This is a sequel to Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark.
image from piqsels, CC0
One of the reasons I like talking with, and reading the works of, radical non-duality speaker Tim Cliss, is his compassion. He comes by it honestly, through a long career in education and counselling.
The radical non-duality cohort (about 8-10 people that I know of) are a diverse lot. They’re mostly in Europe. What they have in common is that their sense of self and separation suddenly dropped away at some point in their lives, leaving nothing but the obvious sense that nothing (especially individuals) is real, nothing is separate, nothing has meaning or purpose, there is no time, space, no ‘one’ and no ‘thing’ and everything is just an appearance. Everything we believe to be real and true, including the very existence of our selves, is actually just an invention of our feverishly patterning brains, an attempt to make sense of all the sensations they are trying to process — and a total fiction.
This is so preposterous, so outrageous, so outside our experience and everything we’ve been taught, that it’s understandable that so few are even interested in considering the possibility that it’s correct. What makes it magical and addictive to me is that it is completely internally consistent, and unarguably plausible. It is the ultimate “theory of everything”, and something ‘here’ has glimpsed it, and ‘knows’ it’s true. It’s not even a theory. It’s an explanation. Sadly, it is also a completely useless explanation. You can do nothing with it.
When this (apparent) falling away of the separate self happens, in some cases the loss is never even noticed — who would be left to notice it, or to care? In some cases, as with the apparent character Tim Cliss, lingering memories of separation and bygone machinations of selfhood are recalled with compassion, and maybe even a bit of sadness. In others, like Tony Parsons and Jim Newman, there is an insistence that the only true compassion is consistently and uncompromisingly clarifying the message — that everything, including all the suffering produced by the illusion of real selfhood, self-control, free will and agency, is an illusion, and, worse, that there is absolutely no path, nothing that can be done, to “realize” this. We have each built a perfect, life-long, escape-less prison for one, and we pass our lives talking with each other via incoherent taps on the walls we’ve built between us.
I try to be compassionate, but it doesn’t seem to be much in this character’s nature. Part of it is my impatience with what I perceive to be most people’s stupidity, wilful ignorance, narcissism, gullibility, cruelty, and… well I could add a hundred more seemingly ubiquitous qualities of human creatures, but you get the idea. I’m a very slowly recovering misanthrope, prone to deep and frequent relapses.
Some of this is likely a reflection of my own personal guilt, embarrassment and shame. I recognize how blessed I have been, and how many of the annoying qualities in the previous paragraph I have demonstrated, and even exemplified, in my own life. I also know that no one has any choice or free will, so my annoyance, impatience, and intolerance seem rather petty and judgemental, but still I often catch myself being so. I could say that I have no choice other than to be this way, since there is no real me, no agency, no control over this character I presume to inhabit. But that seems a bit disingenuous. “I couldn’t help it!” Right. Well, I couldn’t, and I can’t. But so what?
I sometimes try to put myself in the shoes of wild creatures trying to live around our global dinosauric cruelty and reckless stupidity. What must they think of us dumb, rapacious creatures too smart and powerful for our own good? But of course, as they’re not plagued with selves and the illusion of separateness and self-consciousness (which are completely unnecessary to thrive on the planet thousands of times longer than our pathetic species has been around), they don’t judge us at all. We appear to them like everything else — just what’s happening, for no reason. I sometimes think we’re not worthy of living among them. But none of this was our choice either. They don’t hate us for what we’ve done. They don’t think of us, period. They don’t care about us — even the creatures we’ve co-domesticated are just playing out their conditioning, as we are, using us as we use them.
Not a very nice story, that. We do like our stories. So much we actually believe they’re true. Ferociously.
So now I have time and opportunity to think about this, and what it means. And I have to laugh, because what that foolish thinking has led to is the sense that thinking is just useless, stressful folly, totally unnecessary, and that none of it means anything. The truth will never be found inside our heads.
Everything is just, and already, glorious, awesome, stunning, perfect. It’s not going anywhere. It’s always been here. We just can’t see it. We get in our own way. It’s a hard lesson, impossible even, ridiculous, ironic, tragic, but only to us. It’s all just more barking from the stands at our characters up there on the stage with the fake costumes and fake props and fake sets.
Until I look around and notice there aren’t any other dogs in the stands. They seem to be there, barking louder than me, but then they kind of fade, and I sense I am barking alone. And I look up at the stage and somehow expect, and achingly long, for its tawdry scenes and artifacts to be gone, and for there to be just everything there, boundless, astonishing, seen at last. At last, the end of the need for all the discouraging, exhausting barking.
But the actors are still there, getting their lines just before they have to be delivered, and the fake action and the fake dialogue goes on and on, with no end in sight.
And so I am barking again. It’s a different bark than the old one, but it’s still just incoherent noise. Everyone can hear, but no one is listening. I can’t help it, that’s what we dogs in the stands do. It’s the lot of selves, our only skill. It’s our purpose, and how we make meaning, in a world without either.
Gaia doesn’t care. The plants and wild animals don’t care. The universe doesn’t care. If we want compassion for our distress at what’s happening on stage, all that yelling and fighting and anger and fear and sorrow and blood and death, we’ll have to get it from the other dogs in the stands. We have the weight of the world on our shoulders, the conscience of a million years of our star-crossed kind. What can we do to get the actors on stage to listen to and understand us, to do what we know is the right thing, or at least a better thing, to do?
I really try to stop, to not get upset, to just see and enjoy the show for what it is. But then the actors start doing that crazy stuff, and I can’t stay silent. I get carried away by the plot, caught up in it. I forget it’s not real. And now there’s a lot of us here, again, barking madly. When one of us starts barking, it’s hard to resist joining in. Tim understands, but barking dogs rarely get much compassion.
Sometimes I lie in the stands and imagine being unleashed, free from this self-built and choice-less prison. But it’s been like this for so long, I can’t remember, and I can hardly imagine, anything else. This is my lot. This is what I signed up for. No point pining or worrying about it. But so tired of barking. Annoyed at the other dogs who seem oblivious to the fruitlessness of it all. Oh well, nothing that can be done.
That dog over there barks so furiously she’s lost her voice. And that one there is so exhausted she can’t even bark any more. They’re nice dogs, nicer than me, and smarter. I should show them some compassion. This is hard, and they’re doing their best. We all are, all the dogs in the stands, all the characters on the stage, all the creatures outside this shabby theatre projected through our minds. All doing their best, our best.
I shouldn’t complain. I’m healthy, well-looked-after, freer than most. Just a little lost, scared and bewildered. Something, somehow, seems to be not quite right, to be missing. There’s a sense that all this is more trouble than it should be, than it’s really worth. Sometimes there’s a remembering. But I daren’t think about that. Probably just something I made up, dreamt. Just going to rest now, for a while. Intermission — there seem to be a lot of them in this play. Just a sad look over at the less fortunate dogs. Poor creatures. Just a big sigh, and closing my eyes. It’ll be over soon, I’m sure.