls over the broken spot.

    To Buddha, all life was Dukkha. The removal of dukkha is the ability to flow exactly with the movements of the divine.

    Also, suffering should not be confused with difficulty. Difficulty is good, and can cause us to suffer and grow. But suffering without growth is no good at all.

    Gurdjieff called it unconscious suffering, and said it made our efforts “food for the moon”, which is downright hilarious, but I think that’s the point. Suffering with no intent behind it is pretty stupid, whereas suffering for a purpose, if it’s a good purpose, is totally worthwhile.

  22. “Suffering with no intent behind it is pretty stupid, whereas suffering for a purpose, if it’s a good purpose, is totally worthwhile.” — Ian

    Ian, you took the words right out of my mouth. This gets at the heart of the major problem I have with the claim that the self is an illusion. For, if there is a longing for purpose and meaning in one’s life, then there is no choice but to use one’s life, one’s self, to connect with that sense of purpose. To be told that there was no self to begin with feels like a slap in the face–at least to me.

    “Suffering brings out the best (and the worst) in people, but is it to be celebrated?” — Pavel

    It’s not the suffering that I would celebrate, but the meaning that is found through that suffering. Is suffering necessary to find meaning? Maybe, maybe not. Don’t misunderstand me; it is not suffering itself that I’ve ever sought, doing so would make me a masochist. It’s meaning. The image you offered, of peeling away the layers of the onion to hopefully find the core, resonated very strongly with me. I don’t know what, exactly, this powerful sense of meaning is, but I do know that it brings me closer to the “core” than anything else. It’s not really an emotion like happiness or sorrow, because it can be experienced with or without any of those emotions–it’s something more powerful and, once found, makes any suffering encountered on the road to it feel worthwhile.

    Someone famous once said: “I think, therefore I am.” For me, that’s just not good enough. I keep thinking: “I am . . . but why?”

  23. Great posts guys, been watching the back-and-forth.

    “This gets at the heart of the major problem I have with the claim that the self is an illusion. For, if there is a longing for purpose and meaning in one’s life, then there is no choice but to use one’s life, one’s self, to connect with that sense of purpose. To be told that there was no self to begin with feels like a slap in the face–at least to me.”

    You can still have purpose and meaning in daily life whilst exploring the ego, which is the illusion of a seperate self projected over the sensations that arise and pass in your bodymind. There are three teachings in Buddhism: Morality, which is day-to-day living, your psychological makeup, savin’ the world, working, learning, sharing, loving, finding your bliss etc. Then there’s Concentration which is about attaining one-pointedness of mind and strong focus. Then there’s Insight, which concerns the progressive penetration of reality to understand the three characteristics of impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and egolessness (anatta.)

    There is a time and a place for each. As someone who practices meditation with the aim of enlightenment, and someone who has various other passions in life, I don’t see any contradiction, and I’m sure anyone who practices correctly won’t either. I can still enjoy life, suffer, write, train, and learn from all those relative experiences. In fact, I must, to enjoy and participate in everyday life. But when I hit the cushion, I’m going for Insight. Of course, insight gradually permeates aspects of our daily lives, but that’s something that needs to be experienced through one’s own efforts; there’s little point talking about it.

    I find myself explaining the Three Teachings to non-meditators and the like more than any other concept, as many people tend to blend all three teachings. A nice touch in Buddhism is that Morality is known as the First and Last teaching. Even after mastery of Insight (i.e. enlightenment), there’s still the laundry; there’s still the world outside, others to help, places to explore, knowledge to uncover. Daniel Ingram covers these points really well in the first few chapters of his free online book.

  24. Ian & Dan: Thank you for the explanation.

    Hamble: The self does not appear to have the capability of offering an absolute meaning or purpose – in this sense I believe that we are fully responsible for creating our own meaning and purpose. Most people do it unconsciously – they think about their job and give it meaning, they think about their loved ones and give them importance. The football team, the lifestyle, the political beliefs, the nationalism, the personality – all of it is artificial (and changeable). Midlife crisis is nothing else than the painful realization that all meaning in ones life has been self-created and that there is no inherent value to it, it leads nowhere.

