A Tentative Curriculum For Psychotechnologies Of Self-transformation

Yesterday I recorded a conversation with Jonny Miller for his Curious Humans Podcast. (About which, more fairly soon.) Near the end of our conversation, Jonny asked me a question akin to this one: “If you build a school around certain psychotechnologies of self-transformation, what curriculum would you create?” I’m not satisfied with the answer I gave him then, though I think what I said vaguely points in the right direction. I’d like to take a second crack at it here.

I. What is Man?

The metaphysical question would begin with anthropos: “What is Man, or what are the basic capacities of a human being?” What follows is rather speculative:

  1. Spirit
  2. Physical Body
  3. Energetic Body
  4. Emotions
  5. Mind (Intellection)
  6. Psychological
  7. Relationships
  8. Actions of an interpersonal nature
  9. Actions of a more than interpersonal nature
  10. Wholeness

II. What is the Curriculum?

Even though I’m not yet convinced that this is the most accurate or complete understanding of anthropos, let’s move onto the question at hand: “Based on this understanding of anthropos, what kinds of psychotechnologies would be reasonable to recommend?”

  1. For the Spirit: silent meditation. If one is new to meditation, it would be good to avoid an app and start with Savikalpa samadhi, meaning absorption in an object (counting one’s breath, looking at a candle, repeating a mantra, etc.). This will still the mind and prepare it, sometime later, for Nirvikapla samadhi, which means absorption in the Self or Ultimate Reality.
  2. For the Physical Body: beautiful, energetic movement like yoga, martial arts, sacred dance, climbing, surfing, etc., provided that it is undertaken without ego.
  3. For the Energetic Body: breathwork (Holotropic or pranayama), certain Tantric exercises, or Vipassana meditation.
  4. For the Emotions: Tantric exercises whose intention is to go into the feelings, see them as sensations or energy, and dissolve them. (To dissolve is not to desire to get rid of them. Dissolving them is at one with curiously exploring them.)
  5. For the Mind (Intellection): a genuine study of cosmos (the nature of reality), deos (the divine, gods, God, etc.), and anthropos (the nature of Man) from from (a) an analytical point of view and (b) a historical point of view, the aim of both being (c) a synoptic vision of reality in its three-fold aspects. (The reference, here, is to Raimon Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience).
  6. For the Psychological: modalities centered on healing. One good example is David Chapman’s series on shadows. Chapman admits that his series is rather vague and incomplete. Even so, his exploration of shadows is an illuminating starting point for feeling one’s way into this non-intellectual approach to what has been rejected from experience as not-me.
  7. For Relationships: authentic forms of relating (e.g., circling) in the We-space as is currently being explored by my friend Peter Limberg and his co-conspirator John Vervaeke.
  8. For Actions of a Personal Nature: case reasoning (casus perplexi) is a helpful aid to having a textured understanding of what is the right thing to do and of how to assess ethical conduct. Considering perplexing cases focused on the right thing to do cultivates our powers of deep ethical reflection. This is an Aristotelian approach.
  9. For Actions of a More than Interpersonal Nature: tuning into the wellspring of love for all sentient beings. I believe that the late Fred Rogers actually lived the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” What would it mean to love, in some metaphysical sense, all of one’s neighbors–indeed, all sentient beings–as Oneself? Can we act–ecologically, politically–from a place of the profoundest love?
  10. For Wholeness: philosophical inquiry whose point is the embodiment of living wisdom. Philosophy seeks to bring anthropos, cosmos, and deos into a single whole and at the same time it seeks to enable one to live that understanding. Hence, living wisdom could be defined as living the highest conduct which flows directly from the highest understanding of Man, cosmos, and divinity.

A curriculum, properly understood, is a path. In this case, it’s the path of developing beings to the point at which they emanate understanding, love, beauty, and wisdom in all they are.

On The Saying, ‘I Am Not The Doer’

Believing ourselves to be people, we care about free will. We care about free will because we care about the capacity to choose this rather than that, to live this way rather than that way.

