How to live sanely in an insane world?

I have heard this expression in many forms. Philosophers and religious texts often come to this idea, to live “in the world, but not of it.” So common is this idea that it seems to me to be part of the human condition, expressed not as an isolated cultural tradition but a universal feeling expressed through many cultural traditions.

It’s a common theme and narrative device and follows almost any discussion of altered states of consciousness. The language varies, some call it rapture, others enlightenment, others call it truth. One of my favorites is in the William Blake poem ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

When you experience such a profound awareness, some would say the most profound, what are you suppose to do afterwards? In a quiet meditative state, alone in the woods or meditating in an ashram, this all seems quite easy.

Give Thoreau his Walden and Huxley his mescaline and profundity seems natural.

But without the Walden, without the drugs, outside of meditation, outside of the temples, churches, and mosques, what is one to do? Separating oneself from the insane world can often reveal paths to truth, but how do you live those truths and still live in the insane world?

It’s easy to look around and see the horribleness of war, poverty, corruption, greed, and the rest of the evils discussed daily. A natural question then, how do you live in this world, with all it’s problems, while maintaining awareness of that transcendent state? That is, how do we keep the perceptions cleansed, how do we experience heaven, how are we to be aware of nirvana, how are we to be aware of bliss while living in the world?

How are you to be happy while also aware of the suffering around you?

Like many problems, perhaps examining the question can shed light on a solution. What do we mean by an “insane world”? Some would say, look around, the world is not a happy place, suffering is everywhere! Religions tend to agree, Buddhism starts with suffering and inquires into the nature of suffering, Scientology blames disembodied aliens, and Christianity blames your great-great-…-great-grandmother for eating an apple.

But what is this other world, the non-insane world? It seems a place of calm existential freedom, a place of enlightenment. It seems very different than the office buildings, schools, markets and highways of human civilization. How does one function in human civilization while maintaining that calm blissful freedom of enlightenment? Is such a thing possible?

Do others cross back and forth between the sane and insane worlds? Imagine an oak tree. How does an oak tree live in an insane world? I guess it would be an oak tree and it will live and die as oak trees do in any world. But oak trees do not plunge themselves into outer space or into inhospitable environments. Even if we’re just dressing in warm clothes or bringing sunscreen to the beach, we’re giving ourselves the life support needed to live in an inhospitable environment. Can we live sanely by adapting, with a bit of life support, to the insane world?

I suppose we’ll need more than a jacket and sunscreen to live sanely in an insane world. There is nourishment and also toxicity within human civilization, can we prejudice ourselves with facts of what is nourishing and what is toxic and successfully navigate human civilization the same way we navigate any inhospitable environment? If so, what is toxic and what is nourishing in human civilization?

At first glance, that which is most nourishing in human civilization is also the most toxic, we depend vastly on cooperation with other people. There is cooperation and there is competition. Are these things separate? And if so, can you have one without the other? If so, is there any advantage to a situation that is competitive but not cooperative? Let’s look at this closely, is there competition with no cooperation that is nourishing and not toxic? Competition separates you from others, it creates division and where there is division there is conflict. This conflict is competition, competition is always conflict. Is there a nourishing form of this conflict that is separate from cooperation, i.e., where there is no cooperation only pure competition? Such a thing is hard to imagine, we cooperate by speaking the same language, by adhering to cooperative social conventions. There may be competition in who most successfully cooperates. But to cooperate fully there can be no conflict, in fact, pure competition erodes and destroys cooperation– it will create a barrier, a division that brings conflict.

Humans are both cooperative and competitive, this is true from observation — but the strength of our survival is in the cooperation and less the competition. We cooperate to survive, which is itself a competition, a division between that which survives and that which does not. But this is a fact, this is something we can discriminate and make prejudiced decisions. We are the product of all that has survived, and we cooperate to survive, we cooperate so that we can compete to survive. It is a struggle, and like all struggles it is easily perceived but complicated in its nuanced perceptions.

