There and Back Again, Part One

January 12th, 2008

I simply couldn’t help but use Bilbo’s famous book title — There and Back Again — for this series of articles.


Things are a little strange when you’re trying to write about Awakening. Usually, when you’re writing about a given subject, you can make statements of fact (even if the ‘facts’ are just based on current knowledge or fashion). If I’m writing about the art of smoking codfish, it’s a pretty straightforward sort of thing to do.

But in writing about Awakening, there are absolutely no facts that we can state. Awakening isn’t something that fits into the confines of language, and the result is that every word we speak (or write) actually has great potential to lead the reader away from awakening.

Instead, we must use words to point the way, and we must carefully fashion our pointers so that they are effective for certain types of minds.

What if we could come up with the ‘perfect pointer’? This pointer would break through everyone’s illusions and delusions, and everything except Pure Reality would evaporate. A person would simply need to read a single sentence (or maybe a paragraph), and then they’d be blissfully dancing about and enjoying everything for ever more.

Unfortunately, every mind has different methods of interpreting words, and no ‘perfect pointer’ has been found. Thus we have Zen, we have Advaita, we have the Yogas and non-dualism and Taoism and a host of other methods. Each one of these methods has the potential to be the perfect method of pointing for a particular mind. Your challenge as a seeker is to discover the pointing method which is most effective for you.

The danger of a pointing method, of course, is that people gravitate toward living ‘special’ lifestyles, and it’s easy to latch onto one of these methods and make it into your Way of Life. What’s forgotten by many of the practitioners of these methods is that these methods are vehicles – meant to be used for a little bit, and then cast aside. We’re perfectly capable of walking on our own two feet (or using your four wheels, if you utilize a wheelchair).

One story likens these methods to a boat used to cross a river, and this is a wonderful analogy, reminding us that it’s easy to become wrapped up in the subtle glamour of shaving our heads, wearing special robes, or engaging in daily ritual. We simply forget that these methods were meant to be signs pointing the way, and not destinations.

This site is a continuing attempt to present very direct methods of pointing. Methods which don’t require ritual or decorum. This is not because ritual or decorum are intrinsically bad, but simply because there are already numerous options out there if you choose such a route.

For this series, I chose the title of Bilbo’s book because it holds within it the reminder that our ‘destination’ (when we’re seeking awakening) is somewhere that we already are. In essence, we are trying to get to the place where we now dwell. Out of that paradox emerges all the frustrations and tangles that make awakening so mysterious and confounding.

This series will shed some light on a question that I am often asked.

“How can we make awakening a permanent state? It seems that I can ‘find’ it for brief moments, and then it suddenly flickers away, and I’m left with only a vague memory of perfection.”

If I write this series well enough, everyone will send me emails telling me that my site is no longer needed, and I will then retire to a life of eating cupcakes and swimming in meandering streams. Wish me luck!

I’ll begin with a brief telling of the story of my own experience of awakening, so that you can understand from whence this writing took root.


Nature was my teacher. The books and the human models of ‘framing’ enlightenment came long after. But nature showed me everything I needed to know.

It came about during my time in the woods, when I lived much like a wild animal and discovered some amazing things.

First, I came to a new understanding of what human civilization is all about. I went from thinking that all the conventions of our culture were ‘real’ and ‘factual’, to seeing clearly that they were all just imagination. Take money. It is only a human invention, and derives its power and influence only because we collectively grant it. We made money up, and it is much like any other object of our imagination. And yet we take it so seriously that we kill each other for it, spend years in lawsuits over it, and spend most of our youthful years expending our life energy trying to get more of it.

The lesson was that the ghosts of our imagination are both illusion and reality. Illusion, because we’ve fabricated them in our heads. And reality, because we’ve based all our actions upon them, and granted our illusions the power of reality. It’s both humorous and frightening to watch this illusion-creation at work.

Second, I came to a new understanding of who I was. I discovered that the ‘wild animal’ human was strangely peaceful, was content even with pain, and was Alive in a way that we could never be within the context of civilization. I found this to be even truer when I came back out of the woods – I watched a self-transformation from a wild, loving, peaceful, perfectly Aware creature into a suffering, sometimes angry, often lonely, frightened, and distracted creature.

It took me a little while to discover that the traits of the ‘wild human’ could be ours even when living a civilized life. For me, it was remembrance of what my ‘wild self’ was like, and an exploration of the transformation process from ‘wild’ to ‘civilized’.

When I started this site, I thought for a long while of how I should frame my message. I might have been more direct if I had said that this site was about ‘Becoming a Wild Human’. From there, I could have plunged straight into talking about a pointing method that no one had ever used before.

Instead, I decided to utilize existing preconceptions, and to incorporate the word ‘Zen’ into the title (and give the whole site a subtle ‘eastern traditions’ flare), simply because I thought that such an approach might reach more people and be more digestible. The danger of taking this posture is that you can get a lot of traditionally minded folks spending a lot of time telling you how you’re doing things wrong. For some reason I haven’t had that on this site – perhaps because the message I’m presenting is universal enough to be recognized as non-threatening by those who utilize tradition.

