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John Alexandra

Copyright 2013 John Alexandra

Second Impression 2018

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Published as an eBook by Buzzword Books, Australia 2013

Second impression 2018

This edition published by Buzzword Books at Smashwords 2018

Buzzword Books

P.O Box 7, Cammeray 2062 Australia



1. A Glimpse Behind The Stage Machinery

2. Approaches To The Second World

3. What Does It Mean To 'Be Present'?

4. Ego, Desire And Identification

5. Do I Think? Or Experience?

6. Presence And Attention

7. What Is Happening Now?

8. Living In Two Worlds

9. Effort And Letting Go

10. Disengaging From Reaction

11. Help And Opening To The Higher

12. Dying To Ourselves And Death In Life

13. Detachment And Energy



The way is unconnected with knowing and not knowing. Knowing is to have a concept, while not knowing is to be ignorant. If you realize the way that is beyond doubt, it is like the sky—vast open emptiness.


When your mind is without anything and you are no-mind, then you are free and spiritual, empty and marvellous.


'Let nowhere abide and generate the Mind.'

Diamond Sutra


There exists in the East an ancient book of wisdom that has never been published and probably never will be. Among its aphorisms is this:

'To know means to know all.

To know a part of something means not to know.

It is not difficult to know all, because in order to know all one has to know very little.

But in order to know that little, one has to know pretty much.'

It can take a lifetime to understand that little—but when you do, you are free. This book explains how to reach the inner freedom all great traditions and religions point to—how to touch, with utter certainty, your essential cosmic Self.


Through the ages, mystics have said that it can. Although their experiences are identical—because Unity is one—their expressions for it are myriad because truth can't be defined in words. And so all such expressions attempt to describe the same thing.

The Cloud of Unknowing.

The Unmoved Mover who moves all things.

The Void.

The Silence.

The Stillness.

The Emptiness.

The Original Face.

The Absolute.

The Great Mind.

The Now.

Intrinsic Being.

The I AM...

And can we flawed, undisciplined beings ever aspire to know this thing—not philosophically but organically. Can we know it with certainty—as fact? As clearly as touching a loved one's face?

Through the ages, there are always people who preserve the approach to unitive knowledge—people in touch with more than philosophy or belief. But even if we can find them, we won't understand them. Because, without a long and difficult apprenticeship, truth appears as stupidity or paradox. For instance:

'Passing away is the essence of abiding.'

Or: 'Eternity is no other than this instant.'

To the rational mind, this is nonsense because rationality is too blunt an instrument to receive such perceptions—even if we are as bright as Heidegger, who asked like others before him: 'Why is there anything, rather than nothing?'

'The real is simple,' we were told. 'It is you who are complicated.'

How, then, can the complex understand the profoundly simple?

While great spiritual traditions persist as fixtures in time, their beliefs are passed down in increasingly distorted forms.

Inevitably, the insights of their founders enter the marketplace in a form so warped or weakened that they do little but mislead. Many Masters have declared that, three generations from the source, distortions and ignorance are assured. That, by the time that the outer aspect of a revelation filters into general life, it is degraded to mere information and useless for serious study.

Despite this, the faithful still cling to their beliefs. But belief is not a fact. Merely a comfort or defence.

Zen, Taoist and Vedantic sages had no time for belief, only facts. And to wake people from the dream we call our lives, they used practical means—such as self-inquiry and the study of attention. You'll find the pith of their methods here.

All a genuine teacher can do is try to get people to see what is in them. But to see ourselves is the thing we refuse to face.

Robbie Burns put it aptly:

'O wad some Power the giftie gie us,

To see oursels as ithers see us.

It wad frae mony a blunder free us,

An' foolish notion.'

But we can only venture behind the image of ourselves if we have a science of Being. Yet even in the rare places where such knowledge is preserved, most students remain simply followers, staring up at their gurus or down at their books without seeing what is in front of them. And if, by chance, they unearth a shred of truth, they preserve it like a pressed flower—to comfort themselves or to feel special—instead of discarding it and going on.

Because the price of contacting reality is everything we believe we possess.

We were taught that we need to recreate what we have learned—that to parrot it verbatim shows little has been understood. To effectively transmit anything one needs to BE what one knows. Unless a teaching is embodied it cannot effectively be passed on. Because understanding is unitive—not mental but organic. As the Baul, Shri Anirvan, beautifully said: 'One must know how to make use of the force and grandeur of philosophy, but in the heart, know how to feed oneself on radiant beauty alone.'

So can this body, this organ of perception, connect directly with the universe—have an organic or felt relation with the cosmos?

Is something so outlandish possible?

This book attempts to be a touchstone. But that doesn't make it accessible. Still, as inner teachings spread like pollen across the West and certain concepts become more available, if you have assimilated some of them you could find direction here.

What follows is based on a lifetime of work in esoteric groups. Individual guidance relies on oral transmission so only general advice can be given. But you can find many things in books if you know how to search. Be warned. No punches are pulled here so you may find some of this confronting.


'Always keep a hold of nurse

For fear of finding something worse'

Hilaire Belloc

'Unless a man uncovers himself, he cannot see.'

G. I.Gurdjieff


How does one live—completely, deeply, effectively, triumphantly?

Does a supreme art of living exist?

It does, but our parents never knew it. Neither do people we meet. It's not found in schools, churches or universities. It's not found in self-enhancement courses, yoga groups or books on positive thinking. It has nothing to do with cognitive therapy or the fantasies of New Agers. A few texts partially describe it in expressions peculiar to each so that, without special guidance, it's impossible to sift the wheat from the chaff.

Yet this extraordinary thing exists.

Exists in plain sight—unseen. Because truth protects itself by being not concealed but unperceived.

Why is it invisible? Because we don't suspect such a boon could be possible. And because we can't reach up far enough, or down low enough, to discover what is closer to us than our breath.

