On the way home from work, at a stop sign, I noticed a pigeon walking circles around an empty bag of potato chips.
Does this matter?
It depends on your existential filter.
A Sufi teacher, Sayad Ali Shah, once said:
“You must become as aware of insignificance as you think you are of significance; do not [just] seek feelings of significance alone.”
Why is that?
Because what doesn’t matter matters too.
That, in my understanding, is the real meaning of logotherapy.
“Tat tvam asi” is an ancient Vedic mantra which means: “You are that” or “That you are.”
What does it mean? It means that Universe (Reality) is not inter-personal but intra-personal.
What does that mean? It means that when you look “outside” you are looking “inside.”
What does that mean? That means that you are seamlessly embedded in a beginning-less, bound-less, cosmic Oneness of all that is.
What does “it” mean to “you”?
Same as ‘”it” means to “me” – “it” means peace… from our dualistic illusion of separateness.
In sum: “I” = “It” = “You” = Oneness (of all that right now is)
Only All That Is requires no quotation marks.
image: “Tat Tvam Asi/I = You” by Pavel Somov (circa 2010)
related: Old Vedic Trick by Pavel Somov
Freud once wrote: “The strength of the [...] wishes can [...] be detected behind the prohibition behind them.”
I think this line is essential to understanding the struggle of compulsion.
Abstinence feeds (uncontrolled) desire whereas moderation extinguishes it (through controlled satisfaction).
A caveat (to preempt misunderstanding): socially unacceptable, zero-sum desires and wishes (e.g. to harm another person) must be suppressed for the social contract to work; suppressing the rest of the desire only feeds it.
This is no axiom about human behavior but merely a point to consider and possibly learn from.
Ego is not an anatomical structure. It’s not something that you will see on an X-ray. Ego is an informational structure. That’s what the term ego actually means: it is a Latinized translation of “das Ich,” which is German for “the I.” “The I” is “the information” that you have about you.
The ego-based view of the self is as unstable as a table on three legs. There are three issues with ego we need to examine, and they all start with the letter I. “The I” (ego) balances on identification with impermanent information. Let’s take a closer look.
Ego is Information
Ego is a collection of self-descriptions, just a bunch of words written down on the mirror of your consciousness. Let’s say I point at the moon with my index finger. Is my finger the moon that I am pointing at? Of course not. Now ponder this: are you the information that you have about you or are you that which this information is about? Are you a self-description or that which you are describing?
Ego is Identification (with the External)
Identification is a process of pointing at something external, at something outside of you, and equating yourself with that. We’ve already touched on that earlier in the chapter. Identifying yourself with what you are not is absurd. Identifying yourself with something that you are not is like pointing one finger at yourself and the other finger at something else and then claiming that you are pointing at the same thing. The idea that you = this or that you = that is like shooting two arrows in two opposite directions and claiming that they are going to hit the same target.
Ego is Impermanence (of Form)
Self-esteem, self-worth, self-view are various ego forms, various forms of information that we have about ourselves. Ego is information about our form, not about our essence. Forms change. “How” you are at any given point isn’t fixed—it’s in constant flux. When we identify with how we are, we are identifying with the fleeting, with the impermanent, with the transient. States of mind, …
Mori Ogai once wrote:
“Neither fearing nor yearning for death, I walk down the descending slope of life.”
Sounds like surrender?
Acceptance is power.
Psychologically speaking, koans are a unique way to inoculate a human mind to the anxiety of uncertainty. When we encounter uncertainty, we are stumped. Uncertainty frustrates us with its enigmatic nonsense. Koans, in their unanswerable quality, effectively simulate such moments of uncertainty.
Author Hee-Jin Kim explains: the koans are “realized, not solved” (1975, 101). Admittedly, this explanation is a bit of a puzzle itself. But here’s how I make sense of it. A koan, once again, is an unanswerable puzzle. If we take it on, we begin banging our dualistic head against the nondual wall of the unknown . At some point, we realize that there is no solution, and we settle into a don’t-know mind.
This realization, of course, comes up pretty early in the koan work. And it serves as the true beginning, not the end of the process. Knowing in advance that you are working with an unanswerable question, you accept your limitations. No longer trying to know the unknowable, you calmly remain with the question in a state of not knowing. Knowingly, you keep chasing the tail of not knowing in a process that, I believe, very much parallels the day-to-day mystery of life.
