Tricks and Traps
This month's Missal takes a tour of Tricks and Traps, the many ways we become trapped or identified with the finite, and the tricks we can use to break the spell. We'll delve into the mind's assumptions and focus on three main traps or mis-identifications: believing we are the body, the mind, and/or the spirit. As we go through these traps we'll also take a look at ways and means, practical tricks, we can use to break their hold, and thus bring in the possibility of discovering who we really are.
Most of us will not admit we still believe we are a body, this is just too spiritually naive, and dangerous. Bodies rot and die, so why would we cling to that? Still, we may exhibit this belief in our actions and thinking, if we are honest and take a good look. An easy way to see this is the effect the body and its chemical changes has on us. If we are tired and frazzled, our thinking becomes negative and fearful. Once rested and refreshed, we become optimistic and full of hope. Though we may tell ourselves we are not a body, hormones and their effects might suggest otherwise. One way to start the process of realizing that there are no things, not even our own body, and thus get behind our body-based thinking, is to take a look, or see, what's really there. For starters, try the following trick by Mike Conner's, from his Effortful Meditation Exercise
"The mind and senses discriminate the appearance of objects of experience from each other using patterns of sensory conditions: size, color, sound, feel, smell, weight, boundaries, warmth, etc. And we assume that the characteristics of each object are the object and that our senses are merely receiving external data about it. That these objects do not exist except to the mind of the experiencer is not and cannot be discovered by using the senses which tell us that the objects do exist.
An example is the "wave" created at the stadium by people standing and sitting in turn. We see a wave, moving, but this wave only exists to our sense of sight; its only substance is people, standing and sitting. The wave is merely an appearance.
The people too are only the appearance caused by the body's cells, and their version of "standing and sitting."
The cells also are only the appearance caused by molecules "standing and sitting."
...the molecules by atoms,
...the atoms by subatomic particles,
...the subatomic "particles" are not really particles at all!
...they are waves in what appears to be nothing, to the mind,
...this apparent nothing is in fact the only real substance!
Another take on this inseeing that we do not exist, is in Douglas Harding's
"Where you hold your (real or imaginary) mirror reveals your identity at that range, at that level. If you could see a reflection of yourself at very close range you would see cells, molecules, atoms and so on, down to practically nothing. In fact, this is the level of ourselves that scientists reflect back to us using their sophisticated modern instruments. But mirrors, cameras, electron microscopes, other people - all fail to tell us what we are right at the centre of ourselves. No-one can take that last step into the centre of each one of us and tell us what and who we are here - except ourselves, for we are already here! Instead of waiting for others to tell us who we are at centre (they will never be in a position to say!) we can simply look for ourselves. What do you see right now where others see your face, whether that face be human, planetary, galactic, cellular, atomic...? Point to this place and look. Doesn't this 'inseeing' reveal no appearance here at centre? But isn't this 'no-appearance' nevertheless aware, and full of all you see - full of every level of this wonderful living universe!"
Now that we see there's nothing there where we believed we had a body, let's see that's there's nobody home either, by taking a look at an even subtler trap, that of believing we are a mind. We can easily see that we are not the body, but what reacts to the body and its chemicals? Are we that? We think we think, and that we are our thoughts and the thinker of these thoughts. This being a much cleverer trap, it is that much easier to dispel. Simply sit still once again, and allow your thoughts to come and go as they please, but watch for them closely. What happens? Nothing, no concepts or images, only you as seeing. As soon as your attention lapses, the thoughts or images return, and with them the idea that you must be thinking them. Try this exercise by the French Zen teacher, Hubert Benoit
" Alone, in a quiet place, muscularly relaxed (lying down or comfortably seated), I watch the emergence within myself of mental images, permitting my imagination to produce whatever it likes. It is as though I were saying to my image-making mind, 'Do what you please; but I am going to watch you doing it.'
"As long as one maintains this attitude -- or, more exactly, this relaxation of any kind of attitude -- the imagination produces nothing and its screen remains blank, free of all images. I am then in a state of pure voluntary attention, without any image to capture it. I am not paying attention to anything in particular; I am paying attention to anything which might turn up, but which in fact does not turn up. As soon as there is a weakening of my voluntary effort of pure attention, thoughts (images) make their appearance. I do not notice the fact immediately, for my attention is momentarily asleep; but after a certain time I perceive what has happened. I discover that I have started to think of this and that. The moment I make this discovery, I say to my imagination, 'So you want to talk to me about that. Go ahead; I'm listening.' Immediately everything stops again, and I become conscious of the stoppage."
We can see from this that we are not our thoughts or the thinker, but then why don't we disappear when we're not thinking or identified with images? When we are watching thoughts, or just listening, what are we?
