No Choice But to Misbehave

In my now decades-long exploration of what it means to be human, some things now seem quite clear to me, while others continue to puzzle me. Some of the things that are clear, though I once thought them preposterous:

  1. After decades of arguing that we absolutely have free will, I have to confess it now seems almost incontrovertible, based on discoveries in various sciences,  that we do not.
  2. Likewise, I am now persuaded by other scientific discoveries and by the arguments of radical non-duality that there is no real ‘self’ — the illusion of the self is a recursive mental construct that arose in complex brains modelling their perceptions (as large brains are inclined to do) and needing something to put in the centre of the model.
  3. The issues of determinism and compatibilism now seem to me irrelevant and moot, if one buys (as I am inclined to do) the radical non-duality position that there is no causality. There may be causal models (eg laws of physics, Gaia theory, theory of evolution) that seem to describe or represent what we perceive to be real, but they are only interesting models. The map is not the territory. Once it is acknowledged that time and space and separateness and the self are just mental constructs, there is no ‘room’ for causality, so nothing can be caused or ‘determined’ by anything else. The models that ‘predict’ or ‘determine’ relationships are just more mental constructs, the apparent brain’s furious patterning to try to make sense of its perceptions. All is just appearance, out of nothing, for no reason or purpose. Nothing nihilistic in that — far from being deterministic, it is absolutely free to appear as anything.
  4. One outrageous corollary of the above is that ‘we’ actually don’t do or affect anything — the illusory self merely rationalizes what apparently happens in the apparent body, after the fact, as being ‘its’ volition.
  5. A second equally outrageous corollary is that everything (ie nothing appearing as everything, beyond space and time) is perfect just as it is. It cannot be otherwise. It is ‘already’ everything.
  6. A third outrageous corollary is that no one is to blame for anything, and no one deserves ‘credit’ for anything. There is, after all, no one, and no volition, no agency, so no responsibility for what, to the illusory ‘us’, seems real and controllable but is merely an appearance, eternal but insubstantial, weightless.

The things that continue to puzzle me fall out of the above — no manner of sense-making seems able to even come up with a credible model or theory about them, and they don’t seem to ‘fit’ with the assertions above:

  1. If only humans are burdened with the illusion of being separate selves, how do we account for behaviours of other animals that appear selfish, self-aware, self-ashamed, and self-conscious?
  2. If our ‘selves’ are purely illusory, how can they seemingly cause selfish and neurotic behaviours in the bodies/characters they presume to inhabit?

Some interesting possible answers to these questions emerged from a book published four years ago ostensibly about the training of dogs and other non-human creatures, Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s The Secret History of Kindness. Melissa previously wrote (along with books about women’s innate love of horses, and motorcycles) the exquisite The Place You Love Is Gone, a searing treatise about how “we have become a generation weighed down by a sadness we don’t know we feel”.

In The Secret History of Kindness, this brilliant woman once again pursues and grasps truths far profounder than the titular subject of her book, and disarms you with them. Her latest book is actually (or additionally) a rigorous revisiting of behaviourism, the radical theory that in the 1960s so overwhelmed the social sciences that whole branches of universities were bent, perversely, to the advancement of an utter distortion of what BF Skinner was actually saying, and thence to such a violent reaction to the (misunderstood and misrepresented) theory, especially by Noam Chomsky and his followers but also by libertarians, compatibilists and conservatives, that the resulting hatchet job and character assassination essentially ruined Skinner’s life and career and rendered all of his work anathema for decades. I remember a group of us in university playfully “shunning” people who dared to want to even talk about his “reductionist Pavlovian theory”.

The fundamental principles of behaviourism, as BF Skinner explained them, and as they apply to all creatures including humans, are:

  1. All behaviour is a conditioned response, based on previous experience, in the attempt to maximize valued (to that individual) resources and minimize threats to those resources. Those valued resources include material ‘goods’, intangibles like freedom, safety and love, and also relationships and places that in past experience have provided these valued resources or reduced threats to them. There is no cognitive decision-making involved in these conditioned responses, and thinking is merely an attempt to rationalize or make sense of the response — a “retroactive narrative”. Melissa writes: “The same law of behavior affects all creatures’ actions: we do something, it produces pleasure or it produces pain or it produces nothing, and the result determines whether we continue doing it, stop doing it, or do it differently, and these are the only options. The bedrock rules of behavior function to our preconceptions much like the swallowing of that yellow and red capsule.”
  2. “Consciousness is a social construct”, Melissa writes, describing her understanding of BF Skinner’s discoveries. “It never would have taken conceptual shape if people hadn’t talked about it with one another. It did not cause us to reflect on it. Rather, our reflection on it caused it to appear to exist. The absorbing search for the “self” is really a search for a Creator. Which makes cognitive psychology the Creationism of science. Words bound to anger many, even if true.” Especially if true.
  3.  We can be conditioned by positive or negative reinforcement, or by (two forms of) punishment. Human culture has evolved to be almost entirely coercive (ie built on negative reinforcement and punishment as motivators for behaviour) — there is a well-entrenched belief that negative reinforcement and punishment are the only effective conditioners of behaviour (though the opposite is actually true, as Skinner and his successors have exhaustively demonstrated). Hence government and hierarchy are “narrowly defined, the use of power to punish”. Likewise our penal systems, our work environments, our educational systems all operate and sustain themselves based on their power to threaten to withhold or remove things that we value if we don’t do what we’re told. Why is this so, and why have humanist efforts to replace our processes and institutions with others that positively reinforce behaviours that are most ‘fit’ for our culture failed so abjectly? The irony is that power and punishment actually provide strong positive reinforcement feedback loops to those who administer it (bosses, corrections officials, armies and their celebrated ‘leaders’, and, yes, dog trainers delighted to see the ‘success’ of choke collars, electric shocks and worse, as they remain ignorant of the astonishingly greater and faster success that properly-learned, properly-timed positive reinforcement would yield. But taking the effort to actually see this opens us up to the enormous shame of having, almost gleefully, unnecessarily imposed suffering and misery through coercive means. Paradoxically our addiction to coercion (negative reinforcement and punishment) is created by the positive reinforcement for the punisher, the one with all the power, that results from its use.

Melissa concludes: “If it’s all about resources, we’re the last to know about it — and Skinner might very well be right, that our behavior is always acted upon by forces outside of ourselves, up to and including the creation of a sense that we are not being acted upon by forces outside of ourselves”.

This theory, which might be possibly the theory most thoroughly corroborated by overwhelming scientific evidence in history, led Skinner to the “certainty” that a better world is possible by awareness of, and use of, solely positive reinforcement, through bottom-up redesign of our entire culture and all its institutions. Walden Two was its envisioning.

More recent research, by scientists such as Robert Sapolsky, has added credence to Skinner’s arguments by explaining the role of dopamine as a driver of human behaviour. There is now compelling evidence that dopamine release, dopamine addiction, and aversion to dopamine suppression, drive almost all behaviours, and that positive reinforcement (and even the anticipation of reward it stirs in us) produces far more dopamine to the reinforced (though not, sadly, to the reinforcer) than coercion (negative reinforcement or punishment). Positive reinforcement, rigorously and skillfully applied (which means the reinforcer must be aware of and set aside their biases and judgements and really work at learning it — no small feat) simply works, brilliantly, in almost every conceivable situation.

Sounds good, if terribly idealistic. But perhaps you caught the fly in the ointment in the above description. It’s the same dilemma, the same problem, that underlies the complete failure of cognitive therapies (beyond a temporary placebo effect) despite our desperate wish to believe they work. Just as we can’t “wilfully” cure our addiction to dopamine and the often-horrific behaviours it leads us to, through mind-over-matter techniques, we can’t create a new positive-reinforcement society from the ground up, because we have no free will to do either. Everything we do is dopamine-driven, based on experiences that have, through positive reinforcement or coercion, dictated our entirely ‘unconscious’ behaviour since we were born. There is no ‘us’ somehow apart from these evolutionarily conditioned animal bodies, to intervene to do things differently.

So those inclined to try positive reinforcement to train their dogs were already inclined to do so when the opportunity arose, based on how they had been conditioned before. Those who still (like the cruel “dog-whisperer” Cesar Millan and his zealots) negatively reinforce and savagely punish their bewildered, ground-down dogs into terrified “obedience”, and who furiously ridicule and refuse to contemplate better methods (what horrific dopamine-suppressing shame such an acknowledgement would produce in them!), have likewise been conditioned to behave as they do. And they will accept that terrible shame only if the dopamine rush from actually trying this preposterous positive reinforcement method exceeds the ghastly dopamine suppression that accompanies their shame. Don’t hold your breath.

Melissa’s book has much more in it than I have tried to superficially cover here, and it’s really worth a read, whether you’re an animal trainer, a child-rearer, or someone trying to understand how our language — what we say — has absolutely nothing to do with our concomitant behaviour, or want to learn about the horrible problems that arise with even slightly “delayed or premature reinforcement”, or why pets value us precisely for what they represent to us in valued resources:  “This is the basis of my dogs’ storied love for me, their one and only. Only I know the real truth. It is not this Melissa they love. If they bark menacingly at someone who approaches, they are not doing it to ensure my safety. There is but one thought in their minds: do not harm this person, for she is my most valuable possession. My large Swiss army knife, the one with all the extra attachments.”

The upshot of Melissa’s message is, of course, what I have been quietly and reluctantly saying for years: It’s hopeless. We cannot change who we are or what we do — our trajectory has been locked in from birth (and even before: our genetics). We can no sooner kidnap all the world’s children, brought up mostly coercively with lives often filled with trauma, abuse and endless instilled fear, and ‘reprogram’ them in coercion-free environments using positive reinforcement, than we can intervene with them before they learn the lie of the free-willed self, personal responsibility and ‘self-consciousness’, and spare them that ghastly, fatal affliction.

