The Mind Chases Its Tail

I set out to write what I see and know as simply and clearly as
possible. Instead out poured all these words, wrapped in
contradiction. And more words to try to sort out the contradiction,
creating more contradiction. Here it is anyway. I think I may soon
have to stop trying to talk about this.

I have used the word “enlightenment” below but I am not easy about
that, or any other word. At home we call it “scrumny” — the
realization beyond time and words and experiences of that which
always is and always has been. Any familiar word I might use to
describe this will inevitably run up against the rocks of someone
else’s understanding or interpretation of the word, and probably
cause confusion. I am not pretending to know what “enlightenment” is,
in any sense that anyone else might use that word. I only know what I
know, and that is common to us all, to everything. Call it “scrumny”
if that clears up any confusion.

Or call it being alive. Try substituting “being alive” for
“enlightenment” and see how absurd it is to think you can “get” it,
or don’t already “have” it. Because what this all amounts to is this:
being alive (with all that that actually means) is all there is. The
trouble starts when the mind thinks it is anything less than that, or
that it can get something more…

Enlightenment, as I understand it, isn’t something you get. It isn’t
even something that happens to you. It is the realization of what you
already are. Or, even worse, the realization of what you are not. It
is seeing things as they are, or as they are not. The mind, however,
thinks enlightenment is something it can get. And if you tell the
mind it is not something it can get, then it goes about trying to get
it by trying not to get it. This is the way the mind works. It will
go on trying to get it, or trying to get trying not to get it, until
it finally, actually realizes it can’t get it. Until it finally gives
up entirely. Not trying to give up. Not adopting an attitude of
giving up. Actually giving up. Exhausting all avenues of seeking.
Then it realizes it had it all along.

When the mind finally, actually gives up trying to get somewhere
other than 100% here (which is where it is anyway), when it finally
stops thrashing around trying with total futility to avoid the
obvious and inevitable (which is what it has been doing pretty much
all the time), then the truth dawns. The living truth that has
obviously always been the only truth, encompassing even the mind’s
futile, gymnastic attempts to escape it. You (the mind) can think
about this. You (the mind) can try to see it. You (the mind) can try
and try and try to get it. And you (the mind) can even become
resigned to not getting it (with which the mind will soon become
bored, and it will pick it up and try and try again).

And you (the mind) will fail utterly. And that utter failure is the
realization of what has been hanging around all this time waiting for
you (the mind) to really, truly, utterly fail to get it. That is the
simple realization that while the mind was busy living in its own
made-up world of getting that and getting rid of this, life has been
ticking along quite nicely, quite happy even to be a mind that thinks
it can somehow get what it already is.

It’s a joke. The mind gets the idea that it is separate from
everything else, that it is what it calls a “self.” And then
(predictably) it feels rather separated from everything, so it goes
looking for the unity it thinks it lost. Or else it goes about trying
to augment the feeling of separation in a way that makes it feel
temporarily better. We call that “achievement.”

It forgets that it is the one that created the thought of separation
in the first place, so it doesn’t quite know where to look for this
no-separation thing which it sort of remembers as if it were a long
ago dream. And it creates dramatic stories about being kicked out of
paradise, or living in samsara, so it can commiserate with all the
other minds that think they are separate, and that makes it feel
better for a while. And then it takes up the search again. And it
searches and searches, until the search finally ends in total
failure. And then the unity that never left gets to reappear. And you
(the mind) realize that there never was any separation. Only an idea
of separation. And that little idea caused all this trouble. And the
failure of the search, the total failure, is the “return” to what was
never left. This total failure is sometimes called “surrender.”

There’s no faking it. The mind is constantly attempting to escape
from “this that is.” It will continue to attempt to escape until it
finally realizes absolutely that it can not. Until that realization
comes, “this that is” will primarily consist of attempting to escape
from “this that is,” with all its apparent misery. At some point, the
realization comes that escape from “this that is” is absurdly
impossible. What happens then is anybody’s guess, but the mind’s
primary activity just lost its fuel, so it is likely to turn things
to jelly for a while.

