Part One – Memory
We believe that we remember, most accurately, those situations, thoughts, and feelings that are closest in time to our present experience. I wonder, is that true?
Do you remember exactly what you were thinking and feelings an hour ago? Can you even remember exactly what you’re were doing, thinking and feeling ten minutes ago … or even just a minute ago?
The more we try to pin it all down, the more elusive it feels. Meanwhile, with every passing second, the situation, thoughts, and feelings drift further and further away from present experience.
What was actually happening a day ago? Can I even remember what I was wearing or what I had for lunch?
The exact nature of experience flows away from our grasp quicker than we usually imagine. Even this very moment can have an elusive, watery quality to it that often feels vague and uncertain. The more we attempt to pin down the past, the more it seems to flow away from our efforts.
In the midst of all this confusion, what am I? Where does this experience come from? What happens to this vast array of happenings? Where does it all go?
Permanency is absent from all of it.
Where does this understanding leave the observer?
Part Two – The Present
We have noted in quite a few previous posts that everything we experience has already happened! Yet, the tenets of self-improvement and much of what goes for “spiritualism” suggest that it ought to be different from what it has been.
How can anyone change what has already happened? Can we alter our past?
We can’t notice anything that hasn’t happened. Even delusion is noticed after it has happened. Nothing can be stopped!
The person we think we are has also already happened! You can’t change or improve what has already happened. Thus all spiritual disciplines must fail, for they are based on the premise that what has happened should be happening differently from how they are actually happening.
When we realize that everything we experience is part of the past, that vast entitiy of experience that flows away from us at ever-increasing speeds from its position as immediate experience (and thus mirror, perfectly, the nature of the observed universe from the perspective of the Hubble’s Law, then we see, first-hand, the futility of all so-called spiritual practice. Or, we can say, that it is, precisely, this practice that takes us to this new realization.
If everything we can ever observe belongs to a fixed and unchangable past, then what is the now?
We can see, effortlessly, that the now can never be known, grasped, or perceived. It is a total “black hole”. This ever-receding past appears to spew from this perfect darkness. It gushes, as it were, from this mystery that is the unseen now.
Where can it gush from?
Does it gush from “me”? It does feel that way. In my own experience, it feels like it is gushing from the general vicinity of my head. Time, space, and all that they contain flow from that. But we will see that it is this utterly unknowable now, the alchemical now that is the generative source of transformation.
We know that this perfectly elusive now is utterly and completely unknowable and mysterious. But because it is so closely linked to all but immediate experience, the mind is able to predict its likely content and feel based on the very recent past, even if that past is only a micro-second from this black hole of the generative now. Thus we can navigate our way through life, thanks to this observant mind.
I am, by personality, a rather “political” person. This “political” personality was formed in the midst of the Vietnam War and was given depth by my readings of Karl Marx and other marxist philosophers (like Antonio Gramsci and Paulo Freire. I often process experience through this lens.
Last Sunday, my wife and I were shopping on the Upper Westside (New York City) farmer’s market along Columbus Avenue, just behind the American Museum of Natural History. I couldn’t help but be struck by the painfully bourgeoisis quality of the experience. From the perspective of my personality, so many of the shoppers had the look of the utterly pampered class, living in unspeakable wealth as they labored to pick out the perfect jersey tomato or that wonderful NY State Macoun apple. They they were with their “adorable” ultra-mini toy dog breeds, with their little winsome bows, that I could easily imagine walking on and squishing them into bloody oblivion, as I stood by, accessing them all from the position of poltical righteousness and smug superiority. In other words, the biggest asshole in the crowd was me!
I noticed how my ceaseless evaluations were creating a fair degree of suffering and bitterness in my own experience, while everyone went about their shopping, quite unmindful of the extremely superior person in their midst.
It was this experience that gave rise to this post. I noticed how I created suffering, a category of suffering quite separate from the goings-on in my immediate experience. It felt like it was spewing from “me”, which it, in fact, was. I saw how the observed experience and my evaluation of that experience was producing suffering and it was all in the past.
I pondered this.
And as I reflected on all of this, I came to realize something that felt rather profound. I realized that nearly all of human striving points to a projected, wonderful (or disastrous) future, while, in fact, it all points to a partially projected past. One simply cannot strive for a future because one can only experience the past. Even if we project a future based on reasonable and sensible suppositions, we will only experience that future as past when and if it actually happens, which, of course, it won’t, because the future, even just five minutes from now, will be different from what we imagine it to be! Our whole lives are based on yet another fiction (the first fiction being the projected “I/me/mine/me” which explore in depth in Liberation from the Lie.
The future is the biggest illusion of them all. Can you see that?
Here is the massive irony … we organize our life, especially our spiritual life around some desperately hoped for future, when in fact, we can now see, directly, that we can only have, theory, an “effect” on our past! We never experience the future … it is the persistent illusion.
I know what you will be thinking. You will think, “Didn’t Eric say earlier in this very post that the past was unchangable and immutable since it has already happened?” I did say that, but now, with this observation at the Farmer’s Market, we can see that the past is not quite as fixed as we once conceived. Or, to be much more precise in our observation, we can see that we can modify a portion of our observed experience; we can, in fact, change the quality and nature of its source.
We can see that it is our mutable personality that shapes our very recent past. When we see into the source of our suffering, we discover that it is paritally of our own making. Of course, there is physical suffering that is real and there is life suffering that is real (some people are total assholes, as noted above), but there is a very large class of suffering that is of our own making. We see that directly.
It is through seeing and seeing alone that the alchemy of transformation can happen, but, ironically, it can only have an effect on our immediate past, NOT our projected future. It was this realization that rather “blew my mind”.
But where does the alchemy of this transformation actually occur?
I suggest that it occurs in the mysterious black hole of now. We don’t know how it happens, but we do know that can happen.
We see the very recent past in what we believe and assert as our immediate experience. Learning occurs through this seeing. If we see very clearly, we see that a substantial part of our suffering is self-induced. And when that is clearly seen, the door way to the alchemy of transformation is opened, even if just a little. We open our own pathway to transformation through direct seeing of how we produce suffering in our immediate past.
It will be different for each of us, but the process is really the same.
We realize that will never live in the future, which the totality of our life has been based on. This is, perhaps, the greatest illusion of all. If we believe that self-improvement or spiritual exercises will yield a “better” future, then we are living in ignorance. There is only one spiritual exercise and that is awareness. It is awareness that is the source of any and all transformation. Unless we can see how we produce a large part of our suffering, we will be stuck in the hopeless loop of ever-repeating experience for the entirety of our lives.
It is my sense that this post says everything that I am capable in this ‘field’. So, unless I get a sudden inspiration (which could happen anytime), I’m going to try using a little self-restraint and stop posting on this topic. I am, however, always open to your questions, comments, and inquiries.
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The Illusion of Spiritual Practice: A Post for the Advanced Seeker by A Voice, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.