Unfortunately, in an age obsessed by social acceptance and desperate self-promotion, people don't want to listen to others but insist others listen to them. This is one barrier.

But there's another. We can only absorb what we are capable of receiving.

So if what you read below seems nonsense, it's not for you.


People walk straight past the treasure that is in them because, without a deep need—some call it a 'burning question'—nothing can be found.

As Gurdjieff's exceptional pupil, Madame Ouspensky, explained to her pupils, escape is for the very few. 'It is a miraculous privilege to have heard these ideas at all. We don't realise the miracle. We see elephants flying and think it ordinary.'

So to understand what you read here, you need to be 'exceptional'. This doesn't mean brilliant. Brilliance is superficial, cheap. It means that what you seek with your deepest being must smoulder beneath the ashes of yourself. Because you can't absorb something that you don't, in your deepest being, already know.

These pages disinter the teachings buried in the great traditional faiths. Few are interested in such an enquiry and become fewer when they hear the price. The price is the annihilation of everything you now regard as your own.

But if you are longing, crying for something, not even that will put you off.


Shri Anirvan, an exponent of Samkhya, explained that the inner journey has four stages.

Plurality of 'I's'.

A single 'I'.

No 'I'.

The Void.

He added that the Fourth Way, expounded by Gurdjieff, elaborates the first two—something rarely done well—and opens the frontiers to the others.

Interestingly, the great fourteenth century mystic, Meister Eckhart, outlined four similar stages:




And breakthrough.

Zen—equally valid but less adapted to the West—sees itself as a direct method and has even fewer handholds as its disciples attempt to jump over their knees to the last two stages.

The stages outlined by Anirvan form the spine of this account. But we need to begin with the first—our present lack of unity. Unless we start at the beginning we build our house on straw. So the first task is to expose the unpalatable fact of how we are.


Every person is an act presented to the world. We are not ourselves but what we pretend to be. It takes real courage to peer behind that facade. And to do it will eventually cost us everything we know.

We believe we want to be a different person.

This is an error because we exist only as a series of reactions.

In fact, we actually want to be… a person.

But, for this, we must know ourselves.

The Vedantist, Ramana Maharshi, explained that we are trapped in appearances—in the process of our lives and ourselves. He used the analogy of the cinema. He said that we identify with the film—with the shadow show projected on the screen. But the reality behind—the unchanging screen—remains unknown.


Contemporary learning doesn't teach us to grow inside but to cultivate what is most false in us—our personalities. It urges us to armour ourselves against life and view everything through the smoked-glass of our egos.

From childhood we are taught to become self-absorbed, petty and callous. We grow up fawning on some, patronising others, and generally criticising those who mirror our own ugliness. We develop into preening, posturing nonentities and become fodder for the state—consumers or 'units of consumption'—acquisitive, mediocre cash cows. And so the world remains a bazaar made vicious by rampant self-interest—a survival of the fittest excused by platitudes aping profundity.

Although our parents and teachers may have high motives, they can only teach what they know. And as knowledge depends on the level of being, they are limited by what they are. So, as the general level-of-being is low, their teaching is insubstantial. The child inside most of us never grows up. At best, we remain educated children. This becomes obvious the moment we are challenged or attacked. The inner horse kicks. The child appears unmasked.


Most of us exist in the basement of ourselves—a drab part of the house but familiar. But there are always a few misfits tormented by the pointlessness of it all. They may try the standard distractions—sex, drugs, politics, social climbing, good works—but nothing quite dispels their underlying sense of futility.

Our despair about life is caused by our separation from what we essentially are. But, thanks to the treason of the intellectuals, this is almost never addressed. Unfortunately, since Kant, most philosophers have rejected enquiry into the nature of the cosmos and its relationship to humanity. With the exception of synthesisers such as Nietzsche and Reich who were interested in essential being, we now have cautious analysts. Contemporary philosophers paddle in accepted backwaters to ensure their security of tenure. To avoid scorn from colleagues they fixate on minutiae. Science is bolder but, despite the Hermetic dictum 'as above, so below', still has not realized that man is a microcosm of the universe—that we contain everything within us but on a very small scale. And that it is possible to study the cosmos by studying ourselves.

Fortunately, we are curious creatures—hard-wired to investigate reality. And if we ignore that imperative, we wallow, vegetate or fret.

Even when we trash our potential, the remedy remains. It is to increase our level of consciousness or, in spiritual terms, to become what we essentially are. But the way to this is painful because it means seeing and suffering our lack. According to one teacher, the price of immortality is suffering because enduring what we are is the one thing still able to produce the shock that jerks us from our torpor and complacency.

The way to change the nature of a process is to see it. But only people who long for something more real will persist. In the midst of their petty selves, they will try to touch the thing behind. Not to get something but to BE something. The question, of course, is how?


That there is a way out is the most extraordinary thing of all because we've been brought up to think that, 'Life's a bitch and then you die'. Yet running parallel with the mundane life we know are enormous possibilities that wait, with the patience of divinity, to be found.

All great teachers have explained that everything we wish for is inside us, echoing the Biblical statement 'The Kingdom of God is within you'. But the barrier to this 'everything' is the self-defence mechanism called ourselves. Our inbuilt survival mechanisms—our fear, self-opinion, monstrous self-regard—the spurious riches that can never pass the needle's eye.

As one of our guides used to say, 'The way out is the way in.' But that way is narrow, with pitfalls on both sides and intriguing side-tracks leading nowhere.

It's also devoid of bliss-mongering. There is no self-development celebrity, prosperity or conventional happiness here. These typical distractions mean failure. On this path, it's not a question of enjoyment but of learning about ourselves. What is needed is a disciplined attention to something that is not in life at all.


