Let me preface this blog with a healthy dose of reservations and skepticism. This topic lends itself to idealizations and unrealistic fantasies of deliverance from suffering the human mind is all too ready to indulge in. Just because I write about an incredibly powerful aspect of consciousness, does not mean it is easily accessible or even desirable for everyone, nor that in writing about it I belong to an exclusive club of enlightened beings, for whom suffering, getting lost in their own mental distortions and screwing up in life is a thing of the past. Without exception, we are all in the same soup – terribly flawed creatures having to deal with the lifelong challenge of coming to terms with such a powerfully complex brain and incredibly vast mind full of conflicts and contradictions. Like Jack Kornfield’s choice of title for one of his books, after enlightenment comes the laundry. The notion of enlightenment is such a treacherously seductive one that causes much unhealthy wishful striving, that I even propose to abolish it. I much prefer the humbler notion of unendarkenment, that is so much more authentic and true to reality as it is, and more apt to keep our feet on the ground, instead of seducing us to lose our head in the clouds.
One Mindsight student wrote me an email before taking the course, asking whether I could tell her more about the course, such as goals/outcomes. It sounds reasonable that you take the course to increase your knowledge, meet certain goals that make taking it worth your money, and achieve certain positives outcomes for whatever ails you. Let’s remember, though, that what’s ‘reasonable’ falls under the purview of reason, and reason is the power of the mind to think, understand and form judgments by a process of logic.
This mind power stems from what we also call the problem-solving mind, which is only a fraction of the mind’s function and power. Yet, it is this fraction of the mind that for various reasons thoroughly explained here overpowers the whole mind as we unconsciously slide from childhood into adulthood. The majority of human beings never manage to realize this, let alone leave this prison that prevents access to much of what consciousness could offer. In other words, we live in a narrative bubble, a cultural envelope of societal norms we mistake for reality, not realizing that the consciousness that goes with it, is heavily truncated and limited by the blinders of logic. Don’t get me wrong, the ability to problem-solve in a logical way is of course a uniquely human asset of great importance for survival. To live life deeply with an appreciation of reality beyond logic and an ability to relieve one’s suffering on the deepest level possible, the problem-solving mind alone is woefully inadequate.
An elderly Zen master received the visit from a Western journalist, who wanted to know a whole lot of things about Zen. They sat at a table, where tea was ready to be served. As the journalist began talking and asking all these questions he had in his mind, the Zen master began pouring the journalist’s tea. When the cup was full, he didn’t stop pouring, and the tea spilled all over the journalist’s clothes. Needless to say, the journalist was rather startled and became upset and irritated, wondering whether maybe this Zen master was after all senile. He asked: “Why on earth did you do that?” To which the Zen master responded: “You see, your mind is like this cup of tea when it was full. There is no room to add more understanding of Zen. In order to understand Zen, you are going to have to empty your mind first, in order to become receptive to a new reality.”
Taking this Mindsight Intensive with the right attitude that will allow you to see realms of reality you had no prior access to, is understandably going to be difficult, because it goes against all that is reasonable or sensible. Thus the first order of business to join the course is to throw the idea out the window that you are coming to learn new things, and replace it with the idea that you are coming to unlearn everything. Your knowledge will be a hindrance and your capacity to unknow a boon.
Once you have really absorbed what that entails, you can take it further. I am sure you are coming with the hope that certain life issues will improve – throw that out the window. You may hope to decrease certain symptoms – out the window. You may hope to learn to be less stressed or feel better, to have better relationships or to get closer to life’s meaning – all out the window. Now look out the window and watch the pile of old, well-worn, outdated garbage increase as you systematically relinquish every idea you may have with regards to how this course is going to enhance anything in your life, whether it is knowledge, wellbeing, happiness, wealth, health or anything else you can think of. In fact, here is a good start to the program: Expect nothing, hope for nothing, and prepare yourself to become increasingly empty-handed and lose everything, in order to gain everything. How to do that, has to be learned.
