Must We Kiss The Toad?

Is it true, as Advaita Vedanta teacher Rupert Spira suggests in one of his yoga meditations, that thought arises as an avoidance of the seemingly unbearable now?

I don’t know. Let’s see.


See whether there is some physical sensation labeled “pain” or whether there is a feeling labeled “suffering.” In the first case, there may be an itch or there may be the experience of a stiff back. In the second case, there may be the experience of sorrow, grief, anger, etc.

Once you attend to the particular sensation or the particular feeling, what do you notice?  According to Spira, the mind (we might say) takes flight: it goes in search, via activity undertaken in time, for what will alleviate the seemingly unbearable or intolerable sensation or feeling.

Yet if he is also right, no thought on its own can actually alleviate the sensation or the feeling. But is he right? For don’t we think that we can make sense of (say) grief and, in doing so, we can come to rest, to peace?

Perhaps. Yet perhaps–take anger–we had better distinguish between the felt understanding of anger and a mere conceptual understanding of anger. I’ve seen that the former can dissolve anger, yet that discussion goes beyond the scope of this post. The latter, surely, will not do. The energy behind the anger may temporarily subside the more you immerse yourself in other activities (such as thought), yet does the impulse or tendency to get angry when X or Y is the case go away? See for yourself that it does not.

Therefore, consider what he suggests. If most forms of thought anyway are avoidances of (for example) the unbearable dullness of this situation, then what? Are we doomed to suffer? A Tantric Yoga approach of the kind he recommends involves asking,

  • What is this feeling? (Say, anger.)
  • Can I get closer and closer to this feeling, or can this feeling be brought closer and closer to me? (Feel, sense, and/or imagine coming closer to anger.)
  • If I can still give it a name or if I can still label it, then let me draw it closer still. (Come to see that there’s no difference between you and anger.)
  • Once it loses its separateness, can I caress it, kiss it–in short, love it? (See whether you can. See whether you can surrender yourself to this de-labeled energy.)

Then see that there is just rest after this. Just dwelling. Just abiding as what one truly is.

If the mind, accustomed to being unquiet and therefore agitated, takes flight after another feeling or sensation seems to it unbearable, then one can ask about this feeling, draw it closer, de-label it, and love it. Then rest.

Spira calls this yoga meditation “Kissing the Toad.”

Plotinus’s Living Cosmos

Cosmos as Living Organism

For Plotinus as for other ancients, the cosmos was a living organism.

The One, or the nameless absolute, is reality when it is laid bare of every form. It is like the void that precedes all forms, all acts of creation. Yet the One is not nothing nor is it nothingness. It is life itself accessible, Plotinus averred, only through mystical vision.

The One’s first emanation, Nous, is what provides the cosmic blueprint for the many (see here David Fideler, Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence). Next, the World Soul is an emanation of Nous. The World Soul is the site of eros; it is the “soul of the cosmos.” Finally, we discover the Sense World, or Nature, where space and time exist.

What’s important to underscore, here, is that this spiritual map is not meant to represent individual, disparate parts. Rather, the One is reality, and the One expresses itself in and through the creation of forms of the kind conceptualized as Nous, the World Soul, and the Sense World. And yet, the latter are, in truth, nothing other than the One; nothing other than that which participates in and cannot be understood as even remotely apart from the One.

Plotinus & Infinity

Credit: Neoplatonism and Infinity


The first thing that is relevant to note is that the cosmos is One-All: it is unified, ordered, and total. In this sense, it differs considerably from the disenchanted world that you and I inhabit since, for us, it appears in our phenomenal experience as if the universe we vaguely know about through modern physics bears no genuine or intimate relation to homo sapiens. The universe is “out there” and we are irrevocably “in here.”

Secondly, the Plotinian cosmos is made of the same stuff that human beings are made of. It has Intelligence and we have intelligence. It has eros and we have eros. It has Sense Perceptions and we have sense perceptions. From a mystical perspective, then, it stands to see that we can transcend the limitations of being human should we denude ourselves of our own limited understandings: that we just are sense beings, that we just are intellectual beings, and so on. Thus, we can see how the upward assent in Plotinus is a path of transcendence. Like the Upanishads, therefore, Plotinus’s Enneads are really just pointers to our True Home.