Real things are unpopular. They hurt, and so never become a fad. Only the starving can stomach the uncompromising food of reality. And, as most people are only mildly peckish, they settle for watered down soup—for evangelism, cults, 'gurus', crystals and New Age self-satisfaction. In other words, they find their level and stagnate. 'Most people,' Gurdjieff said, 'can only receive truth in the form of a lie.'

For the credulous, there are endless distortions. Gleaming stupidities. Nine-day-wonders. Revolutions. Crusades to 'help' or 'save' others or 'put them right'. Such apparently well-meaning endeavours are impelled by ignorance and self-serving arrogance. Why do we help or patronise those worse off than ourselves? To feel more significant and inflate our petty egos.

Although the energy locked up in ego may serve something, that something is not us. Real knowledge has nothing to do with conventional morality. Being good, virtuous, charitable is not the aim. Heroic acts, doing good are all still fuelled by self-assertion. As is the quicksand of self-pity and self-reproach. The ego is marvellous at dissembling and can disguise itself at any stage.

In fact, this is according to law. Great nature requires that most people stay as they are. For some reason, this is necessary. So our psychological level of development hasn't changed for thousands of years. No wonder that the writings of the ancient Romans read like contemporary accounts.

And because we remain as we are, 'civilisations' remain as they are—variations on violence, slavery, corruption and greed.

Yet at some level, according to Zen, everything is in balance. Nothing is lacking, it tells us, echoing Shakespeare's line: 'Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.'

As the Zen student, Marcel Duchamp put it: 'There is no solution. Because there is no problem.'

Although somewhere, at a tremendously higher level, everything may be exactly as it should be, this is hard to comprehend when you have cancer. Or when a landmine removes your legs. Or when your toddler is blinded or run over. What price equanimity then?


Life shocks us.

Look around. Graft, corruption, war, torture, terrorism, suicide bombings, slavery, addiction, the pederasty of priests and every form of brutality from genocide to female circumcision—all justified by euphemisms, double-speak and lies.

Look back through history. Suttee, foot binding, human sacrifices, 'honour' killings. Living people dismembered or beheaded, stoned to death, crucified, pulled apart on the rack, burned or buried alive. Children intentionally crippled to work as beggars. And variations of these manifestations still happen today, although crippling the foot is now primarily the function of high heels.

Look forward and what do you see? The two-legged experiment in plague proportions, polluting and denuding the world as it consumes its last resources.

A cosmic necessity? A tragedy of rampant self-will?

Who can say? And at the moment, it's irrelevant.

The point is—life is shocking.

For centuries, believers in 'God' have agonised over this. Why, they ask, does a loving God permit it? Why is suffering a component of creation?

This problem drew Buddha to inquire within and to formulate his four precepts. His followers now label suffering as 'ignorance', which is a workable definition, but they still have no real explanation of why suffering exists.

So, if somewhere, everything is working perfectly, like clockwork, then what part of that timepiece is suffering?

A pendulum?

Lets examine it.


Nature abounds in fauna and fauna. And each living thing eats to survive. Sometimes the fauna eats the flora. Sometimes the reverse. As the cheetah sinks its claws into the impala, the expression 'red in tooth and claw' replaces the image of 'gentle Jesus meek and mild' with the vengeful god of the Old Testament. In the wry words of Woody Allen, 'Nature's one big restaurant.'

'All things bright and beautiful,' the fond mother sings to her child, 'the Lord God made them all.'

He made, for instance, the guinea worm that burrows through living human flesh and eventually has to be wound out on a spool. Not to mention all the other parasites that eat their living hosts from inside. Then there's the piranha, the leech, the female spider that eats the male. The myriad hideous diseases. What does this tell you? That nature is both beautiful and terrible. Or, to view it more objectively, nature is sublimely indifferent and not concerned with the preservation of humanity at all. Any more than it was for the preservation of the dinosaurs.

And so nothing is more irrational than a sentimental view of 'God'.

Life doesn't take sides. It just is. And at times the apparent callousness of this shocks us.

And this, too, is according to law. Shocks are necessary because they force us to wake up.

But, as all esoteric teachings explain, two kinds of shocks are needed.

The outer shock of life.

And a second shock—inside us.

We have said that everything eats everything. So what eats us? Perhaps not only worms when we die. By co-operating in the right way—by paying attention in the right way, the crass little self we stupidly cherish may become refined. If we pay with ourselves—intentionally produce the second shock—because it can never be automatic—then we earn the possibility of being transformed into food for something more inclusive.


This second shock is what Gurdjieff called 'the first conscious shock', and Buddha termed 'right alertness and concentration'. It's what the practical Catholic monk, Brother Lawrence, called, 'The practice of the presence of God.'

Most people only know the outer shock of pain and injustice. So, when their presumably altruistic God allows a mudslide to engulf a kindergarten or a bus full of innocent schoolkids to go over a cliff or a church to be swept away by a tornado or a hospital ship to be torpedoed, they ask why He/She permits this. And when they suffer directly, they ask, 'Why me?'

As we tend to justify ourselves in all things it is always the other person's fault. We even take indifferent forces personally as if we were the centre of the universe. Yet, clearly, we are far from such a place. Objectively, we don't exist.

We are surrounded by the immensity of 200 billion galaxies that swim in the immemorial vault. In the timeline of Life on Earth, humanity is not even a speck or spark. From the perspective of the earth, our lifespan is less than the shortest-lived particle in physics. And as many universes could exist, ours might just be one cell in our famous god's bloodstream. So how could a being so immense possibly know what is happening on earth, let alone note the sparrow's fall?

Yet, still, we ask: 'How can a loving God permit this?'

This ceaseless question assumes three things. That a god exists. That it is benign. That it is concerned about a creature as insignificant as we are. And that it can do something about the situation. According to esoteric teachings, these assumptions are, in turn, dualistic, simplistic, ridiculous and false. We do not even know if there is anything like a god and science is convinced that such a notion is merely crying in the dark. Our defence against the endless, indifferent, emptiness of space.

