Friday, 18 June 2010

Eckhart Tolle on Stillness

A true spiritual teacher does not have anything to teach... to give or add to you, such as new information, beliefs or rules of conduct... you already know... The spiritual teacher is there to uncover and reveal to you that dimension of inner depth that is also peace.

If you are looking for food for thought, you won't find it and you will miss the very essence of the teaching... which is not in the words but within yourself.

Things are getting worse and better at the same time, although the worse is more apparent because it makes so much "noise". Because the thoughts came out of stillness, they have power - the power to take you back into the same stillness from which they arose. That is the essence of your Being. It is inner stillness that will... transform the world.

Eckhart Tolle in Stillness Speaks

Silence & Stillness
Stillness is the ground of consciousness that is your essential nature. To lose touch with it is to lose touch with yourself and to lose yourself in the world. Become aware of the breath to reconnect with it. 

Listening to outer silence awakens that awareness of inner silence that is without thought, the gap that our conditioning strives to fill with all manner of addictions. But even when there is outer "noise", we can learn from it by dropping all resistance or attachment and finding peace despite it. That is the way of nature. 

Look at a tree or a flower. Let your attention rest upon it, and just be. It will teach you stillness. Out of stillness comes a deeper intelligence and creativity. This deeper creativity is itself made of stillness, the universe and God in communion with itself. Let this stillness guide you in thought and deed through every problem.

Beyond Thought
Go beyond thought to the Christ or Buddha nature within. You are not your thoughts. Witness them arising and passing in the same way as the breath arises and dissipates. Don't take your thoughts too seriously. They are just perspectives, fragmentary visions of a unified whole. Compulsive thinking avoids what is, the here and the now.

By contrast, pure attention breaks down the barrier of separation between observer and observed, between past and future, between good and evil. Dogmas are conceptual prisons that give a false sense of security. They may be modified or replaced through time, but their underlying delusion remains: identification with thought.

We must awaken to feeling and the body is then a doorway to a deeper sense of aliveness beyond feeling and beyond thought. This involves welcoming a state of "not-knowing" which most would fear, but from this "not-knowing" a deeper non-conceptual "knowing" arises. 

A sign of identification with mind is boredom, which is hunger of the mind. We usually satisfy it, or else transform it into hunger of the body, but what if instead we recognize it, bring our awareness to this feeling and so create a peaceful space of stillness around it? Its energetic hold on us will dissipate. 

Mastery in any field is rooted in spontaneous right action that comes without thinking. It is the opposite of control. We get a taste of what it means to be alert and aware in moments of danger. Thinking stops as we fire into action. Truth goes beyond comprehension. An experience cannot be known. It can only be felt.

The Egoic Self
While the mind seeks food for thought, the ego seeks food for identity, hungry to confirm its existence and security and to continuously re-create itself in the image of its memories, likes, fears, desires and goals. The egoic self is always seeking, for complexity and for completeness. The moment we recognize that we are seeking for a future moment of completeness, we step outside of the egoic self and place our attention in the present. Resentment, reaction, prejudice: these are all by-products of ego that separate "me" from "not-me". Observe and recognize all labels of exclusion and "other" and all attempts at possession, both good and bad, including subtle possessions such as envy and guilt. By all means, set goals, but not for self-enhancement. "No self, no problem" said one Buddhist master. The goals are but signposts along the way. Life is in the journey, in the Now.

The Now
When the Now is the foundation and primary focus of your life, then your life unfolds with ease. Looking forward and looking back create undercurrents of tension which we need to release. Breathe in and feel the aliveness in the body. This anchors you in the Now. There is an alertness, a sense of sacredness in all things. A simple but radical spiritual practice is to accept whatever arises in the Now, within and without. When you say "yes" to what is, you become aligned to the power and intelligence of life itself. Many people confuse the Now with the contents of this moment. The Now is deeper than any content that arises in it. You step out of content into a spacious stillness. I am not the content of my life. I am life. I am consciousness. I am the sace in which all things happen. I am the Now. I am.

