An Offhand Accounting: 20 things I think I know now
In an instant, what we think we know can change unutterably. Afterwards, we imagine that our present knowing will be conserved, but can think of no way to prevent metanoia. After a few such revelations, our ideas become mere entertainments, and can only make us laugh as they arise (nevertheless, I'll probably continue to keep this in the #1 position.)
2. The Faces of Experience
We can describe and summarize the flow of our inner and outer experience; we can travel in time through use of memory in order to accomplish this. Though this is a gift of the gods, I've heard some say "So what?"
We can find patterns and associations in this flow. These patterns cannot be captured in concepts, but concepts can help us run after them. For example, "flow."
3. The Lineage of Thought
In the business of thinking, there seems to be very little, or perhaps better to say, nothing, that we have done by ourselves. We are absolutely and utterly dependent on the work of others who came before us, from our parents who helped us learn to speak to the authors who taught us our history and the subjects of our delight, back through the lineage of prehistoric elders whose sufferings trimmed our DNA. Why do I say this? Because when I look directly at the process of thinking, in any mood at all, I can find nothing of my "own" unless I deliberately corral it first and metaprogrammatically set about generating another new account of my "self" as a someone who uniquely did thus-and-so all on his own. Matters of thinking are always intertwined with content traceable to sources beyond me.
We always make too much of what we say.
5. Who's There?
The self is a misapprehension; the Self—however daunting and attractive—is probably the same. Who is the one who tries to make such a claim as this?
We may, depending upon who we are, badly want to be independent heroes and heroines willing new ideas and destinies, but this can happen only after we've made the years-long circuit through the process of unfolding and contemplating all our received ideas and concepts. Our habit of snapping up ready-made concepts is far too powerful and ingrained to be overthrown without extended practice. To this extent we all remain captives of our unexamined ideas, and the bone-deep inclinations of our born flesh.
7. Joy and Service
Our lives are very short and full of confusion and folly, but life offers relief as well. We are nothing by ourselves (see #3), so out of self-interest alone we must serve others. We can understand nothing and make no connections on our own. Although we must succeed as individual beings, we find that joy is incomplete unless we can find all beings assembled in our Heart. This is just how things are built here. Knowing what this means is not captured beneath a concept. Learning this cannot be done through goodness or personal force of the will.
Culture is a vital organ, perhaps second only to the Heart. As humans, culture is our key accomplishment, and our value to the unfolding of life in time. We must preserve the wealth of Understanding, and pass it on to those coming next. From time to time I've had strong intimations, and in some cases, dream visions, of “culture” unfolding across vast, cosmic scales; these impressions don't translate readily into the waking/talking realm. I believe this respect for culture is a dim reflection of the respect for the transmission of Realization from “generation to generation” as revealed to Great Souls and their various lineages. This story (#8) is a concentrated dissimulation of much deeper waters, fed by the Unbounded; some nights I can hear them rushing beneath the floor of my dreams.
Culture depends upon the maturation of the character of individuals. The progress of individual selves is the irreplaceable foundation for the transmission of culture. The wisdom and brilliance of a great culture depends upon translation through the lens of individual human wisdom and creativity.
10. Concepts Do Not Satisfy
There is no thought or concept, however exalted, that can satisfy us or give us peace, even the phrases spoken by those who have pierced the veil. I did not always know this. If I could convey this to you correctly, I might save you a great deal of life time. But the people for whom this may be useful advice are most likely to need to find this out for themselves. The Great Ease requires personal work and profound gratitude, though some may teach that gratitude is out of order in the final seeing. Thoughts and concepts are replenished by meditation, but also quickly burn to ash whenever the mind falls back into its root. If you're compelled to seek the account of the world provided by thoughts, you'll always be hungry.
Thoughts and concepts alone don't guide a life. The hungers and sufferings of the body have louder voices. Hungers and suffering seem truer for their omnipresence, but like thoughts, these are side-effects of being on life's way, and they are responsive to the constant general guidance provided subtly to the personal self.
Certain blessings in life are permanent. A return to the state of the Witness is never forgotten, only mislaid. From time to time I think I detect a steady-state background condition of Happiness; it's probably in the background because of its scope. It has no shape and thus cannot be sought, although it is one of the most popular stories here.
We can be melancholic, even become depressed, and see the light withdrawing from the world. We can taste death behind every object and feel that nothing is worth doing. The compelling but false reduction in this state of mind and body is "the universe is a death machine" and "my identity is this separate body confined to this point in space." In small, this is felt as life has no savour. How could we feel otherwise, if we at once feel isolated and sense how small our portion of understanding is?
Oddly, the body is perfectly adequate to announce the perfection of creation in its entirety, but we rush by this too quickly into mystery.
15. The Drum of Creation
We can also remember our former estate, and the vision of light that infuses our philosophy and in fact guides every one of our daily forays. We can still hear the drum of creation in every object. This knowledge arises in a form that seeks retelling; it feels like a kind of wealth that must be shared, since it brings joy.
16. Doubt and Trust
We can doubt everything. The truth of this state is knowing that we are not reliable witnesses of anything. We can laugh and trust everything. The truth of this state is knowing that we are not reliable witnesses of anything.
17. Unfaithful Servants
Philosophical life is sheer paradox. Mind's concoctions are a fraud, suggesting they are more than symbols, and they turn all the world into concepts only. But concepts can be servants for the pure state of Witness.
In my case, the mature appreciation of great art involves tears. Tears are a useful window on the worlds.
19. Blown Away
In the 1970’s it became clear to me that one could have all contents of the self burned out, blasted away by profound insight, yet have some kind of a framework of the self left behind, but not of one’s own creation. As this understanding firmed itself up, a further invitation to that event also began taking shape. At times it seemed in front of me, or just at hand, or right above me, and I was terrified. I physically backed away from that greater showdown each time, unable to accept the guaranteed losses, the disorientation, and the vastness of that new implied condition.
20. The Porch
This physical form extended in time is a porch set beside the thoroughfare, a resting-spot supplied with conveniences through which one may take account of things, a superfluity floating on the surface of the void, a "place and time" crystallizing out of sheer imponderability. Thus the great gem of being can hold itself up for inspection, in the brilliance of its own light, in the greatest comic ploy of all, become flabbergasted with delight, yet annoyed by the mosquitoes.