The Barnwood Monk
Spiritual Essays, Observations, Pointers and Reminders
The Journey Is An Illusion
The biggest deception in spirituality is “the journey.” Practically everyone participates in it to some extent or another. I’ve found myself many times over the course of my life talking about my own spiritual journey. How I got from where I was to where I am. And while it certainly seems that way, it’s nothing but an illusion. A big lie.
In the Christian scriptures, a rich man comes to Jesus and asks what he can do to follow him. Jesus tells him he should give all of his possessions to the poor, causing the man to walk away. He wasn’t able to give away the most important thing in his life in order to find God. To many of us who have a spiritual practice, it is our so-called spiritual journey itself that we would not be able to give up. I could reveal right here and now that the spiritual journey is a complete waste of time, and there would be so many who would simply walk away. The journey is too important to them to let it go.
Consider that it is “the spiritual journey” that financially sustains the entire religious and spiritual industry. If people realized there is no need for a journey, billions in revenue would be lost all over the world. Teachers, preachers, authors and gurus would be out of their jobs. Entire sections of bookstores would be completely wiped out. Religious television programs, enlightenment seminars and tent revivals would have no audiences. If the truth of this was accepted, all seeking would go away instantly.
Far be it from me to attempt to shut down a lucrative industry and put so many people out of work. But I think we’re okay here because I doubt many would believe it anyway. For the majority of my own spiritual life, I didn’t get it either. And even if I did, I’m not sure how much of a difference it would have made. I loved my spiritual journey. I believed it was a very large part of who I was.
Allow me to suggest this: the spiritual life is not about acquiring or attaining anything. It is not about perfecting yourself, purifying yourself or getting better at anything. While all of these things are the goal of most spiritual teachings, the reality is none of that stuff is important and, from a spiritual standpoint, are actually impossible. You cannot “get” more spirituality. You cannot “become more spiritual.” If spirit is infinite, how can there be more to have? You cannot get more infinity.
The supposed spiritual journey is nothing more than an illusion. It’s you discovering what you already are, what you already have. That illusionary appearance of something happening or that you are gaining something is similar to the illusion one sees when opening curtains to produce more sunlight. The full of the sunlight already exists but is revealed when the obstruction of the curtains are removed. For us, The fullness of Spirit/God is already present and when the obstruction of ignorance/unawareness is removed, it is only then that we can see it. Nothing is really happening but to our mind it seems to be.
I’m not necessarily advocating a complete abandonment of a spiritual practice. The structure of our society continually works to lull us back into unconsciousness so sometimes it takes something which seems like a “practice” or “journey” to keep us constantly aware. It is important to remember though that whatever we think or feel is happening, we are not going anywhere or gaining anything. We have the fullness of spirit where we are at all times. We cannot lose it. We can never be without it. It is that constant remembrance that is the true spiritual practice.
The Universe and You
The most ego-centric position is, “There is the Universe/God and here is me, and the Universe/God is doing stuff to/for me.” How can you be something separate from the entire Universe/God? Do you really believe you are separate from the whole of everything else? No, what the universe does is what you do. What God is, is what you are. There isn’t something out there making things happen to you or for you. You are it, my friend! YOU are the whole of what is happening!
Our Strange, Habitual Mental Collections
Do you carry a collection of opinions around with you wherever you go, like pins or patches on a jacket or bumper stickers on a car? Have you ever considered what purpose your opinions serve? Do you use them to show people what type of person you are? What you think? What you believe? What you like? What you hate? What you are sure is right and what you are convinced is wrong? Do these opinions allow you to avoid investigating something further? Maybe the opinion is a position you held many years ago but you haven’t spent much time examining the topic since. No doubt it’s still true, right?
While there is nothing wrong with holding on to opinions, opinions themselves are just lazy substitutions for actual thinking. Opinions are formulated based upon past information, inaccurate or incomplete information and events and mental positions we once identified with. Over time, we confuse those mental positions for ourselves. “I am the one who loves this sports team. I belong to this region or country. I hate this type of music.”
We can consider opinions “junk food” for our mind. This junk food has the same consequences as real junk food has on our body. If you’ve ever tried to diet or just eat better, you know how relentless your body can be in its cravings for junk food. Often we’ll dig into junk food without even thinking about it and, before we realize it, we’ve eaten an entire bag or box of something not at all healthy for our body. This is the way it works with opinions as well. We almost always express opinions unconsciously. Because opinions are mental habits, they flourish in those unconscious environments.
