Dialogue With A Sage: The Thousand Deaths
About 38 years ago I—a past “me”, which does not exist except as a memory-thought, or traces on film in the present—experienced what was could be called “ego death” or “Samadhi” or an NDE (Near Death Experience)—what was experienced was a thought, so quiet that I could say it was a silent thought, more like simple, direct knowing.
The knowing thought said “Life is the Same as Death” that I knew was absolutely self-evident, true, a simple fact of cosmic existence, more obvious than 1+1=2 … and I “decide” in this self-evidence, to simply lean back and stop breathing, and “I” dissolved and left this material world and entered the light of a thousand suns, a timeless ineffable spaceless void of the infinite, intelligence, love, bliss, perfection, beauty, non-separation, Reality…
“Real thinking starts from the unknown, from silence.” – Jean Klein, Living Truth (p.7)
Was it was an experience of the “Absolute”? All I know it was the most real thing I ever experience—it felt more real than real—and that does not fit into “this world”, whatever this world is. I know that too is hard to explain (think of trying explain the 4th dimension to Flatlanders). I now think of this reality where I appear to be writing this article as like a concretion of the real reality: a temporary densification. Instead of being the Sun, you pretend you’re in a cave for a time being (Plato’s cave), and create time and space so you can do it
For a while after this experience, I felt a great calm and sense of love and understanding, that a friend also noticed. But this soon faded, and as a young man in my twenties, in living in this world, fully embedded as a body-mind consciousness as it were, I experienced various life difficulties, such as the conditional love and break up with a beautiful girlfriend I was engaged to (after starting a sexual life – I was only 21 at the time and a late starter). This led to a feeling of inner pain and brokenness, a sense of separateness, and as time went on, under stress as a university student, very serious about his research, and under pressure to “be someone” and accomplish something, slid into what was labelled as “Clinical Depression”.
The fact was, I had no context, no framework for this “peak experience”. I had no training or background in spiritual topics. So naturally, over time, I dismissed it or forgot it, or tried to explain it as somehow an amazing brain phenomenon, perhaps an evolutionary biology trick to help the organism survive a low-oxygen brain state by jolting them with a innate religious experience circuit. We are clever animals and can come up with all kinds of explanations and stories. This is especially true if we are motivated to fit in and maintain the status quo, survive in a certain family or place in the world, the world of thinking and behavior, and being in the society we find ourselves in, and needing to establish and maintain a life (work, material items, relationships, social identity and standing, health, etc.).
On the other hand there was a deep feeling, not always conscious, that things were not as they appear in life. Something very incredible was going on: here we are, or here I was, a conscious intelligence, but seemingly a material being. How could a material thing have a spiritual exprience? (This would come out later in my artworks, this seeming existence and tension of opposites that allows for creation). How was this even possible?!
Religious explanations never had any real interest for me. I grew up with an avowedly atheist father, a mother who was spiritually ambivalent (or at least reticent to express her views out loud), and within me an intense native curiosity about the natural world. I loved observing nature, learning science and absorbing the scientific worldview.
Over the years I had a fascinating journey through philosophy, psychology, psychotherapy, countless lifestyle experiments and schools of practices, and explorations into religion and spirituality. I experienced a gradual increase in happiness— the shape of this curve upwards is like the edge of a mountain slope, with up and downs, but a overall upward trend—until I can say today that I am happier “than the average bear”.
For a couple of days recently I experienced a bit of a “mood”. These feeling-thinking phenomena always have the sense of something mentally being re-hashed that needs to be let go of. It reminded me, with a taste of what a mood pattern was like, such that it inspired this article.
Some of these feelings are an exhibition in the sensations of what essentially is a phenomenon of resistance: resistance to what Is. And this resistance is remarkably common in our society.
Evidence for the resistance quality would be for example, if you talk to a friend that is “depressed”, how hard it can be to talk them out of the distorted ideas they have about themselves, people, situations, their body, and so forth. It seems real to them, their concerns. They will defend that perception, feel misunderstood, alone, unlike anyone else, with the weight of the world on them. A friend that can see that what they are saying is obviously false and unreal however, will not be able to dissuade them, and will be rebuffed. The depressed friend will reject all suggestions and ideas. It’s a funny thing, that a human being would want to hold onto something so negative and false and painful.
