"How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked" By Pema Chödrön

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---Drawing by Trapdoor Studio

Shenpa is the urge, the hook, that triggers our habitual tendency to close down. We get hooked in that moment of tightening when we reach for relief. To get unhooked we begin by recognizing that moment of unease and learn to relax in that moment.

You're trying to make a point with a coworker or your partner. At one moment her face is open and she's listening, and at the next, her eyes cloud over or her jaw tenses. What is it that you're seeing?

  Someone criticizes you. They criticize your work or your appearance or your child. At moments like that, what is it you feel? It has a familiar taste in your mouth, it has a familiar smell. Once you begin to notice it, you feel like this experience has been happening forever.

  The
Tibetan word for this is shenpa. It is usually translated "attachment," but a more descriptive translation might be "hooked." When shenpa hooks us, we're likely to get stuck. We could call shenpa "that sticky feeling." It's an everyday experience. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That's the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us.

Remember the fairy tale in which toads hop out of the princess's mouth whenever she starts to say mean words? That's how being hooked can feel. Yet we don't stop—we can't stop—because we're in the habit of associating whatever we're doing with relief from our own discomfort. This is the
shenpa syndrome. The word "attachment" doesn't quite translate what's happening. It's a quality of experience that's not easy to describe but which everyone knows well. Shenpa is usually involuntary and it gets right to the root of why we suffer.

  Someone looks at us in a certain way, or we hear a certain song, we smell a certain smell, we walk into a certain room and
boom. The feeling has nothing to do with the present, and nevertheless, there it is. When we were practicing recognizing shenpa at Gampo Abbey, we discovered that some of us could feel it even when a particular person simply sat down next to us at the dining table.

Shenpa
thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing. We experience this insecurity as a background of slight unease or restlessness. We all want some kind of relief from that unease, so we turn to what we enjoy—food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work or shopping. In moderation what we enjoy might be very delightful. We can appreciate its taste and its presence in our life. But when we empower it with the idea that it will bring us comfort, that it will remove our unease, we get hooked.

So we could also call
shenpa "the urge"—the urge to smoke that cigarette, to overeat, to have another drink, to indulge our addiction whatever it is. Sometimes shenpa is so strong that we're willing to die getting this short-term symptomatic relief. The momentum behind the urge is so strong that we never pull out of the habitual pattern of turning to poison for comfort. It doesn't necessarily have to involve a substance; it can be saying mean things, or approaching everything with a critical mind. That's a major hook. Something triggers an old pattern we'd rather not feel, and we tighten up and hook into criticizing or complaining. It gives us a puffed-up satisfaction and a feeling of control that provides short-term relief from uneasiness.

  Those of us with strong addictions know that working with habitual patterns begins with the willingness to fully acknowledge our urge, and then the willingness not to act on it. This business of not acting out is called
refraining. Traditionally it's called renunciation. What we renounce or refrain from isn't food, sex, work or relationships per se. We renounce and refrain from the shenpa. When we talk about refraining from the shenpa, we're not talking about trying to cast it out; we're talking about trying to see the shenpa clearly and experiencing it. If we can see shenpa just as we're starting to close down, when we feel the tightening, there's the possibility of catching the urge to do the habitual thing, and not doing it.

Without
meditation practice, this is almost impossible to do. Generally speaking, we don't catch the tightening until we've indulged the urge to scratch our itch in some habitual way. And unless we equate refraining with loving-kindness and friendliness towards ourselves, refraining feels like putting on a straitjacket. We struggle against it. The Tibetan word for renunciation is shenlok, which means turning shenpa upside-down, shaking it up. When we feel the tightening, somehow we have to know how to open up the space without getting hooked into our habitual pattern.

