422: I Me My

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Ramana Maharshi

KMO speaks with Gary Weber, author of Happiness Beyond Thought: A Practical Guide to Awakening, about the means of breaking from of the self-referential internal monologue that keeps us obsessing over where we’ve been, where we hope to go, and the certainty that death awaits us at the end of our personal story.  While some people raise concerns that focusing too much energy and attention on one’s own mental states might take up cognitive and emotional resources that might be better directed  outward toward social and political transformation, in Gary’s experience, once one has achieved a state of non-dual awareness, one becomes even more effective in the social sphere. Ditching the I, Me, My narrative will make us more effective agents in the struggle for progressive societal transformation. According to Gary’s research, people with a handful of psychedelic experiences under their belt have a significant head start in silencing the self-referential mental chatter over psychedelic virgins.

 

Music by Climbing Poetry.

  • Gary Weber

    Gratitude to KMO for hosting this session. i would like to respond to the comment read at the end by KMO of the Daoist, Cloud Walking Owl, criticizing folk who neglect the environment as they “selfishly” pursue “enlightenment” for themselves and neglect “the world”. That is not what happens, IME. On the contrary, i found that the vast majority of the environmental damage that is done is done in the service of someone’s I/me/my egoic entity in pursuit of some personal goal. Only by having more folk move beyond their I/me/my avatar/construct can we hope to achieve anything like environmental sustainability and real stewardship of our resources. On the contrary, as w/the discussion in the podcast on “compassion”, the same phenomena occurs w/”environmental stewardship”. If the I/me/my is in full operation, our “environmental stewardship” will be only what our ego believes it looks like, and what others tell us it should look like, not what might be most useful, creative, and effective. If you want real, effective, environmental stewardship, come to it w/o a preconceived agenda; come to it present and fully aware and open to all possibilities w/o an ego deciding what it should look like. stillness

    • Cloudwalking Owl

      It may be true that egoistic involvement is part of being oblivious to the effect that your actions are having on the world around you. But can’t spiritual practice itself be egoistic? There is a distinction between a specific path that supposedly leads to a goal and the goal itself. And indeed, there are plenty of slips between cup and lip. That is probably what happens when someone sets out on a spiritual path to become totally without ego, yet ends up sexually abusing their followers. Wine can be spilled in any human endeavour—environmental activism and spiritual practice both. That doesn’t invalidate either, but nor does it give priority to one as opposed to the other, either. My original comment was directed towards the people that I have actually met, not some sort of hypothetical ideal.

      Also, I think it could be argued that the idea that the best path to preserving the environment is through individuals becoming ego-less is based on the assumption that society progresses through the actions of individuals. What if culture grows out of the conversation involving everyone? I remember reading an interview with a Zen Master who said that he thought the next great world-changing Buddha would not be an individual human being but instead a community. One think I believe I have learned through my activism is that I am not the sole instigator of my action nor do I own the results. The Dao flows through me and all I can do is try to do is put up as little useless resistance as possible.

      Listening to the podcast, I couldn’t help but think that the discussion was primarily around the core Buddhist idea of “anatta” or “no self”. I thought it was apropos that KMO raised the issue of Samurai warriors who pursued the ideal of “mushin” awareness. But I would suggest to people who are interested in this idea to find Brian Victoria’s books on Zen Buddhism during the era of the Imperial Japanese Empire: _Zen at War_ and _Zen War Stories_. In the name of this ideal an extreme form of moral nihilism crept into Buddhism, which resulted in acceptance of and even complicity in war crimes. I’m not sure if morality comes out of an internal dialogue, but I am convinced that it does from an external one.

      Buddhism as a religion traditionally consisted of an eight-fold path, which included elements such as “right livelihood”, “right views”, etc, plus a huge dollop of renunciation. North American Buddhism only really consists of meditation with the other seven elements removed, which I would argue leaves it open to any number of dangerous perversions. Lack of social engagement is one of them.

      But I could go on and on, and that would be churlish. Thanks for a useful conversation. Anything that raises awareness of such things certainly does help the world.

      • Gary Weber

        Hi Cloudwalking Owl,

        As you focused on “Buddhism”, remember that “I” am not a Buddhist. Meditation was learned from Zen folk, who are good at it; “Zen” being the translation of “meditation”. my main Zen teacher was an iconoclast who, after rising to the #2 position at a large Rinzai center, dumped everything “Buddhist”, and formed her own center. The principal teaching followed was Ramana
        Maharshi’s, who was not a Buddhist, nor really “anything”.

