AS WITHOUT, SO WITHIN (excerpt) A NEW EARTH by Eckhart Tolle

Peter Churcher, Aus, Winter, Barcelona, 115 x 130 cm
---Painting by Peter Churcher


When you look up at the clear sky at night, you may easily realize a truth at once utterly simple and extraordinarily profound. What is it that you see? The moon, planets, stars, the luminous band of the Milky Way, perhaps a comet or even the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy two million light years away. Yes, but if you simplify even more, what do you see? Objects floating in space. So what does the universe consist of? Objects and space.

If you don't become speechless when looking out into space on a clear night, you are not really looking, not aware of the totality of what is there. You are probably only looking at the objects and perhaps seeking to name them. If you have ever experienced a sense of awe when looking into space, perhaps even felt a deep reverence in the face of this: incomprehensible mystery, it means you must have relinquished for a moment your desire to explain and label and" have become aware not only of the objects in space but of the infinite depth of space itself. You must have become still enough inside to notice the vastness in which these countless worlds exist. The feeling of awe is not derived from the fact that there are billions of worlds out there, but the depth that contains them all.

You cannot see space, of course, nor can you hear, touch, taste, or smell it, so how do you even know it exists? This logical-sounding question already contains a fundamental error. The essence of space is no-thingness, so it doesn't "exist" in the normal sense of the word. Only I things—forms—exist. Even calling it space can be mislead-ing because by naming it, you make it into an object. Let us put it like this: There is something within you that
has an affinity with space; that is why you can be aware of it. Aware of it? That's not totally true either because how
can you be aware of space if there is nothing there to be aware of?

The answer is both simple and profound. When you are aware of space, you are not really aware of anything, except awareness itself—the inner space of consciousness. Through you, the universe is becoming aware of itself!

When the eye finds nothing to see, that no-thingness is perceived as space. When the ear finds nothing to hear, that no-thingness is perceived as stillness. When the senses, which are designed to perceive form, meet an absence of form, the formless consciousness that lies behind perception and makes all perception, all experience, possible, is no longer obscured by form. When you contemplate the unfathomable depth of space or listen to the silence in the early hours just before sunrise, something within you resonates with it as if in recognition. You then sense the vast depth of space as your own depth, and you know that precious stillness that has no form to be more deeply who you are than any of the things that make up the content of your life.

The Upanishads, the ancient scriptures of India, point to the same truth with these words:

What cannot be seen with the eye, but that whereby the eye can see: know that alone to be Brahman the Spirit and not what people here adore. What cannot be heard with the ear but that whereby the ear can hear: know that alone to be Brahman the Spirit and not what people here adore... What cannot be thought with the mind, but that whereby the mind can think: know that alone to be Brahman the Spirit and not what people here adore.7

God, the scripture is saying, is formless consciousness and the essence of who you are. Everything else is form, is "what people here adore."

The twofold reality of the universe, which consists of things and space—thingness and no-thingness—is also your own. A sane, balanced, and fruitful human life is a dance between the two dimensions that make up reality: form and space. Most people are so identified with the dimension of form, with sense perceptions, thoughts, and emotion, that the vital hidden half is missing from their lives. Their identification with form keeps them trapped in ego.

What you see, hear, feel, touch, or think about is only one half of reality, so to speak. It is form. In the teaching of Jesus, it is simply called "the world," and the other dimension is "the kingdom of heaven or eternal life."

Just as space enables all things to exist and just as without silence there could be no sound, you would not exist without the vital formless dimension that is the essence of who you are. We could say "God" if the word had not been so misused. I prefer to call it Being. Being is prior to existence. Existence is form, content, "what happens." Existence is the foreground of life; Being is the background, as it were.

The collective disease of humanity is that people are so engrossed in what happens, so hypnotized by the world of fluctuating forms, so absorbed in the content of their lives, they have forgotten the essence, that which is beyond content, beyond form, beyond thought. They are so consumed by time that they have forgotten eternity, which is their origin, their home, their destiny. Eternity is the living I reality of who you are.

Some years ago when visiting China, I came upon a stupa on a mountaintop near Guilin. It had writing embossed in gold on it, and I asked my Chinese host what it meant. "It means 'Buddha,' " he said. "Why are there two characters rather than one?" I asked. "One," he explained, means 'man.' The other means 'no.' And the two together means 'Buddha.' " I stood there in awe. The character for Buddha already contained the whole teaching of the Buddha, and for those who have eyes to see, the secret of life. Here are the two dimensions that make up reality, thingness and no-thingness, form and the denial of form, which is the recognition that form is not who you are.


