Once when we were on Maui, walking along Lahaina's charming Front Street, I saw a Proust quote on a board outside an art gallery. Since we were vacationing on a tropical island, far from home, it made me think.
There are several versions of the translation. Here's one close to what I read that night:
Proust seems to have hit upon a central existential choice. In pursuing personal growth, do we focus on doing different things, or on looking upon things differently?
Some friends and I chatted about this last Sunday. None of us are big into traveling or thrill-seeking. Outwardly our lives appear pretty mundane compared to people who are always off on a new trip or fresh adventure.
Yet we didn't feel that we were stuck, unchanging, mired in routine. I said that even though every day I usually go on the same dog walk, around the same lake, each time is different.
I'm never quite the same person. Even when nature looks much the same -- climate, vegetation, wildlife -- my senses and brain process the dog walk differently. So I never get tired of taking the same geographic route, because the journey always is varied within my psyche.
Much discussion on this blog centers around a similar Proustian distinction. That's because religions, spiritual paths, philosophical teachings, and meditation approaches tend to reflect the same duality.
Some emphasize having different experiences. Others, experiencing differently.
Zen Buddhism, for example, doesn't focus much on other-worldly, mind-blowing mystical experiences.
Everyday here and now, such as pouring a cup of tea, is valued just as much (if not more so) as far out extraordinary excursions into alternative realities of consciousness.
Other faiths, such as the version of Sant Mat that I followed for over thirty years, emphasize the necessity of soul-soaring inner experiences, hearing cosmic sounds and seeing divine light.
These are considered to be the touchstone of spiritual progress, which helps explain why some commenters on my blog posts say that if I haven't had such experiences, then my decades of daily meditation have been in vain.
I used to agree with that perspective. But now I resonate more with "have new eyes" than "see new landscapes." And I don't think it's entirely, or even mostly, due to not having seen the inner regions that, Sant Mat teaches, await the soul traveler.
Seeing different things... this approach says that reality is divided into better and worse realms, that where we are now is not where we should be, that what we have to do is transplant ourselves into a heavenly domain far distant from Earth's crude materiality.
However, there's a lot to like in the notion of seeing things differently... accepting that reality is just fine the way it is, that what's needed is a shift in perspective rather than a shift in time and space, that no matter how many new experiences are added to our "What We've Done" account our wisdom net worth won't increase much.
As I've mentioned before, one of the things that drove me in a churchless direction was having more involvement with higher-ups in a mystical-religious organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas.
These were people who had risen to positions under the direct supervision of the guru, who is considered to be god in human form. They had lots of meditation experience, lots of face time with RSSB gurus, lots of volunteer (seva) time under their karmic belt.
Yet I saw that they were just as egotistical and flawed as I was. Maybe more. So this led me to wonder, "What good is all of these supposedly spiritual experiences that they've had, if their attitude toward life hasn't changed in any observable fashion?"
People can travel to India every year, meditate for hours every day, feel love and devotion for a guru at almost every conscious moment. Yet all this can leave them just as they were before, aside from memories of their experiences.
I've found that when I don't worry about having certain spiritual or mystical experiences, it becomes easier to open up to a fresh way of experiencing -- everything.
More and more, my life is suffused with a sense of mystery and wonder that I hadn't felt during my true believing days, probably because back then I wrongly considered that I was well on the way to unraveling the Big Cosmic Mysteries.
So I understand, imperfectly but at least a little, how it is possible to flip into a fresh way of experiencing life that isn't dependent on particular experiences.
This doesn't denigrate the importance or significance of experiencing this or that. But when we're always waiting for something more to happen, we're not going to appreciate the happening that always is right at hand.
As always, a very thought provoking post! As to your question, "do we focus on doing different things, or on looking upon things differently?" -- My response is that it's not an either/or. In my estimation, both routes have merit.
That said, western society tends to focus on the former, while folks like you and I focus more on the latter.
Posted by: The Rambling Taoist | March 23, 2009 at 09:43 PM
This is a great post Brian. Its honest and right to the core of the matter.
I am of the same outlook as you have described yourself these days. It is all in HOW I see, in HOW I look at the dance of life in the present moment that matters most, and not WHAT I may see.
Its not WHAT I see (such as extrordinary visions etc) that makes me grow and achieve a deeper understanding and aliveness, but rather HOW I see the ordinary (although wonderous) happenings of everyday life.
