1 – Openings
A glimpse beyond Personality
“If the doors of perception were cleansed
Every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.
For man has closed himself up,
till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.’ – William Blake
Matthew: Since our last discussion something amazing’s happened! I’ve had an Opening. Suddenly everything we’ve been talking about has opened up to me… It’s become less conceptual… Because I’ve had a taste of it, it’s become more real.
Jez: Try to describe what happened.
Matthew: I was walking past the village green… I sat down in the shade of an oak tree for a moment. I remember seeing birds swooping in the sky and hearing music playing from an ice-cream van. I was also aware of the feeling of the grass underneath my hand… It’s difficult to put this into words…
Jez: Just try, see what comes…
Matthew: I experienced a different perception of life. (Pause.) It felt like the part of me that was experiencing this perception hadn’t really changed that much since I was a baby. I don’t mean it was a child’s consciousness that was looking up at the sky, but it didn’t seem related to the forty-five-year-old man that I am. It seemed to be a point of view that was somehow beyond time. (Pause.) I remember thinking how wonderful, perfect and absurd this world is. I just sat there, looking at the birds, the grass… the people buying ice creams. I felt detached from it all and yet… connected too.
Jez: What else did you feel?
Matthew: I was going to say ‘happy’, but that’s not quite right. I just felt… very still. My problems didn’t all disappear, but I had a different perspective… Somehow, everything was all right just as it was.
Jez: You mean your problems didn’t need to go away for it to be all right?
Matthew: Yes, that’s it – everything was already all right.
Jez: An Opening is a glimpse beyond Personality, a taste of your original state of Being. It arises within the field of Personality (in the middle of your life in which you’re identified as Personality) but where it comes from, its source, is beyond it. When life is observed from the viewpoint of the Opening, even momentarily, the spell of Personality is broken and the attributes of Being are experienced. In normal consciousness we’re identified as Personality, but in an Opening the Absolute Level, in which the Relative Level arises, comes to the foreground. Openings bring with them a feeling of objectivity, openheartedness, Joy, Stillness, an increase in physical energy, even bliss. But they can also come with thoughts.
Matthew: I didn’t have any particular thoughts; my mind was unusually quiet… What sort of thoughts do you mean?
Jez: There are different kinds of thought: practical thought (such as ‘I must buy some bread’) and then all the various thoughts that spring from the workings of Personality, the internal dialogue that’s continually commenting on and judging what we do (such as ‘If I do this I will be liked’, ‘I’m a bad person’, ‘I’m a good person’ or ‘When I get my promotion I’ll be happy…’ etcetera). The kind of thoughts I’m talking about in these Openings fall into a third, totally different category: I call them ‘Original Thoughts’.
Matthew: What do you mean, in what sense are they original?
Jez: They’re not original in the sense that no one else has ever had them before; they’re original in the sense that you’ve never had them. They’re not learnt. You don’t pick up these thoughts from parents, teachers or from the Group Personality around you… They just appear in your head, in the same way that talents arise spontaneously in your Character. As a friend of mine put it: ‘You don’t know how you know, but you know that you know.’
Original thoughts express spontaneous Understandings of how life works beyond the viewpoint of Personality. So I’m capitalising this use of the word ‘Understandings’ to distinguish it from understandings about, say, a mathematical problem or a political situation. These Understandings are spontaneous insights into our fundamental nature.
Matthew: Can you give me an example of one?
Jez: Every one of these talks is built on Understandings beyond Personality. None of these were learnt from a book, they’re spontaneous perceptions that arose in my life.
Matthew: They’re uncaused?
Jez: Yes, however, you could say there’s an environment in which they’re more likely to happen. There has to be, on some level, openness to this Mystery, a willingness to see beyond the prevailing view of the Group Personality. In my experience, that Openness seems to attract these Original Thoughts.
Throughout my life, because I’ve always sought the answer to the question of ‘Who am I beyond Personality?’, I’ve been blessed with many Original Thoughts. The earliest I remember came to me when I was about ten.
Matthew: What was it?
Jez: ‘The same sun shines on everyone.’ It sounds banal but it really meant something to me as a ten year old; I didn’t know it then but it was a very primal Understanding of Oneness.
Matthew: You hadn’t just read or heard it somewhere?
Jez: No. Like I said, Original Thoughts like this aren’t learnt from books or teachers; they’re like flowers of Understanding, spontaneously opening inside you. They’re one possible manifestation of an Opening.
Matthew: The Opening I had was definitely spontaneous. I don’t remember being in a particularly peaceful mood that day; looking back I can’t see anything that triggered it, I was just doing what I’d done hundreds of times: walking up to the shops and back.
Jez: It’s like the Openings I experienced when I was cycling as a boy; the activity didn’t cause them, it just happened to be what I was doing when the Opening came. But, some Openings can be triggered by events or circumstances.
Matthew: What sort of things can trigger them?
Jez: Lots of things; once it happened to me after hearing the tone of an Indian woman’s gentle, relaxing voice. Sometimes they were a response to something I’d read. I used to browse in the spiritual book section of an Oriental Store in Covent Garden; occasionally a quote from Rumi or Lao Tzu would hit me like a blow to the heart. Something in me recognised the truth encapsulated in the words, even if I didn’t fully understand it; there was an energetic response to it in my body and mind.
Quotes from teachers, philosophers, poets, or artists are often distillations of Original Thoughts. Being original, the thought behind the quotation has a certain power – that’s why they survive. Anyone reading them, who has some openness, can feel that power and the thought can ignite some Understanding inside them.