The most subtle trap of all, especially if we are a spiritual aspirant, is that we are a spirit in a body/mind. If we declare we are a spirit trapped in a body, we could be just rationalizing our way out of the work of actually discovering who we really are; we're copping out. We cannot afford to believe in something simply because it flatters us or gives us an easy escape. This trap needs dispelling just as the others. Taking ourselves too seriously as seekers of truth, we sometimes forget to check on our own thinking, and let assuming and believing take the place of seeing and discerning.
"Only a fool proclaims he is a spirit and a body. What we are is a body attempting to discover if it has a spirit."
Let's take a look at another experiment of Douglas Harding's, the master of practical trickery, and see if we find a spirit, a mind, and/or a body, or what we really are:
"Explore what it is to be First Person singular, present tense, with eyes closed. Consider the following:
Going by your own, present experience, not by memory, hearsay or imagination, how big are you? What shape are you? Could you be almost any size or shape?
Do you have boundaries? Is there a place where you stop and the world begins? Or is there nothing dividing you from the world?
You can probably hear a variety of sounds, from distant ones to close ones. Do you hear any sound right where you are? Don't sounds come and go in Silence where you are?
At centre are you a collection of thoughts and feelings - a mind? What and where is this mind? Do thoughts and feelings appear out of it or out of nothing? Is your mind centralised, boxed in, separate from the world, or at large, unboxed, united with the world?
Sensations of warmth, discomfort, pleasure, breathing and so on are apparent. Do these make you into 'something' at centre, solid and limited? Or do these sensations come and go in the transparency of awareness, like thoughts, feelings and sounds? How big is the pain of a headache? One-way attention pays attention to the ache, thinking of it inside the limits of a head. Two-way attention is aware of the space in which the ache - and the idea of a head - occur. Just as it is face there to no-face here, so it is pain there to no pain here."
Underlying and containing all the different things you identify with is unoccupied, timeless, pure awareness. Though it is not a thing, yet it is absolutely real, and always present. It is who you really are."
The trap of identification may not be the only way we fool ourselves.
We may be subject to desires and fears declaring to be 'us', thus hiding as the 'I', too close to see or challenge. These desires and fears would be threatened if we got a good luck at them, so the trap is defended. We might not want to break the spell of our thinking, or the belief we are an impervious undefined spirit hiding safe somewhere from karma, for we then might have to look at our true beliefs and thoughts! Life itself may be a trap, and if we are to break free of the ego and its identifications, eventually our tricks may have to be as big and clever as death itself. We trick ourselves into unbecoming and thus Become what we have always been.
If you want to try a big trick, and find out what your values and beliefs really are, try making a commitment to finding the Truth. Devote your energy to this, and this only, leaving your daily life aside. Spend time in a monastery, retreat center, or alone in the woods for six days to six weeks, and honestly observe yourself in the quiet atmosphere, free from your normal habit pattern. Attempt to ignore your desires, habits and fears, needs and wants. You may find you are not the spiritual person you believed, and thus having faced yourself and seen your own mind's tricks and traps, come to know where the problem really lies.
"People are able to continue living or tolerate life by putting serious thoughts as far back as possible. Something inside the individual does not wish to examine its potential for oblivion. The human mind does not want to see anything negative about itself."
(The above quotations are meant to inspire the reader to further action, and are not meant to represent their author's opinions or intent. Please click on the links provided to see the quotations in their original context. Thank you, the Editor.)
- Related Sites -
Tricks and Traps Page:
"Be careful, using these tools can be quite dangerous.
They're pointy little devils and prickly to the ego. Only children at heart can safely handle them." Collection of Tricks and Traps from past Monthly Missals.
Notes in Regard to a Technique of Timeless Realization
by Dr. Hubert Benoit, translated by Aldous Huxley. "In a word, the realization of Eternity in Time, of Suchness in the world of appearances, is possible only when we put away our all too human gift of compensatory fancy and learn to see Reality as it is." - Huxley.