Posted by: tAo | March 23, 2009 at 11:04 PM
This way of seeing/feeling is nice.(awareness).
Maybe 'believe' hasn't to do anything with it.
It's just about the way of looking..
Indeed believe-systems can stay in the way to be in here and now.
Posted by: Sita | March 24, 2009 at 05:05 AM
Keep walking Brian, keep trudging your path of self discovery, you may be halfway there or else perhaps you've just started, neither you nor anyone around here can know for sure, so search your inadequate intellect for the answers, they may never get satisfied this way or that, but long as you don't stop trudging to your destination, sooner or later, this yuga or the next, you may trip over your moment of awakening.
Like I said already it has hardly got all that much to do with you and your exalted aggrandized perception of how clever you may think you are, not in the very slightest does it have anything to do with that aspect of you whatsoever. The sooner you can get shot of that highfalutin aggrandized illusion of your self worth and high esteem the better, only then when you become less than the dust you so proudly trample on will there be any hope for your forlorn and weary soul.
Like I said keep on trucking boyo, keep on trudging that wearisome highway till your weary lonesome feet can trudge no more, then, and only then, you may find what you ultimately looking for.
You reckon 30 years is some way to go, perhaps you looking for a medal of courageous service, you haven't even started on the road to reality, not even half way to nowhere by my estimation, and I can assure you I'm not that far off the mark.
Posted by: ashy | March 24, 2009 at 12:11 PM
I really enjoyed this post. I think if there is any change needed at all, it is not a change with what is, but a change with how one relates to life, or sees life, as you put it. I understand what it feels like to feel dissatisfaction, and I am coming to realize that letting go of the dissatisfaction is more conducive to happiness than trying to change the thing I am dissatisfied with. Of course there are times when it is necessary to act for change in a situation also.
Posted by: Adam | March 24, 2009 at 12:19 PM
my question for you is, whether you are right or wrong, why do you care? What bothers you about Brian running this site?
Posted by: Adam | March 24, 2009 at 12:21 PM
ashy, I love your comments. It's like having a groupie who is obsessed with me. Well, maybe more like a stalker. But at any rate, I'm impressed with how concerned you are about my state of my possibly immortal soul.
Guess you didn't feel Catherine's warm, blissful ball of light. Maybe it will have a delayed reaction on you -- I feel like you need a big hug from someone or something. Seriously...it isn't healthy to be so angry.
Posted by: Brian | March 24, 2009 at 12:22 PM
Poor little "Ashy".
Ashy is nothing more than a deliberate troll who came here with an intentionally derisive attitude and a singular agenda to ridicule ex-satsangis, and to suppress critical thinking relative to Santmat and especially any criticism of the RS cult and dogma.
And unfortunately Ashy is the one who hasn't "even started on the road to reality, not even half way to nowhere", and who is so extremely "far off the mark".
It must be awfully tough for Ashy... down there in the South Africa RS sangat. Oh yeah.
Sound familar to anybody? LOL!
Posted by: tAo | March 24, 2009 at 12:56 PM
who knows I might even be your fairy godmother keeping you out from harms way of the wicked witch of the west.
ever consider it thus, could be worth a thought huh?
Posted by: ashy | March 24, 2009 at 12:57 PM
the only cult and dogma prevalent around here is this bunch of highfalutin self aggrandized self indoctrinated swathe of ass about face nincompoops
hardly anybody else.
Posted by: ashy | March 24, 2009 at 01:38 PM
heh heh. but heh I'm here, and I'm a hardly kinda guy... and I'm also 100 percent highfalutin & nincompoop free.
Posted by: tAo | March 25, 2009 at 12:59 AM
Dr. Covey used to tell a story – When riding on a bus a man got on with 2 young kids. The man was dejected, and just sat in his seat with his head down. Meanwhile his kids ran all over the bus raising a fuss. Dr. Covey and the other passengers were very disgusted with the man for letting his children behave in this way. So – Dr. Covey got up and went to the man and told him that his children were being disruptive. The man said; “I know. We just came from the hospital. We were in an auto accident and my wife, their mother, was killed and we are all very upset.”
Hearing this explanation Dr. Covey and the people on the bus had a paradigm shift. Instead of being upset with the man and his children they felt empathy for them and tried to help the man and his children.
