or: Why am I writing this blog.
Like many others, I was born, grew up, started wondering about the world and at some point it hit me that I find myself existing in this form, in this world, and I don’t know why (or how come). I don’t know if the drive for understanding is inherent to humans or an evolutionary genetic quirk of a large part of the population (I put my money on the former), nature or nurture, or both, but it is what drove me, again like many others, to study science and try to find some answers about how the world works and perhaps even why it exists.
Wanting to know was an incessant desire I had since I can remember myself. Probably the biggest desire I’ve ever had, and still have other than perhaps the wish to be happy. At a point in life where it truly seemed that no one has the answers and that it’s likely that answers will be impossible to find, those two desires were starting to be at odds and I tried to simply get rid of the desire to know and concluded that ignorance is bliss, since wanting to know and not being able to will doom me for misery. And miserable I was. But despite my best efforts I could not get rid of this desire to know even some, let alone all there is to know about life the universe and everything. Why do we exists, why or how come anything exists at all, etc’.
This was the troubled mind of a 13 year old. Even at that age it was clear to me that religion did not have the answers. The fact that your religion seemed to be dictated mostly by the geography you were born in and even more so by which religion the parents you were born to had, combined with the fact that all religions contradict each other enough to make either all but one or more likely all of them as false, made it extremely obvious that they are going on not much more than blind faith, not knowledge. How this was not obvious to everyone was beyond me.
Life eventually provided enough distractions to carry me through until I was 21 where a re-ignition and then a rapid acceleration of my search for understanding and “truth” has began. Oddly enough, this fire got lit again by hearing some guy talk about a Swiss man named Billy Meier who claims to be speaking to aliens (bare with me here, this article is not about aliens). My wish to believe in the existence of intelligent alien life is what got me listening, but it is what they supposedly said that captured my imagination. In a nutshell they were basically atheists who held reason and logic above all other guiding principles, but also claimed knowledge of a soul and reincarnation. Something about this bizarre story reminded me how much fun it is to wonder about the universe, even if I didn’t have all the answers.
I dug further into the story of this man and quickly concluded it is nothing more than a comprehensive hoax, but by then I was hungry for answers once more. I started reading incessantly again and ran through a wide variety of subjects through books and classes, from Kabbalah to What the Bleep Do We Know (oh how I fell for that stuff for a while…). The new age stuff had a strong appeal to the magical thinking part of my brain, especially since it relied so heavily on cutting edge science, and it took a while to shake it off, but I would venture to say that if you pay enough attention, reality disproves most of this stuff sooner or later. The things that are harder to prove never seem to land not here nor there.
My search for understanding (of life, the universe, existence, awareness etc’) has eventually lead me to the subjects of meditation, enlightenment and the various strands of Buddhism. Science seemed to be constantly digging deeper, which I love, but as far as I could tell it was leaving out something or was at least limited in its reach. But science lately has started to corroborate that long time meditators are indeed on to something. What are they on to is not so clear, but it is starting to support or at least indicate that there is something to the claims of subjective insights and experiences of mediation.
The version of Enlightenment (more on this later) that I happened to come across first, was this this sort of “you are the universe dreaming itself up through everyone and everything” type of thing. Now from all the stories i’ve heard and read about life and the universe, this one suddenly seemed the most appealing. And as far fetched as it sounded, it somehow rang as the most likely to be true at the time, at least the way it was told by those who appeared tremendously confident in what they say and how they tell this story, like Alan Watts, Adyashanti and especially Ken Wilber. The claim was that through meditation and reaching some high or perhaps ultimate level of consciousness, some ultimate truth is revealed about life and existence itself. Nothing short of the claim that in your essence, you are not other than God, The Universe, Existence or whatever you want to call it, The Works.
If this story was told by a bunch of kooks (though there are plenty of those in this arena), I would have considered it absurd, but when people like Ken Wilber who is obviously extremely intelligent and has mapped in the vast picture of the human endeavor in such a remarkable way, he had my attention (without being familiar with his work, it will probably be confusing how i’m making such a connection, I understand). They were all speaking my language and saying simply, don’t believe a word we say, do the experiment and you’ll see for yourself. You can apply 1st person science to your own experience and awareness just as much as you can apply 3rd person science to the objective world. From a long list of reasons (too long to list here) which convinced me that all of this is possibly true, I decided it is worth the effort and started on this path of “self discovery” and meditation.
