When I was a child, I had a recurring nightmare.
Some terrifying force came to get me by moving further away. It attacked me somehow by moving away, which makes no sense, I know.
And there was no “something,” that was what was so disturbing. It couldn’t be known, which made it even scarier.
Nothing came to get me, but that nothing had enough substance to terrify me, and it did so by making me feel horribly alone in an increasingly vast space.
Imagine my surprise, over forty years later when I began nondual spiritual practice in earnest, to find that terror on my meditation cushion. What a profound example of how we cannot escape our fears.
This fear is in all of us, whether we realize it or not, and it unconsciously drives our actions until we process it. We all suffer with it, but don’t notice it.
It is the fear of the cessation of consciousness, which is the origin of the fear of death. It’s part of the root of the conditioning we have around death as a society, which includes the idea that birth ought to be celebrated and death only mourned, that life must be fought for whatever the cost, and the longer you live the better.
All of this and more is driven by the unhealed fear of not-being, and like a fly in a jar it makes us crazy. The fear of not-being makes us grip too tightly to our opinions, our outcomes, our comforts, our self-image, and more.
It causes us to distort reality on deep levels, closing off our access to the intelligence of Life and our intuition. It makes us suffer terribly. It makes us strangers to our true selves.
At an early age we form a concrete sense of self in order to survive, which is a necessary phase of development, as any psychologist can tell you. What they don’t say, however, is that it’s just as necessary to one day lose that false sense of self.
When you investigate that noun-ified sense of self, the attention reveals a deeper truth, bit by bit. The truth is that who you are is not a noun, but a verb. But it’s not enough to merely understand this.
The experience of the loss of that illusory, noun-ified self surfaces the terror of not-being. It makes you feel like you’re dying, even though you’re being born to what you actually are.
There is a tipping point on the journey, where the process takes over, like a roller coaster’s first big drop, and there is no turning back. When you process enough of the fear, and experience what you actually are, this is called enlightenment.
Enlightenment is very real and very attainable. There’s nothing woo-woo about it. One of the most tragically held beliefs in our world is that it requires decades of practice in a drafty monastery to attain. This isn’t true.
Since I began teaching zen in 2019, I’ve seen two students awaken, and there are more on the way. Like many things, it just takes commitment, practice, and understanding.
The understanding part may seem easy, but it’s not. What most people think about zen, meditation, and enlightenment is riddled with untruths. It’s like it came to us from the East via a children’s game of telephone, whispering messages from ear to ear across thousands of miles.
Funny thing about zen: it was imported into the U.S. by hippies, unintentionally distorting the paradigm in a way that structurally inhibits enlightenment. The hippie paradigm is hedonistic and has a poor work ethic, so it took the feel-good parts of zen and left out the rest. And the lighter parts they kept they made even easier. They retained the warm-up and removed the workout.
They took out its teeth. It’s the same thing that happened to Jesus’ original teachings, but rarely appreciated.
There are two main aspects of zen practice: meditation and inquiry. Most have at least heard of meditation, but don’t actually understand or practice correctly. I covered this in Meditation For Awakening.
Most people don’t even know about radical inquiry, the critical other half of zen practice.
Inquiry is a rigorous practice. If meditation is yin, inquiry is yang. Inquiry is a penetrating investigation into the most essential aspects of reality. It confronts the mind’s false constructions to help precipitate a permanent differentiation from the mind commonly known as “enlightenment” which among other things, gives you the ability to perceive what the mind cannot–which turns out to be a lot.
Enlightenment is not a permanent state of bliss, happiness, joy, amazement, or anything else. It’s not a state at all, in fact; it’s the freedom from all states. It is liberation from the confines of concepts, the trap of content-based happiness seeking, and the claustrophobia of the self-image. It’s nothing you can imagine, because your imagination is the domain of the mind.
The mind processes reality by taking pictures of it and then looking at those pictures, which is why the increasing number of people who actually do this is so saddening. It takes you out of direct experience. People think they capture the moment, but they depart reality.
When you realize you are not your mind through the process of healing the fear of not-being, you experience directly what you’ve only ever been taking pictures of.
You literally don’t realize how much you suffer from this until it’s gone. It’s like a 100 pound weight you’ve carried your entire life but not known it. It doesn’t solve all of your problems, but it does give you a new set of better ones. Moreover, it gives you a realer “you” to go about solving them in ways that actually work.
This course is an experiential, practice-oriented workshop where I show you how to steer yourself into productive cognitive dissonance so you can better experience what you actually are.
Eventually, this life or the next, you will have to deal with this. The only choice you have is when, and maybe not even that. It is, like in my dream, coming to free you, but to the concretized self, it feels like an attack.
Inquiry For Awakening broadcasts live on Zoom, Thursdays at 11:15 am PT, beginning March 30, 2023 for 11 sessions, ending June 8th. When you join the live course you become part of the workshop and get individual attention. All recordings will be posted by the morning following the session, becoming an online course.
All dojo members have access to this course. You can purchase this course alone or become a member and get access to all (over twenty) of my courses.