Whether or not we call it insane, this world is exactly as it has been shaped by all that came before us, we are the offspring of those that shaped this world. And now we shape the world.

It seems that the insane world and the sane world are the same place– that there are many patterns and perceptions of existence, some more nourishing and some more toxic towards the specific world you would shape. But shaping the world is the inevitable outcome of your existence, your mind and body are a dependent piece of the world as it will inevitably become.

What to do now is a simple question, with a simple answer: anything you can; do what you want, do what you are told, or do as you will– there are many perceptions and none of them are any less nourishing or less toxic than another. Find the strategies based on the facts and not the perceptions, and take with you that which is most nourishing so that you have sustenance when in a toxic environment.

In the insane world, and what we mean by that is the world filled with suffering and attachment, how do you live sanely? Often times the toxic world is only toxic to your delusion of self. Does this mean the nourishing world is only nourishing to your delusion of self? Yes, and be more careful here, anything that builds the self is violent and divisive. Nourishment, true nourishment, is to the body and mind, not to the delusions of self and ego that are themselves toxic to the body and mind.

Knowing what is nourishing and what is toxic is a decision based on fact about your body and mind, not about perceptions and ego.

The ego is toxic, nourishment cannot exist while an ego is present– the ego seeks its own nourishment, nourish the body and mind as you would water a plant and place it near to a window. Do not nourish the plants’ illusion that it is not a plant. Maybe the plant fancies itself in the image of god, and that it has a direct link to god, or that it has an eternal soul; nourishing the plants eternal soul isn’t helping it get proper soil, water, and sunlight– things the egotistic plant probably takes for granted.

That is how you live sanely in an insane world– do so without ego, without delusions of self, do so with cooperation, and do so freely, with total freedom in mind and body.

There is a beautiful perfection in this world, and in that perfection there is order, there is unity, and there is a harmonious balance– only in the illusionary divisions is there violence and insanity. Remove the violence and insanity by seeing through the divisive illusions.

Living sanely is to realize that the world is not insane, and the world need not be saved, it is in no need of salvation. Change is inevitable, and the world is exactly as it has been shaped and it will become exactly as it will be shaped. And your hands are one of the many that shape this world.

Traversing the Infinite

“I am an infant born anew– a child. My eyes are filled with wonder and bliss. An infinite expanse of possibilities is before me and I have not the benefit of experience to prepare me for what I am about to partake.”

There is an existential freedom, a life in accord, it is easily attainable to anyone given the mental discipline– connecting the world within to the world external– realizing there is no “in here” and “out there”, that the separation itself is an illusion. It is fascinating as this understanding precedes awareness of self (consciousness); a simple recognition of the world as it truly exists, and from that recognition there is a realization of all things beautifully connected.

There is no path to lead to truth, be it profound truth or trivial, there are no limits and as such there can be no path.

As a stone tumbles down a mountainside it lands in its inevitable resting place at the bottom– looking back, it may say “there was the path”, but such a thing is inconsequential. There are many paths infinitely conceivable and infinitely plausible. Where you are is where you are, and there is no one path that brought you there.

You traverse the infinitely conceivable paths towards the inevitable moment that you are now. There you are, and if you look back you may see where you were– but do not see one path, look to see the truth, see the infinitely conceivable paths you have traversed.

If this seems odd, then look forward. Obvious are the infinitely conceivable paths in front of you, where did the path from the past go? Does the past path perpetually stop in the present? Look and see for yourself, there is an infinity all around, all the time, equally conceivable towards the past as towards the future.

The word is…

Is there a word for absolute and rapturous freedom?

No debt, no obligations
Nothing pinning you down
No promises to fulfil and no deadlines pending
No todo list haunting your sleep
And no ego, not even a ‘you’ to be burdened

Is there a word for such unconstrained freedom?

Mindful Meditation

Nirvana, or in Pali, निब्बान (nibbāna), literally means “blowing out” — referring to the blowing out of delusion.