    The real meaning, the strife for perfection I mentioned earlier, does not have anything to do with the self. It is universal and universally experienced. We all appear to experience it on some level and everyone hungers for it, yet it is difficult to identify it for what it is.

    The first kind can be played with, the second kind can be found. Both demand effort.

    Someone famous once said: “I think, therefore I am.” For me, that’s just not good enough. I keep thinking: “I am . . . but why?”

    I agree wholeheartedly, Descartes did not know what he was talking about. I think that you are much closer to getting to the core of it. Funnily enough, Descartes was deeply religious and unsurprisingly suffered a lot of difficulty in combining his philosophical beliefs with his religious conviction.

  25. Yeah, this is a great conversation.

    Hamble: Your comments make me wonder, is it possible to find and appreciate meaning without a having a “self”? Can there be meaning when there’s no boundary between identity and everything-else?

    Dan: “that’s something that needs to be experienced through one’s own efforts; there’s little point talking about it.”
    The Tao that can be spoken of is not the true Tao, eh? 🙂

    Also, from your way of explaining the three teachings, it seems they might be collectively though of as a way to maintain a focused feeling of being-present-in-the-real-world, without getting confused by identifying with anything that is not real. They seem to form three sides of a bowl in which that sense of “realness” can be caught… Would that be fair a fair interpretation?

    Maybe that sense of realness is what Hamble means by “meaning”? I don’t know, there’s definitely some good threads here though.

    I really have to get started on Daniel Ingram’s book…

    Pavel: Again, the question seems to come up, can we create meaning without having a “self”? The first kind of meaning you mention seems like a pointer toward the second, assuming you don’t get caught up in the first!

    Maybe the ego could be thought of as a similar kind of pointer toward a truer sense of identity…

    As for good ole Rene Descartes, I always wondered if “cogito ergo sum”, what happens when you’re not “cogiting”…?

  26. “Also, from your way of explaining the three teachings, it seems they might be collectively though of as a way to maintain a focused feeling of being-present-in-the-real-world, without getting confused by identifying with anything that is not real. They seem to form three sides of a bowl in which that sense of “realness” can be caught… Would that be fair a fair interpretation?”

    I think so, yes. An Art of Living if you will.. (“The Art of Living” is also the title of a good book by SN Goenka on vipassana meditation!)

    I don’t think there’s any contradiction between “meaning” and no-self. I have both, and so do you 🙂 Insight practice just helps you understand the ground-level behind the meaning.

  27. Yeah, Dan, I think that’s exactly what I’m wondering about, the ground level where no-self and “meaning” connect. Because although we can have both meaning and “no self”, it’s not necessarily apparent that they can co-exist at the same time.

    In order for something to have meaning implies that it has meaning while other things do not. Meaning is an elevation of a certain thing or experience above other things or experiences. Meaning implies choice, and choices are always made by a subject, a conscious aware being.

    Now, I understand that we can contain subjectivity and no-self within our consciousness at the same time, but is there ever a way for no-self to find meaning in anything? Or is this sense of meaning and purpose just another of “the sensations that arise and pass in your bodymind”?

    You say “There is a time and a place for each.” and I totally agree. But I wonder if purpose and no-self ever interconnect, and if so, is there a way to experience that moment of interconnection between the two?

    caveat: I practice the Zen style of Buddhist meditation, and I know that I am probably guilty of over intellectualizing the whole thing here. It just is what it is. Take the damn poison arrow out of my body, I don’t care who shot it at me! 😉

    Still, I think it’s helpful (and fun) to think about these things, even if the thoughts alone don’t necessarily get us anywhere…

  28. “Your comments make me wonder, is it possible to find and appreciate meaning without a having a “self”? Can there be meaning when there’s no boundary between identity and everything-else?” — ian

    My feeling is: no, it is not possible. Meaning, for me, is a completely subjective and personal experience, having very little to do with objective reality. If you travel up to northern Wisconsin and sit on the banks of a piece of water called Sand Lake, then you’d probably just be seeing a lake; one that isn’t particularly distinct or special from any other lake. What happens if I travel there? Something very different; for I am seeing “THE lake.” All the memories I have of that place–beautiful mornings spent fishing along the banks, bright afternoons swimming and laughing with my family, nights under the stars spent deep in thought–come back to me. And this is what brings me closest to that “center of the onion” Pavel talked about.

