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Who IS Jonathan?

Who IS Jonathan?

One of my Facebook friends suggested that I was ‘teaching’ too much and not letting people know the human side of who Jonathan Labman is.  So, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to try to answer that question.

In previous years, I’d have answered with biographical and statistical details: 5’10” tall, male, blue eyes, gray hair, almost 63 years old, a Licensed Professional Counselor (Master’s Degree-level Psychologist), married, no children, etc.  I’ll leave out my weight until I lose the 20 pounds that my physician and I agreed I had to lose at yesterday’s check-up!  At a certain point “I” would have said that “I” was “awake” or “enlightened’ or something of that sort.  I’d have talked about a book I wrote some years ago, my website, my work helping other people to ‘wake up’ and my blogposts.

After this week, there’s a different understanding.  There is supposedly a “physical being,” “living” on the “Earth” with certain “characteristics,” who inhabits a “body” in the “Immanent, Three-Dimensional construct” we call the ‘here and now.’  All the definitions of what or who “Jonathan Labman” is, however, are man-made ideas.  The ‘story’ of who Jonathan is, is a series of memories that are strung together as if they’re somehow the ‘truth’ and form a ‘coherent narrative’ of ‘Jonathan’s life.’  It only takes asking my siblings what really happened, to find out there is no such thing as one coherent narrative: everyone’s memories of what happened are different.  So even the story arising in “Jonathan’s” own mind isn’t Truth, with a capital “T.”

All of the ‘story of who and what Jonathan is’ is composed of words that are vague representations of a Mystery.  They are not “Reality.”  “Jonathan” is more accurately a “mystery.”  Also, the idea that anyone named “Jonathan” is now “awake” or “enlightened” is another set of constructs or ideas.  There is no way to prove that in general, or to prove it to “anyone else” in particular.  As a result, in my last blogpost I wrote about this ‘little mystery’ being part of the ‘Big Mystery.’  That’s the best I can do now to accurately answer the question of who or what Jonathan Labman is.  After 47 years on an active spiritual path, the current answer is: “a Mystery.”jonathan[1]

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MYSTERY Emerging….

Mystery EmergingMystery Emerging

When concepts of “I” and “awake” and “enlightened” die, what happens next?  In my last blog I said ‘Mystery’ is next.  Mystery looks like a release of deeply held muscle tension.  Hearing from a long-ago dharma buddy whose wife read my blog somewhere on Facebook.  An offer to host an internet radio show for veterans, and a whole week of almost no work….like a vacation without the planning.

This Being, or whatever one wants to call it, doesn’t miss the “I” and it doesn’t miss “awake” or “enlightened.”  The bodymind is more relaxed than it’s been in its entire lifetime.  The spiritual/therapy group that I led last night was a ‘hoot’ as we say.  (For those unfamiliar with American slang, we had a lot of fun and did a lot of laughing.)  Lunch was delicious.

What’s next, after this blog is finished, is unknown.  Not ‘good’ and not ‘bad’ just ‘unknown.’  There are some lightly held ‘preferences’ including the wish to work with all kinds of people from all over the world.  How will that ever happen?  No idea.  Also, no idea if The Absolute cares about these particular ideas.  “Doubtful It does” you say?  “I” don’t know.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode of “Big Mystery Living as (little) mystery.”  It promises to be as unexpected as today’s.

Have fun being the little mystery part of the Big Mystery that you are!

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Worthy or Unworthy?

Worthy or Unworthy?

Whether I’m working with clients coming to me for psychological help, spiritual help or both, I notice a consistent pattern: everyone feels and believes themselves to be essentially unworthy.  On an ego level this is usually because they’ve started to notice themselves and feel inferior in comparison to others, or because someone in authority over them keeps telling them they’re bad or wrong or awful or ugly or stupid or immoral or _______________________________  (fill in the blank with almost any negative quality).

Since I often work with people who’ve been severely traumatized (due to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and/or some type of neglect), the emotional and verbal degradation is often accompanied by actual injury to the body.  When injury is added to insult, the client feels especially unworthy, often to the point of wanting to die by suicide.

On a psychological level, I work with such clients by demonstrating that it is the abuser who is primarily and essentially bad, and wrong, not the abused.  I also help them to accurately assess their attributes during therapy, to notice their strengths, strengthen areas in which they need improvement, and learn from their mistakes.

However, if people are stable enough to go deeper, we look at what is considered the spiritual dimension. In that dimension, my observation is that this prevalent feeling of unworthiness is because everyone knows that their ‘individual self’ is made up of the chattering thoughts in their heads and the emotions that those thoughts produce.  Somewhere within our body-mind we are aware that there is no substance to this ‘individual self’ since it ceases to exist whenever we stop thinking (or when others stop talking or writing about us or to us).  Therefore, we ‘know’ it’s insubstantial nature, and so are always feeling it’s unworthiness as a smokescreen for the real problem:  the ‘individual self’ doesn’t exist as anything but a mirage.  If that is so, we don’t KNOW what we are without further inquiry, but we know we’re not the ‘individual self.’