I ended up finding a “spiritual” teacher and started learning meditation and all the “spiritual” stuff that came with it. In the intention to stay open minded, as I’ve realized that I do not know everything, I later found myself letting go of a little too much of my critical thinking and remained too quiet on what my opinions and beliefs actually are. This resulted in confusion as well as cognitive dissonance and a lack of or a conflict with intellectual integrity. It turns out a lot of this spiritual stuff is religious baggage from 2500 years of Buddhism lineages and other factors (I intend to write more about this in another article). It took years to start trusting my own experience just a little bit more, enough to not take other’s views over my own too easily.
I am now returning to the basics. I’m done believing, I think all belief should be temporary and seen for what it is, a working theory to be proven or disproven, the sooner the better. What do I actually know? What is being claimed when something is said and what is my ability to understand it and to know if it is true? Too much of what I hear these days is so unclear and general, that it feels like it does not say much at all. It annoys me that people use language, which is used in order to communicate, but lack rigor in being clear on what they mean. Unless you’re making art or writing poetry, clarity is essential. Communication through speech, without the other person understanding you, amounts to not much more than just making noise. If you are using a word, but you can’t define what you mean by it, don’t use it. I know language is inherently tricky, it’s all pointers, but there are levels at which it provides less or more clarity and accuracy in how you decide to use it (this requires conversations, not monologues).
On my mind right now is the vast array of “teachers” and teachings claiming all sorts of stuff, using all sorts of different words and terms, seemingly pointing at the same things, but contradicting each other enough to indicate that they are possibly not only saying different things, but that some or all of them could be lying or simply wrong about at least some of what they say. All of this stuff is so intangible that it is really hard to make sense of it and sort it all out. But that is what i’ve been trying to do lately.
It took me a long time to really see that these so called enlightened teachers are not only fallible and can be wrong about some things, but can also be delusional at times. They seem to benefit from being put on pedestals and don’t always take any actions to prevent their students from placing them there (not to mention the cases in which they actively promote this). It is the confidence and aura of wisdom and knowledge with which they speak, together with reverence of other students and the mystical nature of the teachings that pulls you to let go of your critical thinking and shake your own questioning of taking these things as gospel, despite some of these teachers saying not to take it as gospel (this may have been useful in a different time and culture, maybe). Their actions speak differently than their words. In fact, a lot of the guru like structure of the student-teacher relationship is extremely problematic in a multitude of ways. But that is a topic for another article.
At the bottom of all of this approach to finding out some truth is Enlightenment. A problematic word to say the least, as there seems to be no single clear definition to it, and the closest origin word is Awakening. The problem is perhaps due to the nature of “spiritual” experiences and/or the limited nature of language. My understating (and interpretation) of this word has changed over time, and keeps changing, but the one seemingly consistent claim about the phenomena it is trying to describe, is that it needs to be experienced directly to be understood or to have any meaning at all (although doesn’t that apply to most if not all things?).
Some say it is a specific experience among a slew of spiritual experiences. Some say it is not an experience but some internal realization. Some say it is a continuum, or a spectrum of development, on which once you are past a certain point, you are more enlightened than not. Most claim that it is a point from which you suddenly see beyond the veil and peek directly to the nature of things, somehow. At the very least meditation is claimed to revel something about the nature of the self, or about our identification with the sense of self, seeing it as an illusion rather than a static, inseparable thing.
Trying to understand this or more importantly, finding out directly for myself what this is about, is the main part of embarking on this journey. Partly due to my curiosity and desire to see if any of this is true and what in the hell this thing is actually all about, as well as perhaps finding some sort of truth about myself, the universe, the nature of reality or the nature of consciousness (all of which has been claimed by one person or another in regards to this phenomena).
In this current moment, if there are any answers to be found out there (or in here or what have you), an in-depth meditation practice appears to be a decent bet. When you think of how utterly bizarre the universe and the experience of consciousness is (if you don’t, I don’t think you thought of it long enough), then I won’t be surprised if the “full” story is even more bizarre than anything I could convince of so far.
So my three guiding principles in this exploration are objective science (following scientific research and development), subjective science (exploring subjective experience and internal phenomena via meditation/concentration/attention practices), and evolving my conceptual frameworks (by contemplating, theorizing, philosophizing) to refine and integrate the first two.
I have traversed a long path of refining and redefining my framework and understanding of everything up until now, but I feel I need to continue this effort outside of my head, in written form, and better yet publicly, where I can hope to avoid doing it in a vacuum, with no feedback or sounding boards. If any of this interests you, (and if I haven’t completely bored you after 2000 words), join me as I put together my thoughts and catalog my experiences here.