Matthew: It would be useful to start with an overview of the main theme we’ll be discussing in these talks and books. Can you summarise it for me?
Jez: Put simply, we enter this world as the experience of Oneness, or Being, but we lose our perception of this as we grow up and become identified with Personality. After that identification, the suffering of Personality overshadows the stillness and love of our natural state. What I’m proposing is that it’s possible to return to the experience of this natural state, while being and operating as an adult.
Matthew: It’s a pleasing thought, but isn’t that just your belief? How do you know it’s true?
Jez: I know because it’s happened to me. I’m not sharing any beliefs here; I’m simply describing the view from a different perspective to yours. If you asked me if I believed there was any money in this box on my desk I’d say: ‘No. I don’t believe there’s any money in it, I know there is, because I’ve opened the box and seen it in there.’
Matthew: How can I be certain you know what’s in the box? How do I know what you’re saying about Oneness has any validity?
Jez: You don’t, but you don’t need to know it in order to engage with my proposition that it’s true. If you do that, it’s possible that you might open the box and see for yourself. That’s what these talks are about: encouraging you to open the box.
Matthew: There are a lot of big words in your summary. What, for example, do you mean by ‘the experience of Oneness’?
Jez: We’ll go into what I mean by each of these words in more detail as they arise in future talks but for now I’ll give you a shorthand to point to what I mean by the experience of Oneness: Imagine a newborn baby in a state of rest.
Jez: Well, that’s it.
Matthew: (Laughs.) Oh! OK, that gives me a vague sense of what you mean.
Jez: That’s all you need for now. That feeling you’re tuning into when you picture a baby at rest goes much deeper than any concepts we could come up with about it. This is because that feeling arises not just from the memory of being around a baby but also from having once been a baby yourself. After all, this is how we all started.
So we come into the world in the experience of Oneness but we need to develop something else that acts like a spacesuit and allows us to operate within the world where there is the appearance of the opposite of Oneness; where there is separation. (Let’s call this the ‘World of Separation’.) And that something which enables us to operate in this World of Separation is a sense of self. So gradually we become an ‘I’ and we identify with a name and a body which this ‘I’ apparently lives inside.
The self is a practical necessity for operating in the World of Separation. But the thing is, the sense of self doesn’t remain neutral and purely functional: As we grow up it collects beliefs, opinions and emotions. Gradually it builds into a Personality, an identity based on the things you’ve done, the places you’ve gone to and the successes you’ve achieved. Somewhere along the line suffering and unhappiness enter the picture, then one day you end up as the person you are today, locked into your own particular spacesuit. You’ve forgotten that, at your centre, you’re not this conglomeration of experiences from your past, you’re the Beingness that you came into this world with, which always exists ‘now’.
Matthew: This is an interesting theory, but aren’t these all just abstract, fancy words?
Jez: It’s unavoidable that words sometimes start sounding grand and pompous when you discuss this subject – language strains to describe these issues because what we’re discussing is beyond the usual reaches of the mind. Having said that, what I’m describing is not some abstract idea or belief. As I said, just sit beside a newborn baby. You can see and feel that potential we all have inside us: the experience of Oneness that we came with. I call this the ‘Natural State’.
Matthew: How did this realisation come into your life?
Jez: It began when I was a teenager. I used to experience Openings, breaks in the domination of the Personality’s viewpoint.
Matthew: Will you tell me about your experience of Openings? And also, what you were like back then?
Jez: I was a middle-class kid living in the suburbs of London; I have an older sister and brother. My parents were Christians but not particularly devout. It was a fairly happy household but there were some problems in my parent’s relationship and some unhappiness in my mum that trickled down into the family.
I had a friend with the strange name of Erhard O’Baidey who I loved being around. He possessed a confidence and enthusiasm that no one else I knew had, and I think these qualities mirrored aspects of myself that I wasn’t always in touch with. Erhard had the unheard-of luxury of owning his own table tennis table. In the summer he would set this up in his small suburban garden and we’d play for hours on end. Our tournaments were an amazing mix of competitiveness, excitement and sharing as we pushed each other to improve our fast-spinning returns.
In between matches we would eat unlimited amounts of ice cream scooped from a selection of huge tubs in his outside freezer cabinet. Erhard’s father, though not a tradesperson, would take trips to enormous wholesale stores where shopkeepers went to buy their stock. This meant that, when it came to food, there was a sense of abundance round Erhard’s house that was lacking in my own. Due to my mother’s occasional depression, that lack of abundance would sometimes be felt as an absence of joy. Looking back I can see that my hours spent at Erhard’s place, where there were no limits on fun, friendship or ice cream, gave me a respite from the influence of my mother’s unhappiness.
After exhilarating afternoons spent at Erhard’s place I would cycle home by the river Thames and, as I swerved along the twisting paths, I’d occasionally have these experiences, these Openings. Physically I felt them as the sensation of golden light in my spine, but that light or energy had an effect on my brain too: It put my thinking process in neutral and I was released into a state of bliss. I remember that, during these Openings, I could observe my life but there was a distance to it, almost as if it was happening to someone else. Whenever this Opening happened it was like an old friend returning and I did my best to make it stay. Who wouldn’t?
