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    Archive for September, 2007

    Absolutely Relative

    Friday, September 28th, 2007

    In many “spiritual” circles, they refer to two kinds of “truth”: Relative and Absolute.

    Relative Truth is what we know and experience on a daily basis. There’s a you, there’s a me, we’re separate individuals. Events transpire over time. As the Zen boys would say, “Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.”

    Absolute Truth on the other hand is when “Mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers.” Everything is an illusion. There is no separateness. We are all one. There is no time, no “I.” Nothing ever happens, nothing is born and nothing dies.

    Some teachers suggest that the absolute is, well, absolute. That’s the only REAL reality. Because it’s, well, absolute!

    Others have been saying, “Oh, no, life includes both the relative and the absolute.”

    And while I wouldn’t disagree, their position is still a sales pitch for the absolute… because it’s still ABSOLUTE.

    THE ABSOLUTE… well that sounds so much better, so much cooler. Who doesn’t want to see everything as a dream, to be one with all, to be timeless and spaceless and birthless deathless? I mean it’s ABSOLUTE. Clearly, Absolute is better than Relative. Why would you settle for anything less than Absolute?

    The choice of language, of Absolute vs. Relative, is a set-up. It’s a come-on. It’s an enticement for buying a taste of Absolute.

    Let’s pick new words. How ’bout: Juicy and Bubbly? Or Fred and Wilma? Or Chocolate and Peanut Butter? Or Crap and Shit?

    If we use words with less connotative difference, or words that don’t set up an obvious and instantaneous preference, or words that are preferred as a pair, or words where neither are desired… well then we can have a conversation, an exploration, an honest investigation into the various and varying dimensions of human experience.

    Neither is preferred. Neither is special. Neither is a problem. Neither is bad. Now there is one, now another… whatever.

    “Mountains are once again mountains and rivers are once again rivers.”

    The Great and Powerful Allower

    Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

    I was given a popular meditation book recently.

    Aside from the confusing fact that the cover blurb said, “The most American form of meditation,” yet the book taught basic Buddhist meditation practices, I was struck by the fundamental teaching:

    Whatever arises, simply allow it to be.

    Sounds like a great prescription for living, doesn’t it? Simply allow whatever arises to be. Mention this teaching to any adult, with or without a “spiritual” leaning, and they’ll agree that if they were better at allowing things to be, their life would be calmer, more relaxed, more successful.

    There’s only one problem with this theory… it’s impossible (hence the 150+ pages about how to deal with the difficulties of meditation based on this teaching).

    Why is it impossible? Well, just check your own experience:

    Imagine some unpleasant sensation arises… you get a headache or your shoulders hurt, or you have pain in your chest after hearing a friend with cancer say they’ll cure it with The Secret.

    Now, notice a somewhat obvious reality: the sensation is there, whether you want it to be or not!

    You don’t have to allow it, it was already allowed before you even noticed it.

    Or, try a thought. Repeatedly think something like “blue balloon,” and notice that it’s kind of fading away by the time you catch a glimpse of it. (BTW, this is not an esoteric notion. Many neuroscientists believe that our discursive thoughts are reporting an event that has already transpired.)

    So, you don’t need to “allow it to be”. It’s already been!

    This reminds me of times where someone shares what they think is the profound realization that to improve an interpersonal relationship, “I just need to let my mother/father/spouse/child/boss/pet be who they are.”

    Guess what? They already are being who they are. That’s all they’ve been, all along. They don’t need your “allowing.” They’re not lying comatose in a mad scientist’s basement, unable to move until you “allow them to be.”\

    This idea of “allowing” what has an independent existence (whether it’s a parent or a sensation) strikes me as radically arrogant. It’s like sitting by a train track thinking that your “allowing” is what lets the train move past you. Umm… the train is on the move, regardless of your allowing… just like your thoughts, your sensations and, frankly, most of the rest of your life.

    Rather than attempting to allow something that already is, or was, though, here’s something to try. It think of it as “backing up a level”:

    When some unpleasant thought/feeling/sensation arises that you wish were different… “allow” yourself to be okay with the fact that you want it to change. You may as well “allow” it, because it’s simply reality in that moment.

    You’re sitting to meditate and your leg itches? Rather than “allowing the itch to be”, notice that your leg itches and you are wanting it to stop. “Allow” yourself to want it to stop… you might notice that your technique for trying to make it stop was “allowing it to be”.

    Your partner leaves the toilet seat in whatever position it shouldn’t be in? Don’t try to “allow” them to be who they are. It’s too late. You’re already pissed. Start with that. “Allow” yourself one moment of it being okay that you’re pissed (not that you’re “right”, just that you wish they were different).

    Paradoxically, if you back up to “allowing” the thing that’s honestly arising — the desire to change what you’re supposed allow to be — you may find a surprising “okay-ness” with the entire phenomenon — the thing you don’t like and your not liking it — regardless of whether it stays, leaves, changes, or anything else things can do.

    I’ll allow you to try it, or not. And I’ll allow you to tell me what you discover, or not.





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