True Self
Peace is internal. It comes from recognizing who you are at the deepest level. Rearranging circumstances only brings peace to our false sense of self. This realization of true self cannot be looked forward to. It is always in the Now and you are it, not its object. The very reason why egoic identity arose is because mentally you made yourself into an object. "That's me" you say, and then you tell others and yourself your story. But you cannot make an object out of your true self. It is the awareness in which phenomenal existence happens, and knowing this, you become free of dependency on phenomena and self-seeking. Things lose their heaviness and a playfulness arises, the world becomes a cosmic dance. Desire and fear add nothing and take nothing from your Being.

Surrender & Acceptance

Wherever you go, there you are. Do not label, reacting with like and dislike as this creates conflict. The reactive "no" strengthens the ego, while surrender to what is weakens it. In whatever you do, do it totally, and do it one thing at a time without resistance. This surrender to life is to identify with the depths of your Being like the depths of a lake. You may be happy or sad, but these are ripples on the surface. The background peace remains undisturbed throughout. It is not a fatalistic surrender to some interpretation of those ripples. Rather, it's a recognition that they don't matter all that much. Surrender comes when you no longer ask "Why me?" It is in the acceptance of the unacceptable, such as in the face of impending death when so many men and women throughout history have found "the peace that surpasseth all understanding". It is in accepting impossibility and unknowability that we find grace. 

It is a shift from reaction to the space around reaction, from our identification with form to being and recognizing yourself as that which has no form. Whatever you accept completely will being you peace, including acceptance that you cannot accept. Let it be.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Fifth Mountain - Paulo Coelho

Genre: Literature & Fiction
Author:Resilience in the face of suffering
Advantages: Inspiring story, great plot, good pace, packed with wisdom.
Disadvantages: A hint didactic, but that's what makes for all the memorable quotes.

Paulo Coelho is a master story-teller and each of his stories carries a message rich in wisdom. This is an unashamedly moral tale. Coelho tells us in his introductory note, recalling an episode in his own life, how sometimes even discipline and attentiveness cannot prevent suffering. Even the blessed go through a dark night of the soul. Suffering is unavoidable, but it is temporary. And what is lasting are "the lessons of the unavoidable". Difficult moments have a purpose. They are there to teach us. We must fight, we must struggle and we must face them with resilience. In so doing, we find a way to overcome them, and remembering our true purpose, we fulfill our destiny.

The book is set in the Middle East at the beginning of the first millenium before the birth of Christ. It is a time of peace that has been kept for over three hundred years by alliance and negotiation that is about to cruelly come to an end. The preface tells us how the Assyrians are amassing their armies, their sights on the wealthy trading towns of Phoenicia, in modern-day Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the main protagonist is the 23-year old Elijah who begins the book hiding for dear life in a barn in Israel with a Levite companion. He is a reluctant prophet, who had received a vision to convey to his king Ahab that there will be a drought in his land, and that the drought will not end until the worship of the Phoenician gods is put to an end. The king is indifferent. But his wife Jezebel finds such prophecies intolerable. For she is the beautiful Phoenician princess with green eyes and long dark hair who seduced the king, and desires to convert his people to the worship of the Phoenician god Baal who is supposed to live at the top of Fifth Mountain. She orders Elijah to be slain, and so also all prophets in the land that refuse to convert. And so Elijah hides with the burden of guilt for those that have lost their lives because of him.

How could God have allowed this to happen?, Elijah asks himself in the first line of the book. "God is God," his Levite companion muses in response. He does not promise to be good or bad. "I am" is all he said to Moses. "He is everything that exists under the sun - the lightning bolt that destroys a house and the hand of man that rebuilds it... If He limited himself to doing only that which we call good, we could not call Him the Almighty; He would command only one part of the universe, and there would exist someone more powerful than He watching and judging His acts. In that case, I would worship that more powerful someone."