In practicing with
shenpa, first we try to recognize it. The best place to do this is on the meditation cushion. Sitting practice teaches us how to open and relax to whatever arises, without picking and choosing. It teaches us to experience the uneasiness and the urge fully, and to interrupt the momentum that usually follows. We do this by not following after the thoughts and learning to come back to the present moment. We learn to stay with the uneasiness, the tightening, the itch of shenpa. We train in sitting still with our desire to scratch. This is how we learn to stop the chain reaction of habitual patterns that otherwise will rule our lives. This is how we weaken the patterns that keep us hooked into discomfort that we mistake as comfort. We label the spinoff "thinking" and return to the present moment. Yet even in meditation, we experience shenpa.

Let's say, for example, that in meditation you felt settled and open. Thoughts came and went, but they didn't hook you. They were like clouds in the sky that dissolved when you acknowledged them. You were able to return to the moment without a sense of struggle. Afterwards, you're hooked on that very pleasant experience: "I did it right, I got it right. That's how it should always be, that's the model." Getting caught like that builds arrogance, and conversely it builds poverty, because your next session is nothing like that. In fact, your "bad" session is even worse now because you're hooked on the "good" one. You sat there and you were discursive: you were obsessing about something at home, at work. You worried and you fretted; you got caught up in fear or anger. At the end of the session, you feel discouraged—it was "bad," and there's only you to blame.

  Is there something inherently wrong or right with either meditation experience? Only the
shenpa. The shenpa we feel toward "good" meditation hooks us into how it's "supposed" to be, and that sets us up for shenpa towards how it's not "supposed" to be. Yet the meditation is just what it is. We get caught in our idea of it: that's the shenpa. That stickiness is the root shenpa. We call it ego-clinging or self-absorption. When we're hooked on the idea of good experience, self-absorption gets stronger; when we're hooked on the idea of bad experience, self-absorption gets stronger. This is why we, as practitioners, are taught not to judge ourselves, not to get caught in good or bad.

What we really need to do is address things just as they are. Learning to recognize
shenpa teaches us the meaning of not being attached to this world. Not being attached has nothing to do with this world. It has to do with shenpa—being hooked by what we associate with comfort. All we're trying to do is not to feel our uneasiness. But when we do this we never get to the root of practice. The root is experiencing the itch as well as the urge to scratch, and then not acting it out.

If we're willing to practice this way over time,
prajna begins to kick in. Prajna is clear seeing. It's our innate intelligence, our wisdom. With prajna, we begin to see the whole chain reaction clearly. As we practice, this wisdom becomes a stronger force than shenpa. That in itself has the power to stop the chain reaction.

 Prajna isn't ego-involved. It's wisdom found in basic goodness, openness, equanimity—which cuts through self-absorption. With prajna we can see what will open up space. Habituation, which is ego-based, is just the opposite—a compulsion to fill up space in our own particular style. Some of us close space by hammering our point through; others do it by trying to smooth the waters.

We're taught that whatever arises is fresh, the essence of realization. That's the basic view. But how do we see whatever arises as the essence of realization when the fact of the matter is, we have work to do? The key is to look into
shenpa. The work we have to do is about coming to know that we're tensing or hooked or "all worked up." That's the essence of realization. The earlier we catch it, the easier shenpa is to work with, but even catching it when we're already all worked up is good. Sometimes we have to go through the whole cycle even though we see what we're doing. The urge is so strong, the hook so sharp, the habitual pattern so sticky, that there are times when we can't do anything about it.

 There is something we can do after the fact, however. We can go sit on the meditation cushion and re-run the story. Maybe we start with remembering the all-worked-up feeling and get in touch with that. We look clearly at the
shenpa in retrospect; this is very helpful. It's also helpful to see shenpa arising in little ways, where the hook is not so sharp.

Buddhists are talking about
shenpa when they say, "Don't get caught in the content: observe the underlying quality—the clinging, the desire, the attachment." Sitting meditation teaches us how to see that tangent before we go off on it. It basically comes down to the instruction, "label it thinking." To train in this on the cushion, where it's relatively easy and pleasant to do, is how we can prepare ourselves to stay when we get all worked up.