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BUY: A NEW EARTH — Tolle

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"The God-Shaped Vacuum" (Prologue from) In the Absence of God — Sam Keen

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--“El Federal Cafe IV” by Fabian Perez


There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing.
—Blaise Pascal

--Digging beneath my immediate mind, which distracts itself with pizza, paper clips, and the rising and falling of the Dow, I uncover ruins of old dwellings, a house, a temple, and a town square once occupied, believed in, faithfully tended.

--I stumble, unstable on shifting ground. My mind wanders through layers of rubble, discarded beliefs, outworn creeds, broken hopes, shattered illusions, bones of failed heroes and false saviors.

--Socrates, that old trickster, taught me a way of thinking, dialectic and dialogue, an endless approach. But I never arrived at the promised vision of the good, the beautiful, and the true.

--I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, with as much heart, mind, and soul as I could manage, but he failed to saved me from death's dominion and the fear of nothingness.

--I trusted Freud to lead me down into an underworld (neither he nor I conquered) from which I returned wounded, with little redemptive wisdom other than a sermon on coping and the virtues of love and work.

--Marx, in whom I never believed, taught me better than he knew the danger of all Utopias and left me with the bitter truth that I and all the bourgeoisie are moved more by desire for power and profit than by love of justice.

--Tiring of pure reason, I dreamed of the dark kingdom of Dionysus, an orgy of the senses to wash away the pale abstractions of the mind. In time I learned what Apollo knows: Order may be sweet, and discipline a path to delight.

--A skilled archeologist might map more layers, passions, persons, and places that I thought might save me— from what I am not certain—and give me peace at last.
--Should I mourn and build again? Clear away the debris, smooth out the ground, prepare a solid foundation for a new edifice to house my spirit?

--Wherever I stand, tectonic plates rumble. I am earthquake-prone. Not a good insurance risk.

--I think it is better to dwell in the desert under open skies, look for hidden oases, make a hearth, light a fire, cherish sunrise, noonday, moonset, a flight of Canada geese, an ant empire being built an arm's length away, the comfort of touch, the language of glances, smiles, laughter, tears—sacred moments.
--Be thankful for the myriad hints of a G-d present in absence, in the longing without end. Amen.


--We who have been unsatisfied by any traditional religion have spent our lives in quest of a rose, but the closest we ever get is entering a room still redolent with the scent of a rose that was removed before we arrived. We cannot easily locate God in the house of our longing, yet we remain haunted; God's missing presence echoes throughout the empty rooms. In the void we hear faint hymns of an ancient faith for which we no longer have room among the endless quarks, waves, and subatomic particles identified by science. We exist in a God-shaped vacuum. That which is no longer present (but is not completely absent) gives shape to our aspirations and longings.

--Although longing seems to be perennial, the historical tide of faith ebbs and flows. Currently in the industrialized nations it seems to have receded, depositing its driftwood of nihilism and violence on the shore, leaving us devoid of a vision of the sacred that we need in order to create a hopeful society. We suffer from a spiritual autoimmune disease. Lacking antibodies of faith to keep us from despair, we attack ourselves.

--We are trapped in a life in which little attention is paid to the encompassing mystery of Being traditionally known by the Ten Thousand Names of God. Many of us feel the loss of this absent God, and we feel outrage. You can hear it in the voices of the new atheologians who condemn the violence of religious fundamentalism but are angry that a God in whom they do not believe does not prevent holocausts or provide verifiable evidence of His existence. It is painful to be aware of what is missing, but the experience of longing should not be denied, covered up, or tranquilized. It is precisely from this point that we may start on a path toward renewal.

--Our experience of absence rests firmly upon an ancient memory of presence. The premise and promise of this book is that if we have the courage to wait patiently on the border between agnosticism and faith, forsaking the false certainties promised by the God of traditional religion (a God whose nature and name true believers presume to know), we may find ourselves encompassed by the G-d of the mystics, the ultimate reality that energizes all beings but can only be named in the gossamer language of myth and metaphor and poetry. (Note: Throughout, I will continue to use "God" and "G-d" to differentiate traditional from mystical religion.) As we will find, only by rediscovering the elementary emotions that accompany the experience of the sacred—wonder, awe, gratitude, anxiety, joy, grief, reverence, empowerment, vocation, compassion, outrage, hope, humility, trust—may we once again find ourselves in the presence of an unknowable but all-present G-d.