We have, all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, thanks to the toxic combination of brains too big for our own good and a ruthless and self-addicting body chemistry, no choice but to misbehave.

The bad news is hence that, as EO Wilson said “Darwin’s dice have rolled badly for Earth”, and that, as Ronald Wright said of how humans may be perceived after we’re gone: “Letting apes run the laboratory was fun for a while but in the end a bad idea”.

The good news is that, and I have to believe this (either because of my conditioning or because the alternative is too awful to bear): Nothing is really happening. It’s all an appearance, for no purpose and with no meaning and no effect. Our sense of everything being anything other than perfect, timeless, already everything the only way it can appear, is horribly misguided, a cosmic psychosomatic misunderstanding, a cruel and tragic and unintended joke. We are like dogs in the stands of a theatre, barking anxiously at the seemingly egregious and inexplicable unkindnesses being acted out on stage. We have no choice but to misbehave because there is no us, no choice, and no misbehaviour.

Not helpful, I know, but there it is.

PS: It’s interesting to think about all this in the context of the seemingly endless grey cloud of anxiety over COVID-19 that has enveloped the world these past few months. Given our dopamine-conditioned passion for what we think of as ‘freedom’, was there any real doubt that we would refuse to surrender it (to untrusted, erratic, coercive governments) when told it was for the greater good? A recent study reveals (no surprise) that long-term exposure to stress and adversity alters our dopamine chemistry and lowers our resilience in the face of short-term stressors (like the virus and its uncertain trajectory). The constant bad news of the anxiety scroll (horizontal on TVs, vertical on laptops) cannot help but shrink our dopamine receptors like cold water on genitals. Melissa writes:

A rat who is working for food suddenly hears a warning signal followed by a shock he can do nothing to avoid. After it stops, he goes back to working for food. But soon, even the sound of the signal is enough to stop him from seeking reward. Even though he could continue painlessly during this interval to obtain food, he seems crushed by the anticipation and now “crouches tensely, trembling, defecating, urinating, hair standing on end.” The animal is, in scientific terms, scared shitless. He can do nothing to control his fate, and that is untenable.

Sound familiar?

photo above is of Chelsea, who patiently taught me in her all-too-short time with me far more than I could ever learn online or from books

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Radical Non-Duality | 6 Comments

Links of the Quarter: March 2020

The mass of mankind is ruled not by its own intermittent moral sensations, still less by self-interest, but by the needs of the moment. It seems fated to wreck the balance of life on Earth — and thereby to be the agent of its own destruction. What could be more hopeless than placing the Earth in the charge of this exceptionally destructive species?

Homo rapiens is only one of very many species, and not obviously worth preserving. Later or sooner, it will become extinct. When it is gone Earth will recover. Long after the last traces of the human animal have disappeared, many of the species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with others that have yet to spring up. The Earth will forget mankind. The play of life will go on.

— John Gray


How long we’ve been around: From paleobiologist David Hickey on the super-volcanoes that almost rendered the human species extinct practically before it got started: “An eruption occurred 39k years ago where Naples, Italy is now located. It probably had its greatest effect in Europe. It apparently resulted in regional extinctions of both the resident human culture and that of neanderthals. Those replacing them were from a different culture. Earlier, about 70k years ago the Mt. Toba, Sumatra eruption was even larger and apparently had world-wide consequences. Geneticists estimate human population [in the following millennium was reduced to between 2,000 and 20,000].” There have likely been tens of thousands of such cataclysmic events in the timeline depicted above, and our species barely survived the only two it’s faced. Our current collapse, the sixth great extinction, is almost certain to dwarf the super-volcanoes in its ecological impact.

Coming unglued: Brutus describes the collective madness that seems to be unfolding worldwide as hope and illusion yield to despair, fear and anger:

That’s where we are now, retreating into magical thinking we supposedly left behind in the wake of the Enlightenment. Call it the Counter-Enlightenment (or Un-Enlightenment). We’re on this track for a variety of reasons but primarily because the bounties of the closing Age of Abundance have been gobbled up by a few plutocrats. Most of the rest of population, formerly living frankly precarious lives (thus, the precariat), have now become decidedly unnecessary (thus, the unnecessariat). The masses know that they have been poorly served by their own social, political, and cultural institutions, which have been systematically hijacked and diverted into service of the obscenely, absurdly rich.

Dark knowledge: Catherine Ingram has written a long essay on collapse and our emotional reaction to it, and where we go from here. Her list of suggested responses at the end of the essay is quite similar to my Being Adaptable reminder list. Excerpt:

For decades, I had sensed that things were dramatically worsening, the rate of destruction increasing.  We are not facing merely a Black Swan event. We are facing a sea of black swans. As a journalist from 1982 to 1994, I specialized in social and environmental issues. I had written about global warming, the phrase we used in those days, numerous times in the 1980s, but because it seemed a far-off threat, we could intellectually discuss it without fear of it affecting our own lives in terribly significant ways. As time marched on, I began to awaken to how fast the climate was changing and how negative its impacts.  It became a strange relief to read and listen to the truth of the situation from people who were studying the hard data as it affirmed my instincts and threw a light on what had been shadowy forebodings, dancing like ghosts in my awareness.  It is an ongoing study that has taken me through a powerful internal process–emotional and cathartic–one that I felt might be helpful to share with those who have woken to this dark knowledge or are in the process of waking to it, just as I, over time, found comfort in the reflections of the small yet increasing number of comrades with whom I share this journey.

Because the subject is so tragic and because it can scare or anger people, this is not an essay I ever wanted to write; it is one I would have wanted to read along the way.  But the words on these pages are meant only for those who are ready for them. I offer no hope or solutions for our continuation, only companionship and empathy to you, the reader, who either knows or suspects that there is no hope or solution to be found. What we now need to find is courage.


cartoon by Michael Leunig; thanks to NTHELove for the link

What’s the best milk?: There’s no perfect answer for your health and for the environment, but, bottom line, anything is better than dairy milk, and organic soy and oat milk have a slight edge over the alternatives.

How many stars are there?: Uncountable. Unknowable. Unimaginable.

Eating better: The USDA in the US is again reviewing its dietary guidance this year, with input from ‘interested parties’. Like in Canada, that process is overwhelmingly dominated by corporate interests in Big Ag, which depends on misinformation on the direct connection between the industrial diet and most of the diseases that sicken and kill Americans. Public health is consistently sacrificed. It was different last time around in Canada, though the Conservatives have vowed to scrap the new health guidelines and invite industrial agriculture to rewrite them to their specifications again. The current US guidelines are industry gold: they encourage consumption of dairy, meat, poultry, seafood and eggs — a payoff to all the Big Ag sectors. Their sample ideal meal includes cow’s milk, and their sample vegetarian ideal diet includes significant amounts of dairy and eggs. They also encourage exercise, but only up to the pathetic 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines (10 minutes a day of vigorous exercise or 20 minutes a day walking), ostensibly because they patronizingly think Americans will balk if asked to do any effective level of exercise. But there are competent, unbiased doctors and dieticians out there trying to improve the recommendations, such as Michael Greger and Brooke Goldner.


Thomas Piketty on the demise of capitalism: Unregulated capitalism inevitably creates massive inequality of wealth and power, which leads to unsustainable and dysfunctional behaviours — in politics, in business, in (de-)regulation, and in economic and fiscal policy-making. We need to let this dangerous religion go.

Ezra Klein on the polarization of politics: It’s not that we’re getting more polarized. It’s that the parties, and the media, now oversimplify the choices we face in ways that reflect and reinforce what we say we think we want to hear, and push all the subtleties of every issue under the rug.

Oily economics: The application for the vast Tech Frontier Alberta tar sands bitumen sludge mine has been withdrawn, and while the official market-sensitive reason is politics (progressive Canadians are going to make it increasingly difficult for petrochemical corporations to destroy the planet), the real reason is a different sort of politics (all Canadians are beginning to catch on to the colossally expensive, massive government subsidies needed to enable ruinous petrochemical development to continue). The sludge only nets about $15/bbl in markets, way below the slumping price for ‘real’ oil, and its production cost is vastly higher than that. But Alberta, and some think Canada, will collapse economically without this ‘economic engine’ (traders in its currency, ludicrously, buy the lie, so the CA$ trades as a petrocurrency). Governments have always been the first to blink, but finally some oil companies are starting to do so too.

The Hatchet Job on Bernie Sanders: The NYT and the rest of the corporate media must be breathing a sigh of relief now that their campaign of lies and ‘guest’ editorials to defeat Bernie Sanders appears to have succeeded, again.


cartoon by Will McPhail in the New Yorker

The story of Abbey Road side 2: A fascinating study of what many think is the finest composition in the history of rock music, and which John Lennon called “junk”.

Talking about trees: The Tyee has an educational and entertaining 5-part interview with renowned tree scientist Diana Beresford-Kroeger.

An animal that doesn’t breathe: Scientists have discovered a distant relative of the jellyfish that has no respiratory system to get oxygen.

A user manual for ‘me’: Cassie Robinson has created a ‘user manual’ explaining her personal operating style, needs, most effective working conditions, and other information to help co-workers ‘get the best’ out of her. It’s a fascinating model, and might work just as well as a self-description to help personal partners get along better too. Kind of related is a ‘relationship smorgasbord’ that invites those in new relationship to explicitly identify what’s ‘included in’ and ‘excluded from’ their relationship, from a menu with different categories for the different aspects of relationship. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the links.