  Then we can train in seeing
shenpa wherever we are. Say something to another person and maybe you'll feel that tensing. Rather than get caught in a story line about how right you are or how wrong you are, take it as an opportunity to be present with the hooked quality. Use it as an opportunity to stay with the tightness without acting upon it. Let that training be your base.

  You can also practice recognizing
shenpa out in nature. Practice sitting still and catching the moment when you close down. Or practice in a crowd, watching one person at a time. When you're silent, what hooks you is mental dialogue. You talk to yourself about badness or goodness: me-bad or they-bad, this-right or that-wrong. Just to see this is a practice. You'll be intrigued by how you'll involuntarily shut down and get hooked, one way or another. Just keep labeling those thoughts and come back to the immediacy of the feeling. That's how not to follow the chain reaction.

  Once we're aware of
shenpa, we begin to notice it in other people. We see them shutting down. We see that they've been hooked and that nothing is going to get through to them now. At that moment we have prajna. That basic intelligence comes through when we're not caught up in escaping from our own unease. With prajna we can see what's happening with others; we can see when they've been hooked. Then we can give the situation some space. One way to do that is by opening up the space on the spot, through meditation. Be quiet and place your mind on your breath. Hold your mind in place with great openness and curiosity toward the other person. Asking a question is another way of creating space around that sticky feeling. So is postponing your discussion to another time.

At the abbey, we're very fortunate that everybody is excited about working with
shenpa. So many words I've tried using become ammunition that people use against themselves. But we feel some kind of gladness about working with shenpa, perhaps because the word is unfamiliar. We can acknowledge what's happening with clear seeing, without aiming it at ourselves. Since no one particularly likes to have his shenpa pointed out, people at the Abbey make deals like, "When you see me getting hooked, just pull your earlobe, and if I see you getting hooked, I'll do the same. Or if you see it in yourself, and I'm not picking up on it, at least give some little sign that maybe this isn't the time to continue this discussion." This is how we help each other cultivate prajna, clear seeing.
 
We could think of this whole process in terms of four R’s:
recognizing the shenpa, refraining from scratching, relaxing into the underlying urge to scratch and then resolving to continue to interrupt our habitual patterns like this for the rest of our lives. What do you do when you don't do the habitual thing? You're left with your urge. That's how you become more in touch with the craving and the wanting to move away. You learn to relax with it. Then you resolve to keep practicing this way.

Working with
shenpa softens us up. Once we see how we get hooked and how we get swept along by the momentum, there's no way to be arrogant. The trick is to keep seeing. Don't let the softening and humility turn into self-denigration. That's just another hook. Because we've been strengthening the whole habituated situation for a long, long time, we can't expect to undo it overnight. It's not a one-shot deal. It takes loving-kindness to recognize; it takes practice to refrain; it takes willingness to relax; it takes determination to keep training this way. It helps to remember that we may experience two billion kinds of itches and seven quadrillion types of scratching, but there is really only one root shenpa—ego-clinging. We experience it as tightening and self-absorption. It has degrees of intensity. The branch shenpas are all our different styles of scratching that itch.
 
I recently saw a cartoon of three fish swimming around a hook. One fish is saying to the other, "The secret is non-attachment." That's a
shenpa cartoon: the secret is—don't bite that hook. If we can catch ourselves at that place where the urge to bite is strong, we can at least get a bigger perspective on what's happening. As we practice this way, we gain confidence in our own wisdom. It begins to guide us toward the fundamental aspect of our being—spaciousness, warmth and spontaneity.