"This work must be carried out as a practical exercise undertaken at times when the subject can withdraw from the immediate excitations of the outer world." - Benoit. Practical exercises or tricks to see who or what we really are, from The Self-Discovery Portal - http://selfdiscoveryportal.com/bztech.htm
Experiments of Douglas Harding: " The following are experiments which enable you to see for yourself what and who you are at centre. You are to go by your here and now experience, not by previous experience, knowledge, memory etc. The idea is to direct your attention to what/who you are right where you are, nearer to you than your breathing, nearer than your thoughts and feelings. The experience of Who you really are, of your First Personhood, is easy. You can't in fact do it wrong. " Experiments or tricks to see who you really, really are, from the Master of Tricks, Douglas Harding. http://www.headless.org/English/experiments.htm
Be Still and Know by Roy Masters: "a special observation exercise for acquiring the mental discipline and understanding required to escape negative emotions and self-defeating behaviors. By focusing your mind in a simple yet special way, it shows you how to effortlessly escape the endless loop of thoughts, worry and anger that prevents us from reaching our full potential, and keeps us enslaved to the wills of others." Roy Master's hand-raising exercise may seem simple and pointless at first, but is yet another useful trick to 'unfocus' the mind from its own projections. http://www.fhu.com/meditation.html
A Lazy Layman's Guide to Quantum Physics
by James Higgo. "Why is it weird(quantum theory)? Niels Bohr, the father of the orthodox 'Copenhagen Interpretation' of quantum physics once said, "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it". To understand the weirdness completely, you just need to know about three experiments: Light Bulb, Two Slits, Schroedinger's Cat." Fun site that helps destroy our assumptions about things and thought. http://higgo.com/quantum/laymans.htm
Tricks and Traps
Trap: taking oneself too seriously. Too often in spiritual work, we fall for the trap of the spiritual ego and begin to believe in our own infallibility. We treat others as inferior beings, and can't understand why we are still subject to cause and effect. Being serious seekers on the righteous path of truth, why won't everything and everybody just shape up or leave us alone, do what we want or get out of our way? To escape this self-indulgent trap we can use the following
Trick: taking the Work personally. If we have fallen into the trap of thinking that spiritual work is about correcting the world and its inhabitants so as to bring them around to our superior way of thinking, we have forgotten an important thing; it is our very idea of ourselves that must change, not the world. We can start looking at the log in our eye and not the mote in our fellow's. Self-observation can give us a healthy dose of humility, helping us to see ourselves and others in a clearer light. Now that we've avoided trying to make the world fit our ego, we're in danger of falling for the
Trap: taking the Work too personally. Here, we may think that self-observation means judging ourselves rather than others, and now try to make our ego fit the world. To escape this self-indulgent trap we can use the following
Trick: learning what self-observation really is. We listen instead of assume and project, we discern instead of judge. We strive to see that the world of our imagination is not always an exact match for the world of perception, and if we're lucky, the next time we look in the mirror we'll have a good laugh, having come to see a bit clearer one more of the many ways we fool ourselves.
" One thing you must be able to do in the midst of any experience is laugh. And experience should show you that it isn't real, that it's a movie. Life doesn't take you seriously, so why take it seriously." - Richard Rose
The Trap of Compensation
"Every child is seduced into taking part in our game of life. He loses direct-mind ability when he identifies with and participates in this dimension, and tries to manipulate it for his own petulant form of counter-seduction." - Richard Rose
Many are the traps of the mind, and many are the tricks it plays on us. Being dual in nature, we are kept running from one experience or mood to another, all the while thinking that the solution is just up ahead, that if we could just get the mix right, we could finally keep all aspects of our lives under control, and finally secure our peace and happiness. But mind, being a two-faced dimension, will never be at peace, at least not for long. One of the basic traps of this thing called mind is that of compensation. We compensate, or balance, one aspect of our lives with another, in the vain hope the house of cards will not collapse and leave us face to face with the truth about ourselves.
The trap of compensation, like most things, is most easily seen in our fellows and hardest seen in ourselves. It's easy to see how others struggle to keep their desires and fears in check, their daily battle to balance the spending with the earning, the work with rest. Safe in our own imagination, we may think they are a bit foolish when they blunder and stumble, lacking the perfection our own ego ascribes to itself. We are too busy buying the rationalizations and excuses we keep at the ready for why we would actualize this perfection, if only life had given us better cards. This feeling of superiority, a form of pride, is simply compensation operating in ourselves. We cannot accept that we are in the same boat as our hapless neighbor, or that his excuses are as valid as ours. Thus, we have to compensate for the tragedy we see before us by telling ourselves how we are above it, superior in either action or rationale.
The base compensation we are all tied to is the game of pride and fear. We have a fear, that of death, which we must keep unconscious. If it were to ride too close to the surface, we would be paralyzed, and could not go about our daily business in the illusion of society. This fear of death is a built-in program designed to keep us from self-destruction in one sense, but in another, it serves as a hindrance to self-discovery. We cannot question it, for that would mean facing the unknown, or at least admitting there is such a thing, waiting behind us, terrible, death to the ego's belief in itself. In order to keep moving and participate in the game of life this fear must be kept at bay, or compensated for. This is accomplished by the mechanism of pride. We believe we are special, whether in a positive or negative sense, it makes no difference. This superior attitude gets us out of bed every day and out into the fray, believing we are something that matters. We go out to do the 'right thing' and thus keep the fear safely under the mat.