Is the absence of ‘internal monologue’ and a ‘mind’s eye’ analogous to not having a ‘self’?: Many people are shocked to discover that most others often have ‘internal discussions’ in their heads, and can visualize things in their minds — when they themselves have neither capacity. These incapacities don’t seem problematic or even noticeable to the rest of us, but the sudden realization that one has them, and never knew it, can be unnerving. I wonder whether this is analogous to not having a ‘self’ — a sense that one is a real, separate person resident in a body with choice and control over what the person does. I’ve now met dozens of people who have lost their sense of self, and while that loss was definitely noticeable to ‘them’, it apparently had little effect on how others, even family members, perceived them, or how the apparent character ‘left behind’ after the loss continues to function. So perhaps it’s possible that there are millions out there who have never had a sense of self, a sense that they and things around them are real and separate — and that absence has never been missed.


new self-portrait by my friend Ron Woodall

Excerpts and quotes by others from John Green’s podcast Capacity for Wonder and Sunsets, and his novel Turtles All the Way Down:

who are you,little i

(five or six years old)
peering from some high

window;at the gold

of november sunset

(and feeling:that if day
has to become night

this is a beautiful way)      [EE Cummings]

“Color is a fiction of light.” [Tacita Dean]

At some point in life, the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough. [Toni Morrison]

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another,” William James said. I don’t know what superpower William James enjoyed, but I can no more choose my thoughts than choose my name. The way [ I experience thoughts is] not as a choice but as a destiny. Not a catalog of my consciousness, but a refutation of it.

The really scary thing is not turning and turning in the widening gyre; it’s turning and turning in the tightening gyre. It’s getting getting sucked into a whirlpool that shrinks and shrinks and shrinks your world until you’re just spinning without moving, stuck inside a prison cell that is exactly the size of you, until eventually you realize that you’re not actually in a prison cell. You are the prison cell.

From an interview in the WSJ:

Several years ago, while sea kayaking off Washington state, author Darcey Steinke saw what a guide told her was the oldest-known killer whale on Earth, an orca named Granny believed by some experts to be 105 when she died in 2016. Ms. Steinke still thinks about this matriarch and others like her. (Killer whales and humans are the only known species whose females experience menopause.) “These whales lead their pods,” she said. “Nobody offers them hormone therapy. They just lead.”

From Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall:

I’m goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well-hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s gonna fall

From Matilda Joslyn Gage — women’s suffragist, Native American rights activist, abolitionist, free thinker, and author, in 1887: “Oh, rebellious woman, to you the world looks in hope.” (Thanks to Kate Coffey for the link.)

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End, Radical Non-Duality | 1 Comment

Nothing ‘You’ Would Be Interested In

This is a transcription of the introduction to Jim Newman’s ‘radical non-duality’ meeting in Vienna last month. Its message will never really make ‘sense’ to the individual, but I thought it one of the most articulate statements yet about what is and is not real, beyond the illusion of separation and the self. I think, tentatively (if our modern human society doesn’t completely collapse before this is broadly understood) that this explanation of the true nature of reality will ultimately be appreciated, at least by scientists and philosophers, as the most important discovery in human history, as ‘obvious’ in its own way as the discovery, despite all appearances, of heliocentricity. Thanks to Rita Newman for posting it. The photo is from Rita’s Instagram page.

The topic of the meeting is what you would call non-dualism. The difficulty in talking about it or trying to have a meeting around non-dualism is: it’s not a thing, it’s not an object. So we can’t really say what it is, but at the same time there’s nothing that’s not it. So when we’re talking about the absolute, when we are talking about freedom, when we’re talking about the unconditional – which would all be words that would be in some ways synonymous with non-dualism – what’s being suggested is that everything is that.

Whatever’s arising, whatever’s happening — this room, these words, sitting on the bench, looking here, is absolute; rooming, sitting on a bench, looking, hearing.

Absolute isn’t a word to understand. It’s pointing to or suggesting that listening, hearing, rooming isn’t understandable. It’s immediate and all-encompassing. There’s no distance or space or separation to absolute, to what’s happening, to listening, seeing, rooming. There’s no distance there. Whatever’s happening is everything, is absolute. There is never two.

This room is absolute, appearing as a room. This body is absolute appearing as a body. Thoughts and feelings, whatever is arising, is absolute freedom or unknowing appearing, the absolute be-ing.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that there’s an absolute somewhere that sort of generates this appearance and so there’s an absolute over there and this appearance here. Or that there’s an absolute that then hears. It is literally absolute hearing. Now what that means in concrete terms is: the experience that there’s someone hearing, the experience of the room as a knowable object in relation to a central experiencer, is illusory.

To have a meeting about non-dualism or about the absolute is really absurd, and it’s ridiculous because there’d be no reason to do that. What would the reason be to talk about something that first off can’t be talked about and secondly is already everything?

So the meeting is actually a response to that experience which I was suggesting just a minute ago, that the room is knowable. Or that I’m sitting in the room and I have an experience that is separate from everything else that’s going on. That’s what this meeting is in a sense about.

And the meeting has a very simple message: that experience is an illusion. I’m talking about the experience of a contracted energy in the body that ‘knows’ where and what this is, knows what’s happening. The suggestion is that’s illusory. Illusory in the sense that it’s not happening. That experience has certain claims. It says: “I’m real, I’m in the body, what’s happening is real. I know what it is. This is my life.” That arises out of the sense that what’s happening is knowable and real. But THIS is not knowable or real. The experience of ‘knowable’ or ’real’ is illusory. This appearance is never knowable or real. It’s never solid. It’s never a part of a story that’s attached to an individual. That is illusory.

The appearance is not an illusion. These hands aren’t illusory. This body isn’t illusory. The bodies aren’t illusory. The room isn’t illusory. It’s the absolute appearing, looking like, be-ing a body, a room, words. The only absolutely illusory bit, the only bit that’s truly not happening is that this is real and knowable and happening to me. The obvious question is then what is it like, or how do I find THIS that’s not illusory and not knowable?

And there’s no way to find what THIS is or what the suggestion is because there’s no way to separate from it. It’s impossible to find because it’s impossible to lose. There is no separation.

The experience that there’s a sense of loss or something missing or something wrong arises because this appears as something it’s not. It appears as though it’s separate. It appears as the experience, through ‘knowing’, that I have control over my life. Through knowing that I’m able to make decisions and find things that are good or bad for me.

That experience (= the person) is convinced that it’s necessary or responsible for finding the reality of what THIS is. That experience is exactly what hides the reality of what THIS is. That experience says the mystery has to be found somewhere else, and that hides the reality that there is only the mysterious. There is only unknowing.

That experience says “I need to, through my free will and choice, find the meaning and purpose to this apparent happening, this appearance”. That’s an illusion. There is no meaning and purpose, there’s nothing missing. THIS doesn’t need to be completed. It doesn’t need to become whole. It already is, and that includes the experience that it isn’t. That’s wholeness or the absolute appearing as the experience that something needs to happen for this to be okay. This is never okay or not okay. It’s simply the mystery appearing as THIS.

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whispers of what was remembered

 .                                                                                                                                                                          [to frankie]

there is already no one

there is already no seeking

there is already only this

not in time, but not eternal — only always

not in space, but not infinite — only everywhere

there is already only what is appearing, not any thing, not any happening,
.                    just unfolding

it is already over
                          (all my trials…)

there is already no thing, and no thing apart

there is already no life, no birth, no death, no events, no continuity, nothing passing, nothing changing, nothing lost or gained

everything is already always new

there is already no meaning, no purpose, no causality, no agency, no how or why,
no need for any of that

there is already no relationship, no necessity for anything to be other than this

this is already obvious, always here, always just this, open to be seen
.                      (but not by any one)

there is already nothing needed, nothing to be done,
nothing that must or should or might be done


what then is left?

no thing

and everything

a stunning, full-on embrace: this



[painting by BC artist Terry Kolber]

Posted in Creative Works, Radical Non-Duality | Comments Off on whispers of what was remembered

Ask Yourself This

Image by Min An from Pexels, CC0

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called May I Ask a Question?, which summarized my thoughts on what makes a great question, the benefits of such questions, and the types that can achieve each benefit. Here’s a quick re-cap:

The most important qualities of a great question:

  1. elicits honest, thoughtful answers rather than clever, safe, automatic or socially acceptable ones
  2. is not so personal, so complicated, or so distressing to think about that it makes people hesitant to answer, but is personal enough, challenging enough, and provocative enough to elicit sufficient consideration, focus and passion to produce interesting, revelatory and possibly ‘useful’ responses
  3. encourages follow-up questions and deeper explorations into the answers and reasons for them.
  4. achieves one or more of the following benefits:
    1. knowledge, ideas, perspectives, deeper understanding, and/or insights that otherwise wouldn’t have been achieved, that helps move things forward and provides a better understanding of the situation (Why are things this way and not that way; what’s actually happening here and why; who else should we talk with; what’s working and not working?)
    2. appreciation of what we don’t know, need to know, and/or can’t hope to know (What are we trying to achieve, and why, and why do we care; what do we need to find out?)
    3. surfacing novel ideas and alternatives (What if we…; how might we…; and imagine if..?)
    4. helping us learn important and/or interesting things about ourselves and others (How do you feel about…; what do you think/believe about…; what do you wish…; what would you do if…; what if you could…?)

