Archives for the month of: February, 2014

By plucking the petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower.

Zen Proverb


Body vs Mind

However wise we are, however much knowledge we possess, and however focused we are on our future, our life will always contain uncertainty. Uncertainty is viewed as a source of terror for a lot of people. They view uncertainty as the realm of “what-if” anxiety, a source of endless speculation and dread. Uncertainty needn’t be a complete lack of details; even knowing a little bit while some things remain uncertain can be scary. As a species we have a tendency to want to have all the answers, including mentally rehearsing things which haven’t happened yet as a way of fortifying ourselves against a changing world. Yet as Jedi, we seek to live in harmony with the nature of reality. We work from the perspective of the Force, and the Force is at it’s most fundamental level, change.

I’m currently in a very uncertain place in my life. I’ve left my current job without another one to go to (although I’m trying to find something), and part of this means I have to go to job interviews where I don’t know what I’ll be asked. After these interviews I have a period of a week or more waiting for news of how I got on. If I’m successful, I will be uncertain about what the job is like, what the prospects are (despite what I’ve been told), uncertain about what my boss really thinks of me, etc etc etc. Uncertainty fills my whole perspective on my career at the moment, including being uncertain about exactly what I’m uncertain about.

When we try to rehearse for situations which we can’t be sure will happen, we are trying to create knowledge. We want to “know” how to respond to these uncertain scenarios in the hope this will mean we can approach them without uncertainty. The problem is not only that we can never predict everything, even every likely thing, but also that this causes us a tremendous amount of mental strain which can lead from anxiety to outright terror. Trying to hold every conceivable outcome is like trying to memorise an encyclopaedia, and worse than that, we can’t know if this encyclopaedia is a load of nonsense (it usually is!).

Better is the cultivation of wisdom; wisdom allows us to respond dynamically to a changing, uncertain world. Instead of an encyclopaedia, we need only know a few things about ourselves, things we already have at the core of our being. The wise person allows the situation to change as it always will, plans for only what requires planning and drops what can be dropped. Anxiety comes from our attempt to create knowledge; contentment comes from trusting our innate or earned wisdom to shine through and allow us to do the best with what we’re presented with, when it presents itself.

Some schools of thought suggest you have to rehearse for interviews. You have to have a list of The 101 Most Commonly Asked Interview Questions and be able to reel off a double-page answer to every one of them. I’ve found in the past that this leads to a lot of anxiety and a very flat and dull delivery to the interviewer. Better is to approach the interview with a deep knowledge of yourself, your skills and experience, and the wisdom to select the right answer, responding sincerely and truthfully. Who cares if I can engineer the A-grade answer and spit it back at the interviewer with a smug look on my face? When I misinterpret the question and give the parrot-answer to another question, that’s going to cause a problem. When I get the job and can’t do half the things I said I could do, that’s going to be a problem. But when I listen mindfully to the question, consider my answer and give a truthful and sincere response, trusting in my ability to articulate my thoughts in a professional and human manner… there are few job interviews I haven’t been successful in.

I won’t pretend this attitude of intuition extends to every part of my life – far from it. I’m frequently kept awake at night by fear of things I imagine are going to happen, at work, to my son, to my wife. I worry about things I’ve only imagined and ignore the reality of the situation. The work, then, is to apply the fluidity of intuition to the rest of my life. As Krishnamurti stated, quoted in my previous essay, “A confident man is a dead human being”. Our reliance on knowledge traps us, solidifies us, makes us brittle and inflexible to both new ideas, and the natural flow of things. Rather than relying on the mental constructs of knowledge, we must learn to focus on the life-teachings of wisdom; wisdom such as the Jedi Code, for example. We must build a strong foundation in ourselves and develop the self-respect to trust our abilities, and to do so we must identify and work on our weaknesses.

Uncertainty is beautiful. It is chaotic, surprising, creative and always new. It teaches us about ourselves and allows us to grow, if we are willing to listen. It is the only teacher of intuition, a powerful asset to any individual, especially a Jedi. When we act as control freaks, we shut off our capacity to be surprise and ignore our intuition, instead deciding we can pre-plan everything. We ignore the nature of life, the nature of the living Force. We imagine our knowledge as absolute and concrete, and then when our expectations aren’t met we feel anxious, angry, fearful, hateful even. Our inner life is compromised by turmoil which makes it hard to remain true to the Jedi code. As such, to be “good Jedi”, we must let go of this concrete view of life and be open to change, uncertainty, and the fluid nature of the vast and complex system we are part of. How can we live in fear of imagined possibilities if we know we’re equipped to deal with whatever comes? How can fears of unreal things shake us if we’re truly engaged with reality?