        With regard to “Buddhists”, there are three main branches of Buddhism; one is Mahayana, with five main sects, one of which is Zen, with its two main sects. In each, there is significant
        variation in beliefs, practices and teachings. Such statements are like stating a conclusion about Christians or Muslims.

        Re “…I am not the sole instigator of my action nor do I own the results. The Dao flows through me and all I can do is try to do is put up as little useless resistance as possible.” What would happen if there was complete and unconditional acceptance of whatever the Dao manifested?

        The perspective that “enlightenment” leads to withdrawal from the world is not Zen. Its Ten Bulls Ox Herding steps of enlightenment, puts “Enlightenment” as the penultimate one. The final
        is “Return to Society” to make an impact from a more awakened state.

        IMHO, we are near/at a “tipping point”. If there is not radical change to our functional software, through something like de-energizing our egoic/I subroutine, we will fulfill Buckminster Fuller’s “It is important to remember that we are not Nature’s only experiment”.

        As regards implementing organizational change, a good friend at MIT, Peter Senge, has done some excellent work on getting to “don’t know” in solving organization challenges, which can lead to very creative and insightful solutions. That might be helpful.

        • Cloudwalking Owl

          Sorry if I have offended. But I might offer as a suggestion that saying one is “not a Buddhist” is not necessarily a way to avoid a crticism. The value of identifying with a specific tradition is that one gains access to a shared language that makes it easier to communicate with others. As I mentioned, it seemed to me in your interview that you were talking about the Buddhist concept of anatta. Nothing new there.

          It might be that we are “not nature’s only experiment”, but I find it very hard to believe that the only solution for the present situation is for all the people who are screwing things up to spontaneously decide to become what was commonly described as “enlightened”. If that is the only solution, we are well and truly screwed as a species.

          It might be that the odd person does become enlightened and then goes on to become a super-duper groovy pro-environment person. My experience with most people who develop a serious meditation practice is that they end up being too busy to find time to lick envelopes, knock on doors or organize meetings.

          Don’t get me wrong. I have had a serious practice for years myself. I spent about an hour doing taichi today and try to “hold onto the One” most of my waking hours. But I do not use that as an excuse for not being engaged in my community and doing all the political stuff too. My experience is that the overwhelming majority of people who do regular mediation is that they think that that alone is enough. It might be necessary, but it is far, far, far from sufficient.

          • Gary Weber

            The importance of “Buddhist or not” is that my path was consciously “secular” and “empirical”. IMHO, if a process isn’t “secular”, it has little chance of broad acceptance and meaningful implementation in “today’s world”. That’s what happened when “Buddhist mindfulness meditation” was consciously secularized; it is now “everywhere”, even introduced into corporations. It is not yet “spiritual”, but it “opens the door” and it is not “religious”.

            The prognosis might not be as dire as “well and truly screwed” waiting for folks to get “enlightened” by the normal meditation process. What’s been manifesting is that it is possible w/a few trips on serotonergic psychedelics to dramatically decrease the time, perhaps as much as 10X, required in “self-inquiry” meditation, particularly if one puts it into one’s daily routine, periodically asking “Where am I?, Who hears?, etc”.

            What is achieved is then hours, and perhaps days at a time, w/”no self-referential narrative, desires, fears”, living in Stillness, even w/a difficult, complex and confrontational job and a family. This appears to be “enough”.

            Once the brain sees what is possible w/o external chemistry, even briefly, in the course of one’s “normal” life, it begins changing the balance between the “tasking” and “blah, blah (SRIN)” neural circuits. (Blogpost “Nondual awakening and autism…the battle of the “blah, blah” and “tasking” networks” @ http://happinessbeyondthought.blogspot.com/2013/05/nondual-awakening-and-autismthe-battle.html

            The brain doesn’t like “blah, blah”, so it generates, w/its own chemistry, dopamine and opiods, “pleasure” to support the “Stillness” state that it prefers. A common report is that folk recognize at some point that “the brain” is doing it “all by itself”.

            This “self-inquiry” process also does not require “enlightenment” to change the nature, and intensity of one’s “blah, blah”, or one’s functioning. i worked w/a doc @ Brigham and Women’s Hospital @ Harvard; in about 2 months, she was “different” on rounds, more compassionate, better w/peers, etc. Once the process is “catalyzed”, if there is some competent guidance, it “feeds on itself”.

            BTW, this work is all free, unless you want a hard copy of one of my books (downloadable free), and then any profits go to kids in India.

          • Cloudwalking Owl

            I recently listened to C-Realm vault podcast where KMO mentioned that he likes conversations about his podcasts, so I thought I’d rethink my decision to avoid being a bore, and craft a response.