Some specific questions to get to know someone better:

  • If you were getting a portrait taken, and the photographer asked you to hold something in your hand that told viewers something important about you, what would it be?
  • What do you believe that no one else does? (the famous Peter Thiel question)
  • What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  • What do you wish you’d learned earlier in life?
  • In a few sentences, summarize your worldview or philosophy of life. What do you think is life’s meaning or purpose?
  • What would you like to be renowned for?
  • What are you most grateful for?
  • What would you most like to know about your true self, or about your future?
  • What’s on your bucket list, and what’s holding you back?
  • What quality do you wish you had much more of?
  • Who inspires you the most?
  • When in your life were you happiest, and why? What was the biggest turning point, and how did it change you?
  • What do you most like about yourself? What are you a role model of?
  • What important thing have you changed your mind about?

I’ve added a few questions to the list above based on Life Changing Questions, a ‘game’ I had the chance to play recently.

Reviewing the previous post, I got thinking about the kinds of questions we ask ourselves, and the questions we often don’t ask ourselves when perhaps it might be helpful to do so.

Asking yourself a question is a quite different process from asking one of others. There is no onus or pressure to answer the question, so we might easily get distracted. We might not be motivated to put the effort into really thinking about it. It’s harder to be objective when there’s no critical ‘audience’ for our responses.

We can of course ask ourselves the questions in the ‘getting to know someone better’ list above. But what if we made a regular practice of asking ourselves questions every time we had the chance? What questions might help us know ourselves better, or help us become more self-aware? What questions might help us surface our blind spots, or help us bring more focus to things that are important to us, and not just urgent, or help us decide how to spend our spare time, our vacation time, or our disposable income?

Thinking about this can quickly get us into the murky area of free will (ie whether we have any). But let’s suppose we do, or believe we do. What questions might be most useful to ask ourselves as a regular practice?

My sense is that it depends on what you value, your worldview, what motivates you, how well you know yourself and a host of other issues that are different for each of us*. So I wouldn’t presume to produce such a list for others. But in my own case, limiting myself to five questions to contemplate, say, at the start or end of each day, or even more often than that, I might ask myself the following:

  1. How am I feeling right now? And what simple thing might make me feel better? This is about self-awareness, not self-judgement. And the ‘simple thing’ might be a special tea, a bath, making a list, a stretching exercise, or some nagging task that I could just get out of the way right now.
  2. If I had the last 24 hours to re-live, what might I choose to do differently? This is not about self-recrimination or blame, but about learning from experiences and mistakes.
  3. What do I really want? This is Denmark’s Katja Hunter’s “one question”, and I love its spaciousness.
  4. What if I really didn’t want [the answer to #3]? “Who would I be if that thing I’ve always desired was not desired any more?” Contrarian self-help author Mark Manson describes it as shifting your values or identity by ‘trying on’ a new one, and, if it ‘fits’, letting that value- or identity-shift drive changes in what you believe and do. This ties back to the classical self-examination question What does it mean to live a good life?
  5. Who am I, really? Yeah, I know. Don’t get me started.

To do any practice consistently, I have to give myself a prompt so I don’t forget it and can’t avoid it. Maybe I’ll put these questions on my bathroom mirror.

* Ironically, when I googled the title of this post, I was taken to the page for a book with this same title, whose first suggested question to ask oneself is “What do I know for sure?” The author, a minister, responded to her own question, saying essentially that there is a higher power and that everything happens for a reason, two things I don’t believe at all.  Joseph Deitch in Fast Company last month suggested a good question to ask whenever you encounter someone who says something you don’t agree with, or believe, or think is correct or fair: “Why don’t I understand why they believe that?” Another recent article suggests, when feeling an overwhelming emotion, asking “Is this feeling useful?” Another suggests the more generic “Is this the best use of my time?” And of course there is the compassionate question that David Foster Wallace recommends in his This is Water speech, which is (as Carl Richards paraphrased it in a NYT column a couple of years ago) “What is the burden each of these people around me is carrying?”


Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 3 Comments

Why It’s Come to This

image from Max Pixel, CC0

The polarization of politics is a complex phenomenon. In a new book, Ezra Klein explains why there is a lot more to the current political quagmire than social media-driven disinformation and intolerance.

We humans like things simple, and it’s all too easy to see the world through the polarized lens created by the bubble and echo-chamber of your particular affinity groups.

So in this post I’m going to ask you to grit your teeth, PLEASE read all three of the articles below, all written four years ago in the run-up to last US election, keep an open mind about what each says, and be alert to your instinctive reactions to them:

  1. An obituary, and its back-story: Eli Saslow in the Washington Post writes about the tragic life and death of Anna Marrie Jones of Oklahoma, age 54.
  2. View from the left: Anne Amnesia from the blog More Crows Than Eagles digs into Anna Marrie’s story with her perspective on the larger picture. Anne was a Bernie Sanders supporter. She’s no longer blogging, but may well still be a Bernie fan.
  3. View from the right: Rod Dreher in the American Conservative reviews Anne’s story very enthusiastically but frames the situation utterly differently. Rod did, and says he will again, vote for Trump despite not particularly liking or respecting him.

As long as we, the precariat-becoming-unnecessariat, remain distracted by our polarized worldviews from seeing our common crises — social, economic, political, and ecological — we will remain unable to appreciate our shared predicament, let alone start to figure out how to deal with it.

Posted in How the World Really Works | 3 Comments

What Happened Here

this is a work of fiction

image by Vietnamese-American artist Dang My Linh from DeviantArt (I bought a copy of it — please support artists whose work you love!)

The work of historians is strange work. History is the telling of what was, with the possibility it might hint at what might be. Art, by contrast, is the telling of what is. I would much sooner be an artist.

But my lot in life has been to be a historian. History is, as its name suggests, a kind of story. And all stories are fictions, a making-up of what seems to be seen, what seems to be happening. But no one can know. There’s evidence that history began with human settlement, some ten or thirty thousand years ago, with the advent of agriculture, civilization, and abstract language. For a million years before that there was no human history because there was no need for stories about the past or future. The very word prehistoric means “before the stories”. Prehistoric humans simply were; why would they be interested in other times, when everything they need is right there, right then?

I wonder as I write this if I might in fact be the last historian, writing the final accounting of the past and the possible future from this tenuous and dramatic time nearing the end of the 21st century. This is perhaps the end of human history, the end of the need for any more stories. The humans that remain when history ends will be, I think, once again content to just be. They will be artists, not story-tellers, bless them.

This is not at all what I think most humans thought would be their final story, even as recently as a couple of decades ago. The first half of the century was one of collapse — of the over-hyped, mis-distributed and dysfunctional economy, and the collapse of stable climate, and of much of human culture. It’s an unfortunate word, collapse — I much prefer the thunderous french word s’effondrer, which clarifies that it is a crumbling of the foundations, from the bottom up, on which everything else was built, and which, by its use of the réflexif, admits that no one ‘outside’ was to blame; that things simply fell apart from within.

That was a time when everything was falling apart, seemingly endlessly, as all efforts to keep things together or to pull them back together failed. All predictable, of course: Any historian who had studied how life in the previous decades had unfolded in chaotic places like Lagos, Nigeria for example (back when it still existed), and that sad but hopeful city’s desolated, immiserated rural hinterlands, would see the model for how life would unfold everywhere on the planet over the decades to follow. The almost unlimited human capacity to adapt and persevere in the face of suffering has been both stunning and horrifically tragic. I can’t imagine any other species that would ever choose to live a life of constant stress, precarity, scarcity and struggle — other species would have the good sense to just give up, walk away, and leave the planet to those better adapted to the ghastly changes that have transformed the planet these past five decades. But not humans.

Something happened, however, amidst all the chaos, that transformed everything yet again, and that’s what this story is about.

It began in the 2020s, at the start of the waves of financial and economic collapse. There had recently been, at that time, great interest in the commercial, cultural and ecological potential of mushrooms. They were seen as pathways to the noosphere, miracle foods and medicines, and renewable replacements for a wide variety of scarce and non-renewable materials. There was an interesting convergence among techno-utopians, psychonauts, and commercial enterprises, that resulted in the development of some ‘living’ products made from mushrooms that would supposedly offer self-regenerating properties. So while they were initially used to produce self-repairing textiles, ecological toxin treatments and some new types of medicines to deal with cancers, viruses and autoimmune diseases, it wasn’t long before people were experimenting with ‘wearing’, consuming, and developing new products using ‘live’ mushrooms and other fungal life forms.

What they quickly discovered was the enormous symbiotic qualities of many fungi. They not only did amazing things on their own, they did some even more amazing things when they were combined with plants and animals. While this provided a small boon in new innovations, it could not begin to offset the series of economic collapses that, in just two decades, basically wiped out the capitalist economy, returning the planet to a radically re-localized economy built around sufficiency, not growth.

So while the commercial potential of mushrooms was largely, of necessity, shelved, the abundance of mushrooms and the paucity of paid work led a lot of people to explore what mushrooms had to offer personally and locally, and they were aided in these explorations by communications with like-minded people, through what was left of the internet.

An unexpected development was the discovery that, in some of the new mushroom-based skin patches being used to treat a variety of illnesses, there was some lingering symbiotic activity occurring on and inside the skin of the human patients. Because of their renowned resistance to genetic modification, mushrooms were being used to try to treat cancers and other genetic disorders, and it was found that somehow the mushrooms were ‘training’ various types of human cells to resist genetic modification, while the human cells were somehow ‘training’ the mushrooms how to be ‘smarter’ symbionts, infiltrating their partners more quickly and profoundly, and altering those life-forms’ functions in ways beneficial for both organisms.

There was of course a backlash when this began to happen — those fearful of these new discoveries began warning that mushrooms could ‘infect’ and ‘take over’ their human ‘hosts’, as some fungi apparently do to some insects. But with centralized systems falling apart, there was no way to coordinate any large-scale control over the experiments, so they continued.