Matthew: Did it work?
Jez: No, it never worked. It was almost as if the effort to hold onto it actually caused it to pass. Usually by the time I’d cycled home it was just a memory. But what a beautiful memory!
Matthew: So what was the effect of these Openings in your daily life?
Jez: In my daily life, not much. They couldn’t help me pass an exam or chat up girls but in my inner life they were invaluable. They showed me that there was another point of view to the one that society and my parents had taught me.
It wasn’t a belief; it didn’t come from me wanting another viewpoint to make my life better. It just felt like life was saying: ’Here, look at this: there’s more to this life than the model that’s been handed to you.’
Matthew: I suspect lots of people have experienced something like this in their lives.
Jez: I agree, but the Opening itself is just the beginning; it’s what happens next that’s the key factor. The thing is, even if you’ve had such a shift in perception like this, the pull of the Personality’s viewpoint is so strong, so habituated, that the experience of the Opening can be repressed and pushed into the subconscious. Many people forget they even have them.
Matthew: Why do you think that is?
Jez: The Personality has a function of self-preservation: It’s programmed to maintain its sense of absolute authority. These sorts of experiences undermine the ultimate sovereignty of the Personality and so they are dangerous to it. By being consigned to the subconscious they’re no longer a threat.
Matthew: But this isn’t what happened in your case?
Jez: No, the Openings started when I was quite young; my Personality hadn’t fully developed yet. Perhaps that’s why I had no resistance to them. I welcomed them but, like I said, that didn’t make them stay. Afterwards I just returned to the everyday trials and tribulations of being a teenager.
Matthew: You didn’t tell anyone about them?
Jez: No. It’s odd really: You’d think when something so wonderful happens that I’d have wanted to share it with my family or friends. But it was a secret I kept to myself; it was between life and me.
Matthew: Did the Openings continue?
Jez: Yes, intermittently. I still had them in my twenties but they’d changed by then. They’d become more instructive; they were like lessons, understandings of my true nature. My Personality was well formed by then; I’d had my share of suffering, mostly in the form of periods of depression, so I needed those lessons.
Matthew: Was this related to your mother’s depressions?
Jez: It’s not hard to see the link, is it? My basic character was very positive: I always felt that those negative moods weren’t mine; I wasn’t born with them in my makeup. They were learnt. The Openings were like a light shining, guiding me back to my original nature. I don’t want to give the impression that they were mystical, divine events though.
Matthew: No religious figures appeared before you?
Jez: (Laughs.) No, it was much more mundane than that: It happened when cycling, when sitting by the Thames, before an exam, lying in a field near my parent’s house. One was even triggered by the gentle voice of an Indian lady at the till in a department store. In some ways the Openings felt strangely ordinary to me because what I experienced in them seemed to be something that, deep inside, I’d always known. But they were extraordinary in so far as that they didn’t happen that often.
Whatever the Openings were, wherever they came from, I knew that I trusted them above all else: above my parents, teachers or any religious authority. The only thing that bothered me about them was that they always went away. I couldn’t understand why, after such enlightened certainty, I was always returned to the confusion and occasional suffering of my everyday life. It became my quest to discover both what the Openings meant, and why they always passed, leaving left me without their ongoing guidance.
This quest is common to many people who have such experiences; something is awakened, a distant memory of their true nature. It kick-starts an enquiry into the nature of their identity by raising the questions: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Am I just the product of the family and society I was born into and their beliefs systems, or am I something more, something which existed before all of that was downloaded into me?’ When this quest is activated, rather than being pushed down into the subconscious, the experience of an Opening is actively held onto as a beacon to shine light on the way back to who we really are. That’s certainly how it’s been for me.
Matthew: Can talking to someone who knows about this lead to the same effect as having such a transcendent experience?
Jez: It’s possible. It depends on many factors. A lot of it is down to the readiness of the person listening. Most people’s identification with Personality is so absolute, and so well defended that even to consider what I’m saying as having any truth would be preposterous. Many readers will have already discarded this book as airy-fairy twaddle after the opening paragraphs.
Matthew: Maybe it is airy-fairy twaddle! Perhaps the Openings are just the creations of your rich imagination.
Jez: That is of course a possibility. All these words could be just the mad ramblings of a deluded Personality, grasping at beliefs to stave off unhappiness. But maybe they’re not! The question is, does the listener have enough curiosity, openness and willingness to carry on into this enquiry to find out?
When some people come across a new idea that challenges their worldview they retreat into a tight, rigid scepticism. There are so many crazy minds out there with equally crazy theories that, quite understandably, this has become a default setting for many.
Matthew: But not everyone’s like that.