Sometimes it can seem difficult to realize this, but the truth is—as many wise teachers have tried to tell us through the ages—the only problems are problems in thinking. If you can stop thinking, your problems would be be gone. But, your problems seem physical, real. Why? Because you think them. No, this is not some kind of New Age claptrap, or metaphysical dreaming, where the personal mind does things, for example to affect matter, or energy, or persons. That’s garbage. On the contrary, this is an attempt to point to a pure fact.
This fact can be verified experimentally. But, it can only be by you, from the inside. It is what’s called “subtle” truth, which is why it’s not common knowledge, and can be hard to convey in words (otherwise the world would have been freed by sages, philosophers, mystics, therapists and the like, centuries ago). It’s not personal and it’s not containable in objects.
There is often a component (often learned from family) in a depressive state, of criticalness, seeing fault, perceiving problems, a sense of dread or doom, an outlook of expecting the worse to happen. There can be a perfectionism too that eats away at the person, since nothing is ever perfect enough. A sense of frustration, irritation, and tiredness builds. It can turn to despair, anger, negative behavior towards others, and self-destructive behavior in oneself, such as self-medication through drug and alcohol abuse, or eventually sometimes suicide. This is pointless and unnecessary: killing the body does not solve the problem of suffering, it only delays it.
There are widespread opinions and self-delusions about “causes” of others and one’s own depression. These beliefs and opinions are endless, as are the supposed ways to address them. But the problem cannot be solved at the same level at which it occurs. One has to step out of the system.
You can also spend a lot of time with a therapist going into the reasons: in the past, in the present, in the body, in this or that, or analyzing brain chemicals, and exploring and describing the shape and contours of one’s feelings and thoughts. Therapists love to do this, and get paid for it. Patients like to do it too, and spend a lot of money on it. Eventually though, the patient may get frustrated, and realize they are just moving the deck chairs around.
Ultimately, if one is stumbling around in the dark, tripping over the furniture, there is no reason to keep examining the furniture in the room. Just turn on the light!
“…To work on yourself is simply to know I am not the body or these emotions. And as you identify with your source everything will take care of itself. You do not work on the emotions because they will pop up somewhere else … But if you work on the source of your emotions, and realize that in reality there are no emotions to begin with, because there is only the Self. And the more you awaken to that fact, that the Self alone exists and everything else is false, then you will begin to mellow out.
Student: So it is gradual?
Sage: It depends, no. As you keep working on yourself, you can awaken instantaneously and be free of it, or it can be gradual. It is up to you. It depends what you put into it. Everybody’s different.”
~ Robert Adams, a 20th century Western Advaita sage (from a satsang dialogue 12-13-’91)
Further, these negative thoughts will repeat themselves for an unhappy or deeply depressed person, over and over, in a cycle or loop. It’s as if they are caught in a mobius strip, from which they have no control to extricate themselves. This is not true in reality, but try explaining that to the person in its grip! The illusion seems to have a fierce hold, like some scary beast. And, they add to it by feeding it more thoughts, piling on top of the writhing dark fog-beast thoughts like “I’m depressed, I’ll never feel better, people hate me me, I’m in a terrible situation…” etc.
A person’s view will be self-confirming: if they are thinking people are selfish and stupid, or can’t be trusted, when they go out into the world and look, that’s what they will experience. Or if they feel themselves to be a victim, opportunities to prove they are a victim (to relish being one, really, if we are honest), will come along. Humans are happy being unhappy, enjoy complaining, even when they get all they think they want, as strange and funny as it seems. They don’t want to be disabused of being abused, harassed by life.
Even a relatively happy person – a typical human being – will go through cycles year in and year out, of trying to address this underlying sense that something is missing, the dissatisfaction, the temporary or elusive peace and contentment, or pleasure, or that happiness is just over the horizon, once they get the X – the new thing, person, situation, new place to live and love.
The opposite can be confirmed to be true: have you ever been in a very high state of being, a truly happy state, and gone out into a crowd? You will see all kinds of smiling people, enjoying each other, being carefree. I have seen this many times. This is further evidence that what we experience as reality is not given as some kind of solid, rigid, predetermined set of mechanical thing-nesses, but has more of the qualities of software, of dream-stuff, of created playfulness, responding to whatever Consciousness chooses to do with mind.
I cannot prove this, I can only invite you to explore and prove things for yourself. It has to be first-person experimentation and investigation. You have to be open, willing, and motivated (interested).