The alternative seems to be some version of determinism, and this can be scary, or scary sounding, because it can come to seem as if I am nothing but a being buffeted about by forces greater, or more opaque, than I am. In which case, I want to know that my life is up to me, in salient respects, at least so that I can rest assured that I’m not an object of domination.

This–I don’t want to be dominated–is the negative side pointing to what I wish to avoid. But what of the positive side? I also want free will because I want to believe that I’m the free doer behind every deed, for if I’m the doer behind every deed, then I can take responsibility for my existential choice of life.

Therefore, it can sound jarring, to say the least, when Advaita Vedanta teachers say, “There is no doer, and there is no deed. There is only doing.” The spiritual teacher Francis Lucille has a refreshing take on this common saying.

He suggests that it would be better to begin by setting aside this utterance in order to set one’s sights on discovering that what one ultimately is is the Source. For if one begins with “I am not the doer,” then one could swiftly fall prey to the materialist paradigm. One could believe that one is a material entity subject to some materialist form of determinism, the upshot of which would be that this view would do nothing to dispel the palpable fear of death. On this materialist view, when the material entity I mistakenly call I perishes, so, I believe and feel, do I.

For this reason, Lucille starts with the converse:

Therefore, “I am not the doer” is not the ultimate understanding, because it does not imply that consciousness [the ultimate nature of reality–AT] is impersonal [i.e., not identical with the human person, i.e., with the mind-body composite–AT]. Ramana Maharshi discovered that there is no death when his body died at the age of sixteen. He discovered that this “I am-ness” is eternal. Of course the corollary of this is, “I am not this little doer.” Therefore, if it [that is, this common saying–AT] is understood as a corollary of a bigger experience, of the experience of silence, of presence, of eternity, it is all right. (The Perfume of Silence, p. 141)

Notice the order of Lucille’s higher reasoning. First, discover who you really are. Next, see that the corollary of this understanding is that “I am not the doer.” When the latter comes, it comes out of peace, not out of resignation or fear. Accordingly, the corollary is able to find a more secure place in one’s clear vision of the cosmos. As a result of this nondual understanding, the existential concerns surrounding the desire for free will and the fear of death fall away together.

The I-thought Takes One Home

When asked by a student whether the teacher Francis Lucille can “say something about using the thought ‘I’ or ‘I am’ as a way of returning to one’s true nature,” Lucille replies:

As we take the I-thought, we take it with the intention of understanding, of experiencing the reality that it refers to. We take this I-thought and we allow it to guide us to the source, and then we abide in this source for a few moments. To begin with, the habit of agitation in the mind or in the body will take us away. At that moment, we can again gently take this I-thought, always in a living way, with a desire to experience its referent, our presence.

‘I’ is the highest mantra. In using it in this way, we avoid boring repetitions. It always remains alive, always directed towards its meaning. Just try it and be very determined, courageous, patient, and stubborn at the same time. Make sure that the juice, the perfume, is always flowing. Make sure that you are not simply singing the song without understanding the meaning.

We don’t have to repeat the thought ‘I’ unless we realize we have lost the feeling of presence. We use the thought ‘I’ as a reminder, as a line that takes us back to safety, whenever we discover we are lost. In this way we also avoid monotonous repetition. When we are abiding in presence, it is unnecessary to say ‘I.’ The ‘I’ mantra is only used in the presence of dryness, doubt, or lack.

This ‘I’ mantra is also the shortest form of highest reasoning, the shortest thought that takes us back to understanding, to intelligence (The Perfume of Silence, pp. 127-8).

Here, we find, very succinctly spoken of, one of the simplest, directest, and most powerful forms of meditation. Of course, in order to earnestly meditate in this fashion, one must already have learned to still the senses and to quiet the mind, and one must already have had a taste of Reality. (See, again, The Upanishads.) Only then will the mystery of “I” resound in all its fullness.