The Force is alive. All that is constant about it is change; it is fluid and transitory and never still, not truly. Jedi strive to live in harmony with the Force, to work within it and bring all things in tune with its flow. Jedi must, therefore, accept change. Uncertainty is perhaps the truest expression of what the Force means; our passage through time, shifting and moving and changing in ways we could never predict. To live in harmony with the Force then, we must give up being control freaks and develop the capacity to differentiate between useful planning and unhealthy worrying. Sometimes, we plan, but we must unlearn the belief that “failure to plan is planning to fail”, at least to the extent that it’s the only way we can operate. Failure to grow is also planning to fail. Failure to love ourselves, failure to trust ourselves, failure to be fluid and open and accepting are the opposite of living in harmony with the Force, and as such all planning to fail. Failure means our goals aren’t met; our creed will go unrealised. We must succeed, and to do so we must learn to trust ourselves, rather than our fears.

And hey, how could we fail? The Force is change, uncertainty. The Force is with us!

Realise that what you are, cannot be born nor die, and with the fear gone all suffering ends.

Nisargadatta Maharaj

Life is Breathing Around Me

You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.


Simply Watch

For the past few weeks I’ve been absorbing and digesting another reading suggestion from one of my Temple’s leaders: Jiddu Krishnamurti’s treatise re-examining our experience of consciousness, and suggesting a radical alternative to conventional ways of thinking; as Krishnamurti puts it a “revolution in the psyche”. Krishnamurti is regarded as one of the most important Spiritual thinkers of the twentieth century, with over a hundred books to his name. His determination not to subscribe to any existing institution (religious, philosophical or even national) gives a glancing demonstration of the nature of his thinking; that we are confined by tradition, and instead we need to re-examine our lives in order to find the true nature of reality, true peace, and true happiness.

Freedom From The Known was first published in 1969. It is a dense and wide-reaching philosophical tract, which I’ll admit took a good deal of time to both read and piece together in my understanding. What follows is an overview of what struck me as the important currents of the text, as deeper analysis would require a huge amount of explanation and essentially result in paraphrasing the whole book! What I will say is if anything I write about here interests you, read the book yourself; Krishnamurti is a far greater communicator of ideas than I am. I’ll be examining the book in two parts, the next to follow in a few days.

The book is broken down into chapters with core themes, leading into one another to form a persistent structure or narrative to his inquiry, which I will follow here. The first chapter is about the nature of human beings. Krishnamurti rejects religious and philosophical traditions which have subdivided and isolated humanity. He suggests our reliance on traditional modes of thought has “broken” our minds to the extent we must know “unlearn” in order to reach the truth. He tells us that “to understand yourself is the beginning of wisdom”, but by “yourself” he doesn’t mean this broken notion of an isolated individual, but that of human beings in general. We perceive ourselves as subset of this single self, “the whole”, a concept which reminds me of Plato’s forms. Because humans don’t know everything but fear both what they know and what they don’t, they invent philosophies and religions to ‘fill in the blanks’. This habitual mode of escapism leads to horrendous crimes, of which human beings as a whole are guilty.

“Truth has no path, and that is the beauty of truth, it is living. A dead thing has a path to it because it it static, but when you see that truth is something living, moving, which has no resting place, which is in no temple, mosque or church, which no religion, no teacher, no philosopher, no teacher can lead you to – then you will also see that this living thing is what you actually are – your anger, your brutality, your violence, your despair, the agony and sorrow you live in. In the understanding of all this is the truth, and you can understand it only if you know how to look at those things in your life. And you cannot look through an ideology, through a screen of words, through hopes and fears.”

You are, therefore, responsible for guiding yourself.