In any event, there is nothing “you” can do about this, because
“you,” that feeling of being a separate self, is only this
impossible, absurdly heroic attempt to escape from “this that is.” An
attempt that is absolutely bound to begin, continue, and end in
failure. Which is homecoming. The attempt to escape. The failure of
the attempt. It’s all homecoming. There never, ever, ever, is
anything other than being home. There never, ever, ever was anything
but being home. Only the thought that there could be something
“else,” made it appear, all too vividly, that there was.

“This that is” is so utterly extraordinary, if you stop and look at
it, that it is crushingly sad that we waste so much effort trying to
escape from it, or trying to “better” it (which is another form of
escape). But we do. And we will. Until we realize we can’t. Until we
realize that we (along with everything) are the very thing we are
seeking, and the very thing we are trying to escape.

Words Fail

One late summer day, six friends sat on the ground, eating lunch and talking about the state of the world, the nature of enlightenment, and our own paths and beliefs. I sat, eating, saying little, watching ants drag our crumbs away. As we parted one friend said to me, “I wish I knew what it was you weren’t saying.”

But how can I talk about something that can not be described? One day, 22 years ago, a new perspective arrived that was beyond description, beyond any of the beliefs and opinions I had about myself and about the world. It wasn’t experienced in the way we normally think of experience, as an external happening. It wasn’t held the way beliefs are held. It was more a realization of what is false than an experience of what is true. Yet this realization stayed with me as the most vital moment in my entire life. As the false fell away, for that timeless moment, I had a sense of being at the very center of the outpouring of all that is, all energy, all matter, all Life. Every mote of dust, every animate and inanimate life, and the dance of it all was seen as the holiest of holies. Suddenly it was seen that this intricate, irreducible dance is our own true being and always has been. There is no “me” that is separate from everything else. It was terribly obvious.

But it was years before I could speak of it. There were no words for it. There were no concepts that could contain it. Words reduce the irreducible. I knew instinctively that such a thing could never be described, only lived.

So how do I convey this to anyone else, this indescribably beautiful, joyful reality in which all lives and moves, and has its being, even in the midst of what appear to be the horrors of the world? How do I demonstrate that nothing needs to change for everything to change?

I keep trying to explain. We live in illusion. We think that the beauty and balance and harmony we long for is off in some distant place and time. We think that we have to get that raise, or that perfect job, or avoid getting sick, or we have to elect the right leaders, or get enlightened, or go to heaven, or convince everybody to think the way we do, or solve all the world’s problems, and then we will be happy, then all will be well. All of that is illusion. All the beliefs we have about ourselves and others, all the concepts we have about the world, all the experiences we seek, all the fulfillment we think we need, all the stories we tell to make sense out of it, all the projection into the future of our dreams of perfection: exclusive devotion to all of that is the problem. Everything we need is right here. For thousands of years we have been devoting our precious life energy to our ideas about reality, and neglecting reality itself.

When I try to explain this, everyone gets the words. Everyone gets an idea that they fit into their existing framework of ideas. They add another chapter to the story that the mind tells to reduce the world into something the mind can understand. They don’t see the story-making process at work.

It is in seeing the process at work that the beauty behind the fiction is revealed. Blind devotion to the mind-made story, mistaking it for the real, is driving the chaos and destruction. As long as this continues, suffering continues. Not only personal suffering, but planetary suffering – the suffering of all that seeking and wanting projected world-wide. Often this astonishing beauty, this elemental goodness, only reveals itself when the story falls apart, through illness, through loss, or through a surprising encounter with the incomprehensibly real, a whale, a forest, a lover. Then the limit of the mind-made image is revealed, and Life itself becomes the real. And even Life is seen to be but a wave on the surface of the deeply real. To see this, to really see it, changes everything.

Are loss and ecstasy necessary to reveal this? I think not. This story-making is active all the time. The startlingly real is managed and reduced into the existing framework of belief and opinion and concept a thousand times a day. This can be seen any time, but the force of devotion to the unreal, half-baked stories of the mind is so strong, it can take a tremendous shock to divert attention back to the real, even for a moment.

What is the real, the actual, beyond the mind-made image? This, right here, is it. This, right here, right now, is alive. And being alive it can not be captured by an image in the brain. All we ever know is an image in the brain: the dead past. We are this being alive: the living present. Always. Yet we live in devotion to the known image. We constantly attempt to flee from the unknown reality. It frightens us.