Thus, the potential therapeutic value of koan work as a kind of one-question-therapy that can help soothe the perfectionistic thirst for answers.
Here are a few of the koans [from the Present Perfect book] that I developed to challenge perfectionistic thinking for my clients and my readers:
What color is approval?
What is your mind full of when you are a success?
What is your mind full of when you are a failure?
How much would you pay for a pound of certainty?
How do you add to what already is?
How perfect are you when you sleep?
When you think “I am not good enough,” who thinks that? (and when you think “I think that,” who thinks that?)
Here’s some Buddhist guidance on answering questions of this kind:
“There are [...] four ways of answering questions. Which four? There are questions that should be answered categorically [straightforwardly yes, no, this, that]. There are questions that …
We love to love.
Love is auto-telic* (self-reinforcing).
When we hate, we hate the fact that we hate.
We hate to hate.
Hate is auto-exaleiphic** (self-limiting).
Notice this distinction in yourself.***
* Auto-Telic/autotelic: auto is Greek for “self” and “telos” is Greek for “goal” = self-reinforcing, self-driven, a goal in and of itself
** Auto-Exaleiphic/autoexaleiphic: auto is Greek for “self” and “exaleipho” is Greek for “wipe out, obliterate” = self-limiting (a term that the author of this blogpost coined for the purpose of this blogpost only).
***A caveat: initially we might not mind that we hate, we might hate righteously, with or without awareness, this is a period/phase of anger, when hate is really just fear; but eventually as the limbic/affective side of hate/fear fades away, hate becomes a kind of cognitive residue. Hate turns on itself. In sum, inevitably, hate spoils itself.
Dennis Skley via Compfight
The solution to bad self-esteem is unconditional self-acceptance.
All esteem (good or bad) is a form of situation-specific self-estimation, that is, a form of conditional self-judgment, and, as such, is psychologically self-limiting.
Self-acceptance, on the other hand, is a platform of unconditional wellbeing.
[I have proposed this idea in my 2010 book Present Perfect (Somov, New Harbinger Publications) in Chapter 9 "From Self-Esteem to Self-Acceptance." In my clinical experience, this particular shift (from self-esteem to self-acceptance) has proven to be one of the most powerful ways of breaking through the perfectionistic impasse.]
Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins was the second book that I read in English (the first one was The Future Shock by Alvin Toffler). Robbins’ style helped me fall in love with English. It was a long time ago (late 80s). Now the guy has come out (reluctantly) with a memoir, Tibetan Peach Pie. Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview.
Tom Robbins: “What I’ve learned along the way is that existence is cosmic theatre, but paradoxically, we should play our roles to the absolute best of our ability while having the wisdom not to take them too seriously.”
RL: “Would you call yourself a cynic?”
TR: “Basically I agree with the existentialists, but the difference between me and, say, Camus and Sartre is that I don’t let it snow on my fiesta.”
Crazy wisdom, originally a Tibetan concept, according to Robbins is “the opposite of conventional wisdom.” Viewed as such, all wisdom is crazy since all wisdom is a non-cliche pattern break. Crazy wisdom is half-asleep enlightenment in frog pajamas…
Reference: interview with Tom Robbins by Rob Liguori, The New York Times Magazine, May 2014
When you eat a fruit, such as an apple, you are stepping—wittingly or unwittingly—into someone else’s reproductive cycle, becoming involved in a kind of ménage à trois with a tree and Earth in a life-giving project.
In fact, when you eat a piece of fruit, you are literally eating a plant-based sex organ. A fruit, botanically speaking, is a sexually active part of a flowering plant. When you consume an apple, you eat its fleshy, sweet, pulpy ovary tissue, and then you participate in the process of seed dispersal by throwing out the apple core.
Naturally, if you shred the apple core and its seeds in a kitchen garbage disposal, there isn’t any life-giving going on. But if you eat an apple and toss the core into your backyard, you might just be participating in the birth of a future apple tree. Ponder this apple bite from the tree of knowledge before your next meal.
Adapted from Reinventing the Meal (Somov, 2013)
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