--SOURCE:
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Pema Chödrön is a fully-ordained Buddhist nun and the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She is the author of The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are, When Things Fall ApartThe Places That Scare You, and Comfortable With Uncertainty, published by Shambhala Publications.
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"Qualities of Spiritual Maturity" (excerpt) A PATH WITH HEART by Jack Kornfield

Seal


Let us look at the qualities of spiritual maturity:

  1. Nonidealism: The mature heart is not perfectionistic: it rests in the compassion of our being instead of in ideals of the mind. Nonidealistic spirituality does not seek a perfect world; it does not seek to perfect ourselves, our bodies, our personalities. It is not romantic about teachers or enlightenment based on images of the immense purity of some special being out there. Thus, it does not seek to gain or attain in spiritual life, but only to love and be free.


The frustration of seeking perfection is illustrated by a story of Mullah Nasrudin. One day in the marketplace he encountered an old friend who ! was about to get married. This friend asked the Mullah whether he had ever considered marriage. Nasrudin replied that years ago he had wanted to marry and had set out to find the perfect woman. First he traveled to Damascus, where he found a perfectly gracious and beautiful woman but discovered she was lacking a spiritual side. Then his travels took him farther to Isfahan, where he met a woman who was deeply spiritual yet comfortable in the world and beautiful as well, but unfortunately they did not communicate well together. “Finally in Cairo I found her,” he said, “she was the ideal woman, spiritual, gracious, and beautiful, at ease in the world, perfect in every way.” “Well,” asked the friend, “did you then marry her?” “No,” answered the Mullah, “unfortunately, she was looking for the perfect man.”

Mature spirituality is not based on seeking perfection, on achieving some imaginary sense of purity. It is based simply on the capacity to let go and to love, to open the heart to all that is. Without ideals, the heart can turn the suffering and imperfections we encounter into the path of compassion. In this nonidealistic practice, the divine can shine through even in acts of ignorance and fear, inviting us to wonder at the mystery of all that is. In this there is no judgment and no blame, for we seek not to perfect the world but to perfect our love for what is on this earth. Thomas Merton saw it this way.

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths where neither sin nor desire can reach, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way there would be no reason for war, for hatred, for cruelty ... I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.

  1. A second quality of mature spirituality is kindness,. It is based on a fundamental notion of self-acceptance, rather than guilt, blame, or shame, for the ignorant acts we’ve committed or the fears that still remain within us. It understands that opening requires the warm sun of loving- kindness. It is all too easy to turn spirituality and religion into what Alan Watts called “a grim duty.” Poet Mary Oliver wrote:


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves . . .

In deep self-acceptance grows a compassionate understanding. As one Zen master said when asked if he ever gets angry, “Of course I get angry, but then a few minutes later I say to myself, ‘What’s the use of this,’ and I let it go.” This self-acceptance is at least half of our spiritual practice. We are asked to touch with mercy the many parts of ourself that we have denied, cut off, or isolated. Mature spirituality is a reflection of dour deep gratitude and capacity for forgiveness. As the Zen poet Edward Espe Brown writes in The Tassajara Recipe Book:

Any moment, preparing this meal, we could be gas thirty thousand feet in the air soon to fall out poisonous on leaf, frond and fur. Everything in sight would cease.

And still we cook, putting a thousand cherished dreams on the table, to nourish and reassure those close and dear.

In this act of cooking, I bid farewell.
Always I insisted you alone were to blame.
This last instant my eyes open and I regard you with all the tenderness and forgiveness I withheld for so long.
With no future
we have nothing
to fight about.

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"The Never Ending Journey (excerpt) In the Absence of God—Dwelling in the Place of the Sacred by Sam Keen


“Never Ending Journey” by Marianna G. Mills


In the Absence of God: Dwelling in the Presence of the Sacred
by Sam Keen


In the desert nothing is exactly what it seems. A distant lake shimmers for a moment, promising relief and refreshment, but as you draw closer it vanishes. Sandstorms obscure the sun and cause the unwary traveler to walk in circles. Springs and oases that were once verdant dry up and disappear beneath the shifting sands. To live in the desert is to become part of an unending quest for water and wild game. To join any new quest we must challenge the values and concerns that have governed our lives to this time. Freud got it slightly wrong. True, many of us suffer from the thorn in the flesh of childhood wounds, but we suffer more frequently from a void, from what hasn't happened to us, from what we haven't found as a result of the questions we haven't asked.

