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.