Elijah decides to face his certain death and comes out of hiding, but it is denied him. He finds himself alone at the edge of the desert with nothing to eat, nowhere to go and worst of all, without hope or faith or a reason to live, and without these three, his body can continue to live, but his soul cannot. He finds himself putting words into the mouth of a crow and conversing with it. "You have discovered how everything is simple," the crow tells him. "Having courage is enough." And later, "No-one can lose sight of what he desires. Even if there are moments when he believes the world and the others are stronger. The secret is this: do not surrender." The crow begins to teach him to fend for himself, feeding him scraps of food as well as wisdom: about asking what God expects of him, finding joy in everything he does and seeing it as an apprenticeship, how his time as a carpenter taught him to place the soul outside himself and see the sacred in all things, and finally to get to know who he really is. Once he does get to know this, that his destiny is to be a prophet, something he had been hiding from since childhood, Elijah receives another vision. He is instructed to go to the Phoenician town of Zarephath, whose inhabitants call it Akbar, and to seek refuge there with a widow who will look after him. And it is here in the land of Akbar under the growing threat from the Assyrians that events unfold in the company of the unnamed widow and her son.

I leave you with some nuggets of Coelho wisdom, and I highly recommend the book for you to find many more, and to enjoy this inspiring story of resilience in the face of suffering.

"Then learn something. At this moment, many people have stopped living. They do not become angry, nor cry out; they merely wait for time to pass. They did not accept the challenges of life, so life no longer challenges them. You are running that same risk; react, face life, but do not stop living."

"The best [warrior] is the one who's most like a rock. Without drawing a blade, it proves that no-one can defeat it."

"Everything in life demands training..."

"Even to understand angels...we so want to talk with them that we don't listen to what they're our prayers we always try to say... but the Lord already knows all of this."

"The Lord heareth the prayers of those who ask to put aside hatred. But He is deaf to those who would flee from love."

"If you're a good warrior you will not blame yourself, but neither will you let your mistakes repeat themselves."

"I discovered something: the meaning of my life was whatever I wanted it to be."

"Some of them complained that they had not achieved anything in Akbar and were setting out for a new destiny. One day these people would return. They had not found what they were seeking. For they carried with them, along with their bags, the weight of their earlier failure...their past in Akbar had left them fearful and they lacked the confidence in themselves to take risks.
On the other hand, there also passed my door people full of ardor. They had profited from every moment of life in Akbar and through great effort had accumulated the money for their journey. To these people, life was a constant triumph and would go on being one. These people also returned, but with wonderful tales to tell. They had achieved everything they desired because they were not limited by the frustrations of the past."

"A child can always teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires."

"A warrior is always aware of what is worth fighting for. He does not go into combat over things that do not concern him, and he never wastes his time over provocations."

"A warrior accepts defeat. He does not treat it as a matter of indifference, nor does he attempt to transform it into a victory. He begins anew...Tragedies do happen...we must put aside the fear they awoke in us and begin to rebuild... transform pain into action."

"It is that struggle with the divine that blesses us and makes us grow...There are moments when God demands obedience. But there are moments in which He wishes to test our will and challenges us to understand His love."

"Only those men and women with the sacred flame in their hearts had the courage to confront Him. And they alone knew the path back to His love, for they understood that tragedy was not punishment, but challenge."

"Not the fire that kills, but the kind that tears down ancient walls and imparts to each human being his true possibilities. Cowards never allow their hearts to blaze with this fire; all they desire is for the changed situation to quickly return to what it was before, so they can go on living their lives and thinking in their customary way. The brave, however, set afire that which was old and, even at the cost of great internal suffering, abandon everything, ... and continue onward. The brave are always stubborn."

"He had fled from doubt. From defeat. From moments of indecision. But the Lord was generous and had led him to the abyss of the unavoidable to show him that man must choose - and not accept - his fate."

"Act as do men who are given a second chance: do not twice commit the same error. Never forget the reason for thy life."

"The Lord often has his prophets climb mountains to converse with Him. I always wondered why He did that, and now I know the answer: when we are on high, we can see everything else as small."