The next question inevitably asked is, 'What can we do?'

There is nothing to be 'done'. In fact nothing can be done. Because change starts with the individual. An individual who has changed. And that change is, curiously, not in the field of 'doing' at all.

Change begins with the missing inner shock.

The inner shock is to become aware of ourselves as we live and suffer. This corresponds to Gurdjieff's 'self-remembering' or, as a Buddhist text puts it: 'being mindful of the body in the body, the feeling in the feelings, the mind in the mind so as to control the craving and despair'.

Parallels can be found in all true traditions.

For instance, a Muslim hadith says that the believer never ceases approaching the work of 'becoming aware with all one's presence'.

In the Bible, Christ is reported as saying, 'Watch, for ye know not the day nor the hour.' And at Gethsemane he chided the disciples because they forgot themselves and 'slept'.

The Tao also explains this but uses a different image: 'The wise man, though he travels all the day will not be separated from his goods'.

In other words, the inner shock is to experience what is without becoming lost in it. To be present to ourselves in life—as we are lived. To quote A. R. Orage: 'The only way to gain anything from experiences is to observe oneself experiencing.'

And this is where the 'way in' begins.

This second shock is not about 'doing' but transformation.

It is not about gain—but loss.

And it's not a function of the mind but of the being. So it involves a profound modification of the body's internal structure and capacities. Such a change is for the few brave enough to look at themselves and genuine enough not to feel exclusive or special because they do so.

To look at ourselves is to face, bear, carry the inner shock as we move through the outer shock of life. But, as we are, we are prepared to do anything but this.

It is always someone else's fault. We are totally identified with ourselves, so always react. This means that there is just one process going on. We exist at the level of the animal because there is nothing in us to stand apart and observe.

So, first, we need to see the series of knee jerks that we ludicrously call 'ourselves'.


Socrates, borrowing the edicts of the past, restated the requirement of wisdom: 'Know thyself.' And, in the Gospel of Thomas, we find: 'He who does not know himself has missed everything.'


Because, from a monistic standpoint, if Unity is one, then it follows that by knowing ourselves, we'll know everything.

Let's look at that more closely.

The Hermetic aphorism 'As above, so below.' implies that each person is a microcosm, a miniature universe—so a miniature facsimile of 'god'. According to this reasoning, we contain everything known. Therefore, if we know ourselves, we have the possibility of knowing everything.

So why don't we?

'Something is hidden inside us,' one sage explains. 'This is the real meaning of hidden knowledge. Inside, you're a cosmos. What you want is all there. Look in.'

If each life is a representative of the absolute, then everything is inside us—but on a very small scale. But, unfortunately, the microscopic universe we call ourselves is unfinished. It exists as a potential, not a fact.

To know ourselves requires us to see past what has been described as our wrong feeling of 'I'. Or, in Buddhist terms, the Five Heaps or Skandhas, which define the formation of ego.

And the first thing we see when we do this is that we are nothing but reactions.

A reflex.


He has the usual motivations—sex, status and security. His self-defence is the balancing-act called self-affirmation. He's full of hopes, ambitions, dreams, opinions, resentments, envy, vanity, negativity and variegated humbug. And, as he ages and suffers his quota of disappointments, he becomes increasingly desperate. Because life persistently refuses to grant him what he is sure he deserves.

This self-satisfied sentimental hypocrite justifies himself in everything and sees all setbacks as personal affronts. Even a late bus or bad weather can make him irritable all day.

He orders people around at home, soaks up flattery, is furious if criticised. In short, he's the slave of every situation. Of course, he dresses well, wears a nice tie and is probably your neighbour, husband or good friend.

Not that he's 'bad' or in any way unusual. He's the common denominator—Mr Mediocre. And, as he doesn't know himself, he can't learn how to live. His life is a form of hiding. And there's nothing to be done with him as he is.

Moreover, nothing should be done. It's not his time. He has no capacity yet to encounter anything on a higher level. So, be kind to him and don't criticise. One day, with good fortune, his life may make a gesture to him. Only then will he wish to look further.


Just down the road is a disillusioned woman who has most of the failings above. But she feels her inconsistencies and sometimes despairs at the chaos inside her. She also asks strange questions about life such as, 'Is this all there is?' Yet she's not a dropout, fanatic or sociopath. She renders unto Caesar, lives efficiently and well. She's practical, inwardly sincere and relatively sane. She's trying to stir in her sleep. An exception, you might say. But if she wants to face the extraordinary, it will cost her everything she clings to.

Mme de Salzmann, Gurdjieff's successor, said once in a small voice, 'Mr Gurdjieff took everything from me. He left me with one dress.'

To gain everything, you need to give up everything.

That doesn't necessarily mean your clothes or bank balance, though when Masters stride the earth, such tests are applied. It means the myth called 'me'.

And this giving—some call it payment—has to be learned.


Who are we?

And why are we here?

And how should we live?

Certain remarkable techniques and insights address these fundamental questions. But they're not generally apparent in what we call religions. As mentioned before, such organisations, long debased by sentimentality or sophistry, eventually become sterile moral creeds with their original meaning and intentions forgotten or distorted. We need to examine this in more detail.

Once the original teacher dies, the disciples, changing direction but unaware of it, acquire a missionary zeal for more adherents. But popularity comes at a cost—the cost of debasing what was originally taught to make it more accessible, appealing. And always there are disciples who lust after establishment, hierarchy, power. They declare themselves not just the defenders of the faith but the interpreters of it—and adapt it to conform to their own low level of comprehension. At worst, they start crusades or fatwa's, fleece adherents, murder, burn and rape. Every established religion is a fossil—the ossified remains of a true teaching.

As Meister Eckhart said: 'Why do you prate of God? Don't you know that whatever you say of him is untrue?'