And some of those experiments were producing evolutionarily significant changes. Certain types of mushrooms, it turned out, could, under the right conditions, grow to permeate the entire skin cover of the human symbiont, seemingly adding a great deal of protection to humans who had suppressed immune systems, and then penetrating further to re-regulate the immune systems of those with the opposite problem — autoimmune diseases. In addition, they interacted with the skin — the body’s largest organ — to help it deal with a variety of skin conditions, eventually ‘moulting’ a large part of the epidermis and leaving the human (or perhaps the human-fungal symbiont) looking much younger and healthier.

But the real game-changer was when some of those who were allowing their fungal symbionts extensive and prolonged access to their bodies, found that the mushrooms were actually rewiring the brains of these humans. In particular they were suppressing and rewiring the sympathetic nervous system. The explanation given by scientists was that the mushrooms perceived the SNS to be dangerously overactive and reactive and hence unhealthy for the combined symbiont, so to ‘heal’ the human it shut off the engrained ‘default pathways’ of the SNS.

The effect was extraordinary: The humans so ‘healed’ reported that it was suddenly seen that everything was just an appearance, that ‘they’ as ‘separate’ entities didn’t exist, and that everything was perfect just as it was. Yet it seemed they continued to function just as before, just without the reactivity, in a more equanimous and clearly at-peace way. And the change was permanent, even when the human ended contact with the fungus.

Given the terrible levels of stress endemic in the collapsing human society of the time, it’s probably no surprise that for most, the fear and moral doubt that surrounded this apparent dramatic change in personality was overruled by the desperation to have the peace of mind this SNS ‘re-boot’ seemed to offer. There were lots of holdouts at first, but once it was recognized that this seeming ‘altered state’ made dealing with the cascading crises of the time much more bearable, it wasn’t long before it became as automatic as a vaccine. Everyone was doing it, and there was no going back.

What was not realized was that this change was more than just an ‘altered state’. It was in a sense the end of the human individual, the end of the sense that people and the human race were in any way apart or separate from all life on the planet. As such it was the end of human needing, and hence the end of human volition. In the radically relocalized world where all that was now on offer was sufficiency, this ‘end of needs’ came at an ideal time.

That’s not to say things got materially easier or prosperity increased. Rather, it was seen that things didn’t need to be easier, and that there was no one or no thing separate to be prosperous. So human birth rates plummeted to almost zero, partly because it was now intuitively seen that there was insufficient food in the post-industrial world for all the humans and other creatures on the planet, and partly because it was intuitively seen that there was no reason to bring more children into the world until was a scarcity of them. Death rates actually dropped as wars became too expensive and were seen as pointless, as the technologies that caused the most deaths fell into disuse, and as people had no choice but to eat less, but better, with processed foods and animal fats no longer being available in the new ‘sufficiency’ economies.

While the struggle is not over, the remaining human population, down to less than half of their peak numbers, seems accepting of their new lot, and healthier to boot. With the collapse of the internet, a vast amount of human knowledge has been lost, but no one seems concerned about it. Humans once again live in community, and the drive to acquire, to succeed, to make things larger or better, seems to have evaporated.

Humans still talk, but much less than they used to. Without intention, the motivation for talk is mostly gone. There is more singing, more playing, more creative activities, but little desire for anything to last. With the sense that everything is one, connected, there is no more fear of death. There is no urgency for anything. I suspect that, to the humans used to a hyperactive-SNS life, their descendants a mere half-century later would hardly even be recognized as civilized; they would seem more like prehistoric tribespeople.

So mostly, now, there are no stories. It was the children who gave up on them last. When the adults started forgetting the ‘old’ stories and forgot how to invent new ones, the children, for a while, shared and created them among themselves. But even to them they soon seemed foolish, just make-believe. Better to sing, to dance, to play, to just lie in the sun together and laugh, and wonder.

And without stories there is no need for old historians anymore. I think it’s for the best. From here the entire arc and trajectory of civilization looks to be a form of collective madness, a colossal evolutionary misstep. The SNS likely evolved, like a fire alarm, to alert us that danger was at hand and that we needed to fight, or flee, or freeze. But when it is ‘on’ all the time, even in our dreamful sleep, it seems completely dysfunctional, of no use at all. I don’t think anyone would have guessed that it would be fungi, which have neither nervous nor vascular systems for signalling stress, that would find and flick the ‘off’ switch, for our collective good. But they did so, just in time.

And that’s the end of the story.


Posted in Creative Works | 3 Comments

Conversations on Radical Non-Duality

If you’re really into radical non-duality — the idea that there is no ‘you’ and that nothing separate is ‘real’, just an appearance in a limitless field of possibilities — you might want to subscribe to Frank McCaughey’s treasure trove of 70+ discussions and short films on the subject on Patreon.

It doesn’t matter if you’re (like me) a ‘seeker’ hoping (hopelessly) to ‘see’ this as true, or if your apparent self is gone and this astonishing ‘natural reality’ is already seen: Frank has done interviews with both, and they’re quite amazing. For the seeker with questions, there are lots of videos with very articulate answers, and IMO the interactive interview/discussion process that Frank uses with his guests allows these answers to be expressed more clearly and succinctly than is usually possible in the Q&A of group meetings (which most radical non-duality videos are recordings of).

You also get some context about how the ‘disappearance’ of the illusory self ‘happened’, as each story (of course it is only a story) is quite unique, although what is described and what is ‘left’ is unquestionably the same thing. Somehow, that’s reassuring to the struggling self.

And equally reassuring are the stories that those of us still seemingly afflicted/infected with selves tell Frank, about how easy, or how difficult, the incredible cognitive dissonance is to deal with, between the need to continue to ‘act’ and ‘function’ as a responsible person in relationships with others, and the intellectual appreciation that there is actually no person, no agency, no controlling ‘self’ inside us. Not to mention the cognitive dissonance this creates in our own heads! For some ‘selves’ this seems agonizing; for others it’s almost fun.

I was delighted that Frank has elected to post my conversation with him as Ep. 70 of his series, which is entitled Behind the Curtain. You won’t be able to see my episode, or any of Ep. 50-69, without signing up to support Frank on Patreon (which was well worth it for me). But even if you’re unable or unwilling to do so, there are some great episodes (see some of the links below) viewable by all. Here are my personal favourites to date (*indicates those still seemingly struggling with selves):

  • Ep. 68 — Giselle Suarez (US)
  • Ep. 67 — Niall O’Murchu* (Ireland) — Niall turns it around and interviews Frank
  • Film — This is it — between Ep. 64 and 63
  • Ep. 63 — Robin Kurkhus (Norway)
  • Ep. 62 — Jim Gagnon* (US)
  • Ep. 60 — Nancy Neithercut (US)
  • Ep. 57 — Michael Riley* (Canada) (warning: this lovely chat is 4 hours long)
  • Ep. 56 — Tim Cliss (UK)
  • Ep. 52 — Christian Milon (France)
  • Ep. 51 — Giselle Suarez (US)
  • Ep. 50Kenneth Madden (Ireland)
  • Ep. 49Tim Cliss (UK)
  • Ep. 47Giselle Suarez (US)
  • Ep. 37Tim Cliss (UK) (my partial transcript of this episode is here)
  • Ep. 34Boris Jansch (UK)
  • Ep. 29Lisa Lennon (Spain)
  • Zero & One — film that Frank made with Tony Parsons (UK), Jim Newman (Austria), Andreas Müller (Germany) and Richard Sylvester (UK) that got him started exploring this subject

Lots of other films, more interviews on non-duality and other, subjects and extra content from Frank’s renowned film Zero & One can be found on Frank’s channel.

I’d suggest you watch these (and all non-music videos including TED talks) at 1.75x speed, using any of the available browser extensions, for two reasons: (1) It forces you to pay full attention, so you’ll actually absorb, reflect, and retain more than you would watching it at actual speed, and (2) you’ll get through 50 minute videos in 30 minutes, giving you more time to think about the ‘obvious’ — like that nothing is real, ‘you’ do not exist, and nothing has any meaning or purpose. You’re welcome!

