John and Carla Sherman
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(Revised and updated on December 3, 2014)
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We can see now the way forward to bring the miracle of the act of looking at yourself to all of humanity. Our experience of our own lives has shown us directly what is possible for all human beings: an end to fearfulness and alienation from life that can easily be accomplished by anyone willing to try one simple act of inward looking. This is like nothing you have ever heard before; this is a revolution in the making for all of humanity.
Our experience of our own lives, now free of the chronic dissatisfaction with life that is the root cause of all human self-destructive and reactive habits of behavior and relationship whatsoever-and seems to be the common experience of almost all of humanity-is much different from what we find in any descriptions of how such freedom might be experienced. The change that has actually come to us is utterly simple, and has an almost matter-of-fact quality to it. Our relationship to ourselves, to each other, and to the world at large, has changed profoundly, and left us unafraid, and deeply engaged and immersed in the wondrously strange reality of life as a human being.
We can see clearly the appearance of separation between ourselves and the vast ocean of others, in which we also are others to them, but we do not mourn or demonize that sense of separation, we celebrate it. We see that the window through which we receive life's treasures and problems and puzzles and actions is a complicated structure of thought, memory, belief, understanding, perception, judgement, evaluation, comparison, aspiration, desire and aversion that is unpredictable, unreliable, ever shifting and changing. We do not shrink from its unpredictability and unreliability—we take great pleasure in the way it mirrors the infinite wildness of existence.
We do not seek thought-free states for relief from the gift of thinking about experience. We do not yearn for silence and perfect peace; it is from there that we arose, and to there that we will inevitably return. We are here now to live, fearlessly engaged with life's noisy and natural pandemonium.
We know that this immersion in and engagement with the natural life is the birthright and the heart's desire of every human being, and we know that receiving it is utterly simple, and easily accomplished by anyone who will try.
We have been meeting with people to speak about these matters for twelve years. From our side, the main purpose in these meetings until now has been for us to learn how to say something that might actually help people. We did this by meeting with anyone who was willing to enter into conversation with us about these matters. In these meetings we would explain as best we could the current state of our understanding, and try our best to say something true and clear enough to direct the attention of anyone willing to try it to the plain and simple experience of basic human personhood. Directly, like that.
This simple act of inward looking is all that's needed. It has an almost eerie power to arrest and reverse the usual course of fear, misery, yearning, failure, discouragement and neurosis, that begins for most of us at birth, and ends for most of us at the grave. The fear of life is the cause of that, and is the common ground from which we have all experienced life until now. That fear has opened a wound of separation from, and antagonism toward, life itself. This simple act of inward looking will, without fail, heal that wound of separation from life in anyone who will try it.
We believe that if we can find a way to communicate the simplicity and the promise of this act in a wide enough range of languages and vernaculars, so that is can be understood by all, anyone who hears of it will pretty much automatically try it on the spot. Why wouldn't they?
After all, it costs nothing, and nothing is required other than one determined effort to get a direct experience of your own nature. What could possibly be easier, less complicated or more harmless than that? There's no need to hold attention there; attention will quickly skitter away to more attractive phenomena anyway. No need for new understandings, insights or beliefs. No need to abandon existing understandings, insights and beliefs. No state of mind needs to stay or go. And this act promises deliverance from misery, and the full redemption of life itself. It costs nothing, risks nothing, requires almost nothing, and promises the world. Who could resist trying it at least once?
It's that first look that counts. All else follows naturally from that.
We are convinced that all the trouble and confusion whatsoever in the world of human activity, all the self-destructive, life-denying, aggressive, reactive tendencies throughout the entire human community are caused by, and arise in service to the fear of life and its effects.
We are convinced that healing the wound of separation from life throughout the species will arrest our headlong rush toward extinction, will reverse the direction of human development that has so far been blindly marching into ever expanding insanity, and will bring us all home free. It seems certain that nothing else can.
So now, finally, we have seen the way through the bewilderment of our own prior understandings to the point where we can use plain and simple language to talk about the human predicament, its cause and its cure. And we are just now beginning to see just how little it would take to bring news of this insight and this simple act -along with an earnest request to all that they try to do it just once-to the entire species, or at least to a large enough portion of the species so as to bring about a kind of critical mass of sanity.
What we mean by the term critical mass is a large enough portion of the species to exert a gravity-like pull toward sanity on us all-so as to save us all. Yes, it's true; we really think that together we can save humanity.
We have decided to embark on a bold course of action. With the suggestions and encouragement of some friends, our main overall mission now is to bring the suggestion of looking at yourself to enough people in the world, within a brief enough span of time, so as to reverse the direction of humanity's descent into oblivion.
Current estimates of the world population of the human community put it at about 7 billion. So, the critical mass we are looking for would be about 700 million people.
That's 700 million people knowingly, intentionally turning their attention inward, looking for the actual experience of their human nature. And if we are right, that means 700 million human lives freed of the fear and alienation that has driven us almost to extinction. Think about that for a moment. Ten percent of humanity, seven hundred million human beings spread around the world, free and clear of the fear. Sit with that.