While Christianity provides an obvious example of this, Eastern traditions are also diluted—riddled with superstition, implausible dogma, mechanical rituals, messianic hubris, resentments and ludicrous beliefs.

As for philosophical and psychological systems, most are no better, often worse. If you read everyone from Hegel to Hora, you'd still miss the point because there can be no general study of real teachings.


Here is Anirvan on that subject. 'As soon as one makes arrangements to stay close to (a teacher), a "downward curve" begins and the law of gravity immobilises the spirit.'

Unless you're in touch with someone who knows, you'll go astray or get stuck—perhaps glorifying some technique precisely when it needs to be discarded.

But, once you can ride a bike, you remove the training wheels.

'There are no techniques,' said Gurdjieff, who gave hundreds.

So, a qualified 'yes'. You need to touch the guide at a tangent. But still, you need to touch him. And he will not be some timeserving priest sheltering behind a robe and threadbare doctrines. Those who know can make themselves hard to spot and may not wish to be followed or disturbed.


Written teachings, however profound, never transmit the essence. They're also vulnerable to the interpretations of the reader's self-serving ego.

So all you have here is a scribbled map of an age-old, rarely trodden track. And without a deep longing or concern, without sincerity and a good heart—attributes as useful as a torch in the dark—it's better not to begin.

Madame Ouspensky put this emphatically. She said that we're in prison, that there is just one point of escape and that only those who see how desperate their situation is will try it. She explained that to attempt this escape required great sincerity and commitment 'One must be longing, crying. What will one give for it? This is the test.'

'But things have moved on,' the supernalists will say. 'All that rigour has been superseded now. It comes down to dropping thought, letting go, getting in touch with the energy…'

A provisional 'yes' if, after years of effort you understand these techniques and yourself—a series of leaps that can take a lifetime. A resounding 'no' if you think you can add some vaguely uplifting concepts to the rubbish filling your mind. First, the rubbish has to go. Everyone from Jesus to Krishnamurti has stated that emphatically. Suzuki also made this point, writing about the austere path of Zen: 'That the door opens to our knocking is no easy task. Our whole existence must first be thrown down at the door.'

So the description is not the thing. And the 'thing' has to be paid for. Dearly. Those hooked on instant gratification have neither the funds nor patience for this path.

This is not a philosophical quest. It's not designed to make us feel better.

It's about physical contact with the Unborn.

And such a wonder costs everything we are.

As Eckhart said: 'Whoso has three things is beloved of God. Riddance of goods, riddance of friends, riddance of self.'


Obviously, control over our lives begins with control over ourselves—something we fondly believe we have although nothing is further from the truth.

There is nothing permanent in us. Our shadow show changes each second.

We believe we have free will but say, 'I can't get that tune out of my head,' or 'how dare he treat me like that?'

We say, 'I love you.' But what in us can possibly love? Today's reaction loves. And in the next half-hour or next breath, another reaction, perhaps jealousy, hates.

Although we contradict ourselves in everything we do, the last thing we wish to hear is that we're slaves to everything in and outside us.

Buddha said, 'That which is called a man is perpetual flux.' And he showed the way out of it with his Four Noble Truths. Let's examine them.

They are, in turn, the truth of suffering, the truth of the origin of suffering, the truth of the goal and the truth of the path.

Here they are, stated more clearly:

1. Life is suffering.

2. Suffering is caused by craving.

3. Craving can be destroyed.

4. It can be destroyed by following the noble eightfold path (which sets forth rules of right conduct).

These four edicts can, of course, be interpreted formally or intuitively. Here's an intuitive exposition, condensed from the Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa:

1. How we live now, our inner dispersion, results in dissatisfaction and pain.

2. That dissatisfaction is based on egotistical desire.

3. A saner quality appears in us when we cease to strive ('do') and focus on Being.

4. There are ways to encourage this opening to a wider self. They include a greater precision in living, based on non-attachment and awareness of ourselves in the present.

Trungpa is talking about the discipline of the second shock.

Without awareness of ourselves nothing can move.

It doesn't have enough energy to move.


If we are interested in this inner search—we require energy to pursue it. Experience requires energy. And not just any energy—the type that it takes to lift a bucket of soil—but a certain inner energy that might be called genuinely psychic.

Unfortunately, the outer shock of life saps what little psychic substance we contain. A flash of anger or other negativity, or an hour of daydreaming or physical tension can destroy all the energy received from the previous night's sleep.

Perhaps you can remember a time when you were insulted, ignored, rejected—a time when you felt the deep resentment of having your precious self demeaned. Can you recall that emotional storm and how it left you drained?

Now scale that down to the lifetime of minor irritations, disappointments, regrets and resentments that siphon off the substance of your life. A loud noise. Overeating. A tense face. Unless the inner shock opposes the outer, everything fritters your life energy away.

Even reading this is taking your substance—your available attention. To read it costs you something. Do you feel that slight inner drain?

So we are not just completely inconsistent but leak energy like a sieve.

Could we, instead, be a container able to hold a finer energy? Is it possible?

Q: Are you saying I don't exist?

A: Yes There's no 'I' to do anything at all. Everything's just done. You're an automaton who thinks it's a person.

Q I don't believe that.

A: Belief's a conviction, not a fact. Belief is for followers and the indolent. Look and find out. Every religion, cult, political system has its beliefs and is ready to massacre people for them. Belief is supposition, not reality, and one of the most divisive characteristics we have.

Q: What about the soul?

A: Another belief. You're stuffed with such words—with conventional concepts, attitudes, prejudices, opinions and irrelevant information.

Q: But that's what I am—my personality.

A: You see yourself as an entity that responds to events. You are, in fact, a series of reactions. Your thoughts, emotions and physical tensions are all reactions to life. There's no 'you' behind this at all. Your ego's an arrangement of habits based on self-defence. And what you 'know' is learned by rote. You're basically a puppet.