            %%%%%

            I’ve insisted on using Buddhist language in this conversation because that tradition has language and experience dealing with the specific state of consciousness that you are referring to. The traditional emphasis on the “eight fold path” comes about, as near as I can tell, because Buddhism—as a historical movement—has realized that developing anatta is not really enough to give people the grounding necessary to be good human beings. Zen, because of its radical emphasis on meditation, has been especially vulnerable to abuse, hence my referral to the abuses identified by Brian Victoria (who is himself a Soto Zen priest, as well as an academic historian.)

            It might be that you are specifically “secular” and “empirical”, but I would suggest that the eight fold path is also an empirically-arrived at artifact. People who watch other people, both individually and as historical groupings, have come to the conclusion that simply becoming “enlightened”—in the sense of embracing anatta—is not enough to be a fully compassionate, wise human being. It is possible to strangle the ego and use one-pointed consciousness to be indifferent to the sufferings of others, if not a full-fledged, bastard.

            With regard to the use of psychedelics, I have taken them and I suspect that they did help me with my particular spiritual progress. But I have also known a great many people who took them without having gained any great insight that I could see. Beyond that, I think that it might again be valuable to consider one more point from Buddhism. I think that an orthodox point of view would be that people are only ready for the teaching after many births that have prepared people to be receptive. One doesn’t have to believe in reincarnation to have the opinion that for whatever reasons (genetics, one’s upbringing, education, etc), some people are ready for “the teaching” and others are not. I would suspect that a small percentage of the population are receptive to such things such as psychedelics and meditation, but many simply are not. Consider a thought experiment, if you gave Dick Cheney magic mushrooms and exposed him to your meditation method, do you think it would have much positive influence on his actions?

            I suppose that your non-religious, empirical system is totally different from other forms of meditation that attempt to achieve the state of egolessness, but pardon me if I doubt it. I have known a great many people who have pursued very serious meditation practices from a wide variety of spiritual traditions: Zen, Jesuit, Tibetan, Daoist and so forth. I found that while these people had a real commitment to compassion and personal transformation, I saw very little evidence that as a group they had any more commitment to social transformation than the general public. Indeed, it seemed to me that they were too busy with it to get involved in much of anything else.

            My experience is far from an empirical study, however. So it might be the case that people with intensive spiritual practices actually do get involved in political action. But my experience has been that my participation in activism was very much the exception (I am an initiated Daoist with a long meditation practice.) The overwhelming majority of the people I’ve met who are engaged with politics, activism, etc, are folks from either a non-spiritual religious tradition (like Protestant Christianity) or people who are profoundly repelled by any sort of spirituality—religious or secular/empirical.

            I don’t want to end up being too pushy in this discussion. But I will just toss out the idea that over the last 30 years I have come to the conclusion that democratic, grass-roots, and, participatory politics are just as important to the world, human culture and individual development as enlightenment. I don’t think that it is possible to be a really enlightened, compassionate person if you are not engaged in your community. Take the statement for what you will.

            Thanks again to you and KMO for engaging in this conversation. I believe that rational discussion through the “community of the dialogue” is also an important spiritual practice.

          • Gary Weber

            Hi Cloudwalking Owl. After the page turned and thoughts stopped, etc., after a year or so, i began looking for some tradition that might explain this deep Presence, and as Buddhism was totally unable to speak to this Stillness as anything other than “the Void”, which it certainly wasn’t, it wasn’t useful.

            There was also nothing on “no thought”, or on “no free will” that i could find, no any real understanding of ‘nonduality’. The first three of the Four Noble Truths worked; the fourth looked a lot like Christianity, which i had earlier experienced and rejected.

            That led me to Daoism, and to Advaita Vedanta, as both had the sense of “Something other” that was running the show as it was apparent that “I” wasn’t, and that it was also not a “Void”. i have been surprised that you, a Daoist, who talked earlier about “The Dao flows through me and all I can do is try to do is put up as little useless resistance as possible.” which is the nondual experience, was so focused on Buddhism.

            i frequently use two quotes from the Dao De Jing in Ch. 16 “Empty your mind of all thoughts and let your heart be at peace” and 20 “Stop thinking and end your problems”, as another source on teachings about “no thought”. i practiced Yang long form Tai Chi for years along w/yoga.

            IMHO, the Brian Victoria book, “Zen at War”, was well researched, but poorly named, perhaps by an editor or publisher, as titles are about selling books; it would sell better than “Buddhism at War”.

