The Shimmering Dead End
Thoughts on the packaging and sale of nonduality

The downer trope of “higher” consciousness

An aspirational spirit is one of the greatest gifts of human life, but when the aspiration is for “higher” consciousness, we couldn’t employ a poorer term to describe it. The higher=better metaphor forms the seed crystal for a significant chunk of the folk theory of enlightenment, and it appears to occlude a recognition of nondual awareness by defining it as something we are not—right now. But it appeals to our biological prerogative to ascend the hierarchy, which is probably where the whole aspirational thing got its start.

Nondual enlightenment is not a jump from lower to higher consciousness, it is a lateral shift in the perception of awareness, one that comes as a recognition of awareness that has been ongoing. Like the sailor who went around the world to find his greatest love in his old neighborhood, the question becomes, did he ever really need to leave? Some would say yes, perhaps out of an appeal to romance, but while many travel long and hard on the spiritual path, not very many ever seem to arrive at their intended destination, and this may only because their idea of where they were headed has always been entirely wrong.

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8 Responses to “The downer trope of “higher” consciousness”

  1. Amen to this!

    I’ve had a few people recently tell me that they’re in a process of working out whether it’s ‘worth’ engaging with spiritual practice. As if some kind of cost-benefit analysis could settle it. Your article seems to shed some light on this…

    • Hey Duncan.

      I’m convinced folks are better off meditating than not, but I’m not convinced any form of instruction is worth more than a few hundred dollars per year, and that many forms of meditation are perfectly fine despite the fact they were perfectly free to learn, vipassana being an example of this.

    • > I’ve had a few people recently tell me that they’re in a
      > process of working out whether it’s ‘worth’ engaging
      > with spiritual practice.

      Whenever someone asks what something is worth, they’re implicitly wondering, “Will doing this improve my chances of getting what I want?”

      Maybe they’ve never carefully examined the underlying desire. When someone asks what spiritual practice is worth, it’s a great opportunity for them to look into their wants.

      All wants can be questioned. What is it that’s lacking, that I think I must fill with some spiritual yada yada? Why do I want to get this thing? For what? For who?

      Perceives our own thinking/wanting… frees us from that leash of blindly following the unexamined desire for [whatever].

      A fascinating realm can be opened up by seriously facing these questions about “is it worth it?”

  2. Oh, I wish you hadn’t used the t-word (“truth”), even in lower case. That’s one that gets people thinking there’s a “there” there.

    • Very good point, Sensai. I made some adjustments to accommodate the specter of semantics that looms at every turn in these discussions.

  3. > while many travel long and hard on the spiritual path, not very
    > many ever seem to arrive at their intended destination, and this
    > is only because their idea of where they were headed has
    > always been entirely wrong.

    I began my meditation practice with an intended destination: I wanted to get a special wonderful blissful spiritual holy mind-state that would last forever. I’ve gotten my share of big wow experiences, always temporary. That doesn’t make such experiences worthless… but it does suggest that they’re not the MOST important thing. In fact, I’ve come to consider this desire (to get and hold a special state) as a cause of its own problems.

    Practices like meditation may begin as a desire for some imagined destination… then morph into something different. A time came when I was ready to question my own wants: WHY was I trying to get something/somewhere? For what? For who?

    In the beginning, though, I wasn’t able to consider such questions. Maybe if someone had given me really good teaching in the beginning, I would have been able to examine and question the desires and destinations I’d fabricated.

    But maybe not! Maybe the path I’ve taken was the path I was capable of. That is: maybe my initial imaginings and desires were so strong, that I could no way examine and question my motives. Maybe my only choice was to throw everything into an attempt to get some special magical mojo… and only after I’d sufficiently exhausted myself, only after I’d personally experienced the effects of chasing my wants… was I able to consider that these wants themselves could be examined and questioned.

    From the get-go, there were clear teachings, pointing to the truth that’s already appeared: what do I see, what do I hear, what am I doing just now? These clear teachings held no interest for me in the beginning. There were teachers who continued to point this way all those years… for whomever could hear them.

    I’m not angry at the teachers who encouraged me to chase mirages. I *wanted* to chase those mirages; that’s precisely why I gravitated towards such teachers for so long. And there were other teachers patient enough to keep clear teachings alive. Because of them, clear teaching is available for those times when I’ll listen, having suffered enough from chasing the alternatives.

    When my Zen teacher encountered someone who showed no interest in questioning everything and examining their own experience, he’d make some effort to point them in that direction. If that didn’t seem to have any effect on them, the teacher would eventually casually say, “More suffering necessary.”

    Stuart
    http://stuart-randomthoughts.blogspot.com/

  4. I have written on the directionality encoded in language and how it reveals peoples programming and I was going to send you that link for your perusal. But instead, I find I am sending you this: http://soliton108.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!7C398AD7B74C5893!401.entry

    If you have any sources on Kali Ma and the “Charnel Ground” I would appreciate them for inclusion in the Wikipedia article of same name. xox B9

    • You might want to read Lakoff and Johnson’s “Metaphors We Live By” or “Philosophy in the Flesh.” They very convincingly demonstrate that all human reason is constrained and contained in metaphors of what we can do with our bodies.


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