Stirring though these quotes may be, they are just words. They are a call to self-awakening, but they are as powerless in themselves as the crow that Elijah met at the beginning of his journey was powerless to tell him any more than he already knew. The answers come as if by chance, out of stillness, out of nowhere. This call to persist in life is not a call to hold on to dear life, but paradoxically to surrender to the fire of faith and love in our heart. And this persistent letting-go to uncover our true desire is not an instruction that can be followed, for the self that would hear and follow this call is itself consumed in the flames of its fire. Reading this book won't change your life. Only you can do that. But in the grander scheme, we are powerless. In realizing this, and facing emptiness without fear, and struggling to stay true despite there being no thing to stay true to, therein lies our true power. There are times in life when we need reminding of this inner wisdom which we all know subconsciously at an early age without being taught. I found this book a timely reminder. May we be always coming into remembrance!

Summary: A beautifully worked rendition of how the prophet Elijah overcame his long dark night of the soul.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Alison Hinds - Soca in My Body

If you'll excuse the pun on soca/soccer... America did very well last night to draw with this year's champions, yep, England are going to win the World Cup!!!!!!

I thought originally maybe Argentina would win the tournament, or Spain, yet somehow I have a good feeling...


Saturday, 12 June 2010

DJ Satomi - Castle in the sky

There’s a place in the night
No-one knows where it hides
And my fancies are flying
It’s a castle in the sky

It’s a world of our past
Where the legends still last
And the king wears his crown
But the magic spell is law

Take this sword and this shield
There’s a battle on the field
You’re a knight and you’re right
So with dragons now you’ll fight

And my fancies are flying
It’s a castle in the sky
Oh, there’s nothing out there
These are castles in the air

Fairytales live in me
Fables coming from my memory
Fantasy is not a crime
Find your castle in the sky

Dum doo-doo da-doo-da Doo-doo doo da-doo-da
Doo-doo da-doo-da Doo doo-doo da-doo-da (x2)
Doo-doo da-doo-da Doo doo-doo

Dum doo-doo da-doo-da Castle in the sky (x2)
Dum doo-doo da-doo-da Doo-doo doo da-doo-da
Doo-doo doo da-doo-da Doo doo-doo

You’ve got the key of the kingdom of the clouds
Open the door leaving back your doubts
You’ve got the power to live another childhood
So ride the wind that leads you to the moon


Friday, 4 June 2010

The Paradox of Self-Denial (Alan Watts)

This is a really brilliant article by Alan Watts on the subject of self, self-renunciation and self-acceptance. I had earlier posted an animation video of Alan Watts:
where he described (among other things) the delusion of the "chauffeur principle" which on the face of it seems like a very reasonable model of self, that "I" am not the body or the ego, I am not the car, but "I" am the infinitesimal point or Subject, the chauffeur who drives the car. So, while I'm not entirely free from this apparent delusion, I found this article very informative, helpful and enlightening. Those passages that struck me particularly I've highlighted in colours for those who don't wish to read the whole thing.

The Paradox of Self-Denial 
From Alan Watts, “Become what you are” 

While living, be a dead man, thoroughly dead; Then, 
whatever you do, just as you will, will be right. 

A BUDDHIST POEM, WRITTEN IN CHINA SEVERAL centuries ago, tries to find words for an intuition which is common to almost every culture in the world. When translated into the familiar language of the Christian tradition, it is so well-known as to be almost a platitude: "He that loseth his soul shall find it." But what always preserves this thought from banality— from the mere tiresomeness of those precepts which everyone knows he ought to observe but doesn't—is that this is a saying which no one can observe. For so long as there is something which I can do about it, I am not yet dead; I have not yet completely lost my life. Yet this is not the simple absurdity of a command impossible to obey. It is a real communication, a description of something which happens to people—like the rain, or the touch of the wind. It is simply the expression of the universal discovery that a man does not really begin to be alive until he has lost himself, until he has released the anxious grasp which he normally holds upon his life, his property, his reputation and position. It is the irreducible truth in the monkish idea of "holy poverty," of the way of life to which there are no strings attached, in which—because all is lost—there is nothing to lose, in which there is the exhilaration of a kind of freedom which is poetically likened to the birds and the wind, or to clouds drifting in the boundless sky. It is the life which Saint Paul described as "poor but making many rich, as having nothing but possessing all things." 

