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      Paul met Debbie

      Last week, in replying to my post about “Illness Identity”, Jenny asked if my approach to life and CF had a cultural or spiritual inclination. And how I came to this set of beliefs and practices. I started to write a short answer to this, only to find out that is was a long answer after all. And therefore it seemed more suitable as a Sunday Morning talk. Here it comes.

      I don’t think my approach to life is culturally based – there is not anything in Dutch culture (if such a thing exists) that is more conducive to this approach than in the average Western values and beliefs. And the word spiritual has been misused too much to have any strength or clarity left, so I rather avoid that. My story is just a story of someone who started wanting pure reality, for no other reason than to find what really is. For me, it had a strong pull, stronger than anything else. It was like a moth being attracted to the light. Finding a more pure sense of reality than my conditioned mind could provide me. Who am I? was the leading question, and still is. And I was never satisfied with the easy and unclear answers of the conditioned mind, institutionalized religions or contemporary sciences. After Descartes confused `being’ with thinking, all new (Western) philosophies and -ologies only revolved around the knowledge of thinking, and clearly missed the point that they should have looked into: the knowledge of being. Fortunately, Eastern philosophies provide in that and have been very well documented as well. These days one does not have to physically visit India, China or Japan or read Sanskrit, Mandarin or Japanese to get familiar with these ancient texts of wisdom. Many good translations are available. And if reading is not one’s inclination, many teachers have made it their life’s achievement to give workshops and presentations and these are available on the internet as well.

      Being born with cystic fibrosis was helpful, because initially this provided me with a clearly visible and noticeable identification, an easy story of myself that seemed to be real. Although circumstances and the world tried to sell this story to my mind, I intuitively never felt it to be true – it just didn’t feel like this story was about me. And once I noticed that not even my disease story was real (although the symptoms were), I did not stop there and started wondering what other identifications I and most other people had, that were also unreal. And one by one, helped by the happenings in life (another word for grace) and good people that came on my way, I found out that none of the identifications could stand the test of true looking, or the test of time. It was like the belief in Santa Claus that came and, on close inspection, turned out untrue and went away again. Every identity proved to be a conditioning, a colored translation and conceptualization that limited my most inner feeling of being, and so my attention turned away from those limitations one by one. Sometimes entire systems of conditioning fell away in one go, for instance the inclinations to judge, compare, or complain. When Debbie and I met, this whole process was sped up because she also had a strong inclination for reality and stillness, and it is a joy doing this together because we both love it. I am sure an important part of our instant mutual attraction is caused by the recognition in each other of this love for innate unbound freedom – and of course Debbie is lovely in every other way as well.

      This process of liberation is still going on and every step of it reveals more freedom. We feel there is no limit to this process because freedom is boundless and timeless. Freedom from the mind, from the known. On our website you find some more stories about this process, getting out of the mind, wholeness etc. But mind you, these are only stories of a mirage telling the passing Bedouin how he managed to turn into the sand again. As is this story as well. Because of course, there never was a mirage in the first place. Meaning that the person finds out in the end that he never separately existed, other than as an illusory bundle of thoughts and beliefs, and the separation vanishes when this function of the brain called the mind fades away from focus. And then others who watched the whole thing, question who they still perceive as the person – what happened and how he did it. And the answer then comes from that what is exposed after the person has gone and was always there – the pure aliveness of “I am” which doesn’t know what the fuss is all about because nothing has changed for that part of the creation. The sand was always the sand and never really turned in to the mirage. This can lead to a lot of misunderstandings, needless to say.

      It is no belief or set of beliefs, on the contrary it is more like an ever expanding set of non-beliefs. It is filling the mind with emptiness. It is about the emptying and dissolving of the conditioned beliefs and convictions of the mind. Most of what remains is non-conceptual, more like intuition. Because it is non-conceptual, it can’t be grasped or understood by the mind, and it is difficult to explain; in words, one can only point to it. But all of this can be very clearly experienced by testing and applying it in daily life. Which is crucial, because only reading and mentally understanding will not do it. One can talk and write about the taste of a strawberry until one runs out of words, but only the eating will clarify what that really means. It is more like self induced psychotherapy, the foundations of which are mostly in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, like Advaita Vedanta. It is changing one’s perspective on reality to a degree where, in the end, there is no separate perspective left and only direct reality remains. There are practices like meditation (I did a lot of that during nebulizing) that can be conducive, but it all starts with a sincere longing for what the Japanese Zen master Bankei (1622 -1693) called “the unborn mind”, the pure mind that is free from conditioning (which includes seeing through conditioning and thus render it harmless). Every technique needs to be abandoned again, the goal of practicing is to make the practice superfluous, not to get good at it. After all, I don’t want to be an accomplished meditator, I want to be free. Eventually to find out that “I” have to vanish for that, the ego has to go.

      Everyone needs to find his or her own unique way in this process. Having good examples, wise people that have gone there before, helps of course. Because there is a lot of, what we call, “sweet nonsense” around in this area of human knowledge as well. And the mind does not give in easily, it prefers to hide in pitfalls and rabbit holes, pretending not to be there anymore, but lingering on in a new disguise. So the process is never done. Even after reaching clarity, one has to be vigilant to prevent the mind from smudging it over again. Our best guides were Eckhart Tolle (The power of now), J. Krishnamurti (Freedom from the Known), Nisargadatta (I am That) and Ramana Maharshi (whose life and teachings are very well documented by David Godman). We enjoyed listening to the life stories of Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) very much as well,  and Alan Watts had a unique way of introducing these perennial philosophies with a lot of humor and eloquence in his many talks that were recorded. Each of these sources provide a fountain of other sources as well. There is so much to learn and realize in this area of maturing, that was never taught to us in the Western systems of learning, or in the ego-based way people are brought up in our part of the world.

      We never limited ourselves to one source or school of thought or wisdom, it was and still is a very eclectic and intuitive, non-linear course of self study and self realization we follow. For instance we also came to know about the early Christian teachings of Meister Eckhart, and about Sufi’s, and a lot about Zen and Dao, the life and poems of the Japanese wandering monk Ryokan, and the poetry of Rumi and Hafez. The intriguing thing is to find out that in the core they all point to the same truth. As all religions do as well – before they went viral and institutional, that is. And we do it together, never had any inclination to join any group or school. It is total self-inquiry and applying it in life every second. Debbie applies this freedom in her paintings as well. And it is the thing we love to “do” most. It is fun, sometimes confronting (although, with the thinning of the ego, less and less) and still very enlightening and surprising. It makes us dance through life, where identity based thinking falls away more and more. Doing that together is a true joy.

      We have no goal, we don’t want to reach anything in the future, the doing is the entire thing and freedom is the lead. We don’t mind finding out that we are as helpless and vulnerable as the leaves blown away by the wind of life – because we are the wind as well. Surrendering to that is freedom, and nothing compares.

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