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Pray for Dead Serious
by Art Ticknor

During my years of self-inquiry I found solace in reading the transcripts of Ramana Maharshi[1] and Nisargadatta Maharaj[2] dialogues with their visitors. Nisargadatta's responses also provided irritation in the form of a certain word he used: earnestness. Every time I read that word in the translations of his responses I gritted my teeth, mentally at least. I'd think: "How the hell can anybody – meaning me, of course – twist himself into being more earnest than he already is!"

It occurs to me now that maybe he was trying to convey something similar to what I experienced after returning from my second visit with Douglas Harding, in February 2004. It felt as if a mood had descended on me. The words that my mind used to describe it were: "I want to become more serious than I've ever been in my life." It wasn't an emotional mood; there was no excitement, no self-recrimination or self-pity, no desire to wind myself up or set my hair on fire. It was more like a feeling-sense of direction for my mind.

Being a "thinking type rather than an intuitive/feely type like myself" as one of my good friends and predecessors down the path described me to an inquirer recently, I had been trying to understand my way to Truth for a couple decades. But by the end of that time in my search I had seen intuitively that intellectual understanding wasn't going to take me home, and I had found myself back to the recognition that I had always, even though it was in the background for a long time, been trying to feel my way – seemingly in the dark. My reaction to feeling the desire-to-be-truly-serious mood was to cross my mental fingers, hoping that the mood would last until a solitary retreat I had scheduled for three months later. In retrospect I could see that the reaction was one more, and the most egregious, procrastination my mind had indulged in. Never being a rapid mental gear-changer, I was convinced that the only time my mind could relax enough to open up would be when I was by myself for an extended period without human interaction.

Maybe that conviction was prescient, I don't know, but it was during that subsequent solitary setting when my mind found the mode of operation that it hoped for. It kicked in early in the retreat with the realization that I could no longer abide my second-hand views and had to see exactly what I could see for myself about my state of being … by looking, not by believing thoughts and feelings. Three days of fasting preceded three days of what felt like intense but effortless introspection. Then on the evening of the sixth and final full day of the retreat, I walked to the edge of nearby Lake Erie to watch the sun set over the lake. When I returned to the cabin, I felt that another wonderful retreat was over but nothing fundamental was yet resolved. And then, over the next hour, with my body sitting comatosely conscious in a chair, I saw and recognized my true state of being.

When we see past faulty beliefs in personality as what we are, we're still left with a belief in individuality, in being a separate being who's tremendously vulnerable. The journey to knowing the self, which begins with the push of dissatisfaction from not getting what we want, steps up in seriousness with the admission that the individual's vulnerabilities rest on a fear of annihilation. What follows is the universal reaction of trying to find something that will make that vulnerable individual self invulnerable.

I don't know what will get the next person there. I assume that the unfolding for each person is unique, although in retrospect we may find there are common patterns or milestones. I believe that the intuitive/feely types are likely to lose themselves in Love – becoming one with everything – before they recognize their essential state of being, while the thinking types are more likely to die directly into Nothingness before absorbing their Everythingness. In any case, the path to recognition of our true state of being is a path of increasing self-honesty, which steps along in unison with disillusionment concerning our self-definition or beliefs in what we are.

I'm slightly inclined to agree with Franklin Merrell-Wolff's conclusion that it's best to work with our predominant characteristic, whether it's emotional or analytical, but I feel strongly that we need the less-developed tool as a checking mechanism. Feeling types are inordinately impressed with whatever feeling they're experiencing, and the refined feeling of intuition comes with strong conviction. Intuition is our real guide along the path to Truth, to Self-Realization, and we need to listen to it, but we also need to apply common sense and remember that the mind's interpretations and conclusions are relative, not absolute. Thinking types, on the other hand, are mesmerized by their conceptual thoughts and the false lure of grasping Truth with their minds. If they're sufficiently clever and persistent, they'll run themselves into paradox's corner until they wise up. When their intellect bows to the recognition of its limitations, they'll begin or resume feeling their way. By feeling I don't mean emotion but the mind's inner analogue to its outer sensory abilities: inner looking, listening, and so on.

In the final analysis, I believe it all comes down to looking for our self – with the emphasis both on the object, our self, and on the subject, for our self. This looking or listening is the ultimate form of prayer: dead seriousness. It's the direct path to quitting the egocentric position, where self-observation leads to self-inquiry and self-remembrance, as another friend phrased it recently. We leave the I-am-something dream and return to the All-and-Nothing.

Prayer is, before all else, a gratuitous gift from our Father in heaven…. The Zen master Bunan Shido composed this waka (short poem) one day:

Although living, I am dead;
And having arrived at the extreme point of death,
Everything I do becomes good.

~ From, a page that is no longer on that site.

Postscript: Judy M. who read this article wrote, "You speak of a mood descending on you, yet what happened to you sounds to me much more like what [Richard] Rose called a state of mind…. It's as if you acquired a different state of mind that day…." She makes a good point. Moods are evanescent, and this "mood" did last for three months. On the flip side, states of mind are based on a strong conviction, whereas this mood was based on a desire, and are typically rotated by shocks or traumas (such as fasting, being attacked, and so on). I'd say it's a toss-up, Judy :-)

McCreary Cemetery, Moundsville WV

McCreary Cemetery, Moundsville WV

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