Now 700 million is big number to be sure (700,000,000), but not as big as the two and a half billion of us who are thought to have watched the funeral of princess Diana, or the four or five billion that are thought to have watched the World Cup. And that's just television. We all have radios too, and more than two billion of us have regular access to the internet. We read newspapers and magazines, and are surrounded by billboards and ads on benches and buses, and so forth. Seen in that light, it doesn't seem so big a stretch to bring such a simple message to only seven hundred million human beings, all hungry for an answer to their confusion and discontent. Consider the power of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to engage people in community projects and experiments.
We've been thinking about little else in the past couple of weeks. What an incredible opportunity has appeared here. Never before in the history of the human effort to perfect human life has such a thing been even thinkable: to bring to seven hundred million human beings an act that anyone can do; an act that could bring an end to the fear of life and all its destructive effects in anyone who tries it.
For us, this changes everything.
We are now committed to an all-out effort to bring the suggestion to look at yourself to 700 million people within five years. We are committed to trying something that has never been tried before. We truly believe that if we can get the idea of looking at yourself into the general consciousness of humanity, the inexorable slide toward deeper and deeper insanity will be arrested and reversed, and all will turn out right for the human species. With your help, we will broadcast the simple message of inward looking to as many people as possible in a short time, and see what comes of it. We will put our belief in the power of this simple act to the test.
We think the first step is to find a simple message that can be communicated in several different forms, across a wide range of languages and vernaculars, that once heard or read, will attract the hearer's or the reader's attention, and persuade them to just try to turn their attention inward in that moment, or at least to follow the lead to where they can hear more. This would be something that could be delivered by small ads in magazines and newspapers, broadcast on Twitter, Facebook, and Google ads. It could take the form of a series of Burma Shave-like rhyming slogans, television commercials, billboards, drive time radio, and soap opera commercials, quietly offered throughout the culture until they are as familiar as "plop, plop, fizz, fizz..."
You can see that what we are suggesting is most certainly not one more flavor of the ancient teachings, nor the delicious agony of individual yearning for salvation or love, nor the solitary isolation of spiritual aspiration. We are talking about bringing a practical and simple suggestion to our species, a species that is dying of its alienation from life itself. This is our mission.
We are already actively engaged in conversation with several good people aimed at creating a plan that can succeed. If news of this plan brings the response we hope for, we will need to find a number of capable, motivated, and knowledgeable people willing to contribute to the development of the project: web designers, software engineers, video makers, translators, musicians, writers, artists, public relations professionals, an accountant, staff to take over the day-to-day operation of the foundation, a finance manager, and a dedicated Board of Directors to oversee and direct the development of the organization.
But there is no need to wait. Right now, if you have any suggestions as to how the act can be offered in the simplest possible way, in the manner we outlined above (ads, billboards, talk radio, and so forth), please let us know. You can start by sending us your request to become a volunteer and letting us know how you think you can contribute to our cause.
Let us be clear: we are not suggesting that this will instantaneously wipe out the effects of the 80,000 years or so that we have carried this affliction, this absurd fear of our own lives. What we are suggesting is no get-rich-quick scheme that will magically pluck us out of our ignorance and misery, and rescue us from the continuously arising consequences of our actions in the nick of time. What we do think will happen is that the fear of life will vanish from the consciousness of anyone who tries to look, and with it the sense of distance and separation from their lives. From that moment on, the structure of protection and defense that had taken hold of our deeply conditioned minds will begin to fall apart and reassemble itself as a true instrument of self-aware, active consciousness in its irrepressible outward movement into the mystery of existence.
The course of that dismantling and rebuilding of the structure of personhood can be quite unpleasant, confusing and even terrifying, and it can take a few years to complete, but it doesn't last forever, and when it's gone, it leaves no trace behind. In the end, the experience of life is sane, unafraid, and engaged in a way that is incomprehensible to the afflicted mind. But the chance to talk with those who have already experienced the looking and the recovery from the fear of life, and are familiar with what I'm speaking of here can be of enormous help and support.
We have a number of discussions forums on our website dedicated to providing support and encouragement to those refugees from the fear of life who need guidance and help in understanding their experience as the course of recovery unfolds. If you have done the looking yourself and seen the changes in your relationship with your own life, you know what we are talking about here. Please join our discussions forums.
In our long, heartbreaking hunt for something that might bring satisfaction and fulfillment to our lives, we've tried many things, some reasonable, some crazy, some that have filled us with hope, some that have urged us to abandon hope. But so far as I know, no one has ever before suggested the possibility that there might be one simple act available to everyone that could sweep the whole madness away like a bad dream, soon forgotten.
We can do this.
Just One Look. It's that simple.
This essay by John and Carla Sherman was first published online on our website on June 5, 2011. It was revised and updated on December 3, 2014.