Questioning is not something we do but something we are—an elemental force. Were you to dissect my brain, you would find that the neurochemical circuitry, the complex strands of cells that make up my brain and my mind, are as individual as my fingerprints. But beyond the wetware, what makes me Sam Keen rather than Rupert Murdoch are the questions that shape my life. Instead of spending each day asking myself how I could acquire more news media, I wonder about the vagaries of the experience of the sacred and the shape of future religion.

Nothing shapes our lives so much as the questions we ask, refuse to ask, or never dream of asking. Our minds, bodies, feelings, and relationships are literally informed by our questions. The defining essence of an individual is his or her quest print. The men and women who made an enduring mark in history, for better and for worse, ignored the accepted worldviews, values, and myths of their time and chose to pursue their own answers to their deepest questions.

Here's a random sample:

How can we put an end to suffering?—Buddha
What is eternal and unchanging?—Plato
What is the will of God?—Jesus Of what may I be certain?—Descartes
How is a falling apple like a rising moon?—Sir Isaac Newton -
Why were men born free but are everywhere in chains?—Karl Marx
What is the meaning of dreams?—Sigmund Freud
How can we create a master race?—Adolf Hitler
Does God play dice with the universe?—Albert Einstein
How is a woman unlike a man?—Betty Friedan

The questions we habitually ask determine whether we will be superficial or profound, acceptors of the status quo or searchers, creators of the peace between nations or the cause of its destruction. They reflect our values, needs, circumstances, and situation. It is the courage to ponder the great mythic questions that gives depth to human life. These queries form antibodies that protect us from the diseases of orthodoxy and ideology, although sometimes they lead us to create new pseudo religions, such as fascism or communism. But so long as we return again and again to the great unanswerable questions, we will never wander far from the endless sky and quickening winds of the spirit.

And if we don't?
If I don't ask, "What are my gifts?" and "What is my vocation?" I may spend my life working at a job that has little or no meaning for me. If I don't ask myself, "Am I willing to kill the designated enemies of my government?" I may join the military, and possibly be placed in a combat situation where my only choice is to kill or be killed. If I don't ask, "Should I compromise my values to serve the interests of my employer?" I am more likely to tailor my personality to what is demanded for advancement. If I do not ask, "Who am I? What is my story?" I am more likely to be informed by the myths, scripts, and stereotypes of my culture. If I don't ask, "What do I believe about G-d and the ultimate purpose of life?" I am more likely to live unconsciously, within either a profane ideology or an uncritical religious orthodoxy.

To be authentically religious is not to affirm any one creed or to have unwavering faith in a transcendent God. It is to be passionately concerned with the meaning of existence, and to linger with questions of origin, destination, and purpose, not because they are answerable but because we are swept up by our cultural myths when we cease to ask these questions.

These perennial, unanswerable questions send us forth on a philosophical quest that lasts a lifetime:

Origins: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the origin of life? Of my life?
Destination: What is the end toward which history and my life are moving? Who or what is the moving force?
Death: For what may I hope when I die? Is there life after death? Immortality of the soul? Resurrection of the body? Reincarnation? Complete annihilation?
Identity: Who am I? How do I become that unique self that fulfills my destiny? How do I win my freedom from biological necessity and from the myth my culture has imposed over my body, mind, and spirit?
Vocation: Does my life have meaning? If so, what is it? How do I contribute to life beyond my own?
Community: Who are my people? With whom do I belong? Do I have enemies? If so, who are
they?
Authority: Who is in charge? Who is the author of my story? What are the rules? What am I obligated to do? Why?
Path of life: What is the map of life—the stages along the way? How should I conduct myself as a child, an adolescent, an adult, and an elder?
Evil: Why is there evil? Why do the good suffer and the evil prosper sometimes? Or vice versa? Is there ultimate justice? What can I do to reduce the power of evil?