            As you indicated, it was really about Japanese institutional Buddhism being used to rationalize the actions of the increasingly militaristic leaders from the 1930s through the end of WWII. Something was needed to replace Shinto if they were going to go on an Imperialistic path, and the Buddhist folk who had been subordinate to Shinto, were only too ready to step into that role and modify it to, as you said, “an extreme form of moral nihilism crept into Buddhism”. It was Buddhism, not Zen, that the Japanese Imperial High Command used to rationalize the Rape of Nanking. There were no folks sitting around meditating in Nanking.

            If one were to go around now with a book entitled “Meditation at War”, a literal translation, it would be laughed at, as folk are much more aware of what meditation is and what it can do.

            Similarly claiming that a book title proves something begs you to explain “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”, “Zen in the Art of Flower Arranging”, “The One Taste of Truth; Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea”, “Zen Driving”, “Zen and the Art of Poker”, “The Zen of Executive Presence”. “Zen” is just meditation.

            Let’s leave it here. we can just agree to disagree. i do wish you the best in your efforts. i am also all i favor of saving the ecosystem, and our species; we just disagree on the best way to do it. stillness

  • Some dude

    Very interesting, Gary. Especially when you say psilocybin can reduce the amount of practice needed for awakening. So far, my experience has been congruent with this. Psilocybin is the reason I’ve been meditating daily for about 8 months now. Not a very long time, but ever since, my average “base level” of happiness has been increased by 300% or so. I also feel like my progress has been speeding up lately.

    Psilocybin was useful for me in a number of ways:
    1) After doing it for the first time, it made me feel incredibly calm, focused and satisfied for about a week. I loved this feeling, and I thought that just doing psilocybin again and again would eventually give diminishing returns, so for some reason, I felt meditation was the way to reproduce it. After searching for a good book, I ended up with “The Science of Enlightenment” by Shinzen Young, and he described meditation in exactly the way I was looking for it. (Shinzen really does a good job “selling” it)
    2) Because I had already had this incredible experience of emptiness, I already knew what direction to go into while meditating: It “worked” from the beginning. I was also very motivated and not at a single moment did I doubt about its purpose/usefulness.
    3) Whenever I got stuck, another trip of psilocybin (every 2 months by average) showed me what misconception I was holding onto, boosting me in the right direction. Before tripping, I always think to myself: just taking this drug isn’t going to work, but every time I’m proven wrong. This substance truly works wonders.

    • Gary Weber

      Hi some dude. The key thing to remember is that the brain needs to learn how to do it by itself if it is going to be permanent and persistent. If it can only do it w/large doses of external chemistry, it will always be just a passing experience. your “balancing” psilocybin w/meditation is a useful approach which may be the way “of the future”, but at some point, letting go of psilocybin will be necessary if you want to get more pleasure and have it persistently.

      i asked several folk i had worked w/for some time to rank the “relative pleasures” they experienced w/”sex”, “psychedelics” and “persistent nonduality”. The “non-scientific” result w/a relatively small population, was sex was an 8, psychedelics a 9.5 and persistent nonduality a 10. Obviously, persistent nonduality is “persistent”; the other two are “experiences”. i recognize there may be “selection bias” here, and if folk found either of the other two better, they wouldn’t still be working w/me, but they were.

      As you intuited/felt, more and more psychedelics would “eventually give diminishing returns”. A Mexican billionaire invited about 8 of us to his retreat in the Yucatan for 12/12/12 to share our practices. One of the folk had done over 2,000 hits of high strength acid, and he was still “stuck” in the same loop. i have never met anyone who was “awakened” just on psychedelics alone.

      BTW, would strongly encourage you to c/o Ramana’s stuff or “mine”. “Self-inquiry” is the most direct and certain way to reach a state of persistent stillness and presence; if it wasn’t i would be doing something else.

      • Some dude

        Yes, in retrospect, I think the reason psychedelics eventually give diminishing returns is the same reason why people sometimes get stuck when doing the same kind of meditation over and over again: the ego finds a way to “grab it”, and finds a way to get around it.

        But so far, psilocybin has been very good to me :) Maybe it is better suited for “the path” than LSD? I’ve never done LSD, but most people who have, claim that LSD is a more controllable experience. Psilocybin takes away the illusion of free will much more. The single shrooms trip that I tried to control brought the most suffering (what hippies would call a “bad trip”). Psilocybin really forces you to “let go”.

        I’ve read your book and I find your approach very appealing because you’re a scientist, and I think you have distilled the essence of it all very nicely.

        Right now I mostly do Shinzen’s guided meditations, 45 minutes a day, but I try to do Ramana’s self-inquiry at every other moment of the day. I think I’m going to get me some yoga practice going in the future as well. I’m not sure about chanting, I think my roommate/neighbors will laugh at me :(

        • Gary Weber

          you might find the blogpost “the latest psychedelic research…new meditation +/- psychedelics studies” @ http://happinessbeyondthought.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-latest-psychedelic-researchnew.html useful.

