Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Objects of Perception

I recently decided that my spiritual life would benefit from the experience of a silent retreat, but being at the mercy of government funding it wasn’t financially viable for me to take myself off to some hut in the Welsh valleys and sit at the foot of an enlightened master (spiritual understanding costs a lot of money, it seems); not only that, but I’m not about to pay some numb hippy for the privilege of sitting on a cushion and talking clap-trap for a week in the hope of discovering what I already know, then having to hitch-hike home in the rain five hundred quid lighter and having run out of Rizlas.


So I decided to conduct my retreat at home, where there is central heating and a kettle, and more importantly, no hippy.

I sent word to my friends and fellow alcoholics that I was not to be molested for forty-eight hours, stocked up on coffee, earl grey and tobacco, turned my phones off, shut down the computer and readied myself for a veritable orgy of self-inquiry.

The point of self-inquiry is this: to uncover our true nature; that part of us which is unchanging and eternal; that part of us which is always here, which has always been here.

I was going to be doing a lot of sitting. A lot of sitting, and not much else.

The first thing that we notice through self-inquiry is that we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts arise within us, they are objects of perception: therefore our thoughts are not who we are. The same thing goes for our feelings and our sensations, which arise and subside, but that which witnesses them is always there.

The same goes for our body. We are aware of our body, we have a body, but we are not our body. Or if you like: my nose is me, but I am not my nose.

And on and on it goes. The Indians call it Neti-Neti, meaning not this – not this. Our personalities, our habits, our beliefs: all of these are objects of perception; thoughts that occur in the mind, and as such cannot be who we are.

Up to this point, I’d been happily discarding all these objects of perception and coming to the conclusion that if I am not the object, I must be the subject: the perceiver.

And then I noticed: I can perceive the perceiver. The perceiver is one more object of perception. The perceiver is the same as the objects of perception. They are two aspects of the same thing.

So who is watching the perceiver? 

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Self Inquiry 101

This is the self inquiry suggested by Nisargadatta, that I am practicing while on self-imposed silent retreat, in my flat, with coffee and cigarettes.


I AM (sense of Being)


We Are That

So I finally found a guru, and Sri Nisargadatta was his name.

Shocking, I know. Not his name (although that is somewhat exotic), or the fact that he was an Indian (a dead Indian, at that), but the fact that I had finally condescended to entertain the notion of a spiritual teacher.

I have never believed in teachers or gurus because I’ve always been convinced that if there’s something to be found I can find it myself, and not only that, but the beards, shaved heads, sandals, nuts, tofu and joss sticks tend to bring out  the worst in me. Far from being seduced by their apparent “spirituality”, I’m more inclined to punch them in the throat and shout: “Get out of my face, hippy.”

That’ll be the “irritable, restless and discontented” aspect of my personality. One thing I know, though, is that my personality is not who I am, and as such is irrelevant and can be discarded: who I am has never changed; who I am cannot change.

Another thing that has always put me off is the complication of everything. If we already are what we are looking for, then why the endless ritual?

The reason that I had a spiritual awakening through the twelve steps was that they stripped away delusions that I’d been walking round with all my life. A lot of concepts were thrown out the window. Most of my beliefs collapsed under investigation. The more concepts we destroy, the more glaring the truth, yes?

Since that time I have been on a journey of destruction: there is only one thing I care about and that is the stripping away of everything.

If we strip away everything, we are left with the truth, and we are that.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011



We’ve all got one.

A rigidly held system of beliefs, which have no basis in reality.

We all believe in something; usually that what we believe is the truth.

Unexamined beliefs are not the truth, nor can they tell us about the truth.

Beliefs occur in the mind; they are conditioned patterns of thought. Christianity, Buddhism, Atheism, Conservatism, Materialism, and so on: these are nothing but conditioned patterns of thought. To believe in any concept at all is to move further away from the truth.

Everything we think we know is nothing but a deeply entrenched opinion; usually someone else’s.

We swallow our feed without asking what’s in it. Like sheep.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

With All Guns Blazing

It dawned on me on New Year’s Eve that the time had probably come to stop smoking. I know how it sounds.

I have three primary reasons for this decision:

#1 I breathe like a seventy two year old meat addict and can barely make it to the top of the stairs.

#2 Stuffing my body full of fags, coffee, chilli and other stimulants is not conducive to a sattvic mind, which I wish to cultivate for the purposes of enlightenment.

#3 I’m fucking fed up of standing outside in the cold at parties.

So, realising that the surgery would be shut the following day and that I was in danger of missing the auspicious moment, I headed down to see the nurse.

            “Nurse,” I declared, “the time has come for me to stop smoking. I know how it sounds. Like a new year’s resolution. Be that as it may – or may not – I am a recovered alcoholic and I don’t give up anything until I’m half dead. I’m going to need all the stuff you can throw at me.  Patches, pills, lozenges, puffers, you name it. I’m going to need everything in your arsenal.”

The very first thing she did was get out a chart which showed how much money I would save over six months if I stopped smoking. It came to something like a grand and a half. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I don’t pay duty on tobacco, being an anarchist who doesn’t believe in subsidising murder, and also being on the dole.

Not only that, but I had made my decision, and by God, I was going to stick to it. I just needed the necessary non-smoking accoutrements so I could go about the business of non-smoking: and I aimed to go about it with all guns blazing.

After a spot of mild coercion she decided to put me on Champix, with an instruction to keep smoking for at least three days, which blew my visions of a religious epiphany on New Year’s Day somewhat out the water, but - I have to admit - held its appeal nonetheless.

It’s an interesting concept, Champix. It allegedly coats the receptors in your brain which require nicotine. It effectively takes away the craving for a cigarette. My friends all swear by it, and use it whenever they’re stopping smoking. They use it a lot. Obviously this was the way forward. What could be easier than stopping smoking when the desire to smoke has left you?

And herein lies the problem.

I’m not giving up smoking because I want to give up smoking. No. I love smoking. After great sex, it is probably the most enjoyable experience in the world. In fact, after great sex, it’s usually the next thing I do. To be honest, there are many reasons that I think smoking is great, and here are just a few:

#1 Former smokers (or anti-smokers, to be more accurate) are the most sanctimonious and insufferable twats in the universe, and I like smoking just to get their backs up.

#2 It is an infringement of my civil liberties to be prohibited from smoking in public places. If we just roll over every time our freedoms (such as they are) are threatened, we soon won’t have any left.

#3 Those smarmy bastards who harp on about passive smoking, while ferrying their children to school and back in SUVs.

#4 Don’t tell me what to do, fascist.

#5 I am not a cow.

As we speak, I am on day 9 of the Champix challenge, and I am still smoking. To be sure, I have experienced most of the side-effects that I was promised: my sleeping has become irregular, I’m having nightmares, I’m feeling nauseous and my resentments are totally out of control, but as yet I have not experienced the one side-effect that I’m after, which is the desire to stop smoking.

Perhaps it is my lot to die from lung cancer or tuberculosis. Perhaps I’m destined to end my life sounding like Stephen Hawking and drowning in an ocean of phlegm. Then again, I may wake up tomorrow with the obsession to smoke a distant memory, and an insatiable craving for tofu and humus. What will be will be, I suppose.

What will be will be.