Even if people can psychologically understand that they are essentially neither worthy nor unworthy, just existing (I AM) as a neutral entity that can think, say, or do ‘good’ or ‘bad’ things, there is still an underlying question.  Is there a ‘self’ that needs to be seen as ‘worthy’ or ‘neutral’ or ‘unworthy?’  Or, is it truer to say there is no individual self at all?  This question “what is the ‘me’?” is the essential question in self-inquiry.

May all beings who read this awaken in this lifetime: it is possible!

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Enlightenment Now: Three Essential Practices to Uncover Your True Nature

In my many years of spiritual practices, and the study of various religious and spiritual traditions, I find myself offering three basic practices to those who come to me for psychological or spiritual guidance:

  • Meditation
  • Practicing Presence (meditation in the midst of everyday life and activity)
  • Thought-busting (challenging all thoughts for truthfulness)

There are so many other practices and experiences and accessories that we could have in our possession to make us look spiritual or feel spiritual but, these are all unnecessary.  I don’t even consider one particular guru, or only one particular path to be important or ‘the way.’  People wake up using the resources of many gurus and many paths.

Bottom line: the simpler the practice, the more widely you can apply it to your life, and the more impact it has.  Complicated things might be helpful for a while but, you will forget them during stressful times and then they will be useless.

Let’s look at each of the three practices that I’ve mentioned above briefly.  Much more can be said about each practice but, this post serves as an introduction.

To begin with we have meditation.  Meditation is deceptively easy: it is simply the act of moving your attention from your thoughts and emotions, and directing it to the physical sensations of breathing (usually focusing on the sensation of breath in the nostrils).  I say it’s deceptively easy, because that seems like a simple task to do.  However, the body-mind’s attention is addicted to listening to the thought-generating capacity of the mind all the time.  To break the fixation of attention on thought takes a tremendously strong intention.  However, it is worth it.  Once you have a continuing experience of a level of awareness or consciousness deeper than your own thought-feeling processes, your whole view of yourself, the world, and life will change.   For a breathtakingly excellent book on how to meditate, I recommend a book by Culadasa (also known as John Yates, PhD,) The Mind Illuminated.  I’ve been meditating for nearly 30 years and this is the clearest set of instructions I’ve ever read.

Practicing Presence, or Staying Present, is another essential practice.  It is essentially a form of meditation in which you are standing up, walking around, and doing things.  However, while in the midst of all of this activity, your attention is NOT focused on thought, it’s focused on the simple perceptions of your five senses: smelling, tasting, touching, hearing and seeing.  When in conversation with another person, staying Present means simply listening to the other person with total attention, rather than paying attention to your own thoughts OR trying to formulate a response to their comment before they’ve finished making it!

Thought-Busting is my name for the process of challenging the truthfulness of your own thoughts.  In psychology, this is sometimes referred to (in a more complex form) as ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.’  Most of us never learn that our thoughts are inaccurate, or just plain lies.  We accept that whatever thought arises in our mind is true!  Upon a simple examination, we find this is not the case.  First, all thoughts are merely mental representations of reality, not reality itself.  Second, the content of most thoughts is false.  If you have a thought about the future, it’s not the absolute truth, and therefore it’s false.  How could you possibly know what’s going to happen in the future?  Thoughts about what other people are saying, thinking, or doing when they’re not in your presence, speaking to you, are also false: they are simply your fantasy about the other person.  Even most thoughts about yourself are false.  In coming to the ground of Being, we need to eliminate every falsehood from our experience.  While we can’t stop the mind from generating whatever thoughts it does, we CAN STOP LISTENING TO THEM and treating them as if they’re true.  If your thoughts aren’t absolutely true, then they are lies; plain and simple.

I have made a lifetime spiritual practice out of these three varieties of practice.  I highly recommend them to you.  You can awaken to your True Nature as the Absolute with only these practices, plus a little guidance.  Try them for yourself and find out if what I’m writing is true or false!

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Enlightenment Now: I Don’t Know

One of my favorite personal expressions is “I don’t know.”  If someone asks me ‘is that really true?’ about almost anything, I will say ‘I don’t know.’

There is wisdom in ‘not knowing.’  In reality, what humans consider ‘knowledge’ is usually expressed in words.  Words are a poor approximation of reality.

If I ask myself what someone is saying, thinking or doing right now, I have to answer ‘truthfully, I don’t know, unless they are with me in the same shared space, and they are telling me what they’re saying or thinking, or I’m watching what they’re doing.’  I might have some idea of what someone might be doing but, I don’t actually know.