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Radical Non-Duality | 1 Comment

Early Creative Works

I started writing in my last year of high school, nearly 50 years ago. I’m not sure my fellow students liked my work as much as they related to the desperate passion embedded in it. Most of it was pretentious and angsty, but it had a few clever turns of phrase and some evocative imagery, and it captured I think some of the anger and dread and hopefulness and anomie of the late 1960s, so I’ve kept some fragments of it. Here is a bit of what I wrote way back  then:


on the riverbank
the cold autumn chill coming in
from over the water
splashing endlessly, wet and thunderous
over the jagged rocks.
time stops: as if waiting for moments long gone or never coming.
in the shadowed haze of overcast daylight
(with soft fine spray blowing in the icy wind
of the dull, shivering, timeless day),
the moment shocks the frozen soul with its unquestionable truth,
its unbearable silence, echoes
the infinite darkness of midday,
the infinite silence of wind
screaming through trees, leaves wet with tiny droplets
blown from the tumultuous river
turned to ice crystals by the winter gusts,
asking startling questions of frozen, weary hearts,
demanding no answers,
giving only the cold realization of utter solitude,
of unbearable loneliness,
of touching an infinite, unanswerable mystery.

study in green and grey:
the warm, wet, silent air whispers
death; the cat
running up towards me
in the dead silence
the dry grass rustling beneath its feet like hay,
purrs madly, fluffy and soft persian
all colours,
and is gone, incongruous, like the
ice-cream bell
sterile vitality
in a world of lost, sad eyes.
cries of lonely owls
faded dark green trees
against the motionless grey sky
silent and dark and dry,
a world of no energy,
so little wind that distant cries and barks
are heard in the vacuum,
so little motion that the children playing,
the dark, small birds against the hazy sky
exist only as landscapes of unreality…

but always there are the dark green, rough grey
sharp-contoured trees against
the wandering, unfocussable clouds:
form against the formless
frozen in time.

mid-night snow:
have you ever seen fresh snowfall sparkling under the streetlights
in the middle of a
windless night with no sounds and nothing moving except
the endless snow and
occasionally a car spinning its tires as it moves anonymously by
and the snow lands on your eyelashes
and you look up and try to catch the snowflakes on your tongue
and the snow above you seems to go
on forever?

there is a sparrow flying from branch to branch of a bare elm
in the park beside the frozen duckpond
on a sunday afternoon and
there is an old man sitting on the park bench throwing crumbs
to the birds and the pavilion in the background is silhouetted
against the stark winter sky
and in front of it are patterns of footprints in the snow
and by the side of the road are two imprints of
fallen angels

wilderland rites:
At night the forest is not what it seems,
The wolf, in the shadows of half-sleep, evolves into a dragonfly,
the fire into a clown, the owl into a junkie, the lady into a child in rags.
The forest becomes a desert, then a city. The clown offers a balloon to the child,
watches it rise into the crimson sky,
pulsing with ventricular booms.
The junkie becomes a priest.
Child becomes a surgeon.
Clown becomes a voodoo magician, laughs the laugh of birth and death.
Dragonfly into hypodermic, into the arm of the Patient Lover.
In the heart of the night come the mating calls.
The rapturous moans of the opium den.
On the beach of no footprints,
by the night lit by lightning,
is a scorpion with wolf’s tattered claws.
Becomes a sea-snake
rising to the song of a flute
played by a woman clothed in strips of ragged fur.
Tben the shadow of a vulture,
wearing the cloth of last rites,
and the snake’s devoured.

elegy for the sixties:
we are the flowers that bore no fruit,
cactic children, scions of extraordinary promise
never realized. on a distant embankment
we sit, wide-eyed execrable hybrids
of the years entre deux doctrines,
broken twigs still standing in infertile ground,
staring at the lush vineyards and orchards
that grew, as they were supposed to,
beyond the road that leads to the greenhouse, and the laboratory,
and the conservatory, where the best strains are kept,
and other places we will never know,
while here we wait, without anticipation, forgotten
in the rain.

Ignorance has won: our meagre forces collapsed before the war could begin, when we confirmed our suspicion that most of our people were fighting for the other side. The leaders to whom we looked for inspiration turned out to be wrong; not evil men, merely fools, so we were not even stirred to outrage, simply reduced to despair. We have become numbed and lethargic as many of our people have tired of the endless waiting and, in anger or indifference, gone over to the other side. Our arguments have lost their meaning and their definition, and the ensuing silence has lulled us into routine, a routine which we share with the other side, and which further blurs the line between us. Now only a handful of us remain, with nothing left to say, believing in nothing. We would have disbanded and returned to the world of the other side, but to declare our intention to do so would suggest that we are ready to make a decision, and we are not. So we wait; our last traces of pride and stubbornness prevail. At any rate, we now have nothing left to lose. Nothing, except the comfort of the routine, which amounts to nothing.

there is a girl in the garden:
she has eyes that are not of this time.
they shine in the sunlight, reflect
the deep green of the forest,
the magic of learning without fear.
she is the child in all of us.

there is a ghost that walks beside her: its image
grows stronger with the twilight.
its pace is heavier, and in place of eyes
it bears two gaping holes, wooden and vacant
sightless and unreflecting.
within them, the knowledge of what must be done
and cannot be done.
it carries a bottle
and speaks with the calcium in its bones.

For the thirty years after that I wrote almost no poetry or stories, and what I did write was execrable. The recurring depression that began in my early school years would continue to come and go for five decades before slowly dissipating. My preoccupation with work, family, and trying to keep myself together was complete, and it was only in 2000, recovering from the fog of anti-depressives, that I realized just how disconnected and mentally ill I was, and began to write again, and to heal. Here are a couple of short pieces I wrote that year:

THE BOX (2000)

This story is dedicated to those who have spent much of their lives fighting the noonday demon, its dessicating grief. Their hope for, and dread of, a ‘normal’ future and a ‘normal’ life depends on the continuing ingenuity of the medieval alchemists of pharmacology.

It was the Alien who first showed me The Box. I’d been walking in the forest, just outside of town, when I first saw her. Initially I thought she was a mirage: she looked amorphous, translucent. She looked toward me, through me. When she opened her mouth, what came out was not sound, but colour. An amazing profusion of purples and greens and a new hue I couldn’t even have imagined, couldn’t describe with the constricts of human language. It was colour squared, taken to another dimension. It was full of meaning and piercing clarity. The ripples and waves of tumultuous blues and blacks and iridescent reds swirled and lapped around me, tucking themselves against and through me like liquid scarves, their message perfect and unambiguous.None of the awkwardness and imprecision of speech and text.

She told me about her world and what she thought was wrong with ours. She read my numbing anxiety, the furrowed ridges and black chasms of my depression, the mute desperation of helplessness and hopelessness that defined me. Her understanding leapt like yellow fire, gave birth to another new soft colour that looked like peace, a colour so gentle that it ached. A colour totally foreign to the palette of man. She was telling me about The Box.

So I went with her and at the edge of the forest I saw The Box. Monolithic, solid, shiny, nondescript, about fifteen feet square and nine feet high, like a small, windowless room oddly nestled into a grove of spruce trees, moonlit, wet with dew. The Alien explained that The Box was uniquely for me, attuned to my consciousness. As I neared, The Box opened, extruded a tunnel, beckoning, inviting, suffused in a soothing beam of smoky blue-grey light.

I walked in and The Box closed. There was a platform, just big enough for one to lie on, and beside it an opening with a transparent chamber that took me down to a lower, similar, even more secreted room. Safety. Warmth. Rest. Darkness. Eternity.

I lay on the platform and felt suspended, weightless, just above it, cushioned by a soft, insistent updraft. Bathed in moving air. My head was encased in a diaphanous, eggshell-like cocoon. The cocoon was filled with textures, and set in motion a sensory journey of sights and sounds as breathtaking as the Alien’s spoken colours. Surreal, more here and now and present and rich and true than my sad reality outside The Box. These sensations, in concert with the weightlessness, the unconsciousness of the rest of my body, was at once transporting and disconcerting. I was at once inside and outside The Box, inside and outside my self. Hyper-real.

I learned that my instinct, my imagination, my thoughts, could move me, or at least the cocooned reality of me, through space and time and some other wondrous dimensions I didn’t understand. Dimensions in which the visual images of ‘my’ world flowed, morphed whimsically into flavours of images, not visual, but not conceptual either. As if I’d sprouted new senses and the ‘flavours’ were what these senses translated. And utterly authentic, incontestably valid, infinitely more than mere representations projected inside the kinetoscope of the head cocoon.

I learned that The Box and the head cocoon moved through these dimensions in concert, and that I could, with practice, control them. If I felt threatened or anxious when I came into The Box, by events or possibilities real or imagined in my grim external world, once inside I could move The Box a light-year through space or time in an instant. Or I could make time stop inside The Box so it would be invisible outside, as everything flowed through it, progressed through my stopped time. Or I could move ahead in time just an instant and then coast just ahead of the time of whatever I feared outside.

At first, when I went inside The Box, I simply slept, the sleep of the dead, sometimes for days at a time. Incredibly at peace, knowing that when I awoke I could return refreshed to the moment when I’d entered The Box, and re-enter the world, as if I’d never left it.

Then I began to use The Box to watch people in other countries, worlds, times. I saw creatures of spectacular, exquisite beauty, and scenes of unimaginable horror. While I lay inside The Box, I would ‘walk’ towards those I saw, althoughI knew I was prone on the platform in The Box. But they would respond as if I was really there, so perhaps I was.

At times I travelled to places to see people I knew, and my visit was never a surprise, never disconcerting or counterfeit. It was as if space and time had bent, adapted, evolved, reinvented itself to make the strange encounter natural. Conversations with those I knew, and discourse with creatures whose every presence staggered my imagination, were always astoundingly lucid, peaceful, full of recognition and import and understanding. So much that I wondered if the Alien was distorting reality to make it, finally, bearable for me.

I was especially suspicious of encounters that engaged my cut-off sense of touch, the only sense the head cocoon could not, I thought, manufacture stimuli for. Feeling and tasting a fruit with the flesh of a peach and the flavour of raspberry wine. Or standing in strange black rain touching the fronds of a purring creature covered in redolent cedar fur. Or making love non-stop for three days with someone known but somehow new, an ever-stranger. In all these experiences I suspected, but couldn’t confirm, that the amorphous body of the Alien was perfecting the reality of the event by supplying the missing, tactile sensory inputs, lying beside me in The Box.

But finally it didn’t matter if it was real or not. My senses, my instincts, my brain all agreed on the total plausibility of what was happening. If it was illusory it still had more immediacy than the reality in the increasingly pale and unsatisfactory world outside The Box.

So now I am free of the torments that plagued and paralysed me most of my life: the anxiety, dissatisfaction, dread, disappointment, apathy, exhaustion, terror, disengagement, grief, incompleteness, the absence of meaning and the lack of peace and the helplessness and emptiness that reduced me to a shadow, a pebble, a hollow man. Please don’t tell your, or my, government, or church, or boss about The Box. There is something about it that would horrify them. They couldn’t understand.