Thirdly, it becomes clear through actual mystical experience that Infinity and Eternity just mean “outside of space” and “outside of time” but not “outside of (call it) ‘non-egoic experience.'” To be sure, about union with the One, one can say absolutely nothing since there is, when one is One, no separate witness or awarer of the nameless One-All.


It has been noted that Plotinus studied Indian philosophy. How wonderful to see how he synthesized Platonism with Indian philosophy! You can really see it here, and if you have a meditative practice, then you can take the above as nothing but one spiritual map (among others), this one intended for the Plotinian student eager to step foot on the path of introspection.

The Logic Of The Heart: My Discussion With Johannes Niederhauser

In my second discussion with Johannes Achill Niederhauser, I discuss the role of the “logic of the heart” in the epoch of Total Work. It is an epoch scarcely knows otium, or genuine leisure. Among other things, we ask, “What could be a way out of this situation?”

During our discussion, I believe I mentioned my love for Johnny Cash. It turns out that Johannes is also a singer/songwriter, who has been influenced by Cash. Listen to his music (under the stage name John Vouloir) on YouTube:

Also on Spotify:

Modern Culture’s Conspiracy

Almost everything in modern culture conspires to make me believe what I, metaphysically speaking, am not and cannot be.

I am not the solid, objectified body, the physical body that I mistakenly take myself to be.

When a cut runs across the arm, I mistakenly believe and feel that it is I that is injured. But that is incorrect. The skin of the body is injured. I abide as I am.

More corrosive in this respect is modern Western medicine. The “mechanical philosophy” brought in train by the new science of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries created the new understanding of the body as matter and motion. Therefore, even or especially today when one goes to see a Western doctor, one may feel that it is not the body that is undergoing X or Y. No, it is I that is undergoing X or Y.

Neuroticism is a natural attitude of someone who takes oneself to be a body. For the body  is born, faces threats to its integrity each day, and undoubtedly shall perish. The body is finite and, to a degree, fragile. If I am the body, then my destiny is that of the body’s. I am finite and fragile. Ergo, mustn’t I be vigilant? Mustn’t I fear injury and death? Mustn’t I be cautious in all things? Mustn’t I keep looking after my health? Mustn’t I have all my health insurance current?

Oh, no no no. Consider right now the possibility that am not the body but rather that the body is a vehicle, function, or instrument for me. If I am not the body nor am I in the body, then consider the further possibility that the body is in me.

Why does any of this matter? Because fear of death, which cannot be denied by the I-am-the-body thought and feeling, can only dissolve once it’s understood that I cannot be what the modern world presumes I must be. If I come to this felt understanding, then in time I cease to act out its dramas and my miseries.

The Interminability Of Gain And Loss

Consider that our phenomenal experience is always changing and therefore that anicca–meaning impermanence–may be true. Then we can come to some ordinary ways in which impermanence shows up for us.

In Buddhism, these are called the Eight Vicissitudes, and they are:

  • Pleasure and pain
  • Gain and loss
  • Praise and blame
  • Fame and disrepute

We might think that these are obvious, but your actual beliefs, desires, and behaviors belie this presumed understanding.

Take gain and loss. We might think:

  • “Once I get over this hurdle, then everything will be easy.”
  • “I just need my big break.”
  • “This startup will scale in no time.”
  • “Getting married shall make me abidingly happy.”

Or whatever. We set markers, milestones, or signs of success on the assumption that the latter will somehow put us past the period of being subject to experiencing a succession of gains and losses (or a streak of losses). But is that really so? Consult your own actual experience. Did everything become easy once you leaped over the last hurdle? Did your life forever change after you got the big break? Did scaling the startup transform your entire life? Did getting married, on its own, make you abidingly happy?

Of course not. Because the law of anicca holds even, or especially, in the face of your desires.

You might think that the only problem with this picture is the threat of loss, but that’s not true from a Buddhist point of view. It’s instead the attachment as much to gain as it is the aversion to loss–that is, it is the entire dynamic–that is causing suffering.

We can turn to Advaita now. If phenomenal experience is subject to impermanence and if certain common ways of getting caught are spelled out nicely in the Eight Vicissitudes, then it’s worth asking: who is the one contemplating the painful and the pleasant experiences, the experiences of gain as well as those of loss? Who is that one seeing it all, quietly observing without judgment and in abiding peace?