If I read yet another speculative opinion piece in the information/entertainment (infotainment) industry about the future, I can be deluded into thinking the person who’s writing knows what’s going to happen.  The real answer is ‘they don’t know, and neither do I.’  No one is able to accurately predict the future because of literally quadrillions of factors that go into creating every moment.  Attempting future prediction is futile.

Even if I ask myself ‘is this true about me?’ I am likely to have to inquire deeply to find out.  Do I have this quality (for instance sloth or laziness) and not its opposite (energy or industry)?  Do I look the same as I did yesterday?  Do I think, speak and act the same way I did 40 years ago?  Is there actually any continuity to the ‘ego self?’  No, there isn’t.  So, anything I can even say about myself may likely be false.

Religion used to speak only in certainties: this is true and this is false.  However, it’s easy to question the foundations of any religion and find direct contradictions in doctrines and practice.  Science speaks in certainties now, as if it were the New Religion of the world; however, it’s theories are theories and change as new discoveries are made.  Is the anthropological record true? No, it is only an approximation of what might have happened.  Is the archeological record true? No, again it is only an approximation.  While scientists can be quite as close-minded and theory-bound as religious conformists, neither group is really speaking Absolute Truth.  100 years from now, all such truths will have changed again, sometimes many times.  (If you doubt this, look at the science of nutrition and diets!)

There are as many arguments about what’s true in religion as there are about what’s true in science.  We go to war, literally, over what’s true in religion.  We go to war, figuratively, over what’s true in science.  Other than an exercise in ego-supremacy, there is no purpose to these arguments.  Even inventions can be created without claiming the ‘supreme truth’ of the theory behind the invention.

Finally, when it comes down to the realms of knowledge, all I can really say is ‘I don’t know what’s true.’  I can talk as if I do but, I’m lying to myself and others.  Thus far, the only truths that I’ve been able to really know are ‘I Am’ and ‘perceiving happens.’

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Enlightenment Now: Ego – The Dead End of Personal Development

When developing the Ego (a set of thought and feeling processes usually involving the word-concepts “I” or “me” or “mine”) becomes the end of our personal and societal development, we end up in a world where everyone is mistakenly defending a ‘self’ and ‘my own interests.’  The result is the chaotic scenes we see everywhere around us.  Read the news headlines in the United States, and you’re likely to see that there’s been another shooting in the news, whether a single murder or a more shocking mass murder.  This is ego defending itself by extinguishing other egos.  Who wins?  No one; everyone involved loses their lives.

In a less dramatic way, we see ego conflict in every day events.  It’s raining and “I hate the rain” or there’s a line to checkout at the groceries and “I’m in a hurry, why can’t people get out of my way.”  We argue to get “our” way and want to win a competition with others so that we can be the ‘best,’ as if somehow being the ‘best’ at a competition will prove the reality of a personal self and make it immortal.  We want constant attention from other people to validate or verify the existence of our ‘self.’  When we don’t get the attention we want, we feel lonely or invalidated or unwanted.

While psychology and ‘self help’ books are helping us to unravel the constructs of ego, and can make life more bearable, ultimately even they miss the point if they don’t go far enough.  When we don’t question what Ego is, and notice how insubstantial it is, we spend our lives trying to ‘prop up’ and ‘get satisfaction’ from something that doesn’t actually exist unless we’re thinking.  If, however, Ego is seen for what it is: a set of temporary processes that are useful for interacting in the three-dimensional world, it takes its rightful place in our lives.

What is the goal, then, of personal development?  In my experience, it’s to understand that we are fundamentally a Pure Awareness that has no boundaries, and that includes everything and everyone as arising perceptions, has no real interior or exterior, and creates a basis for fundamental morality.    Since I am you, I’d better treat you as well as I treat myself!

Pure Awareness, being an underlying reality, requires no perpetual defense.  It doesn’t need wishes fulfilled or aversions avoided in order to feel ‘satisfied.’  It exists without defense or offense, action, emotion, or thought.  If we do the work to uncover the Truth that This is our nature, and is deeper and the foundation or field upon which the ego processes arise, we will gradually (or quickly) see through the ego-processes as if they are a shimmering mirage in a desert.

Ego is a thought-feeling-construct, a useful illusion that contains inherent thought-skills and feeling processes.  It is not, however, a permanent ‘self’ that needs defending.  Next time you’re tempted to defend your ‘ego’ or ‘self’ if someone seems to be insulting you, you might want to ask how it’s possible to defend a self that doesn’t exist.

It is possible to live from a deeper place, that which is the Foundation upon which all else rests.  Why not make it your purpose to uncover that place in yourself?  This is what we call Enlightenment.