So, I agree with you Brian. Seeing differently, having new eyes or flipping into a fresh way of experiencing life is like the paradigm shift Dr. Covey mentions in his story. No doubt, Ashley is like a child thrashing about and being disruptive because he is lost and cannot deal with his situation in any other way.
Posted by: Turnertoons | March 25, 2009 at 03:52 AM
Zen as presented by Allen Watts is the only rational spiritaul outlook of everyday life i've encountered. There's no believeing beyond what is actual.
But i'm out for the experience of unending joy and beauty.
Are internal experience real or not is why people want to see physical miracles. There's no other way to proof it.
Posted by: Cyfer | March 25, 2009 at 08:24 AM
Can assure you its absolutely no skin off ones nose one way or the other whether the illuminated highly educated PhD's and psychoanalytically minded grandiose Harvard graduates in here conjecture and cajole their intellectually contrived minds to classify any particular individual as child like, or out of control.
The reality of it still stands that no amount of intellectual regurgitated gymnastics, no matter how profound and elevated you couch your analysis will take you one step or one iota closer to any goal whether spiritual or other.
This is all akin to beating about the bush, whisking away at the froth of nonsensical hyper analysis without achieving anything whatsoever, it is simply a forum for exercising the mind and intellect and in so doing airing ones egotistical traits for all and sundry to notice.
No wonder any teacher worth his salt forbids such exercises in futility, as they are fully aware of the resultant consequences of such futile, egocentric, non elevating practices.
If anyone could get anywhere nearer to Nirvana or Samadhi through twiddling on their laptops while exercising their crass engrossed intellects, then the entire educated middle American society would have reached bliss and near perfection by now.
Posted by: ashy | March 25, 2009 at 09:29 AM
ashy, it's a miracle! Apparently you were able to post your comment without "twiddling on a laptop"! How did you do it?
Or... are you the proverbial kettle calling the pot black -- spending lots of time on the Internet telling people "Don't waste your time on the Internet!" And analyzing the heck out of blog posts while advising people, "Don't analyze!"
In your quiet contemplative moments, do you ever get a glimpse that maybe, just perhaps, you are the enemy that you're fighting so mightily against?
Posted by: Brian | March 25, 2009 at 09:40 AM
nice to make your acquaintance said the one egotist to the other, so here we are two ego's thrashing away at the very core of the oblivion, either the penny drops and the lessons get learned or we continue thrashing away at fresh air and our egotistical froth, devoid of any substance.
You reckon there is something to be learned from this discussion or discourse, I say no, it remains a forum for those like you and I who have failed to grasp the core essential reason for our very existence, and that is to find out who we are, you wont find it on here, and neither will I.
Posted by: ashy | March 25, 2009 at 09:53 AM
I am now starting to feel that you are possibly ready for Dzogchen. Your seeming anti-intellectual, anti-analytic, anti-reason, anti-debate, anti-conceptual stance can be used to great advantage in the realization of Dzogchen, the self-perfected, self-liberated state of primordial awareness... or as you prefer to put it: "to grasp the core essential reason for our very existence, [...] to find out who we are"
Posted by: tAo | March 25, 2009 at 01:25 PM
Thanks, but I have my way, my path, my Dzogchen already mapped out, long before this body became manifest the path was laid, the hook baited, and cast into the mighty ocean waiting for the lone hungry marlin to catch the baited lure and bite.
And the deep sea fisherman knows, the inevitability of his line.
Once the raging marlin (untamed individual mind) has taken the inevitable bait there is but one inevitable result, no matter how long it takes, and how far out to sea the marlin pulls and tugs the fisherman's boat, or dives to the depths of the deepest part of the ocean, the fisherman lets loose the line giving the fish sufficient rein to soar and dive so as not to snap the line.
But once tired and worn out, the burning fire of the pain of the hook buried deep within his nose, will entice the weary marlin to swim back towards the boat and to the inevitable end, his head on the inevitable chopping block.
Posted by: ashy | March 25, 2009 at 03:03 PM
"This is all akin to beating about the bush, whisking away at the froth of nonsensical hyper analysis without achieving anything whatsoever, it is simply a forum for exercising the mind and intellect and in so doing airing ones egotistical traits for all and sundry to notice."
"If anyone could get anywhere nearer to Nirvana or Samadhi through twiddling on their laptops while exercising their crass engrossed intellects,.."