Why is “I” mysterious? Because the finite mind says “I” throughout the course of any day; however, it has no idea what it is talking about nor does it have a clue when it comes to what it’s actually referring. Only once I realize that seem not to know what I mean when I say “I” can I, who seems not know myself but in the heart actually cannot but know myself, appear to step onto the spiritual path and therefore seem to seek to return to what one already is. At which point, the meditation above can bring one knowingly to know oneself as I.

Sit down, close your eyes, and say “I” or ask “I?” Then see where the mind goes and see also where it cannot go. Abide in Presence and should condensations appear (thoughts, feelings, sensations) as forms of resistance, just ask, “To what does ‘I’ refer?”

This meditation goes deeper and deeper. When it does, the ego’s resistances (the ego is resistance) will appear as ways of turning away from the actuality of I. Yet patience and the love of truth return one to Consciousness, to Self-abidance.

True Meditation Is Not Secular In Nature

When asked whether there are any prerequisites to meditation, the Advaita Vedanta teacher Francis Lucille replies that there are two: “Our intention has to be directed towards the impersonal, the divine” and “our attention has to be free from any object” (The Perfume of Silence, pp. 70-1). A similar answer is provided by The Upanishads where that toward which the aspirant longs is ultimate reality (the first prerequisite), and in order head back to the Source one must be de-fixated from objects: the external world, perceptions, feelings and sensations, and thoughts (the second prerequisite).

While this answer may strike you as obvious, it is anything but. For “[t]he intention to get rid of a problem, to solve a psychological issue, to acquire powers [siddhis–AT], or to become healthy, is not the kind required for meditation. Such an intention inhibits meditation” (p. 70). But then much of what Western practitioners, schooled in secular meditation and in McMindfulness, aspire for today is not meditation, stringently understood.

To be calmer, to be healthier, to feel steadier, to resolve some psychological problem or another, to be more productive due to greater powers of concentration (see Jack Dorsey): no–all these are ways of getting attached to objects, broadly understood. None flow out of the love of truth, and it is the love of truth, of knowing what is ultimately so, of, at the same time, knowing who one really is, that is the essence of meditation. The rest is the maintenance of an illusion.

Therefore, much of what goes by the name of meditation today is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Attempts to simply observe thoughts and feelings are only a start. If we remain there, we remain in “a trance” (Stephen Wolinksy). Instead, the only way to keep our intention to surrender ourselves to the Source is to de-fixate from objects. What carries us upward? None other than falling in love with higher levels of reality, and for that to be so, we must genuinely, and lovingly, consider the possibility that the limits of the body-mind are not the presumed limits of consciousness. Oh, but then who I am is not what I’ve taken myself to be.

Lucille’s remarks, stated so plainly, almost matter of factly, actually shimmer with danger. If we were to let them sink into our hearts, they might just show us all that we’ve gotten wrong so far and how, all our lives, we’ve been holding fast to shadows. The bad news would be that we’d have to give up our sense of being separate selves. The good news would be that we’d also be giving up all the misery pouring down down down on what we thought we were.

The Weirdness Of Nonduality #3: Could Consciousness Be Eternal?

I just published a meditation of sorts on Medium. It begins like so:

Central Question

Through meditation, how can one test whether time is ultimately real?

Path

There are many ways of speaking about the path to enlightenment. In a recent satsang (questions with the teacher), Advaita Vedanta teacher Francis Lucille suggests that

— you can begin by investigating whether consciousness is numerically identical with the body;

— next, you can see whether consciousness depends upon, and is limited by, the body-mind;

— finally, you can investigate whether consciousness is, in fact, unlimited and therefore universal.

I don’t think virtually anyone believes that consciousness is numerically identical with the body, though the modern materialist paradigm does insist that consciousness depends upon, and therefore suffers the limitations of, the body-mind.

Therefore, I can begin with step 2: does consciousness depend upon the body-mind?

The Body-mind

But then it soon becomes clear that the body is an image of the mind. That is, the mind creates a certain “picture” or “map” of the body. In which case, we can actually start our investigation with the mind.

Central Question Reformulated

Are the limits of the mind numerically identical with the presumed limits of consciousness?

You can read the rest of it here.

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com