A friend of mine sent me the following in response to my article on the Adyashanti Retreat I recently attended:
Still chewing on your premise of not knowing that 2 + 2 will be 4 tomorrow. I have had some discussions with people who seem to be on the path but take it to a ridiculous extreme. For example, a friend of mine claimed the same kind of premise. I said o.k., let me light this lighter next to your arm. I believe based upon past experience and the rules of the world of illusion that you will burn. He said he couldn’t agree that he would burn. He couldn’t agree that the lighter would light. Conceded that may happen but given the fact we’ve both seen the lighter work, just worked and is not empty, it most likely will light. If it does light and placed next to your arm, your arm will most likely burn. One does not ‘know’ the future but can make reasonable predictions as to consequences of the world of illusion.
The world of the formless and the world of form are the same. One arises from another. They are connected. We should resist nothing and be open to everything but ignoring basic principles and observations that repeatedly occur could be done to an extreme and at one’s peril.
First, let me say that I completely agree that there are many people on the spiritual path who take things to ridiculous extremes. I have been one of them. Anything can be taken too far, and it is amazing the forms of trouble we can get ourselves into in spirituality. (Remind me to write about the time 18 years ago when I tried to live on sprouts and sunflower seeds!)
Let’s look, though, at the statement I made that my friend mentions. Here it is in its entirety:
I’ve had various discussions about thoughts with others on the path, and my experience at this retreat reinforced a viewpoint (or more appropriately, a knowingness) I have been taking more and more. And that is that all thoughts are untrue. Even the ones that have a semblance of truth, such as 2+2=4, are still not true. Oh, sure, 2+2=4 is useful, but even a “law” of nature could change tomorrow.
Everything in the world of form changes, or at the very least can change. If you ask me, “Will 2 plus 2 equal 4 tomorrow?” in all honesty I have to answer “I don’t know.” How can I know? The future is always The Unknown.
I’m going to answer my friend in two slightly unrelated ways. Let’s start by looking at the future. I think everyone will agree that we cannot know the future. Even people who seem to be able to predict the future via some psychic means are rarely so accurate that you would ever take them to the race track and bet on horses with your life savings. The future is the great unknown. As a matter of fact, we can even go so far as to say that the future doesn’t even exist.
How can I say the future doesn’t exist? Simple. Can you see it? Can you hear it? Can you touch it, smell it, taste it? No, not at all. So where is the future? Ah, it is only a thought in the mind. There is no future other than as a thought. It can’t be experienced. Only what is here right now can ever be experienced. That’s why Eckhart Tolle called it The Power of Now. Because Now is all there is to time (you can follow the same line of argument to demolish the idea of a real, solid past).
Do you see, then, that it is literally conceivable that anything can happen? If the future is not only completely unknown, but moreover can never even be known because it doesn’t exist, then it becomes impossible to say that what I remember happening yesterday, or what I’m experiencing now, will continue to happen. As crazy as it sounds, gravity could stop working tomorrow. It might be pretty wild, pretty wacky, and almost surely the death of my human existence (and then again, maybe not!), but that is still a possibility. And not just an abstract, remote one. Anything can happen.
I know saying things like gravity may not work tomorrow or 2 + 2 may not equal 4 are extreme examples, but they are used to illustrate a point. We take for absolute certainty even far more mundane things than the laws of mathematics and science. For instance, every time you worry about what your spouse will say to you about the things you haven’t done, every time you feel fear about the shrinking of your bank account or the security of your job, you are accepting as true a thought about a future that is absolutely unreal because there is no future and no way to know what it would bring if it were real.
Actually, this truth that there is no future is the quickest, easiest way to undo fear. Without a future, you cannot be afraid. Fear is thinking that something is going to happen to you and the response in your body to that thought. Fear is sometimes referred to as a projection of our past (memories, which are more thoughts) onto the supposed future creating yet more thoughts. The body then responds to all this nervous system excitement by releasing adrenaline and a hundred other molecules into the blood. A very familiar process to most of us. But when you drop the notion of the future, you drop your fear. It really can be that simple.