The great psychologist, G. I. Gurdjieff, taught that we have mechanisms in the mind called 'buffers'. Their function is to keep the different parts of us from ever meeting, thus assuring that we never get the kind of view of ourselves that we get of our neighbor. This helps us function by keeping us in the dark about what we're really like. We can persuade ourselves that we are good, right, doing our best, etc., while never having to let the facts rock the boat. Gurdjieff said that if a man's buffers were removed, he would go mad. He could not stand to see his true nature, with its contradictions and compensations. Pride serves the purpose of a buffer by not letting us get a clear look at our fear. We can cruise through life without hesitation or question, believing in what we have been taught, doing our best, and never doubting our self-image as the long suffering saint, martyr and good guy, the victim and helpless innocent. One thing pride or fear will never allow us, is to truly doubt. The great questions of our own existence and being are kept shut out.
To find the truth about ourselves, and life and death, we must face our pride and find our fear. This fear is close to the root of our problem, which is that of misidentification. We have been tricked into thinking we are an object, that we exist; a person who lives and dies. As an object, we are thus in a world of objects, and must defend ourselves. We cannot admit death, the great taboo, for that would leave us squarely in the unknown, the thing we fear the most. But until we face this fear, we will never be rid of it, and never be free of the mind-numbing pride that compensates it.
The grand trick, the lie beneath the fear, is that we are a thing. That we are separate, a body/mind amongst hostile other bodies, vying for a limited pile of goodies and security. As soon as we bought into this illusion, we became liable for the entire package of fear and pride, life and death. We then can no longer face this trade-off, that we have sold our infinite non-existent existence, so to speak, for an ego/body in a world of strife. We must keep looking away, taking pride in our plans and excuses, for to remember the truth is too terrible.
Misidentification causes fear, which causes pride, which leads us ever farther from our Home. We compensate for our lost inheritance by taking pride in our new-found 'life', holding the fear of the truth as far back as possible until the house of cards collapses, and if we are lucky, we get a glimpse of the game.
How can we find our way out? How can we return to Truth, without relying on accident or belief? Gurdjieff called the first step on the road home, self-remembering. To remember your Self. We start by observing ourselves, by questioning, to see what tricks and compensations we use to avoid looking at the facts of our situation. We begin to see that maybe we are not what we have been telling ourselves. We see that our neighbors having a rough time of it is not a cause for celebration, but an opportunity to see the same in ourselves. We can face ourselves and laugh, knowing that though we may not yet have the ultimate answer, we can begin looking. We see that the game is mostly fixed, so why be afraid? Taking ourselves too seriously hasn't worked in the past; it only fostered our pride and thus our self-ignorance. We take a step within, seeing ourselves a bit more as we really are, and find it helps. We hear from others who have gone beyond fear and pride that everything is ok, and take heart. We try the tricks they teach us, and perhaps once again glimpse our infinite nature. We lose ourselves, and gain the universe.
- Quotes of the Month -
" Use the "Who am I?". Focus the attention on sensation and feeling, not on thoughts. Do not focus the attention on emotions per se, but on the sensation of having the feeling – both the sensation of having the feeling and the source of the feeling. Thoughts generated by this attempt are the reaction to this "direct looking," and the "looking away" is experienced as a rush of ensuing thoughts."
- Bob Cergol
" Try a little experiment. Close your eyes and say to yourself: 'I wonder what my next thought is going to be.' Then become very alert and wait for the next thought. Be like a cat watching a mouse hole. What thought is going to come out of the mouse hole?" - Ekhart Tolle
" Man is not an individual as much as he is a changing mass. He is on the other hand an unchanging unit of life, or absolute light that the changing or relative man is unaware of." - Richard Rose
" If you are willing to realize that you cannot create your own virtues or changes; if you are willing to feel the pain of emptiness, helplessness, and inadequacy; if you are willing to wait, knowing that of yourself you can do nothing - then you will be facing Reality correctly. The reply to that stress of need is fulfillment." - Roy Masters
" ...the foundation of all mental illness is the avoidance of legitimate suffering." - Carl Jung
- Comic Philosophy -
The truth about compensation:
Americans want the version of religion that allows them to do whatever the hell they want and have God love them, forgive them, and condemn the neighbors to eternal hellfire when THEY do something wrong so that heaven isn't populated by anybody the "good people" don't like.
The mantra for American religion is "do what I say, not what I do." Be it Jerry Falwell or Tom Delay or the legion of child-molesting priests, we're so far past the hypocritical threshold that it's sometimes hard to imagine that there are people in the world for whom religion isn't simply a justification for trying to make the lives of others miserable. - Mr. Cranky
A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men. - Roald Dahl
Copyright 2003 - 2005 Robert Fergeson. All Rights Reserved.