Is there anything anyone can do or say that will dissolve that fear, and allow the real to live and breathe in our lives again? Can anything free the mind that lives in perpetual self-defense, the mind that needs to pretend it is the source of everything, the mind that thinks it can live forever, the mind that believes its image of the world is an improved substitute for the living world in its astonishing actuality? It only takes one moment in the embrace of the real, but the mind is perpetually fleeing from the freedom of that embrace. It wants more. It wants something, anything, other than this that is, right here, right now.

I know that reality is good and beautiful and generous, and that all that beauty is obscured behind a veil of concepts and beliefs and images and stories, the only things the mind can grasp. I know that to see this with total clarity in its complete obviousness is very, very good news, a huge relief, the easing of millennia of burden.

This seems very important. The end, perhaps, of the planetary catastrophe. The end of fractious belief. The end of conflict. But I don’t know what to say. Because when I speak of it, the words disappear into the mind-made stories that we tell about ourselves and the world. Once again the spontaneous gift of being alive is appropriated into the mind-made story of “me” and “mine.”

And I think that maybe it is better to keep silent, and let the silence ring, and let the wind blow, and let the galaxy spin, and let light reflect off water, and let hearts beat and whales sing, and let time and space dissolve into silence and reemerge again and again, and let the mind pretend it understands, and let the ants crawl away with the crumbs, and let reality speak for itself with much greater eloquence than all these words.

An Explanation of ‘Everything is Silence’

Q: What do you mean “everything is silence?”

A: Silence is just a word. There are other words one might use in its place and those other words would perhaps make sense to people: spirit, source, God. But I prefer not to use any of those words because they are already loaded with meaning for most people. If you say “everything is spirit” or “everything is God” people will probably think they know exactly what you are talking about and they won’t really look at it. But silence is not something that one can really have an idea about, at least not if you say “everything is silence.” Most people would think of silence as the absence of sound. So if “everything is silence,” including sound, then what does that mean? What on earth is he talking about? If that is the response, then I have accomplished something.

Q: So what are you talking about?

A: Well, just like the wave is really a movement of the ocean, to me everything is a movement of silence. The reason I like the word silence is because it is actually by becoming acquainted with silence, with the depths of silence, that one can begin to realize that it is not empty. I mean most of us think of silence as mere absence. And indeed it does appear that way. But anyone who has ever really gone into silence in a deep way can tell you that not only is it not mere absence, not a big empty space, but it has this quality of fullness that one can not fathom. It is full of everything. And there is this sense that not only is it full of everything, but it is everything. That “everything” is simply a manifestation of what lies in silence. Just like a wave is simply a movement or manifestation of the ocean. The wave is not separate from the ocean, right? It is the ocean. It is the ocean appearing as a wave. Well, sound, or anything else, is not separate from the silence. It isn’t “in” the silence. It is the silence. It is silence appearing as sound, or an animal or a tree or a person. It is all the same. It is all appearances of matter and energy, and even matter and energy in some sense are preceded by silence, are merely aspects of this deep, deep mysterious “nothing” that I am calling “silence,” but others might call “spirit” or “God.”

But if you take this as a bunch of interesting ideas and all you get is the idea of it, then you aren’t getting it at all. To “get it” you have to become acquainted with silence. Really acquainted with it. You have to dwell in silence. Maybe for years. Or maybe just for a few seconds. I think one moment in awareness of the depths of silence would be enough to transform any life. To reorient it away from itself and its own apparent products and accomplishments, toward the real source of all that. The source of everything appearing as you and me and the grass and the fish and the stars and energy and everything.

All of that is deeply intertwined, and in that sense it is not separate, but it is also all a manifestation of silence, of emptiness, or of spirit or source or consciousness or whatever words you want to use. But the words really get in the way if we have an idea about what the words mean. So I like to use the word silence, because in this day and age, hardly anyone knows what silence is. So it is a mysterious word. And if you really go into that mystery in a deep way, you will be amazed at what you find there. The whole of everything. It’s all there in silence. Because, silence is everything, and everything is silence. Waves in the ocean. Dancing tongues of fire.