The unhappy state of mind feels somehow forced, unfree. Almost like something was imposed from outside. (And this is a good clue as to some of the misperception and erroneous outlook at its core, as we shall soon see). And, unfortunately this quality is reinforced by beliefs about feelings, moods, depression and anxiety, that are part and parcel of our culture: a network of shared thinking that is untrue, and that both facilitates and keeps in place unhappiness. Also, there is much money to be made off unhappiness and the seeking that results. It’s good business. The constant churn and over-productivity and waste of a consumerist culture, is driven by these feelings of insecurity and seeking. Religion and the spiritual industry also take advantage of this wanting, and put it to good use.
In essence, the underlying outlook, the presumption that drives it, is that one is a separate, mortal being that must fight to survive, struggle to gain moments of pleasure, and is in nearly constant danger. In this view, one is running between the poles of fear and desire in a effort to somehow create happiness (from relationships, things, activities, places, etc.), a happiness that never lasts, except for brief moments when a desire is realized, or a fear, the underlying insecurity, is temporarily quashed, or a momentary lapse in thinking allows the spirit to shine, or a drug, or sex, or an artistic creative moment, temporarily dissolves the barrier to the infinite Self. We the attach the happiness to that object, mistakenly. We are all addicts.
The underlying belief, usually unconscious, inherited from the culture, is that what we are is an object, a body, a human being, among other human beings and a multiplicity of objects in a material universe—nothing but “atoms in a void” as the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus put it—hard stuff, among other hard stuffs, basically robots in time and space, with a brain and some kind of consciousness software running in it … and doomed. And if this meat robot seems to be running in a broken way, run to a doctor to fix it (if it’s admitted there’s a problem, which for men is more rare).
In this battle of life, this struggle for survival, in an objective universe of minds and bodies, views of the “spiritual” are seen as self-delusion, stupid, false, mere beliefs of the gullible: superstitious fantasies, dreamings from the past, handed down from religion. “Woo woo”, or “New Age”. But somewhere in the spiritual, if one can de-code it, if one can divine the real meaning for oneself, are clues to true and ultimate freedom, absolute happiness, eternal peace of mind.
“You must look at the world but never react to anything. You must watch your feelings and your emotions, observe them, and as they come into contact with you, you must become the witness, realizing that you are not those emotions. You are not your bad temper. You are not the depression. You are nothing that goes on in this world.” – Robert Adams, 10-31-1991
I’m not trying to sell a belief system. Far from it. In fact I would hope that everyone drop all beliefs whatsoever. A belief is holding something to be true even with a total lack of evidence. A belief is a burden. The problem is what we take to be evidence is not examined, closely, carefully.
Assumptions are rife in most people’s thinking, and the assumptions run their lives. We give up control to thinking and feeling, and in fact do live like robots: the robots we believe to be. And the truth is, as separate beings, as mortal bits among countless other mortal bits, we are in essence robots, because we have no free will, are puppets of cause and effect, in a infinite chain of cause and effect. As you believe, so are you.
The vertical dimension gets ignored—the dimension that comes from what we could call “Source”, from the mystery of what we inherently truly are, evident only as the fruit of allowed innate intelligence, of what we are as infinite, immortal, eternal nonlocal Being (singular, not “beings”) of unlimited power and energy. In a material view, love, truth and beauty are considered to be unreal, man-made, factory-made, merely psychological phenomenon, perhaps of Darwinian survival value for the individual body or group of bodies.
Why is the vertical dimension ignored, or mysterious? Because it is invisible to the senses and the mind. Our culture only recognizes and respects that which can be seen, felt, ouched, or thought about. One of the favorite sayings of my father was “Only the facts, ma’am.” that he heard from some old-time journalist. It summed up for him the philosophy of life, and indeed reflect the underlying philosophy of Western society.
Such a view seems scientific on the surface. It seems scientific to only believe in what you can sense with the senses, or conceptualize with the mind. But there are two ways in which it is in fact not scientific: it is based in belief, and it is not supported by evidence. Rather this outlook is based in assumptions and false inferences, all either arrived at by incorrect reasoning, or learned (from family, school, friends, the culture).
This unitary, nonlocal reality is a dimension that cuts through time and space. Our philosophy, our psychology, and our culture and the sciences that are worshipped, see the only real things as those which can be seen by the senses and thought by the mind.