For those of you who have been with me for some time, you will notice that this series will come more from the ‘wild’ side. I’m going to be as clear and direct as possible. I’m not sure if the series will be composed of only a couple of articles, or of many more. It’s just going to flow as it comes, and I’m imposing no limits on how small or large it must be. This will be as much of an adventure for me as it is for any of you.

In that spirit, I won’t even hint at what is coming next, except that I intend to make clear within this series what I mean when I often ask readers to discover ‘no-effort’. I’m guessing that the series will both begin and end with no-effort in mind.

I hope we have a good journey together, There and Back Again.

15 Responses to “There and Back Again, Part One”

  1. sof theo says:

    I’m all ears, Kenton! :-)

  2. sof theo says:

    Oops, make that “I’m all eyes and ears”, instead. :-)

  3. CG Walters says:

    Thank you, Kenton. Nature is my teacher, my path, my sanctuary, my inspiration…..
    An excellent article.
    Peace and wonder,

  4. Dear sof theo,

    That made me laugh! Thanks for the smiles.


  5. Greetings CG Walters,

    I saw a book the other day talking about our children’s ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’. That goes for most adults, too. Glad to hear that nature plays such an important role in your life. =)


  6. Nature has always been my biggest connection to God. I told my husband when he graduated from college and started looking for jobs that I would go anywhere with him as long as there were trees.

  7. Rahul says:

    I’ve always identified with your style of writing. You always make it seem much more clearer. I can’t wait to start the journey.

    Rock on! :)

    ps: I will keep you updated on my progress as well.

  8. Jerry says:

    Back in the 70’s I read BE HERE NOW by Baba Ram Dass. I did not really comprehend the meaning of being here now back then. I understood it on a rudimentary level but nothing like what I have come to realize since my 20’s. Little did I know then that I would go through many wanderings in the search of “truth” before coming full circle to being here NOW. This is my awakening.

    Ever turn the word NOW around? It is WON. That’s how I feel about having made a definitive connection or awakeing to the practice of being here now. I feel I have won.

    Having said all this, I wonder if even the essence of the NOW is also a vehicle which allows us to penetrate into even deeper and more sublime meaning of what our place in the universe is really all about. Is it just to experiece and be aware of time as it passes? Or, is it to step out of time altogether into the eternal NOW? Only time will tell.

    Thanks as always, Kenton, for your light and energy. I am looking forward to the series on Awakening.


  9. K-L says:

    I’m excited! I’ve always loved your site Kenton, and it’s one of the few I continue to read.

    The more time I spend accessing the now, the more I understand what it is to surrender, to be… and the more I watch how we all create these endless dramas about ‘getting’ – whether it’s power, money or love…

    Instead of knowing that all we need do is give…

    And all is given to us.

    Much love,

    can I highly recommend two brilliant movies?

    Paradise now –


    As it is in Heaven –

    One highlights the folly of the fight…

    And the other highlights the Oneness of All.

    Both are entertaining

  10. Liara Covert says:

    Hi Kenton.
    As I read this post, I think to a recent film called “Into the Wild.” This intriguing adventure chronicles what happens to a college grad who gives all his money to charity, disavows the materialistic goals of his society, and embarks on a journey that takes him through the wilderness. As an avid reader and purpose-driven traveller, he interacts with different kinds of people, and learns things from each one. He eventually seeks to live and learn from nature as did the writer Thoreau. You can learn more here:

  11. Hello Patricia,

    What a beautiful sentiment! I feel quite the same way. May you both always be surrounded by beautiful forests =)


  12. Hey there Rahul,

    Glad you’re coming along! Do keep me up-to-date.


  13. Hello Jerry,

    It is certainly interesting to look back at writings that we didn’t seem to ‘understand’ years ago, but which now seem perfectly clear. I’d suggest that your intuition is correct. Discovering the Now unveils the truth behind one of our most cherished illusions — that of linear time. But it also opens the doors to perceiving the nature of our other ‘foundation’ illusions, such as movement, self, and change. Once Now is perceived, these others are quick to follow, for each needs linear time to exist.

    Thank you again for sharing your words about Now =)


  14. Greetings K-L!

    Thank you for your words. Most wonderfully put =) And I’m quite excited about the movies. I don’t watch a lot, but I’ll be sure to check these two out! They look intensely interesting, and I hadn’t heard of either of them. I should really crawl out from under my rock once in a while . . .


  15. Hello Liara,

    I actually read that book quite a few years ago, when it first came out, I think. I’m excited to see it on screen, and now that I checked out that link, I’m going to have to get the soundtrack, too . . . =)

    Thanks for reminding me that this came out — I think between this and K-L’s recommendations, it’s time to heat some oil for popcorn!


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