What follows are notes on this most peculiar topic:

We experience illusion, but it is not nirvana that is the illusion; it is your ‘self’, your ‘soul’ that is the illusion. Whether you seek enlightenment or not, nirvana is always upon you — it is the only thing real in an otherwise delusional metaphor that we mistake for the real world. Your perceptions are in your mind; and they include every color, every sound, every object that you have either touched or imagined, every possession, every concept of self, God, and soul; these are abstractions in your mind to represent the world you exist within.

Consider for a moment why the blue sky is blue. Radiant sunlight refracts into a gaseous atmosphere and passes through your eyes triggering your brain to construct a visual representation experienced as a blue sky. A beautiful metaphor placing you at the center of a magnificent world domed in blue.

Consider the last well-made chair that you sat upon. You saw a chair and knew it was a chair as you sat upon it, but did you perceive the true nature of this thing you call a chair? The wooden legs, once growing from the ground as an oxygen producing tree, the carefully carved pieces interlocking with precision imagined by this chairs designer; all these things in that simple chair.

We see and experience a filtered and abstract metaphor that places our mind at the center of the universe, we call this set of perceptions a soul and imagine attributes that fill out an identity that we call an ego. It is tremendously useful and yet entirely imagined; a wonderful process of the creation of ego. It does not exist in anything except for its own perceptual delusion; all that does exist cannot be simultaneously in your brain, nirvana remains the only concept that once fully understood is the only thing real in an otherwise illusionary world.

And whether you are aware of it or not — that is, whether or not your mind has created a perceptual abstraction that allows your conscious ego to be aware of nirvana, and thus aware of its own illusionary nature, that the illusion of self knows it is an illusion — nirvana is already upon your being. The cycle of dukkha and samsara is itself an illusion, you are not going in a circle, there is no you to circulate.

Each moment dies and produces the next moment, and with that truth, everything that is “you” is no more significant than a blade of grass turning to face the sun. This is dependent arising, and in this awareness where the self is accurately perceived as an illusion, this is awareness of anatta, of not-self. And in this experience of anatta, this is awareness of nirvana.

There is no nirvana to be achieved, only an awareness of the nirvana that already exists.

Library Zen

Headphones on, a sweet voice sings melodically in your ears, an air-conditioned chill welcomes your entrance.

Students scurry in their studies, travelers queue for vacant computers, halls of knowledge surround and overwhelm– you stand amidst the pinnacles of all human thought, ingenuity, and creativity.

If I had a church; a place of transcendence where your soul is moved, a place where your perceptions are lifted above mundane daily toils, beyond those frantic markets despised by Zarathustra, a place where the surrender of ego happens at the mere experience of its interior; it is here, sitting silently in a library.

Embracing Uncertainty

If you feel certain about something, then you have discovered the limits to that thing– and in life, more often than not, it means you have created an illusion of limits around yourself– limits that blind you to the purpose of life

Travel, Set Yourself Free

IMG_3741I meet many people who want to travel. People who express a profound desire to travel, yet remain in one place; trapped by a myriad of excuses– I wish I could do that.

Almost every traveler will respond– you can!

For every excuse I have heard– children, money, job, school, visas– I have met travelers who overcame your excuse. I have met entire families traveling through the roughest parts of southeast Asia; I have met students traveling happily on laughably low budgets; and of course we all share absurd stories about immigration and visas.

There are travelers from all walks of life and aptitudes– from the timid to the brave, young to old, smart to stupid– all of them with a different reason to be traveling and yet unequivocally understood by other travelers.

There is nothing exceptional to traveling– so many people from so many backgrounds are doing it. You are an exceptional person, but not because you are traveling. That pretense is something you encounter with people who are *about* to travel; it feels to them like an extraordinary event, so they start blogs and tweet everytime they take a crap abroad. Good for them, fortunately for everyone else, that feeling wears off quickly.

Don’t be fooled into thinking traveling the world is extraordinary, that sets an artificial barrier for yourself to experience your own travels– which, ironically, will unlock the extraordinary in yourself.