    “Or is this sense of meaning and purpose just another of “the sensations that arise and pass in your bodymind”?” — ian

    this question brings to mind notion of the “leap of faith.,” popularized by existientialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. One knows that, to have a personally meaningful experience, one must make a subjective distinction between things that are meaningful and things that are not, and that this distinction is not “true” in any objective or empirical sense. And so, to find meaning, one must have “faith” that the process is worthwhile.

    “Most people do it unconsciously – they think about their job and give it meaning, they think about their loved ones and give them importance. The football team, the lifestyle, the political beliefs, the nationalism, the personality – all of it is artificial (and changeable).” — Pavel

    Precisely, but the question remains: is it worth it? My feeling, here, is that your answer is “no,” and that you are expressing a deeply negative attitude about the world around you, about life, and about what it is to be human in offering that answer. I don’t want to insult you, and I don’t necessarily blame you–there are a lot of bad things in this world to feel negative about.

    But, if I may repeat myself, there are also many beautiful, wonderful things. In my experience, they arise in thought, not in the absence of it–like loving somebody so much that you cry, or hearing a song for the first time in ten years and having your heart transported back through time to when you first heard it. When you feel those things, you understand that it wasn’t Universal Mind or Buddha or God that experienced them–it was you.

  29. Hamble: I am a bit bitter about the conditioned personality, you are right about that 🙂 It is a problematic construction, while I try to work with it using a fair mixture or observance and acceptance, some bitterness seeps through here and there.

    I am not negative about life, I have no reason to be, I try to see it for what it is, I experience the ups and the downs in increasing intensity. But drama only entertains me so much.

    But, if I may repeat myself, there are also many beautiful, wonderful things. In my experience, they arise in thought, not in the absence of it–like loving somebody so much that you cry, or hearing a song for the first time in ten years and having your heart transported back through time to when you first heard it. When you feel those things, you understand that it wasn’t Universal Mind or Buddha or God that experienced them–it was you.

    I do not think that all of these sensations arise in thought – when I experience particular things (my favourite way of accessing this is still through physical activity) my mind stops, I am in the moment, there is no time, I am what I do and it is bliss. There is no thought, no emotions, the doing becomes the doer. You mentioned using psychedelics earlier, do you have any similar experiences? (I believe that the first time I noticed the ability to experience directly was through the use of psychedelics)

    The fact that when there is no mind, no emotion, no reaction, there still is, makes me believe that a) Descartes was wrong (there is no thought as well as thought and the no thought is always there), b) no thought proves the existence of something beyond the conditioned personality, c) this something is blissful and beckoning.

    Even though I have no direct experience of the ’universal mind’, it appears to me that we are God, we are Buddha, there is no distinction. It is not that something outside of us is experiencing or that we are experiencing something outside of us. We are what we experience and what we experience is us. We can only measure according to the capabilities of our apparatus, if we measure (experience) God, then we must logically be if the apparatus is capable of measuring it in its entirety. If there is no-thought, we are no-thought.

    Ian: I believe that once you start working with the self-created meaning (becoming responsible for ones wants, needs and reactions), the next logical step is to look whether there is something that is not self-created. One definitely leads to the other.

    And your question to poor old Descartes is identical to mine 🙂

    Dan: If I understood correctly, you are saying that no-self = meaning.