--Hold a chambered shell to your ear and you will hear the undulating surge and sigh of the primal sea.

—Sandor McNab

BUY:
Keen-Absence
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DAVID FOSTER WALLACE, IN HIS OWN WORDS — IN MEMORIAM | September 19th 2008

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 The world of letters has lost a giant. We have felt nourished by the mournful graspings of sites dedicated to his memory ("He was my favourite" ~ Zadie Smith), and we grieve for the books we will never see. But perhaps the best tribute is one he wrote himself ...

This is the commencement address he gave to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005. It captures his electric mind, and also his humility--the way he elevated and made meaningful, beautiful, many of the lonely thoughts that rattle around in our heads. The way he put better thoughts in our heads, too. (Many thanks to Marginalia.org for making this available.)

(If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I'd advise you to go ahead, because I'm sure going to. In fact I'm gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about "teaching you how to think". If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I'm going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your scepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp."

It's easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there's the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education--least in my own case--is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.


As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about "the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master".

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.

By way of example, let's say it's an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it's pretty much the last place you want to be but you can't just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store's confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn't yet been part of you graduates' actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn't have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it's hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat out won't want to.

But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship--be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles--is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving.... The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

"This is water."

"This is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

DAVID FOSTER WALLACE, IN HIS OWN WORDS
Published on More Intelligent Life (http://moreintelligentlife.com)

IN MEMORIAM | September 19th 2008


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"Love is Who We Are" (excerpt) The Ten Things to Do When Your Life Falls Apart: An Emotional and Spiritual Handbook — Daphne Rose Kingma

Tarlton Original Oil Painting Ballerina Dancer art eBay 006i
---Windswept Dancer by Karen Tarlton


Love is who we are. Somewhere we already know this, but the beauty of difficult times is that in them we actually get to see that love shows up in a thousand ways—to hold us.

That the beloved no matter what he or she may look like is always there to find us, to travel with us through our pain. Even in the darkest hours love will come and find you. It may not come in the way, shape or form you imagined, but it will come to you. Like the woman standing among the stretchers on the battlefield holding a single candle in the dark, love will surely come and find you. Like the carpet of new grass springing up on the side of the fire-charred mountains, like the raindrops of a summer thunder shower sizzling on the sidewalk after decimating months of drought, love will come and find you.

Love is always here in our midst and even now when it feels like your world is coming apart it will come and find you. As the mother reaches out through the crowd for the hand of her child, love will come and find you. As the Beloved wraps his arms around his lovers waist, as daylight wraps itself around the dark, so love, even in these hard dark hours, will surely come and find you.

Love has thousands of names and millions of faces, it will give you everything and ask for only one thing in return, that it may come and wear your face, that you will let it use your name.
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20-Year-Old Hunter S. Thompson’s Superb Advice on How to Find Your Purpose and Live a Meaningful Life by Maria Popova

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---Painting by Tricia Ratliff


“It is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it.”

As a hopeless lover of both letters and famous advice, I was delighted to discover a letter 20-year-old Hunter S. Thompson — gonzo journalism godfather, pundit of media politics, dark philosopher — penned to his friend Hume Logan in 1958. Found in Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience (public library) — the aptly titled, superb collection based on Shaun Usher’s indispensable website of the same name — the letter is an exquisite addition to luminaries’ reflections on the meaning of life, speaking to what it really means to find your purpose.

Cautious that “all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it” — a caveat other literary legends have stressed with varying degrees of irreverence — Thompson begins with a necessary disclaimer about the very notion of advice-giving:

“To give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.”

And yet he honors his friend’s request, turning to Shakespeare for an anchor of his own advice:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles…”

“And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.”


He acknowledges the obvious question of why not take the path of least resistance and float aimlessly, then counters it:

“The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you.”

Touching on the same notion that William Gibson termed “personal micro-culture,” Austin Kleon captured in asserting that “you are the mashup of what you let into your life,” and Paula Scher articulated so succinctly in speaking of the combinatorial nature of our creativity, Thompson writes:

“Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.”

“So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?”

“The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.)* There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.”


