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Using the Just One Look Method
I was emailed a link to your podcasts two years ago and since then have listened and re-listened to every one of them while practicing the vichara pretty much continuously.
Growing up my family always had self-help and vaguely spiritual books and tape sets around. From a young age I was captivated by the feelings I experienced while reading the Tao Te Ching and doing simple 'no-thinking' meditation.
I've been through the spiritual 'cycle' many times now. Each time taking up some new practice or philosophy, going through a period of feeling great thinking its working, then slowly fading back to my original state.
The one effect that the vichara has definitely had for me is the dissolving of any interest in spirituality and religion. These are still slightly interesting in a cultural and historical sense, but I've got no interest in their practices or beliefs anymore as I can tell that the basic source of all these is much simpler. I've been through ups and downs with the vichara and had to break through many self-imposed obstacles to realise the unbelievable simplicity of 'me'. So for the past year or so, looking at me has become an easy and often pleasurable practice which I can do for a split second anytime or even for more lengthy periods when lying down or just sitting. I have even reached the point where I can see clearly that this 'me' is what everything is, and certainly what everything is about. I can actually feel the truth of your statement that everything we say and do is a story about the truth of our nature. This has brought a lot of clarity to life for me. From an understanding point of view, things are more clear to me than ever before. I no longer have philosophical questions arise as I see the simple relationship between everything and the reality of our source that has no attributes.
The reason for my finally writing to you, is that unfortunately the one effect that the vichara has not had in my case, is the very thing that drew me to it in the first place--the lessening of fear and the feeling of being at stake in my life. For most of my life, fear, anxiety and a feeling of inadequacy have ruled many of my actions. This includes the sense of being at stake, and needing to make sure I'm always on the look out for potential threats that will take me out of my comfort zone. I experience anxiety about the smallest things and have learned to cope with this by always escaping into fantasies about the imagined future where I will have sorted everything out and set myself up in a perfect situation of peace and solidity. Even when in situations of total freedom such as being on holiday, I am usually still plagued by anxiety about the near future. This would not be apparent to others, but it constitutes much of my inner daily experience. I could see that there was really nothing out there that actually works to diminish this sense of being at stake, but something about your talks rang true or at least inspired hope that there may be an alternative to living life this way.
And so practicing the vichara over the past few years has been a great experience and has resulted in a 'settling' of many thoughts and feelings that used to be important to me and are now inconsequential. It has caused me to look for reality rather than hiding in the comfort of fantasy. However my sense of fear, anxiety and feeling at stake seems to continue as it always has. Although I can see through it from an understanding point of view, the real practical presence of this feeling has remained as always and its still often only in retrospect that I can see my tendency to react with fear and a feeling of being at stake.
This brought me several months ago to a decision to abandon the idea of doing any practice under the recommendation of someone else and instead to try and investigate the basic truth of my own existence. To simply look at me and my experiences as they occured. I hope you can see the subtle difference here. Its a more individual and active approach than just doing something because you've been told it works. Once again this has brought clarity and understanding but has not touched the real problem of life being a kind of reaction of fear and anxiety and the feeling of being at stake.
And so I have finally found the need to write to you as I get to the core of this practice and what I had hoped it would dissolve. I know you are very busy but any response you can give would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for your time, availability and commitment to this.
All the best,
I relate to this email very, very strongly; I could have written it myself, as the feelings of constant anxiety and escaping into fantasies about a fixed-up future sound pretty much identical to the way I experience life. I'd be curious to know how the writer of this email is doing now. I, too, continue to have my same old anxiety feelings even as I look and look at myself, and it continues to be extremely frustrating. However, I am starting to notice some subtle changes. The anxiety is still there, but (sometimes, not always) the mental commentary about the anxiety seems to be quieting down. It's a small change but it makes a difference--it used to be that I'd get anxious, and then all the commentary would start, "what's wrong with me, I have to fix this, I'll waste my life away feeling like this all the time, I'm such a failure, I'm X years old and still dealing with this," etc., and then the self-perpetuating cycle would start where the commentary about the anxiety would create even more anxiety, and on and on. This still happens more often than I'd like, but meanwhile there are also time when the anxiety comes, and then it just goes, and that's the end of it. At other times, the anxiety comes, the commentary comes, and yet underneath it all there is also a sense that none of that actually hurts me, I am unchanged and untouched no matter what.
Sometimes the thought occurs to me that this may not actually be a sign that I'm losing the fear of life, that listening to John's podcasts over and over again might just be reinforcing in me the new belief that I am untouched and unchanged and my thoughts and sensations can't hurt me. I guess there's no way to rule this out, but I do think there's more at work here; as John often points out, beliefs just can't do the work that the looking does, no matter how sane they are. Besides, I don't just believe this, I have experienced it repeatedly--when I look at me, it's clear that what I'm looking at is always the same and never hurt, helped, or affected in any way by anything in the life.
John has sometimes talked about the metaphor of turning off a ceiling fan--even after you've shut off the energy source, the fan will keep spinning and spinning on its own until it finally runs out of momentum and stops. I find this metaphor very helpful and I have the sense that this is what's happening with my neurotic anxiety. I guess it would make sense that since this is such a deeply ingrained pattern for me, and has built up huge momentum over the course of my life, it may take a long time for this particular ceiling fan to even slow down, let alone stop. I would certainly rather have it stop sooner than later, but on the other hand this looking is the only thing I know of that seems to have any potential of actually working at all! So I have put all my eggs in this one basket and will continue to look. I wish the writer of the original email well.
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