          This is the latest psilocybin research done in the US @ Johns Hopkins over the last 10 years or so, w/carefully controlled conditions and subject selection. Some very positive conclusions @ a top tier research institution.

          There is lots of other research on the blog; it is a Google platform and so is easily searchable from the box in upper right hand corner.

          my frequent collaborator and dialogue partner on over 30 youTube videos on “Dialogues on Awakening Beyond Thought”, Prof. Rich Doyle, wrote a/the book on ayahuasca entitled “Darwin’s Pharmacy”. he found on his trips to South America that it was a great teaching vehicle.

          The recent video “Meditation Works Like Magic Mushrooms?” @ http://youtu.be/JCXQ2syNsKU gives the latest work in the UK on psilocybin as compared to meditation. Again this was top tier research done at some of the best institutions in the world w/IV psilocybin and published in a top journal.

          If you want some “self-inquiry” nondual meditations, i have four guided meditations. Just put my name and “Nondual awakening meditation” in the youTube search box. i also have guided chanting and yoga for nondual awakening videos on youTube.

          Best w/your practices.

          Trust this is useful.

          stillness

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  • Cloudwalking Owl

    One last point. I’ve written a recent post on my blog that refers to this podcast and brings up some of the points raised as part of a larger discussion about the relationship between culture, rationality and meditation programs.

    http://urbanecohermit.blogspot.ca/2014/07/the-individual-versus-collective.html

  • Veg

    I meditated for about 3 years daily, reaching, what appears to me to be a thought free state I can turn on and off at will. (Not all the time, but at least for long periods of time in the hours). I also had prior experience with both dissociative anesthetics and mushrooms (kind of a yin and yang of conscious “edges”). Once meditation begins informing entheogens and vice versa, results appear rapidly. That being said, I have very clear memory of the “internal chatter” that used to compel me to both further thought and external behavioral manifestations. It used to drive me crazy, quite frankly. Now, it seems, I can work better when I decide to work. I can be lazier when I decide to be lazy. It’s as if everything I do has my full attention. It doesn’t seem inherently good or bad, perhaps the ways psychedelics have been categorized as “non-specific amplifiers”. Do our practices actually “take us” anywhere, fundamentally?

    I’ve been a C-Realm follower since 2006. This is the first time I’ve commented. I’m doing so because a recent podcast I heard over at Gnostic Media provides a “shadow” side to meditation in general but also the teacher/student relationship.

    http://www.gnosticmedia.com/bill-joslin-meditation-202/

    I’ll close with some words from a teacher that I valued throughout my own training, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (a character if ever there was one)…

    The Lord of Mind refers to the effort of consciousness to maintain awareness of itself. The Lord of Mind rules when we use spiritual and psychological disciplines as the means of maintaining our self-consciousness, of holding onto our sense of self. Drugs, yoga, prayer, meditation, trances, various psychotherapies – all can be used in this way.

    Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even spirituality. For example, if you have learned of a particularly beneficial meditation technique of spiritual practice, then ego’s attitude is, first to regard it as an object of fascination and, second to examine it. Finally, since ego is seeming solid and cannot really absorb anything, it can only mimic. Thus ego tries to examine and imitate the practice of meditation and the meditative way of life. When we have learned all the tricks and answers of the spiritual game, we automatically try to imitate spirituality, since real involvement would require the complete elimination of ego, and actually the last thing we want to do is to give up the ego completely. However, we cannot experience that which we are trying to imitate; we can only find some area within the bounds of ego that seems to be the same thing. Ego translates everything in terms of its own state of health, its own inherent qualities. It feels a sense of great accomplishment and excitement at have been able to create such a pattern. At last it has created a tangible accomplishment, a confirmation of its own individuality.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Pddrs

    Really enjoyed the talk and the tune was very good.

  • ubrayj02

    I am listening to this podcast as I assemble a bicycle and once I heard Mr. Weber make statements about an “evolutionarily maladaptive” mental circuit I put the wheel I was building down and rushed to the computer.

    How many kids does Mr. Weber have? I have only one. There are many other people without his years of training and practice who have many more. Guess whose genes will be passed on into the future, having made it through the great sieve of evolution?

    I understand the personal value Mr. Webers practice holds for individuals, but to claim that his practice is “adaptive” with respect to the process of natural selection is easily disprovable.

    The “I/me/my” has served our species pretty well – in terms of spreading our individual genetic heritage(s). Happiness, comfort, clear thoughts – all of these are nice things, but none are visible to evolution.