The best way to deal with opinions is to put them under the light of consciousness. Become more aware of them. Spend conscious moments getting to the root of their origins. How did we acquire them? Why are we holding on to them? What benefits do our opinions bring to our life? What alternatives to my opinions exist and how can I consider those alternatives as well?
Your true nature holds no opinions at all. Like a newborn, your nature is that of complete awareness. In awareness there is no need or desire for opinion. When an opinion arises, it is the nature of the mind. The mind uses opinions as the foundation to form ego. That is why your opinions seem so much to be who you are. But that version of you is only a mental structure. Return to the infinite awareness of your true nature and watch the ego and its opinions dissolve.
That Isn’t A God
To be recognized as a god, a being would need to be significantly better at following its own rules of moral behavior than its own worshippers are. A god which demonstrated a “do as I say, not as I do” type of lifestyle behavior would simply be a manipulative con artist and not worthy of worship by any followers.
A god who demands of its followers to “forgive seventy times seven,” would need to demonstrate the capacity to forgive even more than that, otherwise that god is less moral than its own followers. That god could not claim to “forgive seventy times seven” then prepare a place of eternal punishment for its own imperfect children to be tortured for not believing. There is no room for punishment or torture in forgiveness.
Equally, a god who creates a law, “do not kill,” cannot kill without becoming worse than its disobeying followers. A god who does not accept killing from its worshippers, yet creates plagues and pestilence to kill innocent babies and children, floods to wipe out the world population and a murderous crucifixion so its own child can be a blood sacrifice, should be seen as a devil, not a god.
If a god claims to love and protect those who are faithful to it, you would expect that love and protection to surpass anything one could experience from any human interaction. If that so-called loving and protective god then made a bet with Satan to allow its most faithful follower to be harassed and tortured for no other reason than just to test if that faithful person would become unfaithful, we should call that god a devil as well. One can’t just claim that god is not subject to the same rules it demands of its followers. We have historical records of kings, queens and rulers who created laws for their subjects and then did not follows those very same laws. They are known as treacherous leaders.
Don’t be fooled by stories of evil gods which attempt to convince you such gods are divine. Don’t listen to the ignorant people who claim to follow these gods. Don’t attend any church or temple that centers around such gods and don’t believe any book which calls those gods “holy.” It’s a lie. You know it because you are already better than any such god.
What Still Stands?
When you choose to deconstruct your faith, pay very close attention to what survives, what remains standing. Those things are pointers to what is ultimately true.
So much religious doctrine and dogma can’t survive the light of basic thought and reasoning. It’s why many religious people distrust education. You can destroy the foundations of most religions just by asking simple questions.
Meditation Is Doing Nothing
In meditation, I am not attempting to “do” anything. There is no striving or desiring to make anything happen, nor is there an expectation of anything happening. Meditation is only an alignment of myself to what is. It is becoming aware of the truth of “nowness.” When pausing for meditation, I am allowing the illusionary veil of unawareness to dissolve so I can be aware of what really is. That “is-ness” is reality whether I am conscious of it or not, so there is no need to change anything, add to anything or make anything happen. The reality is, I couldn’t do any of those things anyway. I have no idea how. So aligning my awareness to what is in life is the only thing I can possibly “do.” And that is true meditation.
The woman saw that the tree’s fruit was good to eat and pleasing to look at. She also saw that it would make a person wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. And he ate it. Then both of them knew things they had never known before. They realized they were naked. So they sewed together fig leaves and made clothes for themselves. [Genesis 3: 6-7]
The popular interpretation of “Original Sin” as written in the book of Genesis in the Christian and Jewish scriptures is this: man disobeyed God, God discovered man’s disobedience, God removed man from paradise and tossed him into a world of turmoil, pain, toil and darkness. This flawed interpretation has been taught for centuries in churches and temples and is still endorsed as truth today.