I once talked to a doctor, a general physician, in Southern California (I lived in San Diego at the time), who admitted that most people that came to him—something like 70 to 80 percent, I don’t remember the exact number he gave—came because of psychological issues. They may not have recognized that they were depressed or anxious, but the vague symptoms they reported, and their general physical health, made it clear to him that there was nothing actually physically wrong with them. So, most of his prescriptions were for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Now that is a very depressed and anxious society! And the fact is, antidepressants only address symptoms, and not what is at the root of suffering.
In continental Europe and the USA, the ground water and drinking water contain trace amounts of antidepressants, benzodiazepines (used for anxiety management and addiction withdrawal symptoms), and anticonvulsants. Most of the pills we pop go right through our bodies: that is, 80% of the chemicals are excreted. And, unwanted drugs are also flushed down toilets. A recent study showed that something like 1/6 to 1/5 or more of Americans took antidepressants in 2011 to 2014, and the rate has only increased since then. For women it’s more, and for women over 60, it was almost one quarter (25%) of them.
Since feeling are made from thinking, one will feel this negative thinking: the body will feel heavy. Moods are common to all non-self-realized human beings, and run a spectrum from low to high and all colors in between. That heavy, dark feeling is what seems problematic in the first place, and is labelled as “depression” when it becomes more or less dysfunctional and and overly painful for a person: if it weren’t felt in the body and mind as a mood, it would just be a dark outlook with consequences in decisions. Indeed, a stiff, irritable heaviness, viscous like black molasses, will feel like ones present reality. A lack of mental clarity, like a dense fog, will characterize thinking. It becomes more laborious to think.
The interesting thing though, is that this mood can lift very quickly, almost in an instant, if when you aren’t “looking” something happens to make you jump out of the thinking. For example, some joke strikes you the right way, and boom, the supposedly depressed person finds themselves laughing and smiling without knowing. Then as soon as they remember “Oh yeah, I’m depressed”, boom!, they are right back in it. They jump right back into the circular straight jacket in their mind. (It’s clear that it’s not chemical or genetic: that is a myth promulgated by the pharmaceutical industry for profit).
When this resisting action is let go of—the thinking that constitutes it—so goes the “depression” (which is just a name). It evaporates. This seemingly heavy, dense feeling no longer colors one’s reality. It becomes clear it was illusory. The clouds thin out and the clear sky is revealed.
The following is an email dialogue that occurred a while ago, when the author was going through a brief, mild depression – something he’d been free of for many years (English is the sage’s second language, so forgive the rough phrasing at times)
Been going through a little depression for the last few days, but it’s a springboard “Everything that happens to you is for your own good.” Nothing happens by chance. A Robert Adams quote I ran across (from his satsang October 29th, 1992):
“You begin to understand that everything that happens to you is for your own good, for your own benefit. Nothing is here to ever hurt you, as strange as it may seem. Everything is here for your advancement, everything. Every situation, every predicament is there for your advancement.”
Advancement of what…of whom?
Yes, that’s the question I had.
It always comes back to self enquiry.
Is one doing Self-Improvement, or Self-Realization? Ego-driven or not.
Self-Realization can help improve one’s humanhood, but it’s more like a side-effect, since one is (supposedly, hopefully) unattached.
But I know: who is unattached to what?
Keep it simple.
Simply ask this question:
I am actually that or am I that which is aware?
Am I that thought or am I that which allows for all thinking?
Yes, aware of the thoughts, the thinking.
One-pointedness I can do, have lots of practice.
Opening one’s attention – that’s not so easy.
I get it in theory but in practice it jumps around to sensations, perceptions, thoughts. Not all at once.
Though I know by nature it has to be all, all at once, and is the same as All.
Could you let be easy for a second and just zoom out?
As you would do with a camera lens?
Just for a second.
Don’t over do it.
I only seem to be able to relax up to a certain point (sometimes, or most of the time), then it’s all out of my control, unconscious. It can’t be willed by “me”.
In other words, any effort goes against the zooming out. You can’t try not to try…
It’s self trying to get out of self, which is impossible…
I know, I know, I’m supposed to surrender ….
tried that too haha
Don’t worry, it’ll happen. By itself I guess?… 🙂 MySelf…
Sage: I am not worry.
What you are is imperturbable, uninvolved.
To worry would be imagining you are being something you are not.
“The Self is like a powerful magnet pulling towards itself while imagining is going at its own accord.”
I know you aren’t worried. It’s me projecting.
I like that quote! Was it Ramana Maharshi?