There is something you should know.

There is an Alien waiting for you, now, in the forest at the edge of your town, and s/he has a Box for you, too, with the promise of endless peace, ecstasy, understanding. Surrender to it and you will finally be free.


I wrote this story to try to convey a sense of what it must be like to live in the shadow of a dominant culture that is indifferent, or possibly hostile, to your culture’s very existence.

No one has ever seen the Light Creatures. They just arrived one day, and made quite an entrance. The night of their first visit they stayed for less than a second, but destroyed twenty trillion dollars worth of houses, buildings, roads and other human artefacts, and killed two hundred million people.

We think they’re probably very large, and move at the speed of light, though the scientists say this is impossible. Although their devastation was a shock at first, we now think they didn’t mean it, it was probably just clumsiness or carelessness, them being so big and fast and all.

What they left behind were these gigantic strands of electrical energy, kind of like that ‘crazy string’ that comes in a spray can, or like enormous pieces of spaghetti dropped from the sky, but a mile around and hundreds of miles long. Thousands of swirling, dazzling, high-voltage strings of hypnotic, shimmering white, red and purple, brighter than the sun.

At first we were full of fury, but after awhile we realized we couldn’t fight back, we couldn’t kill them. Hell, we couldn’t even find them, didn’t even know who or what they were. The politicians called the visit an ‘attack’ back then, and there was talk of a ‘counter-offensive’. People blamed terrorists or communists or global warming. There was lots of praying for god’s forgiveness. Global conferences were held, by military leaders at first, and then scientists, to decide how to respond. The security freaks in government wanted trillions of dollars to build special rubber shelters that could withstand a direct hit from the strands.

When the scientists started saying it probably wasn’t an attack at all, and that our millions of dead were just incidental damage from the Light Creatures’ visit, the politicos and generals fumed. The scientists said that the strands were probably sign-posts, markers, graffiti of a colony of huge fast-moving creatures made of pure energy. They even suggested that maybe it was ‘leavings’, just plain shit that the Light Creatures dumped off and we just kind of got in the way. The politicians went ballistic when they heard that. They had this fantasy that we could stop comets and change the spin of the Earth’s core if we set our minds to it. They couldn’t handle not being able to do anything to avenge two hundred million dead.

The second visit came a few weeks after the first, and was much less severe, killing eighty million people. From then on, we started to expect that this would be a regular occurrence. The people who wanted to defend against the Light Creatures gave up, as there was clearly no defence. The people who saw the visits as a divine message also gave up, since the message was impossible to decipher. There was more evidence that the Light Creatures didn’t even know we existed.

We started to study the strands. If you lived between about three and thirty miles from a strand, it was like basking in the midnight sun. You never needed any lights and the temperature gradient at that distance was always comfortable, and safe. The strands and their electromagnetic field destroyed most of the electric power grid and communications systems, and with them much of the world’s political and corporate power structures. But we had water, and energy.

The third, and latest visit from the Light Creatures came almost a year later, just a few months ago. It was the worst yet, nearly a third of the planet criss-crossed in high-voltage ribbon this time, destruction in the quintillions of dollars and deaths in the billions. Surprisingly we handled this one well. Families had moved closer together in the interim, and local communities had replaced virtual ones, so during the third visit, which lasted maybe ten seconds, most communities were either annihilated, with nothing left to grieve, or left unscathed.

Some people say it’s been humbling. We feel like ants at the mercy of some big kid who might stomp on us, on purpose or by accident, or who might walk by, oblivious, and leave us untouched. There’s no point in worrying about it, the next visit, whether there will be one. There’s nothing we can do to prevent it, lessen its impact. We can only go on with our lives.

Our new society is much more local, more egalitarian. In some ways, strangely, we have more control over our lives than we did before. We’re part of the decision of what crops get grown, what clothes get made, what medicines get ordered. We have more of a hand in our own lives. The strands divided us into autonomous communities but united us within these communities. Now that our world is so much smaller, we have a stronger sense of place, of where we belong.

Odd how such a destructive force could have liberated us from the prison of our culture. Life, and its satisfactions, are infinitely simpler, and more visceral, than before. We no longer look to the gods or the stars for answers. We understand that life is precious, and fragile, and serendipitous. We’ve lost everything we’d built for thirty thousand years, and found ourselves, our meaning, our answer, here, now, home.

Two years after that (early 2003) I started blogging, and my creative works have made their way into its 8000-plus pages alongside all the other things I’ve been disposed to write about. In the early years of the blog, I played with different forms of verse, and with two series of stories about several recurring characters and a dog, but I had been away from writing for so long that they were stale and clumsy. It took a half dozen years, and the promise of retirement, before I found my stride again. My right sidebar highlights what I think is my best creative work over the past decade, with the earliest (2009) at the bottom. 

I couldn’t say what, of all these writings, is my best, and my favourites among my creative writing change over time and with my mood and with each new learning. My most popular creative piece is, most likely, The Horses’ Bodies.

Posted in Creative Works | Comments Off on Early Creative Works

What’s Apparently Happening: Frank McCaughey & Tim Cliss

Tim Cliss (left) in England; Frank McCaughey (right) in Dublin, Ireland (screen shot)

For those intrigued by the ideas of radical non-duality, who are not drawn to watch long videos and prefer to learn by reading, here is an edited transcription of much of an interview from a year ago, by Frank McCaughey (from his series Can I Be Frank? aka Behind the Curtain) of Tim Cliss. Tim’s message is much like Tony Parsons’ and Jim Newman’s, but you may find Tim’s engagingly compassionate way of speaking and his thoughtful turns of phrase resonate more with you, or provide a different and useful perspective on the subject. The unraveling continues.

Can I Be Frank #37 — Frank McCaughey talks with Tim Cliss

[A few of my ‘asides’ and interpretations are indicated below in square brackets. Note that both Tim (T) and Frank (F) were laughing almost continuously during this chat, and are speaking candidly and informally as good friends. It’s not a formal, ‘arms’ length’ interview. Tim smiles non-stop, and there’s no tone of authority in any of this. So don’t take it, or anything that is said, too seriously! If you want to get a sense of the playfulness of this interview, watch a few minutes of the video using the link above before reading.]

[0:00 — casual hellos and updates; discussion about talking about this with family]


F: Is your Mum interested in this?

T: (laughing) Are you joking? I’ve tried to explain it to her; I keep it really simple. When I was into Eckhart Tolle and the Power of Now, that was OK [with her]. Then she worried about me after that.

F: With my Mum it was “I know what you’re talking about, but let’s never talk about it again.”

T: Yeah. “I’m fine but just don’t ever mention it again”. Fortunately I talk with my brother about it and he’s good with it. He’s slightly infected you could say. It is like a virus and you aren’t getting rid of it — there is no cure. It’s a story but it’s more like you’re remembering something you’d forgotten, and once you’ve remembered it, you can never forget it again. I have no idea what it is that remembers, but something remembers. “Illusion” is about the best analogy we’ve got but it’s not an illusion — that term is quite misleading as well. Illusion suggest it’s there, and it’s not. If it were an illusion, once it was seen through it would still be there, just seen as it really is, and it’s not. The biggest misconception is that there is some enlightenment experience that would be the same for everyone. That’s just a fantasy story. When it happened it was certainly not what I was looking for, or hoping for.


F: What were you hoping for?

T: Bliss. With a little bit of ecstasy mixed in. But just bliss would be enough.

F: But we’ve talked about this idea of different perspectives, and I can’t help put on you this idea that there’s a subtle difference in how we see the world. ‘I’ see the world here, and there, there isn’t ‘anyone’ who sees the world.

T: That’s fine. You can’t help but do that. Seeing is just seeing. There is no change in perception. The world isn’t seen in a new way. The difference between me and no-me is really subtle, and yet enormous, massive. The me is the commentary, always assessing, judging. And then there’s just a lot of space; the perception is just more empty without the me.

F: I can see that there can only be what’s happening.


T: Yeah, and I start with that because nearly everyone gets that. There are times when I think I’ll never speak about non-duality again, but then it’s no different here from the place you’re at — you can’t not do that, if that’s what’s happening. It’s the only motivation I have anymore — to speak about this. The energy to be motivated for lots of other things was ‘mine’, and when I wasn’t there it didn’t happen anymore.

F: So the idea of striving for anything has disappeared?

T: All gone, yeah. And that’s really distressing, in ‘the process of falling away’, very distressing. ‘Me’ was screaming “you’re losing everything here, you’re dying here!”

F: But that unwinded itself over a period of time?

T: Seemed to, yeah. Over a couple of years I guess. Or you could say the unwinding started then. You could say it’s then forever unwinding. But that’s just a story — none of it is true. I don’t like to talk about my ‘awakening’ or whatever you want to call it because seekers then say “Oh, that’s how it is then”. And then it’s just seen as a story. And then you go “I’d like to have a go at that”. And then “It must be my turn soon.”


F: It’s like chasing nothing, endlessly.

T: I think most people are like that. They chase nothing their whole lives and then their body dies and that’s it.

F: That’s awful.

T: Not really. I don’t find it awful at all any more. Don’t get me wrong. It was awful for me. I suffered a lot trying to be the best me I could be. It’s endless torture.

F: These conversations do expose the futility and stupidity of that kind of seeking. Even when it’s explained that there is no liberation.

T: No. There is no liberation. You’ll never find what you’re looking for.

F: I love that, too. (laughing) Fuck.