Stories can be triggers too, that’s why there’s a tradition in spiritual Seeking of teaching stories. When I was at college I read about Buddha for the first time. Something about the story of this prince, who one day encountered the Suffering of the people outside the walls of the palace and resolved to find a way beyond it, resonated with me. I was so inspired and fired up about it, I even wrote to my parents and told them the story of his life.
Matthew: Were they interested?
Jez: Not really; they were probably worried I was going to run away and become a monk in Thailand! But it wasn’t a religious thing, something in me just recognised the truth in the story. There’s a great quote from the poet W.H. Auden (a good example of an Original Thought) that points to the power of books and storytelling:
‘A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us.‘
I think that book about Buddha ‘read’ something about me; though I was young, I knew what Buddha meant when he talked about Suffering. My Mother experienced depression and her unhappiness was a strong presence in my life, like a great sadness that seeped into our family. It wasn’t always active, but it was there, waiting in the background like a threatening rain cloud. I was affected by it because I couldn’t escape it.
Sometimes Suffering itself can trigger an Opening: it’s as if its intensity pushes us beyond our normal perception to a place beyond Personality. I remember my parents having a really bad argument when I was a young boy. They tried to keep their disagreements private so that my brother, sister and I wouldn’t hear them; but we did hear them, and we did feel them. Before the Contraction, before we’ve learned to shut down our feelings, we are so sensitive; we feel everything. Shouts and screams filled the house. I think it was because we were normally protected from this raw Emotion that when it was released, it was very frightening to us. I remember going to my room, covering my ears with a cushion trying to block out the sounds, but there was no escape.
Usually I just felt really scared during those arguments, but on one occasion my fear was replaced by an inexplicable feeling that everything was all right, despite what was happening. Logically it didn’t make sense: I didn’t know why or how it was all right, I just knew that, in that moment, I felt it was.
As the years passed, thanks to my sporadic Openings, I learned there was something beyond Suffering. This was not a conceptual Understanding; I knew it because I’d experienced it, but I didn’t know why or how it was true. I didn’t have any overall Understanding yet of what the Openings were pointing to, what they meant.
Matthew: You’re reminding me of a feeling I sometimes had when I was a boy – the word that comes to mind is objectivity. Now I come to think of it, it links up with my experience on the village green. Sometimes, when I was a boy, it felt like I was sitting on the side of the stage watching everyone else rushing around, wrapped up in who they were and what they were doing. I often wondered if anyone else felt like that. As a boy I always felt like there was something else to this life, something the adults weren’t telling me, but I didn’t know what it was.
Jez: It seems like talking about your experience on the village green has disturbed some deep memories of earlier Openings from your subconscious.
Matthew: Yes, I’m only just remembering them… It’s a bit like when something happens in your day that jogs the memory of a dream you had the previous night. Actually, I feel a bit wary of talking about it…
Jez: Why is that?
Matthew: The memory is so fragile; I’m worried that if I catch hold of it, I’ll lose it. I don’t know why I feel like that.
Jez: In this society we’re trained to bury these Openings. At the time, did you tell anyone about those feelings you had of there being something more to life?
Matthew: I remember trying to talk to my parents about it; I think I was trying to understand what those feelings meant…
Jez: That’s what parents are for, isn’t it? To help you better understand the world from their own, larger experience of it. What did they say?
Matthew: They were usually very supportive and engaged when I had questions about life but, as they were atheists and had had pretty bad experiences of religion when they growing up, they didn’t really engage when I tried talking to them about my Openings. They’d say things like: ‘We all have those thoughts sometimes but don’t talk about it, people will think it’s strange.’ It was as if they tried to play it down and steer me off the subject.
Jez: We’ve talked about how the Group Personality doesn’t want this* – that’s why your parents weren’t interested in hearing about your Opening. This is Personality saying it doesn’t want to be aware that there’s something other than itself. The Personality wants to go around doing its thing, keeping its viewpoint intact. Your parents’ Personalities chose not to become aware of what was, to them, a threatening account of an experience beyond Personality. It’s a classic example of Personality Awareness, i.e. the Personality choosing what it becomes aware of.
You said you had the feeling there was something else to this life, something the adults weren’t telling you. I’d suggest they weren’t telling you because they didn’t know about it. Or to be precise: They’d forgotten what they’d once known about it. Once we’ve lost that viewpoint of the Natural State, curiosity and wonder can turn into wariness and fear. Then wonderful stories of Openings are ignored or met with ridicule.
Matthew: I soon learned not to bring those experiences up again.
Jez: What about your friends? Did you tell them about them?
Matthew: I did. They were dismissive; they ridiculed me. They took it as if I was making out I was somehow better than them.
Jez: When the Group Personality refuses to acknowledge a side of you, there’s a huge pressure to do the same – to reject in yourself what they reject.
Matthew: Why do you think we reject it in ourselves?
Jez: Because you need the acceptance of the Group Personality, so there’s an unconscious desire to fit in, to be like them in order to win their approval. You can see how the Group Personality, in this case through family and friends, trains this out of us. It’s a crazy situation in this society we’re taught to walk away from what we are, from who we are.
With me you get the opposite. I’m not telling you to ignore that Opening. I’m encouraging you to remember it, to drag it out of your subconscious, to bring it into the light of consciousness and use it as a signpost pointing the way to this Understanding.
*The Story of ‘You’ – Chapter 7