Q: Too sweeping I just can't accept that.

A: Because you've never looked at yourself. There's no point in taking offence. This work is not personal. In the midst of all these selves, can you touch the thing behind?

It's not enough to agree or disagree. You need to be interested enough to verify for yourself—to examine your inner life. Are you game enough to try? Then take this eight-day course in self-observation:

Select one task each day and attempt it the whole day.


Try to:

* Relax from unnecessary physical tensions, including frowning.

* Say only what is needed.

* Stop inner talking—the constant sub-vocalising of words in the head.

* Don't daydream or fantasise. No imaginary conversations or pleasant visualisations.

* Remain apart from all emotional reactions—including depression, irritation and boredom, nervousness and agitation.

* Ignore what others think of you. Or what you imagine they think of you.

* No hurry or worry. Expect nothing unpleasant to happen.

* Do nothing unnecessary.

Remember that to see how we are is painful but essential. Without it nothing permanent can grow. If you seriously try these tasks, you'll have an impression of your capacity for awareness and initiative.

And that should mightily disturb you.

The first thing you'll see, if honest, is that these exercises can't be done—that you miss the moment time and again because you're so seldom aware of yourself. Attention requires energy. And your store of it, at present, is small.

You will also see that, no matter how you try, you're always drawn into parts of yourself—thoughts, emotions, physical tensions, sexual longings—so never meet events and challenges with the 'whole' of yourself. In other words, you are never fully present—fully 'here'.

You may even see that each of your reactions is like a little 'I' that, for a moment, raises its head and takes charge of you—consigning you to the committee of the damned. If you continue to exist like this, nothing more is possible. You'll remain exactly as you are because:


While this is self-evident, it's seldom acknowledged.

We reap what we sow.

And what we sow depends on what we are.

Obviously, everything that happens in our lives is affected by our level of consciousness. And consciousness, by the way, is not our emotions or thoughts. A silent mind is a condition of consciousness as many sages have explained. Krishnamurti put it neatly: 'Life begins where thought ends.' And he also said, 'Thought is an agitation of the mind.'

We have been conditioned over hundreds of years to try to solve everything by thinking, unaware that what we need is resolved by something that is not our thoughts at all. By a wordless attention/ sensation/ awareness that can move through us like a light. It is like an acceptance. Patient. Silent. Ever waiting to come in. Like nature, it doesn't contend. It finds us like the wind.

Consciousness is a global awareness, never stable, that varies roughly every three seconds. Later, we'll examine it. But back to the subject of this section:

As our level of awareness controls our reaction to events, the more reactive, automatic we become, the more our lives are adversely affected.

For instance, if our habitual reactions include bad moods, negativity, anger, we'll attract corresponding situations and events.

If our thoughts churn in an automatic, muddled way, if we cherish fixed opinions or have permanent pessimistic attitude we'll attract similar people and rob ourselves of opportunities.

If we're physically lazy, greedy, indulgent, our bodies, lives and health will reflect it.

So our future will duplicate our past unless such habitual reactions are opposed.

Q: But surely it's very difficult to oppose the habits of a lifetime?

A: Yes. There's no quick fix. It means developing something in you that could stand apart.

Q: Would it even be worth the effort?

A: It depends on you. No one's asking you to change. In fact, no one has the right to do this. Most people are not at all interested in inner change yet live honourable and reasonable lives. Although far greater possibilities are available, unless you have a longing for them it's better not to start. So is ordinary life enough for you? Or do you think there should be something more?

Q: The way I see it, ordinary life leads nowhere.

A: Yes. It's simply a field of opportunities. And we shouldn't glorify or condemn it because it's neither good nor bad. Nature is neutral. A tree, for instance, doesn't take sides or commit adultery. It simply is. The ancient Greeks compared life to a gymnasium—which it is, if you're interested in exercise. And that statement has an inner and outer meaning. But if you can be happy with ordinary life, don't make the mistake of looking for more.

Q: Well I'm not happy with it. So what do I do?


As we are, we're completely reactive. And a series of reactions can't 'do' because the symptom can't affect the cause.

We think we do things. But, in fact, we're 'done'.

As Gurdjieff explained, we live in a kind of waking sleep. In this we fight wars, pass laws, marry, write books, invent theories and wreck the ecology. We live in ignorance, foul our nests wherever we go.

The Gospel of Thomas puts it plainly:

'I stood in the midst of the world and found everyone drunk and none thirsty. Then I was sorry for the sons of men for they were blind in their hearts. They have come empty into the world and leave it empty. They are drunk.'

According to one Zen master, 'The "I" process is built on memory, the past, and hides reality. Pure perception is obscured because the word has become the thing. Lost in habits and reactions, we walk in a dream.'

This low level of consciousness has familiar names. Violence. Greed. Pride. Vanity. Ambition. Inertia. Self-satisfaction. Complacency. Self-criticism. Fear.

Gurdjieff called such blockages 'identification'. Buddhists term them 'ignorance'. These words imply that we become a function of events and ourselves—vanish into everything that happens to us because we have developed nothing in us able to stand apart and watch.

So does no one do anything at all?

Real doing is theoretically possible. But this is action based on consciousness—and unknown to us as we are.


If you tried the eight-day regime consistently and sincerely, you will have discovered that there's nothing in you solid enough to trust. No change is possible until this is thoroughly seen. Unless we are appalled by our situation, there is no escape. Because if we can tolerate the way we exist there is not enough incentive to change.

It's ironical that the 'me' we assert with all our might exists only as a series of defences. On the ordinary level, we have no permanent 'I'. And most contemporary philosophers, neurobiologists and naturalists who remain unsullied by a religious agenda agree with this view. Although Kant postulated the Transcendental Ego, a concept much misconstrued, everyone from Buddha and Heraclitus to John Locke, David Hume and William James stated that the self doesn't exist.