Hmm, I heard the Advaita teacher Francis Lucille say once that some people are born with chemical imbalances (that account for some mental illnesses, mood disorders). I wonder if that’s true (like my sister and I) to degrees such that it may get better over time but we are left with vulnerabilities that are triggered, and it’s more of a bodily thing you just have to wait out…
I know, it’s just a thought …
I have gotten happier over time though. Mind over matter, or consciousness over mind over seeming matter…
Don’t react …
If you have a healthy mind as you do.
You can liberate yourself from these old habits of thinking which generates disorders as mental illnesses, mood disorders.
What pulls you out of this organic habit is love for freedom more than wanting to be controlled, pushed & pulled by it.
We all go through it.
In the scriptures it’s referred to poetically: the thousand deaths.
Liberating yourself from the thousand habits of being a person (You have already experienced many).
Sounds as if You are only looking away from what you have been asking for, Freedom.
When asking for Freedom, the garbage comes up and instead of letting it pass… You start smelling it.
You don’t need to smell the garbage before throwing it out.
Yes it’s true, it’s simple.
COMMENTARY (by the author):
Don’t romanticize moods. Don’t put too much meaning or significance into them. They are like clouds, like weather. They aren’t that deep, and psychology is a bad mistress: you don’t want to leave your marriage for her, despite the fascination (better to stay at home with Truth, Love and Beauty).
Try and get as quiet as you can, and observe, like you’d eye a sneaky quick little animal… observe the mind—the thoughts—the feeling-body, the reactions. Tame the restless cats.
Don’t worry, it won’t kill you to just sit with a “bad” mood.
Instead of running away, running around, go with the flow and slow down, rest. Don’t add anything to the reaction by judging it, fearing it, analyzing it. Let those thoughts of harshness come up and go by. This too shall pass.
And of course, above all, do not react externally by taking an action on a negative mood, a thought, that will make things worse. Don’t take it seriously. Do not fight, outside or inside. There is nothing to win or lose, other than yourself, your happiness. Your happiness is there, waiting silently to be uncovered. Don’t stir the mud any more. There is no one to defend. In other words, “Relax, brother and sister!”. Life is not a battle, not a war, has no sides. All of that is of the mind. You’re too old, too tired for all that nonsense, that mirage … if you’ve read this far, if you are a student of the Self, then you know not to play that game. You know you are just “caught up” in illusion.
Being at peace doesn’t imply one must escape responsibility, nor being superior to un-peace, or judging any state. Getting quiet doesn’t mean escaping or withdrawing. There is a time to rest and there is a time to act. When it’s time to act, act, but have it come from what’s true, from love, from the not-personal.
“Do the best you can, let God do the rest” I hear a wise man say.
No one is asking for perfection. As a critter in this world, this seeming world of cause and effect, can there be anything perfect? The world wouldn’t exist then. What’s perfect is the source of the world, the body, the mind. And it’s not visible to the senses.
A passage from the Tao Te Ching comes to mind:
Great accomplishment seems imperfect,
Yet it does not outlive its usefulness.
Great fullness seems empty,
Yet it cannot be exhausted.
Great straightness seems twisted.
Great intelligence seems stupid.
Great eloquence seems awkward.
Movement overcomes cold.
Stillness overcomes heat.
Stillness and tranquillity set things in order in the universe.
So what is there to do? The invisible is perfection. Can one be humble?
There is something very subtle, very elusive about what we call True Nature. If we try too hard, think too hard, effort too hard, it’s like trying to grab a butterfly.
Better to let it land on your welcoming hand.
By “sage” I mean someone (a being appearing as a human body to us who identify ourselves as bodies) who knows what they are, is by and large free, psychologically and spiritually, permanently in total happiness and peace, living spontaneously, unconditionally loving, open, with a silent mind, living life impersonally. In other words, they are “Self Realized”.
Self Realized means knowing what or who one is in truth, in essence, as unlimited, all-pervasive, ever-welcoming consciousness. It sounds contradictory or paradoxical for a person to realize they are not a person, but that is only from the outside, from a body-mind-world perspective.
This sage is a friend who I’ve had the great privilege of spending time with, talking with, or just “hanging out” with as we say, and enjoying dialogues about life and mind and reality. I’ve come to see just how illusory our so-called “problems” are. The only problem is how stubborn those illusions seem to be! We seem to love pretending to be unhappy! What a strange and perverse species human beings are …