Dis-ease: What is wrong with me? With human beings? Why does dis-ease exist? Pain? Why are we self-destructive sometimes?
Healing: What is wholeness, health? What nostrums, medicines, means of healing are available? Who can help, who can heal?
G-d: Are we alone in the universe? Is there a supra-human caring intelligence?
In the beginning, the prodigal son was comfortable in the household of his father. He accepted and practiced the ancient faith. But one day his spirit was disturbed by questions neither he nor his elders could answer. Leaving home on a quest for answers, he wandered in the desert and in the distant land of the skeptics and flesh-pots. Often on cold nights among strangers, he longed to return to the warmth and security of home and put aside his doubts. But his questions would not be silenced. They resounded in his mind like the beat of a great drum in a vast emptiness.
In time, haunted and exhausted by finding no path that led back to the innocent land in which he had once lived, he fell into despair and decided to abandon his quest. But some impulse encouraged him to keep going, and gradually he resigned himself to being an anxious pilgrim on a road whose destination he did not
know. Then, one night in a foreign land, he realized with the clarity of a star falling in a moonless sky that his agonizing questions had become his treasure, his joy, and his guide to a never-ending adventure in a desert, an oasis, and a wondrous world that had become his home.

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"Yin-Yang Polarity" (excerpt) — Tao: The Watercourse Way by Alan Watts


Tao: The Watercourse Way
by Alan Watts



At the very roots of Chinese thinking and feeling there lies the principle of polarity, which is not to be confused with the ideas of opposition or conflict. In the metaphors of other cultures, light is at war with darkness, life with death, good with evil, and the positive with the negative, and thus an idealism to cultivate the former and be rid of the latter flourishes throughout much of the world. To the traditional way of Chinese thinking, this is as incomprehensible as an electric current without both positive and negative poles, for polarity is the principle that + and —, north and south, are different aspects of one and the same system, and that the disappearance of either one of them would be the disappearance of the system.

People who have been brought up in the aura of Christian and Hebrew aspirations find this frustrating, because it seems to deny any possibility of progress, an ideal which flows from their linear (as distinct from cyclic) view of time and history. Indeed, the whole enterprise of Western technology is “to make the world a better place”—to have pleasure without pain, wealth without poverty, and health without sickness. But, as is now becoming obvious, our violent efforts to achieve this ideal with such weapons as DDT, penicillin, nuclear energy, automotive transportation, computers, industrial farming, damming, and compelling everyone, by law, to be superficially “good and healthy” are creating more problems than they solve. We have been interfering with a complex system of relationships which we do not understand, and the more we study its details, the more it eludes us by revealing still more details to study. As we try to comprehend and control the world it runs away from us. Instead of chafing at this situation, a Taoist would ask what it means. What is that which always retreats when pursued? Answer: yourself. Idealists (in the moral sense of the word) regard the universe as different and separate from themselves—that is, as a system of external objects which needs to be subjugated. Taoists view the universe as the same as, or inseparable from, themselves— so that Lao-tzu could say, “Without leaving my house, I know the whole universe.” This implies that the art of life is more like navigation than warfare, for what is important is to understand the winds, the tides, the currents, the seasons, and the principles of growth and decay, so that one’s actions may use them and not fight them. In this sense, the Taoist attitude is not opposed to technology per se. Indeed, the Chuang-tzu writings are full of references to crafts and skills perfected by this very principle of “going with the grain.” The point is therefore that technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe. Our overspecialization in conscious attention and linear thinking has led to neglect, or ignore-ance, of the basic principles and rhythms of this process, of which the foremost is polarity.


tao-the-watercourse-way-by-alan-watts



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"What is Truth" by Larry Newman


How do you explain color to a blind person? In point of fact you cannot. It must be experienced. While colors are based in the objective world for color to be color it must be internalized and made a subjective experience. God inspired truth is like that.