T: Yeah. And the me can’t bear the end of hope. It will even take hopeless as a new path, a new thing to seek. You could make ‘nothing’ or ‘emptiness’ something to seek. But when you’ve been seeking a long time, the suffering can get unbearable. That’s how it was for me. More and more desperate. That’s why this is such a terrible message to hear. The speakers I loved and still love to hear have a message of hopelessness. There is only fulfillment — there is nothing beyond or behind. There’s nowhere to get to and nothing ever moves. All movement is just a story you’re telling. Inside and outside is empty. It’s just absolutely still. It isn’t eternal — that’s a story about going on forever. There’s nothing going on. So I say it’s ordinary but it’s also beyond wonder, beyond comprehension. And when there’s a giving up of trying to find it, because it can’t be found, then you could say — “there it is”. And yet you can’t say what that is because it’s nothing. And there’s everything in that. It’s just obvious that there can’t be anything else. The loss of time as a solid reality is the biggest aspect of what we’re talking about, because the sense of self is completely caught up with the ‘reality’ of time. The continuation of myself as an existent being — that is what I am. If that doesn’t appear, the self, which is screaming in fear that it’s dying, that it won’t exist, stops appearing, and in the absence it’s not even noticeable that it ever was. I talk about my story and what it used to be for me, but it’s just a story. No different from yours or anyone’s story. And then amazingly the stories don’t die, they just become beautiful stories. There’s a misconception that the story’s the problem. The story isn’t the problem. The problem is that it’s ‘my’ story. ‘My’ story is that I am the centre of the universe, that everything is in relation to me. And it’s that relationship that stops [when the self ‘disappears’]. So there’s nothing in relationship to me anymore. And everything is just as it is. I can’t know how it is for [others] but every body works the same way; we’ve just got this illusion of uniqueness. ‘Me’-ness, specialness. Here, there’s no special human beings anymore.


F: [describes how this strikes him, the emotion and rawness that comes up listening to this]

T: Raw, yeah. The sense of self is like a filter from life, a defence, a survival mechanism. We seem to be the only species that’s created an existential sense of our own beingness as unique and special and made our selves the centre of the universe. It makes perfect sense to me now. I hated my self for a long time — self was the enemy. I was just screaming for ‘me’ to stop. And then when it was right at the end, strangely, I screamed to save my own life. There’s this dichotomy in the seeker, desperately seeking the end of themselves, but when it comes to that they’ll do anything to survive. Because that’s all the ‘me’ is. And as a filter it doesn’t make life less raw. It filters to make life manageable because ‘I’ need to feel in control. ‘I’ can’t stand the idea of everything being completely chaotic, random, pointless, useless.


F: (laughing) ‘Me’ is this ball of tension trying to keep it all together, to know the world and confirm everything it knows. But it knows that’s impossible.

[discussion about the joys of running and the feeling of accomplishment and peace it gives, and how it gives us a brief ‘effortless’ respite from ourselves]

T: I think sometimes it’s that kind of experience that drives us to become seekers.


F: I remember sometimes getting caught up in the thought that there could be nothing, and that thought was absolutely terrifying.

T: It is terrifying. That’s why I say that this is not what the ‘me’ wants, what it most fears. Non-existence, the void, emptiness. And that emptiness is everything. The ‘me’ can make everything else oneness, but the ‘me’ is always separate from it because the ‘me’ has made itself ‘real’. And the lie is that ‘I am real’. It’s the lie on which everything else rests. The reality of everything stems from ‘my’ reality. ‘My’ reality makes everything else real. And when ‘I’ am not, then everything is free to be what it is. It’s not that it’s not real, it’s just that you can’t say what it is anymore [Tony uses the term ‘appearance’]. I can still call a tree a tree, and the difference is incredibly subtle but unimaginably enormous as well — when it is a tree and it is not a tree. And although that sounds ridiculous, and it’s not ‘known’, it’s obvious, but it doesn’t have the ‘reality’ that it would have had. It’s not an object, a thing.


F: The idea of the ‘void’ is terrifying, it makes me feel sick.

T: It’s terrifying. It’s death. But there’s nothing to die, so it’s the end of death. There aren’t many advantages with this shit, but the biggest one is that it’s the end of death. It’s the end of the possibility that ‘I’ could die, The reality (there is no reality really — but forget I said that) is that there is no death. Nothing exists. Nothing is born. Nothing dies. There is only what is, as it is. The stories of birth and life and death continue, but they’re just stories, and without ‘my’ story of ‘my’ life, they’ve lost all their weight; they’re just seen as beautiful stories. The ‘me’ just imprisons itself to keep the ‘me’ safe, and blocks everything else out, especially feelings, because they’re what the ‘me’ is most afraid of.

F: Because it has no control over them.

T: Yes. The me has no say over feelings, and it desperately wants to, so it employs strategies to avoid feelings that it doesn’t want to feel. That’s life for most people. I never know what word to use to describe this ‘absence of me’. I use that rather than ‘death of me’ because nothing dies. It’s just that the appearance of me doesn’t appear anymore. ‘I’ was an appearance, and then that appearance stops, no different than when it’s cloudy and then that stops.

[Dave’s aside: earlier Tim made the point that the self is not even an illusion (it’s a “lie” we tell ourselves), but now he’s using the word appearance, the word Tony uses to describe everything other than the self — it might be interesting to explore this different use of ‘illusion’ and ‘appearance’ when the two are clearly describing the same things]


F: It is true that this feeling of being and me-ing and the unraveling of the self does seem to be a bit of an ‘occurrence’.

T: Yes, and it seems that this unraveling can happen in one go, or [in others] seemingly over a long time, with pauses when nothing happens. But nothing really happens. The most amazing thing in my story of me, and the hardest thing to convey, is that it was absolutely obvious that nothing had happened. The destruction of me — it felt like I was being torn to pieces — was very unpleasant, not nice, bloody. I screamed a lot. But then the only thing that was really obvious was that none of that happened.

F: But for me as a person in the world I could never say nothing really happened because it wouldn’t be true.

T: Absolutely. It wouldn’t be true for ‘you’. There is no truth. This is the end of knowing anything about truth. Truth is just what the ‘I’ wants to know. The ‘I’ is always wanting to know what’s real, what’s true.


F: Sometimes I ask myself “Frank, do you really know in your heart what you’re looking for here?” And I don’t know the answer, though sometimes I think I do.

T: Yeah, that’s just how it is, until it’s not. But this isn’t “better”. Though if you asked if I’d go back to being Tim again I’d say “Not for anything.”

F: So when the self is gone is there relief? And is the seeking over?

T: There is no relief because there’s no ‘me’ to be relieved. There was “the peace that surpasses all understanding”. I remember thinking that’s what that phrase meant. I worked as a therapist, and we studied the supposedly first woman therapist, who used to say when giving counsel “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” And I thought [when this happened] “That’s what she meant.” I’m making it sound spiritual and it wasn’t; there was just this ridiculously simple sense of peace, with nothing out of place, even though ‘my’ life was wrecked. The feeling of ‘OK-ness’ was overwhelming.


F: How did it happen? Did you just wake up (or not wake up) one morning…?

T: No. I had no idea that I was gone. Who would know? Something was not appearing anymore that was never there. So the absence was not ‘noticeable’. The only thing that was noticed was the absence of the symptoms that the ‘me’ seemed to produce, like anxiety, guilt, blame, a lot less judgement and measuring, And yet the ability to function is exactly the same — it was never ‘mine’. Functioning is natural. But much of what I didn’t like about myself is gone. That’s why this is worth talking about. I go for months without mentioning it, and then I say something like I said to you, that’s there’s no difference, and then I realize I would never want to go back to being ‘me’ again.


F: So the sense of me is seen as just an appearance?

T: Yes. And it’s most convincing. I like the old Advaita way of saying it, it’s like a veil — that everything is seen through ‘me’. Everything I see is seen ‘from’ me, which colours, flavours, and taints everything.

F: Yes.

T: And I don’t talk about it much but I did have some revelatory experiences [“glimpses”?] where when the ‘me’ came back I described it as “the veil had been lifted and there was life as it is”. And then the veil came down again. But there is no veil. Shit, it’s convincing though.

F: Yeah, but when you start to go down this road you shift from arguing about it to asking yourself if you can agree.

[I think Tim in his following comment misunderstands what Frank was saying]

T: No. ‘You’ can’t agree. But fortunately, Frank, there’s nothing to do. No happening is any more significant than any other.


F: The whole thing is a bit mad. It’s just always this.

T: Yeah you can say that but then people just seek ‘this’. At first you try to make your words as little misleading as possible. But then you realize no one can be misled, there is no misleading. It’s all fine. It doesn’t matter at all. There is no duality or non-duality.

F: Yeah, cause then it becomes another ‘thing’. There is a subtle difference though — the seeker doesn’t like it when someone implies they are in a special ‘state’ [or knows something you don’t but presumably could].

T: There is something to be said for knowing that hopeless is the only way, as long as you aren’t hopeful about it! You don’t want hopeful hopelessness. I was exactly like you [in my aversion to people who presumed to know or be special]. Preferences here are unchanged — opinions, politics, sports, foods, activities are all the same. There’s a lot of nonsense [among so-called ‘teachers’ of non-duality] about that.

F: Do you do ‘talks’, or ‘meetings’ about this?

T: I’ve tried, but not many people show up, and you have to really go to London to do them, since that’s probably the biggest audience for this message in the world. And this will never be a popular message. It’s offensive to a lot of selves. Once in a pub one of my mates had me by the throat. You do have to be a bit careful about it!

[thanks and farewells; recording ends at 1:19:01]

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | Comments Off on What’s Apparently Happening: Frank McCaughey & Tim Cliss