What an unrealistic nostalgia we have for it! Marie Antoinette playing shepherdess in the gardens of Versailles ... presidents of great corporations retreating to lonely fishing shacks in the High 
Sierra .. . the insurance clerk walking alone on the interminable ocean sands, wondering if he would have the courage to be a beachcomber ... or the moral idealist, reproaching himself because he does not have quite the strength to abandon a comfortable salary and plunge into the slums, like Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, or the great exemplars Saint Francis and Saint Vincent de Paul. But most of us know that we will not, and probably cannot do it—that we shall continue to cling to our habitual ways of life with all 
the helplessness of addicts to a destroying passion. If this begins to sound like a sermon, I do not mean it that way, for I said at the beginning that the words about finding one's life through losing it were not really a precept that could simply be practiced and obeyed. This is what makes all the talk about the necessity of selflessness or the task of transcending the ego so fantastically misunderstood. Treated as a precept, it makes for every kind of moral and spiritual phoniness. Always have a large pinch of salt handy when you meet the fellow who talks about trying to renounce himself, to overcome his ego. I am reminded of the appcryphal conversation between Confucius and Lao-tzu, when the former had been prating of universal love without the element of self. 

"What stuff!" cried Lao-tzu. "Does not universal love contradict itself? Is not your elimination of self a positive manifestation of Self? Sir, if you would cause the world not to lose its source of nourishment: there is the universe, its regularity is unceasing; there are the sun and moon, their brightness is unceasing; there are the stars, their groupings never change; there are the birds and beasts, they flock together without varying; there are trees and shrubs, they grow upward without exception. Like these, accord with the Tao—with the way of things—and be perfect. Why, then, these vain struggles after charity and duty to one's neighbor, as though beating a drum in search of a fugitive. Alas, sir, you have brought much confusion into the mind of man!" 

As I said, the truth about finding life through losing it is not a precept but a report of something which happens—and happens in many different ways. It is not given to everyone to be an obvious moral hero or a notorious saint. It is not everyone's way to be a rolling stone without the responsibilities of wife and children. Nor, I should add, is it everyone's privilege to be a self-sacrificing wife or model husband. And still more—it is not everyone's gift to be the contented fatalist, accepting himself and his limitations just as they are, knowing that he is a weed and not trying to be a rose. Some of us will always be trying—with an exasperating degree of relative success—to improve ourselves in one way or another, and no amount of self-acceptance will stop it. Self-renunciation, self-acceptance—these are all names for the same thing, for the ideal to which there is no road, the art for which there is no technique. Why, then, does this whole idea so commonly wear the form of a precept, of advice to be followed, of a method to be applied? For obviously there is a vital contradiction in the very notion of self-renunciation, and just as much is self-acceptance. People try to accept themselves in order to be different, and try to surrender themselves in order to have more self-respect in their own eyes—or to attain some spiritual experience, some exaltation of consciousness the desire for which is the very form of their self-interest. We are really stuck with ourselves, and our attempts to reject or to accept are equally fruitless, for they fail to reach that inaccessible center of our selfhood which is trying to do the accepting or the rejecting. The part of our self that wants to change our self is the very one that needs to be changed; but it is as inaccessible as a needle to the prick of its own point. 

But the reason why the idea of self-renunciation appears in the impossible form of a precept is that it is a form of what Buddhists would call upayaa Sanskrit term meaning "skillful means," and 
more particularly the skillful means employed by a teacher to awaken his student to some truth which can only be reached in a roundabout way. For the selfishness of the self thrives on the notion that it can command itself, that it is the lord and master of its own processes, of its own motives and desires. Thus the one important result of any really serious attempt at self-renunciation or self-acceptance is the humiliating discovery that it is impossible. And this precisely is that death to oneself which is the improbable source of a way of life so new and so alive that it feels like having been born again. In this metaphorical sense, the ego dies on finding out its own incapacity, its inability to make any difference to itself that is really important. That is why, in Zen Buddhism, the task of self-transcendence is likened to a mosquito trying to bite an iron bull, and, in the words of one of the old masters, the transforming death comes about at the very moment when the iron hide of the bull finally and absolutely rejects the mosquito's frail proboscis. 