Buddhists, Vedantists and Sufis also proclaim that what we call 'I' is a mirage and that to discover we are nothing but reactions is the first thing we can 'do'. That 'the seeing is the doing' as Krishnamurti said.


Once we see that we are no more than a chaos of thoughts and emotions then, in theory, possibilities begin. And, before their teachings became degraded to the level of their followers, the great spiritual traditions said the same.

To buy the pearl of great price, as the Gospels decree, we have to sell all we have. This originally referred not to money and possessions but to what we cling to most—the psychological baggage we dignify as 'ourselves'.

In other words, to find ourselves we have to lose ourselves. All authentic traditions assert this.

The path is not accumulation but a relinquishing or letting go.

In John's Gospel is this passage: 'Unless a seed fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.'

We have to abandon the two things we most cherish yet only imagine we possess.

Our lives.

And our petty non-existent selves.

And this can only happen when we cease to believe in both.


The New Testament tells us that the Kingdom of God is within us. And even physicists declare that we contain traces of matter from the stars. In the Bhagavad-Gita it says: 'Fools pass blindly by the place of my dwelling—here in the human heart.' The treasure is within us. But instead of discovering what we are and sitting like kings on our thrones, we spend our lives, like the prodigal son, among swine.

It is as if we are drawn to find something forgotten. We would never search for our birthright without an inbuilt nostalgia for being.

In fact, at the deepest level we are what we seek. The Kingdom of God is within us.

But haven't we said the 'I' is a myth?

At the limits of ordinary thought, paradoxes appear and, to begin to know ourselves, we have to start with this non-existent 'I'. In other words, with the reflexes we complacently call personality. If we wish to reach another level, this rabble we label 'ourselves' has to be either organised or destroyed.

To use a Zen analogy, the dust has to be wiped from the mirror. Unfortunately, this requires more than flicks with a cloth. It will takes decades of effort and remains a lifetime task.

However, things have many aspects. As Zen points out, the wiping is also timeless—in the moment. Which means, as Hui Neng declared, that from the wider perspective, neither dust nor mirror exist.

'From the start,' he said, 'not a thing is.'

But this profound level of perception must be earned.


As we are now, we are completely misinformed. And our first step is to see this.

Our parents, teachers and governments have drilled into us that we are individuals capable of will. Untrue.

The dualistic structure of our language asserts that 'I' exist and that I can 'do'.

These words lie.

'Doing' is not the gate to reality. 'The way to do,' as Lau Tzu explained, 'is to be.'

Reality is reached through 'being'. But without special training we can't even imagine what this means.

Another complication.

Learning to 'be' proceeds in parallel with learning we don't exist.


Ask yourself. Do you want to drift on as you are? (And, why not? No harm in that.) Or do you want to move?

If so, you need to face the problem of yourself. And, as a problem is solved by remaining with the problem completely, this means being mindful of what is happening in and to you now. Experiencing it fully, without judgement, self-justification, aversion or desire.

And this will involve suffering—suffering your lack.

Would you rather leave well enough alone?

If not, you face the demand to try something real. First there will be baby steps as we can manage little as we are.

For now, try with your best attention to be aware of your hand as it holds the book or device you are reading this on now.


'The only aim of spiritual exercises is to gain control of attention.'

Ramana Maharshi

'Yoga is constraint placed upon the variations of consciousness. Then he who sees is present to himself. Otherwise, he remains identified with the variations.'


Do you remember yourself when you were three?

Moss by a mountain stream. A dewy rose in the sun. And an openhearted child. Sheer exultation of being.

The child sees the world as a miracle iridescent with possibilities. It sees trees praying to the sky, grass fields bowing to the wind. Even the thin peal of a schoolyard bell leaves a timeless shiver in the air.

And are its clouds of glory a half-remembered thing? Is its heart's heart linked to a unity known before birth?

Remember your first freshness? What a wonder the world was then. Marvels jostled to reveal themselves and somewhere everything was in tune.

Before grim knowledge spoiled you, Odysseys called you on the wind and the song of your blood became perception. You breathed elation's sacred air.

An infant's thought-unclouded eyes can be as fathomless as the glaze before death—enough to agitate its parents into self-reinforcing baby talk. The child knows nothing and everything—as if it's not a child at all. So to teach it to be one becomes every parent's task.

As an infant, we saw directly—discernment not easily found. We were well informed for a creature so recently born. So were we completely infants? Or potentials facing a new experience? We were able to play with our lives. A child is most serious when it plays.

Some believe death thrusts us back into the morning of our lives and cite child prodigies as proof that expertise is transported through the womb. Some see lives as fixed roles that, like actors, we are obliged to play out.

We can be diverted for a lifetime by such theories. But theories don't feed hearts.

In the brief years before thought's pale cast enveloped us there was freshness of perception. Why?

Because life was filtered entirely through our senses and instead of 'thinking' we experienced. We received impressions directly, so everything was vivid, alive.

Descartes made a great mistake with his dictum: 'I think, therefore I am'. Because thought negates the organic experience of being. The part can't see the whole. It is far truer to say: 'I think, therefore I am not'.

As we begin to imitate others we harden, grasp, demand. Soon we're adults, grubbing for money and attacking those in our way and fighting off competition. Then comes the third stage of life—age, feebleness, regrets and death. Does this eighty-year parabola end in softness once more? It can. But, often, the middle-aged hardness consolidates into bitter fixity. Yet, while many second childhoods are stunting, some old people remain fully informed.

Our lives are finite. Like the trees, we grow, bloom, seed and die. We have a limited number of years. And fewer years of health. Health translates as energy plus time. So we have X amount of energy and time.

How will we expend this?

What will we serve?

And with what?