Traveling is more a lifestyle choice than an extraordinary event– releasing yourself from the delusion that you need to stay in one place. You don’t, you can go anywhere you have the will and the want.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

Once you embark on a travel lifestyle you’ll start to simplify. You’ve heard it from many travelers, you’ve heard it from Thoreau– simplify. This is an amazing and addictive side-effect to traveling. What do you really need? — you’ll find out — and you’ll feel freer and happier with every burden you release.


Embrace a travel lifestyle and you may get to that enlightened state where you realize you don’t need anything. Your luggage shrinks and shrinks until you’re not carrying a thing. You are experiencing life. Life is simple, and traveling in life will teach you this simplicity.

If extraordinary things happen while traveling, it is due to this: the simplicity achieved and the burdens released have freed your time and lifted your soul– the bliss of being is in your every breath. There are no obligations and no artificial responsibilities and no delusional burdens, just existence at its most pure and rapturous state.

Is this it?

Hurtling through space around an explosion
It pulls us along– And it too, this life giving fire
Hurtling through space, pulled by this fiery cluster of stars
This galaxy– hurtling through space

It is beyond any of our Gods creations
We have looked past our delusions
and seen past the boundaries of our imagination

We are life itself– life aware
Creators of Godly worlds that held us servile
No more significant than a blade of grass turning to face the sun
And yet profoundly more significant than the Godly worlds of our creation

The fire of life is within us, in our every breath the dependent life arises
Identifying us with this life eternal
We are captive to life as much as our Gods are captive to their Godhood

To ask ‘is this it?’– surely they have not seen– they have not experienced the bliss of being that truly is ‘it’

Backwards Mind

We move forward in time while looking only backwards.

We are blind to the future– we stare at the past, aware only of what has already happened. Unable to change the past, we shape the future– the very future we cannot see.

A strange predicament; predicting and shaping the future from past events– a fools errand in any other context.

Such a stunt requires spirit. A guiding principle, a concept– arguably one of our creation– moving us forward a little less blind. It’s difficult to know where we’re going when we see only what has already happened.

There is, it seems, a pre-conscious awareness– right at the moment of sensory contact where the future becomes the past. Our conscious mind stares openly at the near past, understanding it through lenses of perceptions, useful metaphors for facing a world we are otherwise blind to experience.

Before conscious awareness and after sensory contact, there is a moment where the perceptions are applied and the metaphors created. You look up to see the sky, before the metaphors of ‘blue’ and ‘brilliant’ are applied, there is an awareness; a childlike awe and it is here that is best described as a spiritual awareness– and from this spiritual awareness the metaphors of consciousness are created and your actions follow such that your conscious mind may think "what a brilliant blue sky".

It is here that we are closest to experiencing life as it truly exists, and it is here that we find the spiritual awareness that guides us forward. As our mind creates perceptions of blue and brilliant, something guides it– something decides ‘brilliant’ before the image is even constructed. Attempting to explain this we create more metaphors, Gods and all kinds of spiritual abstractions.

Because this moment occurs before the usual metaphors of conscious awareness– gods, religions, and all created forms fail to adequately describe it– yet these are often the most useful way to bridge your conscious awareness to this preconscious spiritual awareness.

Create the most useful metaphors to bridge your conscious awareness to spiritual awareness.

This could be ancient scripture, a personal god or gods, scientific models of human cognition, currents of mystic energy– all are metaphors, don’t be lost in the metaphors. Find the song in your own heart that awakens you to this bliss, to the rapture of existence that is spiritual awareness– and see the infinite in the world around you.

Why are you traveling?

On the road you meet lots of people, other travelers–
Some wandering, some drifting, others on destination, rarely on itinerary
Some are out to save the world– only to learn that the world is in no need of saving
Find yourself, lose yourself, eventually you realize those are the same things
Getting away from the ‘real world’ only to discover the real world
And a life free from regrets