There is, of course, still some refuge for our illusion of self-importance in the idea that we must first make a very resolute effort to bite the bull. Every "in-group" distinguishes itself from the "out-group," the initiates from the hoi polloi, by some process of "going through the mill," of enduring sufferings which are subsequently worn as the proud badge of graduation. Thus one of the more sickening aspects of spiritual phoniness is the usually rather subtly hinted implication that one has, after all, "suffered so much." So, too, in the person who is still a mere aspirant to the state of grace, the same kind of humbug wears the form of resolutions to bite the bull to the utmost—in order to have oneself finally and effectively convinced that it cannot be done. 

I have always found that the people who have quite genuinely died to themselves make no claims of any kind to their own part in the process. They think of themselves as lazy and lucky. If they did anything at all, it was so simple that anyone else could do the same—for all that they have done is to recognize a universal fact of life, something as true of the weak and foolish as of the wise and strong. They would even say that in this respect there is some advantage in being weak and foolish, for the possession of a strong will and a clever head makes some things very difficult to see. A successful merchant will perhaps be less ready than a mere tramp to see that the same oblivion engulfs both of them. 

To the genuine dead-man-come-alive, sage, mystic, buddha, jivanmukta, or what you will, the notion that he attained this state by some effort or by some special capacity of his own is always absurd and impossible. You may almost be sure, then, that some kind of clericalism, some kind of highly refined spiritual racket, is at work when stress is laid upon the suffering and the discipline, the endurance and the willpower, which are said to be the essential prerequisites of an entry to the kingdom of heaven. Such talk is sometimes just making the best of a bad job—trying to pretend to oneself that a life of constant self-frustration was in fact a great spiritual attainment. Sometimes it may simply be an honest mistake, for there are people who discover what was always close at hand only after a long and painful journey, and they remain under the impression that the most awkward road was the only road. Sometimes, however, talk of this kind is the really nasty kind of preaching affected by people who presume to be schoolmasters to their fellow man but their sermons never have the slightest creative effect since the only motives for action which they supply are shame or fear or guilt, and when we respond to such motives we find only a balm for the ego's injured pride—a balm upon which our egocentricity flourishes with special gusto. 

With such misunderstandings out of the way, perhaps we can consider more intimately what it means to find life by losing it. The main point is, I think, that the state metaphorically called death or self-surrender is not a future condition to be acquired. It is rather a present fact. In small matters, our ego shows some signs of life. But fundamentally, in the presence of great space and time, as of great love and great fear, we are leaves on the wind. When we begin to think about this clearly, we evoke very disturbing emotions, which we would like to be able to control. Our resistance to these emotions is as natural as the emotions themselves. Indeed, they are really the same as the emotions, since emotions appear only as manifestations of a state of tension and resistance. If I did not dislike fear, it would not be fear. Nevertheless, there is, I think, no difficulty in discovering that our resentment of those emotions, 
our unwillingness to experience them, is totally ineffectual. It is the mosquito biting the iron bull again. The fragility and frailty of our human bodies within the merciless and marvelous torrent of life evokes every emotion of this agonizingly sensitive organism—love, anger, sadness, terror, and the fear of terror. And our attempts to stand above these emotions and control them are the emotions themselves at play, since love is also to be in love with love, and sadness to be sorry that one is sad. Our unwillingness to feel is the very measure of our ability to feel, for the more sensitive the instrument, the greater its capacity for pain, and so for reluctance to be hurt. 

