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Using the Just One Look Method
Do you remember me? About 6 months ago I wrote you a letter asking you if I should start taking anti-depressants again. I told you I was experiencing symptoms of low serotonin, which was Irritable Bowel Syndrome. You read my letter aloud at a meeting in Santa Monica and I subsequently got a recording of your answer. I started taking L-Tryptophan and it seemed to be working. Later on in June I started to experience depression again. (Depression as another symptom of low serotonin.) I have been feeling worse and worse. Life feels so heavy, it seems to make sense to get back on medication. I won't ask you your opinion because I know you are not qualified to answer. And I also understand that I am the only one who knows how much suffering I can stand.
Now I feel the same question bubbling up that was formulating inside me 6 months ago when I asked you what to do. As I said, I don't want to ask you what to do. But I keep wondering what the connection is between “mental illness" (whatever the heck that is) and the vichara. It seems I have PTSD from early childhood. What is the relationship between vichara and my present symptoms? I understand that vichara is not a cure-all. I understand that the bottom line of the vichara is to see the truth of what I am and eventually to lose the sense of being at stake in the life. It makes perfect sense to me. Yet, it feels as though my brain chemistry has been altered by my personal history, or something is going on, because I look and look and look and look and look at myself, and I feel more and more and more and more anxiety and depression, to the point where I feel I can barely stand it any more. This is how I have felt for a great deal of my life. So now, the only difference is, I look at myself intermittently while I am feeling horrible.
Yes, I know – vichara is not a feel-good technique. But clearly, if say, I continue to do the vichara for another 12 years and continue to feel this bad, wouldn't you say there is something wrong here? So how long should one wait before deciding that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with?
What is in fact the connection between vichara and results? On the one hand you say it's not about results, and on the other hand you say that with the vichara life gets sweet. Over time. What does over time mean? What does sweet mean? John, I am presently so ensconced in the pain, I can barely think straight.
Another thing I don't understand is, how is it that no one else talks about this difficulty? Why does it seem that almost everyone else eventually finds his way out of the morass of identifying with the life? Am I the only person on the planet with these difficulties? That cannot be.
For about a year and a half I was doing so well, and then, bam! I still look at myself, but feel I have been slipping and slipping into a hellish abyss for the past 3 and a half months.
No, you're not here to help me or to tell me what to do. But you are an incredible guide. You explain reality like no one else I have ever listened to. If you could take a moment to explain reality in the specific way I am asking about, that would be wonderful.
Thank you for listening.
I am signing off with great despair and at the same time much gratitude for who you are and what you have taught me,
Of course I remember you.
My dear friend,
Of course I remember you, and once again I read your email in Santa Monica. This time we've posted the recording of the opening talk here so that you can hear it for yourself.
I just listened to it myself to see if it was actually useful as a reply to you, and I think it can be, if you listen to it without trying too hard to follow my jagged line of development. I tend to wander quite a bit when I am speaking, and this talk is no exception. I am trying to improve my skill in this, but the going is slow so far.
Please do listen to it, but please read this first, which might be a little closer to the point of what I want to suggest to you.
I know from my own experience how hopeless and desperate it can seem to know that you are damaged in some fundamental manner and be able to do nothing about it but to flail about, trying to find an escape from the trap that seems to hold you here in hell. I know how terrible the experience of that hell of hopelessness and desperation can seem; I know how strong the perceived need to do something, anything, about the content and feel of the mind can be; I know how it can seem that even death might be preferable to the incessant fearfulness and dense confusion that seems to fill up our minds.
I know too that the body--the sensations arising in the mind that are all we know of the body--can drown out all other mental content, and steal from us our first line of defense, detachment and denial.
I know how compelling is the conviction that there can be no end to misery unless I can find a way to transform, transcend or escape from the the mind, which is itself just the life, really.
But the mind is not the problem, and the life is not the problem --there is a problem, but it is not that. The life is our home, and the mind is the living life itself, aware of itself.
If the problem were the things that appear as our minds, there would be no hope for you apart from mystical salvation. You have no control at all over the content of your mind, no say whatsoever over what sensations and experiences, understandings and confusions might come and go as the content of your mind — the content of your life, really. Isn't that true? Does not your own life experience confirm that for you? The intuition that we are powerless to do anything about anything, coupled with the unexamined conviction that we are at stake here, is doubtless what drives us toward the spiritual, the mystical, and the religious in our desperate efforts to find salvation somewhere.
But the problem is not the life or the mind, the problem is the layer of fearfulness, the continuous murmur of anxiety and alienation and neurotic distrust of life itself that spoils the life. To see life as a threat rather than a gift, no matter what its shape and content, is a form of mental illness, not willful ignorance or any other shortcoming in your view or understanding. This view (which is, like all else, mental content over which we have no say), cannot be fixed by force of will, right understanding, righteous action, or by any other direct means that might suggest itself. But the effort just to look at yourself, at the actual reality of your nature actually does begin to dissolve the layer of fearfulness and suspicion--no matter whether you think you have succeeded or failed--and as that layer disintegrates, sanity begins to reveal itself.
So the fear of life is a disease, and the looking is the medicine that cures it. But the course of recovery from this disease is unpredictable, and can be quite long and hard for some, as seems to be the case for you. There is really nothing I can suggest that you don't already know that could mitigate and smooth the rockiness of the road you are traveling. But I tell you from my heart that all will be well in the end. The good news is that it seems very clear that, once you start the work; once you begin the effort to get a glimpse of yourself, you will continue on course to the end, whether you want to or not. It seems that once conscious attention gets a whiff of you, it naturally tries to return to it whenever it can.
And in the end, we find ourselves at home at last, safe and secure in our own lives.
This beautiful email resonates with me.
I appreciate this conversation. I took depression meds for a while. They were, as John mentioned in his talk, like taking aspirin for a headache. They took away some of the misery, at the expense of some of the joy, in my experience. I eventually started to feel like I really just didn't care to be alive anymore, even while I was taking the medication. This after 20+ years of acquiring spiritual, psychological, and philosophical understanding from many different venues. I was at the end of my rope. Somehow I had come across John on the internet and found his message refreshing. I didn't have to believe anything. I was up to my ears in beliefs and none of them worked. When I started to try to get a glimpse of this ever present reality that is never absent, I started to have big experiences that I think were release and relief. I had touched on a cure and got all elated and high on the idea. Soon afterwards I fell off the pink cloud and went through some crazy feelings. I felt like a cornered animal for a while. But I couldn't stop trying to look for what never leaves in me, and even in those crazy moments, I could sense that I was here, unaffected by the present insanity.
I have been off all medication for two years now. I'm not saying this because I think anyone should or shouldn't take medication, just stating a fact. Nothing has been added nor do I understand much as to why, but life is absolutely amazing to me now, even when circumstances suck.
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