Saturday, May 21, 2022

Steps Along the Way

If we closely observe ourselves, we'll notice an incessantly recurring sense of uneasiness, most readily noticed while sitting or lying down to rest. For no obvious reason, we quickly feel uncomfortable / unpleasant, and automatically shift our position to one that's more comfortable - but only for a very short while, then repeat, repeat & repeat. Besides such primarily physical bouts of dys-ease, we also notice similar recurring bouts of discomfort which we assume arises primarily from our thoughts or emotions. We assume that these are all due to external irritants eg problematic people, situations, places, etc, so we automatically try fixing or correcting these external irritants, to make ourselves comfortable 'once & for all.'

Our materialistic consumer society spends billions each year to ensure that we continue to 'shop till we drop.' Too many of us actually believe that, "The one who dies with the most toys wins."
can take lifetimes to fully recognize that we cannot control our external environment sufficiently to achieve continuous happiness. If we could, then surely addicts, people with OCD & the wealthy would be the happiest people in the world. But eventually, everyone becomes disenchanted with materialism - disappointed, bored & frustrated with experiencing, consuming, hoarding 'things.'  

Even those seeking awakening / enlightenment initially, & some for decades do so with striving acquisitiveness - using the exact same approach to seeking awakening as they used to achieve success in the material world eg business, sports, outdoor survival. BUT this egocentric, aggressive, adversarial, acquisitive left-hemisphere-dominant approach, which seems to work for some to accumulate things, actually blocks spiritual growth. This inappropriate approach to spiritual maturation - like using a sledgehammer to slice cake - is called 'spiritual materialism.'

A fascinating example of this is chronicled in Harley Rustad's biography of spiritual seeker, expert outdoor survivalist, world-traveler & blogger, Justin Alexander Shetler in, “Lost in the Valley of Death. A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas.” Justin seemed to understand the meaning of 'the finger pointing at the moon' analogy, “Religion is a very very attractive, alluring, sparkling arrow, and everybody gets focused on what kind of arrow or what it’s made of or what kinds of jewels are on it or what kinds of feathers – and no one’s looking where the arrow’s pointing, which is at truth.” He knew first-hand that, “Traveling is often exploring things that make you uncomfortable: physically, ethically, emotionally, metaphysically.” But he was seriously mistaken about continuous traveling (pejoratively referred to as 'geographic cure') & progressively more severe physical deprivation ('asceticism') being essential tools for awakening. Long ago, the Buddha showed that neither of these were helpful

But then it's human nature to stick to the skills one feels most competent at, and the temptation to use these more & more often, with ever-greater intensity - for every task! Over-reliance on a familiar tool is a well-known cognitive bias: "If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail." Justin pushed travel & survival in nature to the breaking point. Many of us have to 'hit rock bottom', before we finally drop our favorite approach, & become willing to learn an entirely new, appropriate skill that actually works. With respect to awakening / enlightenment, it's about relaxing our grasping / clinging, & remembering to connect with our silent, still, eternal Self - which we can only experience when our ego is very quiet

"... maybe at the end of the trail, Justin found nothing; that the harder he tried, the more it felt like he was grasping at mist — chasing tendrils higher and higher into the mountains." wondered Harley Rustad in his Dec 13, 2018 Outside magazine article. 

Of course deep self-inquiry reveals that who we truly are - our Self - is no-thing, Noumenon - "knowable only without the use of ordinary sense perception; & cannot be experienced through the senses." Helen Hamilton. "Dissolving the Ego." Balboa Press, 2021

Spiritual maturation appears to be about noticing when we contract around some 'thing' (phenomenon) which feels stressful; we learn to relax our grip on 'things' (phenomena); & remember to return to our true nature - Self, Noumenon, peace, & appropriate perspective on phenomena.

 Helen Hamilton's EXCELLENT 60 min Summary:



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