So let me anticipate my friend’s next question: “Okay, Tom, that’s all well and good, there is no future and no way to know if down will be up tomorrow. But how can one function in the world without believing in ‘basic principles and observations that repeatedly occur?’ You haven’t answered that yet. How can you not believe in 2 + 2 = 4 and still do math, balance your checkbook, etc.?” Alright, give me a second, I’m just warming-up!
While it is true that, as I stated, I can’t really believe anymore that 2 + 2 will always equal 4, the key point is that I’m losing all my belief in my thoughts as containing a single iota of truth. As has been said so many times, things like 2 + 2 = 4 are just concepts, simply thoughts that are removed from not only direct experience but also removed from the formless truth. Thoughts are ever changing, part of the world of form. Not bad, not good, just completely unreal.
It is my experience that as you open yourself to consciousness, as you become aware of your true identity as awareness itself, you quit believing in the contents of your mind. All this mental stuff, from the more mundane to the laws of the universe, begin to seem only to serve one primary function: to keep you believing that you literally are the contents of your mind. “I am what I think I am,” says the mind.
But as you awaken you begin to realize that you are not your thoughts. All of this mental stuff is simply the fairly random bursts of energy flowing through your body-mind. You begin to realize that you are the very awareness itself that has been always looking out of your eyes and listening through your ears.
As for daily living, it seems that I can function just fine without believing so strongly in the truth of things. To use my friends example, while I may not believe it is true that the flame from a lighter will burn me, I’m still not going to stick my hand in it. Why not? Because I have a memory that says it will burn me. And nothing inside me really has any interest in being burned. Not because it is afraid of the burning, but because it chooses not to be burned.
Moreover, having a memory of hot things burning me no longer produces the extreme fear or psychic drama that it used to produce. It seems just like a simple “fact” with which I can play along. The laws of the world thus become interesting thoughts with which to play. Without the drama, without my identity tied up in my thoughts, all of these thoughts become tools, at times useful, for existing in the world of form.
Another example of how this seems to work: I woke-up in the middle of the night and had this strong image in my mind of being drowned (I recalled a movie in which someone’s head was held underwater for a few minutes). I felt fear arise about it, but as I went with the image and experience, I could feel myself relaxing into the idea of drowning, feeling myself experiencing the body gasping for air, the last big of consciousness fading away and then dying, and all of this occurring with a sense of acceptance and peace.
As I sit typing these words, I can feel the same type of thing with regard to being burned by a flame. Intensely painful, yet unreal, too. I suppose I’m reacting this way because at a deeper level I realize that this body is not what I truly am. The thought crosses my mind that this burning is, too, a part of the One expressing itself in the world of form. Nothing is separate.
It may be the world of form and change and seemingly unreal, but my body-mind functions in it. The system seems to have some rules, and I seem to be following those rules. But I’m not really thinking about it. So much of this type of thing is just getting done without much, if any conscious thought. Which is cool. And, to be certain, I still have times when I get completely caught-up in the world of form and the thoughts that go through my mind. At times they seem very real and true. But then I recall the truth, something shifts, and all is well again.
To be honest, this not knowing if anything is true has left me to confront the startling truth that I really and truly do not know anything. I don’t know. That is my answer to so many things anymore. I guess it could have been the answer to my friend’s question, but I must confess it is more fun to play around with all these words and ideas and formulate an answer.
And the best thing is that as I’ve admitted more and more that I don’t know, I’ve begun to feel more peaceful than I ever have in my life. A fantastic peace is settling in that is most welcome. And there is a wordless, silent Presence that I have begun to truly, one that I am knowing more and more each day.
All of this seems to be the trajectory of spiritual awakening. There are moments of great opening to truth, experiences of formless bliss (or for some, formless terror), when lots of illusions fall from our minds and consciousness becomes aware of itself. And then there are times of going back and forth, from knowing what you are to getting somewhat lost again in thoughts and feelings and the world. And on and on it goes. Until it finally ceases entirely. Or maybe not.
You really never know, do you? Even ideas on spiritual awakening cannot be known with certainty . No matter who says them or how “enlightened” they are. But that is a different discussion for another day.