We like to think of our experience of reality as having both an inner and outer life, but in reality these two things are functions of a single thing – everything. All we need to produce Krishnamurti’s revolution is to see that all is one, without the layers of philosophy we’ve piled on top of this. We’ve done so because it devolved us from responsibility; if we fail, we can blame the system. True change is something we must actively do; we must throw off all authority and act from freedom. One question I had at this point was that does this not lead to moral relativism, allowing for all kinds of weird and wonderful permutations of what “freedom” means? Can my freedom not impinge the freedom of others? Does the serial killer not believe they are acting from “freedom”?

The second chapter is on the nature of “others”, as we experience them. We crave the herd, primarily because being alone requires us to confront our current, imperfect state of being. In a very Taoist sense, “We” exist only in relation to “everything else” – by cutting ourselves out as distinct, we define the rest of reality at “other”. As Krishnamurti mentioned earlier, we are not static but moving, changing things. Our past is static, so not relevant to our true nature. So to is the declaration “I understand!”, which suggests we have stopped learning and become static: “A confident man is a dead human being”, he asserts. Our concepts condition us in certain ways, tying us down and making us static. Anything outside our conditioning disturbs us, leaving us callous, rigid and cold.

The third chapter describes this conditioning further. In order to perceive it, Krishnamurti suggests we must give full “attention” (akin to mindfulness in this context, and opposed to concentration – kind of a wide angle view, rather than a narrow focus), rather than our conventional, fragmentary mode of perception. “We live in fragments. You are one thing at the office, another at home; you talk about democracy and in your heart you are autocratic; you talk about loving your neighbours, yet kill him with competition; there is one part of you working, looking, independently of the other.” He therefore suggests this understanding must come all at once, rather than “piece by piece”. This sounds hard! But I suppose this is what we aim for in meditation, a total wide angle on our nature, and a putting down of all fragments.

The fourth chapter focuses on pleasure. He draws a distinction between pleasure, which is conceptual and rooted in memory, and joy, which is immanent and rooted in the present. Thinking about joy conceptualises it into pleasure. Krishnamurti suggests we can be denied pleasure, but never denied joy – this helped me to gather the idea more fully. This reminded me of Nietzsche, when he wrote “Did you ever say yes to pleasure? Then you also said yes to pain. All things are linked, entwined, in love with one another.”

The fifth chapter moves on to fear; like pleasure, fear is always conceptual in nature, “fear of” something. Fear comes about when our preconceptions or plans get confounded, and is the movement from static certainty to more natural, fluid uncertainty. Fear is a by-product of thought: “Thought, which is always old, because thought is the response of memory and memories are always old”; old and therefore static, past, and irrelevant. Similarly to how he described our desire to be part of the herd as a way of overcoming our fear of confronting our true nature, he considers thought to be something we try to constantly occupy ourselves with just so we don’t have to face the problems of our imperfect nature which lies beneath it.

Fear usually exists as a function of our past, because we perceive it through the gauze of preconceptions we view the world through. We should instead examine the fear as it truly is, in the present moment. Because we try to be static observers, measuring the world in comparison to preconceptions, we become nothing more than bundles of dead and static memories. We can choose, however, to become living and active observers, fluid and open to life. We do this by moving from “this thing scares me!” to “I am afraid!” or even “I am fear!”. This is a little like the Cartesian project of radical doubt, in which by stripping away anything he could doubt Descartes reduced his experience of reality right down to “I think, I exist” – more honest would have been the statement “there are thoughts”, and similarly Krishnamurti’s project takes things down to their most basic, and therefore truest, nature.

Chapter six focuses on violence. He suggests most of us delight in violence in some sense, even if that’s only in disliking someone, holding violent thoughts or intentions. As part of this we must try and examine anger dispassionately, rather than thinking of it as sometimes justified and sometimes not. Deciding not to be violent in any way may have negative consequences for us including possible imprisonment, but if we are committed to rejecting violence we should be OK with that. This echoes Thoreau’s point in his essay Civil Disobedience, that “under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” Krishnamurti suggests we must “go deeply” to penetrate beneath the condemnation in our minds, espousing the Jedi virtue of focus: “You can penetrate deeply only if your mind is as sharp as a needle and as strong as a diamond”, a passage which had echoes of the notion of the sword of attention in The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. We must examine things as they are, rather than in some imagined isolation or a conceptual “ideal” form – and at the same time, we must decide to either live without violence or not – “there is no try”. I can think of another Jedi who would approve of this notion…

(…to be concluded)

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?

Henry David Thoreau

Everything You Can Imagine