From a geometrical perspective the way we exist now is horizontal—on the level of ordinary life. But the 'way in' the best of us yearn for as we stir in our sleep is vertical to life—the antithesis of all we've been taught. From the Zen/Christian sage, Durckheim, we have this: 'As prisoners of worldly ego, we are doomed to forget that our origin is twofold and that we belong to two worlds. As children of the earth, we belong to the contingent, limited, here-and-now world—but as children of heaven we also belong to transcendent, absolute and limitless Being.'

The need is to live in two worlds—at the point where horizontal and vertical meet—in the universe of all possibilities—a place some call 'the eternal now'. That 'now' connects with truth, revelation, love—all that is real. There, everything is one. There, time and eternity connect.

Unfortunately, truths change to lies even before they leave the lips just as fresh insights decay into mantras the moment they are thought. Inspirational books still tritely urge us to 'be here now'. But the famous 'now' has become almost as hackneyed, familiar, trite as the word 'love'. A worn-out dying word—made meaningless through repetition. And a plunge into a bottomless pool can't be evoked by dying words. So such concepts remain theoretical—information without weight—until we experience what they mean organically.

Until we ARE.


We've said that to grow on the we need to see ourselves through and through.

Initially, this involves dividing our attention. This has been known for thousands of years. An ancient symbol for this age-old technique was Janus—the two-faced god who looked both ways.

A dog reacts to something and barks but doesn't see itself as a creature reacting. The human primate, having greater possibilities of perception can, potentially, observe itself as it lives—become conscious of itself in that process. Unfortunately, because we think we're awake, we remain as reactive as the dog.

The remedy, deceptively simple but in practice almost impossible, is to split our attention.


In the brave and dangerous days of the wind-jammers, the new sailor was told, 'A hand for you and a hand for the ship.' Useful advice because, when he was high in the rigging, he would remember to cling to the ratlines with at least one hand—and so not fall.

Greater consciousness begins with dividing attention.

We split our attention when we withdraw some from our lives and place it on ourselves.

In the esoteric area, this becomes Gurdjieff's 'self-remembering' and Buddha's 'mindfulness'. The psychologists, still catching up, talk of 'consciousness of consciousness'.

What is needed is the experience of being in a collected state. And this has been stated for centuries where such wisdom was preserved:

The 12th Century Sufi Abdulhalik Gujduvani wrote: 'Be present at every breath. Do not let thy attention wander for the duration of a single breath. Remember thyself always and in all situations. ...Learn not to identify thyself with anything whatsoever. The journey is toward thy homeland. Remember that thou art travelling from the world of appearances to the world of reality. ...Become used to recognising the Presence of Allah in thy heart.'

In the 5,000-year-old precepts cited in Zen Flesh/Zen Bones, you find this: 'The appreciation of objects and subjects is the same for an enlightened as for an unenlightened person. The former has one greatness: he remains in the subjective mood, not lost in things.'

'Abide always in yourself,' wrote Shankara.

But there is great resistance to this change. We may manage it for a moment. But next instant we identify with something we think, see, hear or feel. The maelstrom of life drags us into what's happening around us, leaving no energy to be aware of the creature it's happening to. We've lived this way so long that it's habitual. So the first need is to save enough attention to observe. Otherwise we are nothing but a process.

'The key,' said Gurdjieff, 'is, remain apart.'

It sounds simple but is almost impossible, as you'll see each time you attempt it. Because we make that attempt, initially, with our minds. And, as the Bible notes, by 'taking thought', we can't alter a hair of our heads. Thought can't maintain this inner effort for more than moments because attention requires more psychic energy than is available to the brain. So, if we wish to remain aware for more than a couple of breaths, more of the organism has to participate.

Although attention is the key to the door of the second world, what this means remains obscure to us because attention has many levels. For instance, too little and we become neurotic, even insane. Consider the haughty woman in the corner of the asylum so identified with her pathological daydream that she believes herself to be the queen.

All esoteric systems explain that attention is not thought. That our kaleidoscope of mental associations consists of random identifications. But even if we agree with this intellectually, we are still far from understanding it. As many teachers point out, understanding is more than knowledge. Understanding requires the whole of us, not just our brains, and only occurs when we are touched, and in touch with all parts of ourselves.


So how to begin?

First, we need to see how rarely we are 'here'—awake—how the slight mindfulness we have is lost in our mental dreams. How we spend our lives 'sicklied over with the pale cast of thought' instead of directly experiencing the moment.

As we are, we live almost entirely in our heads because, from childhood, we've trusted our thoughts to help us. Unfortunately, the moment we think about things—editorialise in this way—our minds rob us of reality and we receive impressions at second hand.

Instead of standing in awe of a sunset, we immediately think, 'What a wonderful sunset. Now that reminds me of a sunset I saw when I was in Beachport with the kids. Hell, when what that? November? November '73. The year my mother had her leg off. God, what a time that was! Late-onset diabetes. They could have saved that limb...' And so on. While the mind is caught by the image of some hospital years ago, the glorious sunset changes and dies. And so the moment of perception, that could have been clearly received is rendered pallid—filtered through associations as random as the clash of dodgem cars.

Here is Krishnamurti on the subject: 'Thought, in its attempts to be honest, is comparative and therefore dishonest. All comparison is a process of evasion and hence breeds dishonesty.'

When we think in this automatic way, we don't see what's needed right now. Instead we analyse and make plans based on past experience.

Thought on this mundane level is inattention and, the moment it starts, we're gone.

Perhaps you'd care to verify?

Here are ways to examine the force of the habitual reaction we call thinking:


Can the mind exist without thought? Spend a minute trying not to think. Stare at a watch or stopwatch and observe the seconds passing without thinking. For one minute, can you think of nothing? That means nothing moving in the mind. No images or sub-vocalised words. No thoughts about not thinking. No picturing other scenes or conversations. No memories. No thinking about the watch or the watchband. Or your dinner. Blank.

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