Scientists can detect, measure and quantify the exact wavelengths of the color green in the spectrum. They can explain how the wavelength impacts the rods and cones in the eye’s retina and the bio-electrical reaction to the light. They can trace the signal from the retina through the optic nerve to specific centers in the brain and they can map the neural responses to the optic signal. What they cannot grasp, account for or explain is the phenomenon of ‘greenness’ that occurs in the human consciousness. In the myriad aspects of interconnected steps that occur to place the knowledge that something is green into our awareness the one spiritual and purely human act is that of giving meaning. It is not just light and chemicals and electrical stimuli. It’s a leaf, and its GREEN!

We can add “color” to things, indeed, we can’t help but do it. A tree growing behind your house is an objective reality. It exists. It can be measured and studied. Its’ growth can be tracked and graphed, its’ height and breadth known. With effort even its weight and the depth of the roots can be determined along with the amount of carbon dioxide it consumes and oxygen expelled. But when you look at it you see the tree your great-grandfather planted. You see the shading limbs your parents were married under. You see the place you declared your undying love for Martha Mallone and carved  initials inside a heart. It is just a tree, an objective thing, but when you look at it … it is more. The subjective reality of the tree, what it means to you, is an integral part of its perceived existence and yours.

Subjective reality is what we do. As human beings we are more than the sum of our constituent parts. There is something within us that creates meaning. We personalize existence. We have being, and being is more than existence. It is existence with perspective.

Truth can be an objective reality. It can be seen, understood and verified. It can be quantified as to its origins, the modality of its continued existence and its impact in the future. That is what could be called empirical truth: the hard truth. 1+1=2. This arena of reality does not need us to be truth. When a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one around, does it make a sound? No. It creates vibrations in the air and earth but without a person there to give meaning to the vibrations there is no ‘sound’. But the tree still falls.

Spiritual truth is a bit more difficult to nail down. While still objective, existing independently of our perception, spiritual truth requires our participation.

Spirit, by its nature, is the breath of life.  Spiritual truth isn’t passive like a tree or a rock, it is dynamic.  Spiritual truth is God communicating his life to us. It is truth with a purpose. Like a seed that is preserved, waiting to be placed in an environment where it can grow, truth is the seed of God’s life waiting for fertile ground. That is the point where our participation is needed. It is where our unique talent is required. That is where purpose becomes meaning. It is in us that the seed sprouts and truth becomes life.

This is also where it is important to keep the distinction between empirical truth and spiritual truth. With empirical truth, like a tree in our yard, we can impart meaning and the meaning is purely subjective, it is us overlaying the colors of our perceptions on the tree. With spiritual truth meaning is inspired {great word ‘inspired’ — it means ‘breathed in’}. Spiritual truth is life waiting to take hold. Our talent for meaning is a natural receptor for seeds that are designed to become meaning. The care that must accompany us in our encounters with spiritual truth is to find the color of the intended meaning and not just supply our own.

Spiritual truth is not something that we can be sentimental or romantic about. We do not memorialize truth or encamp around it. We also cannot treat truth in a way that maintains its ‘objective’ status when we receive it. It must become subjective. It must interact with us, change us, create in us meaning and life. We cannot just be a fan of the truth. We cannot even worship it. Truth is not an end in itself. Truth is a means whereby the life of God is created in us. When we encounter spiritual truth we do not then possess the truth. The truth must possess us.

If we are presented with ‘Peace’ as a spiritual truth, we understand it to be an aspect of God that he is communicating to us. We cannot just love peace. We cannot just respect peace. We cannot desire it, or work for it, or try to create it. If peace is spiritual truth communicating the nature of God to us we must BECOME peace. That which is presented to us as objective truth must find root in us and create the life of God within us. It must become subjective, personal, living reality molded in the image of God.

