Ego versus Consciousness

The felt moment of immediate experience exists suspended on two seemingly contradictory anchor points. The first is consciousness. Consciousness is the simple awareness of the variations present in any given moment of experience. Ego starts as the notion of “I”, as contrasted to “not-I” arising from the uniqueness of any particular viewpoint. The tension between these two poles defines, in part, our existential conundrum.

Consciousness can take the full view, in space-time, and relationship.

Ego is constricted to the very near horizon.

Ego is implanted by inculturation.

Consciousness is inherent.

Ego sees things as separate and clicking together in a great tick-tock clockwork reality.

Consciousness sees the distinctions available in the interconnected, interdependent, interpenetrating holon of reality.

Consciousness is an inborn capacity. To us human beings, consciousness is to us what water is to fish. We breathe it and move through it. It’s the medium which holds us together and gives us ongoing life. The invisible and ever present substrate of our lives. It is what allows us to see what we are, and all that could be.

Ego is the artificial boundary that we are wrapped in by our society and cultural environment. It is the conformity which shows us what we “should be.” Ego constricts us down to a sub-set of the available information and our available potential.

Consciousness sub-divides reality in appearance only by flowing along the topography created by distinctiveness.

Ego creates artificial boundaries between things, putting forth the false idea that they are separate.

Consciousness unites even while revealing ever more fine striations of appearance. In consciousness, no two things are ever the same. No two things ever reveal themselves identically to consciousness at the same time.

Oddly enough, ego makes things appear identical. To ego two identically crafted chairs are seen as interchangeable, their unique life path reduced to insignificance.

The whole point of considering all of these distinctions is simply to help us embrace the full richness of the felt moment of immediate experience so that we don’t restrict ourselves in what we admit as reality. I don’t know about you, but I find that when I can let more of reality get at me, I have more options in life. It also seems to make the world more beautiful.

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Simplifying Spirituality to the Point of Meaninglessness

The search for easy to remember catch phrases sucks the depth out of the spiritual question. Simplifying just for simplicity’s sake takes the point out of everything.

Not all spirituality is created equal. The paths that we draw on from history were full of nuance, research, deep inquiry, systems, and practices. Buddhism has the four noble truths, the eight-fold path, the three poisons, the five skandhas, samsara, nirvana, dukha, the two truths doctrine, 227 rules for monks, and 331 for nuns. (The Buddha and those who follow him still have a little way to go on the female equality front.)

Jewish mysticism gets equally deep, especially with the Qabbalah. Along with the 10 Sephirot of the tree of life, there are 212 steps from the mundane realm to the heavenly.

Most other ancient traditions have an equal amount of depth.

Contrast this to most modern/new-age traditions and the difference is rather shocking. “Be in the now.” Done. Next? Not all of the modern versions are one trick ponies, but they are mostly not more than two or three loose guidelines.

I am not suggesting that everyone needs to dig to the bottom of any given tradition. There is no need to read every word of every sutra, other than personal interest. However, I think it’s pretty easy to see that, loose guidelines make for loose guidance, and probably a good deal of wasted time. This is especially true when you happen to not be working directly with a teacher, or as part of a group. The more tools you have to work with, the more specific you can be in your work.

Of course, there is a flip side here. As a path evolves, and more nuance is explored, it can lead to a certain kind of restriction that can create blind spots where the explorer fails to look because they think their path has completely covered a given issue. To circle back to the Buddha, the middle way may be the way to go. We can study a path deeply without letting ourselves become convinced that it has covered everything. We can treat our studies lightly, while not taking them so seriously. That leaves is with the freedom to notice any gaps we come across, and the chance to address them.

In the end, I think what we are looking for is a path that does not become a set of blinders without remaining simply a set of rose colored glasses.

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Throwing a Wrench in the Witness

More gems from the book, “F*ck It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way.” I’ve been working very consciously with the five tips expounded on in chapter 2. They are Relaxing, Letting Go, Accepting, Watching Impartially, and Conscious Breathing. I have been paying particular attention to these tips during my daily meditation practice. The “Watching Impartially” tip has lead to a bit of a breakthrough. This concept is often referred to as the witness (as I am sure you are all aware). There is a feature of the witness that is called out on the spiritual path as a stumbling block or conundrum. That conundrum is the phenomenon of the infinite regress that can come from standing (or sitting) as the witness. The root idea of the witness is often stated as, “That which you see, you cannot be.” Because whatever it is that you see, you saw it. The issue is that you can then become aware that you witnessed it, which means you witnessed the witnessing, so that cannot be you, and the regress cranks up.

What hit home for me was the word “impartially” in the Fuck It tip of “Watching Impartially.” That distinction drove home in a deep way the “not me” portion of witnessing. It appears that there are at least two things powering the infinite regress of witnessing. One is the simple circular logic of it. The other is identification as the one having the thought, “I witnessed X.” The logic part can be handled by the recognition in logic that any infinite regress is invalid. The impartiality helped me grok the trouble of identification. I sat watching impartially, the witness regress started up, and then the notion came up, “Whew! I’m glad that’s not me doing all that spinning.” Then, of course, that notion got pulled into the regress by witnessing that I had witnessed my gratitude of not identifying, but the power of the thing dropped dramatically. As I sat there smiling, relaxed, accepting, letting go, breathing, and watching, the loop of thought slowly faded away. It was free to do what it wanted, just like the sounds of the room, and the feelings of the body, because they were not me.

These days when I have a breakthrough I almost always see the teasing of that breakthrough that has been going on for some time. This was no different. But, I find it very useful to make note of what happens that crystallizes these breakthroughs so that they can really sink in.

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