Now here is the paradox: Reacting to what I just said, your problem-solving, rational mind, I am pretty sure, may already have created in you an apprehensive mental state dominated by fear, gloom and aversion, causing you to doubt the wisdom to spend your money that way. Surprisingly, though, engaging in this project I just described creates a deep sense of relaxation, relief, liberation, spaciousness, new vigor and peacefulness. It may now sound like this whole idea of losing everything to gain everything is an elaborate sleight of logic to hide the fact, that we are still pursuing a gain of some sort, pretending not to. Not quite – a closer look at this process will reveal why.
I give you this: Accessing the transcendent is not for the birds, and indeed, we gain immensely from it. The question is how we get to gain everything, and what that ‘gaining everything’ really means. The way we are used to gain is by adding and improving through the problem-solving mind’s logic, which leads to material, psychological and practical gains. What we don’t notice as this gaining evolution unfolds, is that it does so within the narrow context of consciousness with blinders on, the rational, problem-solving mind. Many an ailment, struggle, stress, unhappiness and symptom is due to this narrowing of consciousness we ignore. Because the rational mind’s currency (the cognitive concept, thought and narrative containing strings of concepts) pretty well matches many aspects of everyday reality (when I ask you to pass me the butter, my words have a pretty precise correspondence to the actual objects and actions I am referring to), we unconsciously come to believe that our concepts and narratives that are managed by the problem-solving mind are the reality we live in. We don’t notice at all that we actually live in a reality of our own construction that only vaguely and incompletely reveals full reality to us. We try to be fed by the menu while we confuse it for the meal, surprised we remain consistently hungry. We live a dream, not noticing that we do so, and are therefore unable to wake up from it.
To leave the dream for reality in its more complete nakedness and truth, adding more to the knowledge of the dream will only perpetuate the dream. To wake up from the dream, a fundamentally counter-intuitive action of consciousness is necessary: Getting to know the nature of the dream and getting out of our own way by letting go of every item, action and belief in the dream, allowing the dream to dissolve in a puff of smoke. This involves an orthogonal shift in consciousness that adds more dimensions to its field. As this happens, it is not uncommon to be temporarily overtaken by fear, because it is the embodied experience and realization of losing most of what we believed was true. The old perspective does not work anymore and the new perspective has not taken hold yet. Falling into nothingness, we have to trust that in this dark night of the soul something beyond whatever God we believed in, beyond gods, the imagination, words, space and time is there to safely carry us. And indeed there is. With the new perspective we have vistas and choices not known before, as well as a new set of attributes with which we live our lives, such as flexibility, adaptability, coherence, energy and stability. Greater peace and equanimity ensue.
Having explored how we counterintuitively come to gain everything by losing everything, let’s now look at what ‘gaining everything’ really means. It is easy to fall into the rational mind’s trap of seeing this gain as an addition, when in fact it is in this case a subtraction. A new vista opens itself up to our eyes, a vista that has always already been there, but hidden in plain sight behind the fog of a consciousness clouded by the distorted constructions of the conflicted problem-solving mind. Discovering that vista is the work of subtraction and fog dissolution, not adding more of what we were used to, but did not recognize as such – fog. The opening of such vistas is not something under our control, nor something we effect. It is something given to us as grace, when we engage in the humble work of consciousness unendarkenment. Apart from ongoing, relentless purification of consciousness, we don’t ‘do’ these new vistas, but they get revealed to us. And when we have access to them, we see the exact same world we saw before, but from so many more perspectives, contexts and depths, that we are granted infinitely greater freedom of choice of actions that decrease our suffering and give our lives a profoundly new meaning beyond any words that could describe it. Like Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, often misinterpreted as taking a fancy rocket into the sky and a space far away into another galaxy, we die to the limited nightmare of an unexamined consciousness that distorts reality through conflicted constructions, wake up from it, and find ourselves ‘reborn’ into a radiant view of the same reality, offering possibilities beyond all our expectations. Liberated from the golden cage of familiarity, we now see the same world, but find ourselves being able to roam freely and easily over its full expanse with its centre everywhere and its circumference nowhere.
Remember, this is always a work in progress with no endpoint, a purgatory of the mind, in which we can always notice improvement.
Copyright © 2020 by Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud. All rights reserved.