While some forms taken by spiritual truth are more direct and easily discerned, truth can take many forms. The form really matters little. The vital aspect of spiritual truth is spirit. Whether it be the words of Christ or an object lesson in daily life if the Spirit of God choses to be involved and uses the truth to inspire, life will result.

What is Truth
by Larry Newman
Website: As We Awaken
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"What, then, is the Tao, the Way that is its own goal?" (excerpt) THE WISDOM OF THE ZEN MASTERS by Irmgard Schloegl



“Woman Walking on Beach” by Daryl Urig


What, then, is the Tao, the Way that is its own goal? A ‘true man of the Way’ is another way of describing the ‘man who has nothing further to seek’, the ‘independent man of the Way’ who leans on nothing and who has the ‘single eye’ or has come to see clearly.

The classic Taoist text is the
Tao Te Ching, ‘The Way and its Virtue’ also translated as ‘The Way and its Power’. It is a short text, and perhaps no other of comparative length has been translated so often and so variously.

Tao, the Way, has the connotation of a physical path actually to be walked. As theory only, it would not affect a practical mentality. But it is not a processing machine from which, neatly packed, identical products emerge. Bodhidharma, traditionally the founder of the Zen school, is supposed to have said: ‘All know the Way; few actually walk it.’

So the Way exists for the one who actually walks it as best he can, and keeps walking whether the going is smooth or rough. By this exercise the walker gets the use of his legs and develops strength of muscle as well as endurance. His eyes get used to recognizing stumbling blocks, slippery ground, pitfalls, quagmires, and other obstacles. When his strength and surefootedness are well developed, the Way ends—in nowhere. From now on he can be trusted to make his own way. Well used to the Way and to himself, he is sure to find one, making it as he goes along.

The second term in the title
Tao Te Ching refers to the strength that develops from walking the Way. If translated as ‘virtue’ it is in the sense of ‘by virtue of.’ Hence it does not connote a moral value but it is that depth from which morals and moral strength arise.

Tao and Te are complementary. In man, Te is the function of Tao. Both are intimately related and inseparable.

By virtue of walking the Way, the childish ‘I want’, the passions or emotions, are transformed. What in fact happens is that the energy (strength) loses the blind compulsion of a drive and becomes amenable to conscious choice. In this lies the virtue of seeing clearly and of being able to act in accordance with that seeing. This embraces all the truly human qualities, such as responsibility, justice, consideration, warmth of heart, joy, tolerance, compassion, awareness of strength of personality and its power and limits. For nobody has the right to manipulate anybody or to impress anybody with his stronger personality, not even for the other’s imagined good, for nobody can know what that good is. This is courtesy rather than callousness, for the other’s dignity is thus acknowledged, or the dignity of his grief is respected. If and when he is ready, the other will of himself reach out for consolation and feel free to ask for a hand to point out the way.

This is the place where the man of Tao and Te stands, and his way is ‘action by non-action’, refraining from all meddling in or interfering with things small or great. He is acting rightly because he acts with the whole of himself just when action is called for, instead of throwing himself like a spanner into the wheel of things, blindly, for the sake of doing something. A meddler has no rest and is prone to bring destruction in his wake. With whatever good will, to shout and awaken a sleep-walker on top of the roof will not help. It is better to wait quietly till he comes down and awakes. Then a gentle suggestion is in place so that precautions can be taken, the arrangements being left to him. The other is not a baby; he has his dignity and needs it sorely.

Such is the virtue of the man of Tao, by virtue of which he is free and this is his strength. Obviously this is not brute strength of muscle or mind which always imposes. Brute force is the reverse of the strength of restraint, of doing nothing when nothing is required.

While the walker follows the Way, the Way itself is the discipline which produces clear seeing and the strength to act in accordance with it. Then the Way ends; the walker is free of the Way, free of his own I-biased and deluded seeing. He himself has become the Way. So he acts out of his own nature.


Purchase—THE WISDOM OF THE ZEN MASTER by Irmgard Schloegl
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