Jez: No. Some people, who are perhaps looking for answers beyond what’s generally accepted in society, are more open: They respond with a willingness to believe what’s being presented. As far as finding out what’s true is concerned, both approaches miss, the first because it comes from a pre-existing decision to refuse what’s being presented. The perspective being offered is simply used to further entrench and bolster up beliefs that are already held. The second response of willingness to believe seems more positive because there’s openness behind it, but still nothing useful can come from it.
Matthew: Why not?
Jez: Because nothing useful is gained from blindly believing anything. Even if what’s presented is truly valuable and insightful, a belief in it simply keeps the understanding of it at an intellectual or emotional level. For a new perspective to be useful an understanding of it has to take root in your own experience; believing in something simply keeps that possibility at bay. There’s a quote from Nietzsche on this:
There are two different types of people in the world, those who want to know, and those who want to believe.
What I’m doing here is telling a story. Not just any story, it’s a story about a really big subject: It’s the story of you, the story of me, the story of everyone. Like I said earlier, you don’t know if this story is true or not but you don’t have to believe a story is true to get something out of it. When you watch a film you know it’s not ‘true’, you know it’s not ‘real life’. It’s just a narrative concocted by writers and acted out by actors, but that doesn’t mean it can’t affect you in all sorts of ways. Maybe it moves you, thrills you; perhaps the subject matter reflects something you’re dealing with in your own life and it helps you think about it in a whole new way. The fact that you watch a film knowing it’s just a story doesn’t stop any of that engagement; you engage despite the fact that no belief is invested in it being true. So I’m not asking you to believe this story is true either; without belief you can still get a lot from it. If you’re ready to hear this argument, and find out if it is true, then this enquiry could change your whole life in ways that you couldn’t even imagine right now.
Matthew: OK, so if I’ve got this right, you’re not asking me to believe anything you say is true but… just to be open to it?
Jez: Yes, it’s possible to practice what one might call ‘open-minded scepticism’. By this I mean being open-minded enough to be available to the possibility of encountering something beyond what you know, and finding, in your experience, it is true. And sceptical enough not to fall into the trap of belief, so that you test every argument you hear against your own experience. Aristotle said:
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
To take that assertion and run with it: You might not accept a thought that your mind has ‘entertained’, but then again, you might also find that you do accept it. This would happen not through belief, but because you find it to be true in your own experience. If that were not the case, then you would reject it.
Matthew: I’m generally sceptical about this sort of thing but, having observed how you live and work, I’m interested to find out more about what’s behind your different way of Being. So I’m open to the possibility that what you’ve learned about this could be true.
Jez: That’s all you need, and then something of what I’m saying might reach you, not just on an intellectual level, but an energetic level. Sometimes we’ve talked about this subject and your mind has been in its normal busy mode, jumping erratically from subject to subject…
Matthew: That sounds like me!
Jez: …But then I’ve said something in the course of our discussion and it suddenly changed your state dramatically. It’s as if your mind had been tripped up; you experienced what I call the ‘Stillness’.
Matthew: I remember feeling really peaceful – not like my normal self at all! (Laughs.)
Jez: It was almost like another ‘you’ had arrived. ‘Normal’ Matthew has a very busy mind that darts from one subject to another all day long. This Matthew was like sitting by a waterfall; there was space and depth in him. It was lovely to be around.
Matthew: So which is the real me?
Jez: I would say that both are aspects of you, but one aspect is informed by Being, the other by Personality. One has the peace of the infinite in it, and the other can be overcome by busyness and compulsive thinking.
Matthew: As you said, it’s like there are two different versions of me.
Jez: Yes, it all depends who’s running the show. In that Stillness, Being is king. In the Personality the mind is king and all of its thoughts, beliefs and emotions, which are mostly the product of your past, are in control of your life. When you truly experience the present you realise that you are so much more than the sum of your past.
Matthew: So can you learn to have access to that?
Jez: Our minds are used to the process of learning as a gradual assimilation of information until we possess knowledge. Naturally we apply this same model of learning to the ‘goal’ of finding this way out of our suffering. But this isn’t like taking a course in accountancy or plumbing: There are no progressive steps; liberation can’t be learned. How can you learn to be what you already are? If anything, you have to unlearn all that you think you are, all that you’ve taken to be you, which has covered up your innate understanding of this.
So, although this is an enquiry, it’s not a process of learning; it’s actually about uncovering, or remembering. Whatever I say in these talks isn’t material that you need to learn – that’s not what it’s for.
Matthew: So what is it for?
Jez: It’s to jog your memory, to penetrate the layers of mist that have shrouded your perception. To cut though the beliefs, thought patterns and emotions which, without your knowing, rob you of the attributes of the Natural State.
We’ll start by covering a few basic principles and concepts that underpin this whole enquiry, and by examining exactly what I mean by the Natural State. Then we’ll look at how we lose it, why we lose it and what replaces it. In the second book, The Infinite Journey, we’ll discuss how it’s possible to remember what, deep inside, you have always known.