--What if it's not possible to get any closer than that? That is, what if 'Nirvana' or whatever you want to call IT is already present? Where else would it be?
"...it remains a forum for those like you and I who have failed to grasp the core essential reason for our very existence, and that is to find out who we are, you wont find it on here, and neither will I."
--How do you know the core essential reason for our very existence is to find who we are? What if there is no reason at all for our existence because what we imagine to exist as 'us' does not exist in the first place? What if what we are doing here right now IS the 'reason' for our 'existence"? What's wrong with typing and thinking?
What if the marlin is the boat? How could it swim back to itself?
What if? What if? What if?... Ah hah!
Posted by: tucson | March 25, 2009 at 09:02 PM
"Thanks, but I have my way, my path, my Dzogchen already mapped out, long before this body became manifest the path was laid"
-- Thats all just an idea in your mind... that you think there is a "my way", that a "path" was "mapped out", that there was a "long before". You're lost... and thats precisely because you really think that you found your way.
Also btw and fyi, dzogchen is not a "way" or "path". You have ignorantly presumed that it is a "path". But dzogchen does not mean anything like that at all... and your response only goes to show that you really know nothing about dzogchen (as I expected), but thats not because you are unable to learn. Its because your mind is closed and so you won't learn. You think that you already have THE answer. You think that you know the way, the only true way. You think that you know. you only believe. However, because of all that, you are closed-minded and blind to the great mystery. You are closed and blind to the immanent reality. You are all but closed off, and thus you are ignorant of the actual meaning of dzogchen - of the nature of self-liberation, the intrinsic self-perfected state.
"Once the raging marlin (untamed individual mind) has taken the inevitable bait there is but one inevitable result..."
-- "untamed individual mind" you say??? LOL
"...no matter how long it takes, and how far out to sea the marlin pulls and tugs the fisherman's boat, or dives to the depths of the deepest part of the ocean, the fisherman lets loose the line giving the fish sufficient rein to soar and dive so as not to snap the line. But once tired and worn out, the burning fire of the pain of the hook buried deep within his nose, will entice the weary marlin to swim back towards the boat and to the inevitable end, his head on the inevitable chopping block."
-- Oh please, spare us from all such lame babble. Your little allegory is just more of the same tired old dualistic santmat rhetoric. Its dead. Its pseudo-mystical garbage, and it doesn't impress anyone.
If you are not willing to come up to speed, but merely wish to continue parroting the same old santmat dogma, in the same old self-righteous manner, then its likely that you will begin to become very ignored here.
Ashy wrote (in a previous post): "you and I who have failed to grasp the core essential reason for our very existence"
-- There is no such "core essential reason for our very existence". But you think that there is, because you (like many people) live in a world of fantasy and myth... and that is simply because you have failed to recognize the spontaneous and paradoxical nature of so-called 'existence'.
Posted by: tAo | March 25, 2009 at 10:56 PM
There is no answer, none at all, you think you can learn love, no such luck, you either have it or you don't, its either given you or it ain't, you either appreciate its grandeur and beauty or you wrangle on forever looking for answers.
Posted by: ashy | March 25, 2009 at 11:31 PM
not even one word, nor paragraph, that you have written here thus far shows its author to be an individual who knows anything of love, who has any love, or who is a loving person towards others. its all talk and no walk.
Posted by: tAo | March 26, 2009 at 09:42 AM
Ashy said "Like I said keep on trucking boyo"
I've recently read 'Angela's Ashes' a autobiography or memoir written by Frank McCourt and Irish author. Within said book is a sex scene in which Frank takes off all his clothes and gets and erection, his partner looks at him and says "Lord, you might be a scrawny bit of a fellow but that's a fine boyo you have there". This leads me to believe that in the 1930's in Ireland, more specifically Limerick Boyo was a slang term for a penis.
Posted by: Urban Slang | March 26, 2009 at 09:47 AM
Just as each and every one that is proselytizing his ego out here in all its unabashed vanity is precisely all talk and no walk.
You reckon you can walk on an internet blog site, not possible, that you do in your own proximity and not here.
I said it before its a venue for thrashing out ego, nothing more and nothing less, will hardly ever be anything else but that, and that is precisely why it may be frowned upon by those who know the value of humility, which does not include you or I.
Posted by: ashy | March 26, 2009 at 10:20 AM