Now, there are some psychologists who have struck, rather clumsily perhaps, upon an important truth—namely that there is a serious mistake in not responding to our feelings, or in trying to feel in some other way than we feel actually. They are speaking here, it should be noted, of inward feelings, and not of overt action. In other words, if you, as a mother, hate your child, don't try to pretend to yourself that you love him. But—put in this rather oversimplified way—this insight degenerates into another precept: "Accept your feelings: go along with your emotions." It is not that simple, because our feelings conflict with one another—as for example, when we are too proud to cry, or too frightened to fall in love. In this case, which feeling do we accept—the sorrow or the pride, the fear or the love? Now, this is a most instructive example of the difficulty of self-acceptance, for in such a situation we find that we can accept neither. The conflict will not allow itself to be resolved by a decision for one of the two sides—and we are stuck, helplessly, with the conflict. 

But the real importance of what these psychologists are trying to say is that there is an almost uncanny wisdom in the spontaneous and natural reactions of our organism to the course of events. The extraordinary capacity to feel an event inwardly, as distinct from bursting into precipitate action to avoid the tension of feeling—this capacity is in fact a wonderful power of adaptation to life, not unlike the instant responses of flowing water to the contours of the ground over which it flows. I hope this is clear. I am not talking at the moment of responses in terms of action, but only of our inward, subjective responses of feeling. The point is that our feelings are not really a kind of resistance, a kind of fight with the course of events. They are a harmonious and intelligent response. A person who did not feel frightened at the threat of danger would be like a tall building with no "give" to the wind. A mind which will not melt—with sorrow or love—is a mind which will all too easily break 

Now, the reason why I am talking of feeling rather than outward action is that I am considering the predicament of man in the face of events about which nothing can be done—events toward which our sole response is a response of feeling. I am thinking of the ultimate certainty of death, the overall helplessness of man within the vast tide of life, and, finally, of the very special feelings which arise when we are faced with a conflict of feelings which cannot be resolved. All these situations evoke feelings which, in the long run, are as irresistible as the situations themselves are insoluble. They are the ultimate feelings—and much of what is called philosophy is the fruitless attempt to talk oneself out of them. 

Thus what I have called the death of the ego transpires in the moment when it is discovered and admitted that these ultimate feelings are irresistible. They are ultimate in two senses: one, that they sometimes have to do with very fundamental and cataclysmic events, and, two, that they are sometimes our deepest, most radical feeling with respect to a given situation—such as the basic frustration provoked by a conflict between sorrow and shame. The point is that these ultimate feelings are as wise as all the rest, and their wisdom emerges when we give up resisting them— through the realization that we are simply unable to do so. When, for example, life compels us at last to give in, to surrender to the full play of what is ordinarily called the terror of the unknown, the suppressed feeling suddenly shoots upward as a fountain of the purest joy. What was formerly felt as the horror of our inevitable mortality becomes transformed by an inner alchemy into an almost ecstatic sense of freedom from the bonds of individuality. But ordinarily we do not discover the wisdom of our feelings because we do not let them complete their work; we try to suppress them or discharge them in premature action, not realizing that they are a process of creation which, like birth, begins as a pain and turns into a child. 

I hope it is possible to say all this without tying it up with the atmosphere of "ought-ness," without giving anyone the notion that this kind of self-surrender is something which one should or can do. This willful, compulsive, moralistic approach to man's transformation always obstructs it—for it still implies that very illusion of self-mastery which stands in the way. But it is just when I discover that I cannot surrender myself that I am surrendered; just when I find that I cannot accept myself that I am accepted. For in reaching this hard rock of the impossible one reaches sincerity, where there can no longer be the masked hide-and-seek of I and Me, "good I" trying to change "bad Me," who is really the same fellow as "good I." In the expressive imagery of Zen, all this striving for self-surrender is like trying to put legs on a snake—or, shall I say, like a naked man trying to lose his shirt. To quote from that genial Taoist, Chuang-tzu: From the standpoint of the sage, "the joined is not united, nor the separated apart, nor the long in excess, nor the short wanting. For just as a duck's legs, though short, cannot be lengthened without pain to the duck, and a crane's legs, though long, cannot be shortened without misery to the crane—so that which is long in man's moral nature cannot be cut off, nor that which is short be lengthened." 

The blog and comments originally appeared on Buddhist Travelers.