I’m going to put forth a different interpretation in this article, an interpretation I understand to be more in unison with the teachings of Jesus as communicated in the four Gospels. That interpretation is this: human beings did not first sin when they disobeyed God. Human beings first sinned when they believed they were separate and apart from God (their source) in the first place. Original Sin was committed at that very moment humans (i.e. Adam and Eve) believed they had a life apart from God. A presence, a being, a will of their own, completely apart from God.
This belief is the moment of no return for human beings. God, Himself/Herself, claims to have the capacity to forgive “seventy times seven” and if the only transgression the humans made was disobedience, God would surely forgive and it would be done with. It is belief, however, that God is powerless to operate against because belief has no real existence. It is man’s belief that he is separated from God that creates the illusion of real separation. It was man’s belief in his separate life that also caused him to believe he was tossed out of paradise.
“Human beings did not first sin when they disobeyed God. Human beings first sinned when they believed they were separate and apart from God.”
The belief that we are, somehow, beings separated from our source is the very cause of darkness in the world but where could we have gotten anything we can call “our own”? The belief that we can be removed from the presence of God, our source, is a belief based in ignorance and superstition. You can no more be removed from the presence of God than you can be removed from the Life you are. For God is that very Life. Earlier, the book of Genesis illustrates this by saying God “breathed Life into man.” According to Genesis, man’s very life is the breath of God! How can you be separated from your breath? You cannot. Your Life is God breath, God’s Life!
This interpretation is actually the Gospel as taught by Jesus. It is Jesus’s message as written in the Christian Bible. Still, it was scandalous 2,000 years ago and it is just as scandalous today but the truth of it is the very truth Jesus spoke of that will set you free.
The realization of this truth is beyond any religion, philosophy or denominations. It doesn’t really matter what name you give to God or whether you even use the name “God” for this source. The ground of your being is beyond names, beyond words, beyond thoughts. How can you ever be separated from Life? How could there ever be anything that exists apart from Life? Nothing could be and nothing ever is. As Jesus taught in his story of the Prodigal Son, belief in a separation from your source can be dispelled simply by returning home. No practice, sacrifice or payment is required. No permission, blessing or credential is necessary.
Your birthright awaits the return to your source. This is the entire Gospel.
Shaking The Dust
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” – Matthew 10:14, The (Christian) Bible
“In Biblical times, when leaving Gentile cities, pious Jews often shook the dust from their feet to show their separation from Gentile practices. According to the New Testament, when Jesus called his twelve disciples, he sent them into Jewish lands and told them, in a reversal, to perform the same act against the non-believing Jews.” (Wikipedia)
This little instruction to his disciples, from Jesus, when he was sending them out to teach the Gospel, has remained one of the most useful reminders in my own life. While it was certainly meant as powerful symbolism, for me it serves as more practical advice to walk away from any person (or people) who choose to remain in an atmosphere of resistance or non acceptance of Truth. There is no need for me to provide additional resistance by fighting against them or telling them how wrong they are; simply remove myself. It matters not if I am dealing with family, friends, neighbors or strangers. Anyone who wishes to embrace ignorance, intolerance, hate, bigotry, nonacceptance or unenlightenment should be left to their life of doing so. It is not for me to change their mind or attitude, unless they ask me to. My most effective option is to remove myself from their presence. In fact, Jesus suggests to not even take their dust with me when I go!
The symbolism of shaking the dust from my feet is about much more than dust. Do not take anything with me when I go. Do not take any hatred. Do not take resentment. Do not even take remembrance. Let it all go before leaving. When I walk away, walk away clean. Isn’t that a drastic departure from what we see and do today? We vilify and call each other names on social media and in person. We’ll resort to character assassination, shaming, slander, verbal abuse and worse when we disagree about what others say or how they choose to live. To those who display ignorance, we answer with our own ignorance and meet their resistance with our own resistance. We create a fistfight rather than peace, succeeding only in becoming equal to those we resist.
There is no reason to ever remain in an environment of abuse, hatred or disrespect. There is no reason to reside in the presence of those who refuse to accept Truth. There is also no need for us to add to the situation with our own words and spirit of negativity, hatred and resistance. Often, the most effective, compassionate and peaceful action is simply to walk away. Shake the dust and walk away.