Resolving to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” Thompson nonetheless strongly urges his friend to read Sartre’s Nothingness and the anthology Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre, then admonishes against succumbing to faulty definitions of success at the expense of finding one’s own purpose:

“To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.”

“But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors—but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires—including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.”

“As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal) he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).”


“In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.”

Noting that his friend had thus far lived “a vertical rather than horizontal existence,” Thompson acknowledges the challenge of this choice but admonishes that however difficult, the choice must be made or else it melts away into those default modes of society:

“A man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance. So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

“And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know—is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.”


He ends by returning to his original disclaimer by reiterating that rather than a prescription for living, his “advice” is merely a reminder that how and what we choose — choices we’re in danger of forgetting even exist — shapes the course and experience of our lives:

“I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life.”

Both reflecting and supporting Usher’s heartening echelon of independent online scholarship and journalism at the intersection of the editorial and the curatorial, Letters of Note is brimming with other such timeless treasures from such diverse icons and Brain Pickings favorites as E. B. White, Virginia Woolf, Ursula Nordstrom, Nick Cave, Ray Bradbury, Amelia Earhart, Galileo Galilei, and more.


Maria Popova’s website: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/11/04/hunter-s-thomspon-letters-of-note-advice/



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"It Is a Direct Path" (excerpt) A Path and a Practice — William Martin

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---“Path to Wisdom” - By LEONID



Talking about a path is not walking that path.
Thinking about life is not living.


Lao-tzu was neither a priest nor a follower of any religious belief system. He was a patient observer of the flow of life. He watched the wind move the clouds across the sky and the rain soak the earth. He watched rivers flow through wide valleys and tumble down mountain canyons. He watched the crane stand patiently by the lakeside, waiting on one leg until the water cleared to reveal a fish. He considered the contentment of the turtle sitting in the mud. He observed crops flourish one year and fail the next. He watched the seasons come and go. He saw the wonder of all things rising and falling, coming and going, living and dying. He came to understand that this wonder cannot be captured by words and concepts. It can be talked about, yet never captured. It can be thought about, yet never fathomed. It can only be experienced.

The legends that surround the formation of the Tao Te Ching illustrate Lao-tzu's reluctance to put his teachings into written words. One such legend speaks of a time when he became so fed up with the politics of repression in the China of his day that he got on his ox and left the country. But the border guard would not let him leave until he wrote down his wisdom for all to share. Lao-tzu said, "If I write it down it will no longer be the Tao." Nevertheless, the guard would not let him leave until he wrote something. So Lao-tzu dismounted his ox, sat in the shade of a tree, and in one afternoon wrote the short text of poetic wisdom you now have in your hands.

Legend? Undoubtedly, but a legend that speaks to the very nature of this path. It is a path of direct experience, not of abstract philosophy. It is a way of looking with clarity at the processes of life as they are, not as we think they should be. It is a path that must be walked moment by moment, and not discussed in endless words.

Yet using thoughts and words to make sense of our experience is what we humans do. It is part of our nature. Lao-tzu uses words in short poetic stanzas so that they may serve as guides and gateways to direct experience rather than as mere abstractions and distractions. This sometimes frustrates our Western conditioning, which has come to expect things to be explained without ambiguity or paradox. Such an approach forces us again and again to return to our own experience of life rather than rely on the words and teachings of others.

Directly experiencing life is not something we do easily. By the time we are adults, our experience is mediated through a multitude of conceptual filters that provide a constant commentary about our life, but that ignore the thing itself. This process is so deeply conditioned in most of us that we don't even notice it. We wander through day after day with our minds spinning an endless stream of thoughts, judgments, hopes, fantasies, critiques, and plans, all mixed with a babble of advertising jingles and fragments of television shows.

Lao-tzu suggests that this habitual commentary on life, though a natural part of being human, is not the same thing as a fully lived life. At the same time, he does not totally discount the conceptual thinking process. We make a certain kind of sense out of our life through the use of categories, thoughts, and words. But, as he suggests in chapter 1, these thoughts and words are gateways to life, not life itself.

How is it for you? Does the commentary in your head serve as a gateway to the deeper mystery of life? Or are you, like most of us, deeply caught in the never-ending round of judgment, effort, worry, striving, comparing, desiring, hoping, dreaming, and all the other distractions that keep you from the actual, sometimes frightening, intensity of a direct experience of life?

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William Martin — A Path and a Practice: Using Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an --Awakened Spiritual Life


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