  30. I shy away from discussing these kinds of topics because I don’t think it’s that useful, but I’ll clarify here. I accept the premise of no-self, and the reality of all the arising and passing sensations that make up my reality. (Note: I’m still a relatively newbie meditator)

    From this emptiness/spirit/no-self arises form, and that form creates structure and relationships on many different scales, micro to macro. On the scale of humans, meaning for me is the flexing and exploration of the relationships that define my existence; my relation to other people, the world, beautiful music, sex, good food, writing, reading etc. These relationships, these patterns of form, define who I am and through them I synthesise meaning. I have no problem with that. On this scale, that all makes good sense and to me represents skillful compassionate living. This is the level I interact with other people and the world, so it’s pretty darn important.

    I can accept all of that whilst also accepting that on the most fundamental scale, there is no self. So on that scale, there is just “This.” Nirvana, emptiness etc.

    Reality at one scale is not reality at another scale. Different qualities and patterns emerge at each scale. On my daily every-day living scale, meaning is everywhere, and that is the reality of that experience. At different times, my perception switches to a more fundamental scale, and I understand the Three Characteristics of existence. At that scale, the higher scales tend to temporarily dissolve in the fundamental knowledge of insight. But when I go back to every-day stuff, the relationships, meaning and relative content all become very important and real again.

    I think this recognition of scale is really important. It is for me, at least. Digesting some Wilber and hitting the cushion should help anyone flesh out this point. In short, I don’t see any conflict between no-self and meaning. That tentative conclusion comes from my own experience; writing about it tends to tie it in logical conceptual knots.

  31. Yeah, scale…

    Found this quote today, shortly after catching up on this conversation: “I can’t imagine a more complete and precise answer to the question ‘for what reason…?’ than ‘none’. The fact that you don’t like the answer is your problem, not the universe’s.”
    — Lee Daniel Crocker

    Meaning is OUR problem. We are the universe’s organs of meaning, it is something that is brought into being through our existence. But to get caught up in the meaning and to forget our connection to the universe is to stop serving that purpose.

    Perhaps in this case, meaning is another way of saying “attention”. That to which we willing give our attention, and thus is more attention created within the universe… We tell the universe in which way it should grow, by giving our attention to that.

  32. Amen!

    “Man discovers that he is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself. The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself.”
    –Teilhard de Chardin

  33. Pavel: You may be right that the sensations that create a meaningful experience do not, at first, arise in thought, but I still maintain that thought is indispensable to the development of meaning. Your example of physical activity (lifting weights and playing basketball does it for me!) illustrates this point. In the heat of the moment, you don’t have much thought and emotion, because you are so involved in the doing (which is as it should be!) that your mind can’t find the thought and emotion.

    But, when the exertion is over, you come back, and you reflect on the experience. Your thoughts offer you the capacity to compare the experience of physical exertion to other, more sedentary, experiences. You notice differences. You notice how blissful that intense involvement in the physical activity was. And, there it is, through your uniquely human abilities (thought, emotion, memory, an understanding of cause and effect, etc.) you’ve _created_ a meaningful experience.

    And yes, I have had a couple of experiences with psychedelics. Specifically, I decided to grow my own batch of psilocybe cubensis when, after a long period of failing to find my own life interesting and meaningful, I looked to hallucinogens for what my life lacked. I ate them on two occasions and then, out of horror and revulsion, threw the rest away. Instead of giving me a meaningful experience, the mushrooms did the opposite; they stripped away my capacity to add meaning to my experiences.

    But, those little brown things also opened my eyes to the very fact that it is me, not God, or Mother Earth, or anything else that will determine how much meaning and interest I find in my life. So, while the time that I tripped was full of terror, senselessness, and anguish; in the following months I reflected on the experiences and gleaned some important and much needed lessons from them.

  34. Hamble: Direct experience is thought-less. Apart from that, I agree (and have said so earlier) that this form of meaning is self-created and changeable (through conscious effort).

    Psychedelics are non-specific amplifiers, on a smaller dose, they show you a facet of who you are, who you think you are, what you think about and amplify it. This can be either pleasant or unpleasant. From my experience, as with any other tool, it matters a lot on how you use it, as well as on how you integrate what you experienced when its all done (as you rightfully point out).

    Dan: Thank you very much for that explanation.

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