ASMR as Meditation Practice
A few years ago I put away all spiritual practices. Ironically, I had just come to a point of realization on the “how-to” of meditation but then I suddenly abandoned the whole thing altogether. This spiritual “fast” lasted 10 years, during which time I had no intentional spiritual or meditation practice. What I didn’t realize, however, was meditation was still happening, albeit unaware to me and it was happening regularly through ASMR videos on YouTube.
If you aren’t familiar with ASMR, Wikipedia describes it as follows:
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a tingling sensation that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. A pleasant form of paresthesia, it has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia and may overlap with frisson.
ASMR signifies the subjective experience of “low-grade euphoria” characterized by “a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin”. It is most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attention control. A genre of videos which intend to stimulate ASMR has emerged, of which by 2018 over 13 million are published on YouTube.
As a child, I was aware I experienced ASMR but I had no idea anyone else experienced it or that the experience even had a name. I remember feelings of ecstasy and almost paralysis when my younger sister would pretend like she was putting makeup on me, brushing and stroking my face while whispering to me. When I got older, I often found it difficult to focus in class if a particular teacher’s voice triggered my ASMR. I was a horrible math student and my 8th-grade algebra teacher would often bring me to her desk to explain the problems and concepts to me. I still can’t do algebra but I remember the ASMR triggered from her whispered voice sure kept me in tingles.
Decades later, I heard an ASMR episode of This American Life podcast and learned my ASMR experience wasn’t as individual as I’d thought. In fact, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other people experienced this same phenomenon. Through the podcast, I discovered many people were actually making videos designed to trigger ASMR response. Once I was exposed to these videos, I was hooked. I’ve spent a startling amount of time since then relaxing while watching ASMR videos. Most of the videos center around specific ASMR “triggers.” Often these triggers are whispering, tapping sounds, repeating certain words, crinkling sounds, scratching sounds, and role-plays. Role-plays are videos where the “ASMR artist” pretends to be someone in an environment or situation that would normally put a person into a state of ASMR. Popular role-plays are teachers (remember my algebra instructor?), doctors, salon and spa workers, librarians, etc. Over time the videos have become more and more inventive and quite elaborate with acting, technical and production values rivaling small independent films. All for the simple purpose of making a person relax and tingle.
As the videos have become more numerous and more popular, they have also become less about ASMR and more about simple relaxation. While the experience of ASMR is certainly very relaxing, not everything that is relaxing is ASMR. Still, the label ASMR has become associated more with relaxation than with Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Not necessarily a bad thing but a bit misleading nonetheless. Additionally, not everyone finds these videos to be relaxing (my wife finds them highly irritating) but if they do create a relaxation response in you, they can be very useful in relieving instances of insomnia, anxiety, and even depression.
There are several ASMR videos created specifically for guided meditations but I have found even the standard, every-day ASMR videos are useful as gateways into meditation for those who have never experienced meditation at all. I wasn’t aware of it then, but I now realize when I was not meditating but I was regularly watching ASMR, those videos were keeping me spiritually open in the same way meditation does now. In fact, I would suggest that at least part of the popularity of ASMR videos today is they provide the benefit of a regular meditation practice to those who do not or never have meditated.
If we could say there is any “objective” in meditation, it is to separate ourselves from the content and noise of our mind. As we reside in presence, our mind shuts down and silences itself since it cannot function while we are experiencing present awareness. While experiencing ASMR videos, the resulting physical and mental relaxation often puts us into a state of present awareness. We become hyper-aware of a voice or a sound and that awareness rarely involves the mind. Just pure awareness. The results of this experience are very similar, and in many cases not different at all, to actual meditation. Amazingly, the entire ASMR video movement is creating millions of new meditators who are benefitting from the effects of meditation but completely unaware they are, indeed, meditating!
I would never encourage anyone looking to explore the depths of a spiritual life to use ASMR as their only meditation practice. However, I can personally testify to the state of present awareness I continually experience from watching these videos. That practice kept me prepared for an even deeper and more focused meditation practice later. Truth reveals itself through the language and culture of every generation. It takes on new forms but at its essence always remains the same Truth. It is exciting to see a contemporary cultural phenomenon like ASMR planting the seeds of meditation into so many people who may have never considered meditating otherwise.
I have plans soon to release some Guided Relaxation ASMR videos of my own. In the meantime, I encourage you to explore the genre yourself, starting with three videos I have found to be particularly useful in my own meditation practice.