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The story, so far ...

Digging until you see water

Life strikes me as a voyage of discovery. And discovery in the double sense of the word: discovery in the form of 'finding out', but also as uncovering, dis-covering. In fact, I have never outgrown the sandbox of kindergarten, because what is there under all that sand?

As a child, I was raised in a (subconsciously) agnostic environment, where the mottos were "there might be Something, but we don't know anything about it and so we don't talk about it" and also "just behave normal, that's crazy enough". My parents were rather practical and pragmatic people. On one hand, I could see the point of that, but on the other, I found the world too fascinating and intriguing not to stop and think about it.

That voyage of discovery took place mainly in my head by reading and studying a lot. I always wanted to go deeper, to the bottom, to find what lies beneath the sand.

My first love was (natural) science and in a way it still is. The scientific method is clean, produces results, but at the same time is modest. It is aware of its relative truth and tries as much as possible to question its own assertions. But at the same time, I am a child of the 1960s and for a time I was attracted to what was then called the 'counter-culture': the music, the non-conformism, the psychedelics and the exotic, unorthodox influences. And so I also took an interest in parapsychology, ufology, astrology, tarot, Transcendental Meditation, I Ching, theosophy, Ram Dass and other eastern sounding wise men.

When I started studying, I soon felt inspired by the romantic and epic visions of Teilhard de Chardin, Henri Bergson, and many others. Then came postmodernism with Deleuze & Guatari, Michel Foucault, Paul Feyerabend and Friedrich Nietzsche. The course 'Comparative Philosophy' brought me into closer contact with the mentality of Eastern spirituality and how it differs from the Western point-of-view. Meanwhile, I also read 'Time, Space and Knowledge' by Thartang Tulku, the books of Carlos Castaneda, J. Krishnamurti, Douglas Harding and George Gurdieff.

In the course of time, I had a number of special, very revealing experiences, which made me long for more to find out and so I remained 'hooked'. I wanted so badly to know 'IT', the Ultimate Truth. Secretly, I also longed for the recognition of others who would look up to me, a 'realised one'. I also desperately wanted to be and to look 'centred' and 'cool'. And of course, all this time I thought that my own experience, my own consciousness, absolutely cannot be sufficiently developed to know the reality of what is, after all, my own life. Truly enlightened people know better. Others know better. I learned the hard way.

After my studies, I went into a search for somebody who could help me to become 'enlightened', and mainly because I was kind of lazy and impatient, I came into contact with the neo-sannyas movement of (Bhagwan/Osho) Rajneesh, who was at that time quite famous. And with Rajneesh I could finally put my life in the hands of a real 'Master' and let 'Him' determine my thinking. For ten years I did the whole 'trip' of meditations, an obligatory pelgrimage to Rajneeshpuram, therapy groups, communal living and also lavish parties, orgies and XTC sessions. It was certainly not all terrible. I also learned a lot from it (especially about what I don't want in my life) and intensely enjoyed the whole circus.

When Rajneesh died and I left the small commune I was living in, my involvement with the 'Enlightened Master' was soon over, but my search for 'Truth' and 'Enlightenment' was not. After Rajneesh came a number of satsang teachers, mostly students, or students of students, of Poonjaji and/or Nisargadatta. 'Non-dualism' and 'neo-advaita' became the magic words and I swallowed it all.

By the way, it is only now that I am able to watch a video of one of Rajneesh's lectures without going into a kind of pleasant trance and only now can I see how he does this as a master hypnotist: the lisping voice, extending the sound at the end of words, looking without blinking, the movements of the hands. It is really very well done. Mooji could learn a thing or two from this. See for example this video.

Still, doubt always lurked in the background. And gradually, I started to give that doubt more space. What is actually true here and what is wishful thinking and hearsay - in other words, what do I really know first-hand?

I always suspected that the universe itself is not 'spiritual'. Spiritual in the sense of 'supernatural', 'holy', 'loving', you know what I mean. It is, however, awe-inspiring, unfathomable, a great and infinite mystery that is totally beyond human comprehension. Every anthropocentric characterisation, like 'Love' or 'Consciousness' or 'Nature', makes the universe, makes life itself, small; a stupid, bloodless lie. As far as I am concerned, the more capital letters, the more mendacious.

I was also looking, all along in fact, for a more scientific approach without (religious) faith, without gurus, without oriental jargon, without rituals and fuss. I somewhere knew that this had to be possible.

I then found and still find recognition in the sobering words of Robert Saltzman and in a somewhat broader sense also in those of Joan Tollifson and Shiv Sengupta and slowly I begin to see the world and myself without the veils of ill-considered and ungrounded 'spirituality' and ultimate statements like "Everything is Consciousness and you are That" and more of those hypnotic 'memes' and statements of belief.

By the way, such hypnotic ideas do not only occur in the 'spiritual' world, but also exist as metaphysical speculation and even occur in esoteric corners of theoretical physics.

"The rage for wanting to conclude is one of the most deadly and most fruitless manias to befall humanity. Each religion and each philosophy has pretended to have God to itself, to measure the infinite, and to know the recipe for happiness. What arrogance and what nonsense! I see, to the contrary, that the greatest geniuses and the greatest works have never concluded."

Gustave Flaubert, quoted in R. Saltzman, The Ten Thousand Things, 2017

Recently I wrote the following on Facebook. It concerns a reply to a relative who subscribes to the Christian creed, during a discussion about the (im)possibility of being convinced of something with certainty:

"I can't rest on faith, conviction or any philosophical or ideological system. Not only because there are so many known beliefs and ideologies. Even if there were only one conviction, I would not be able to resign myself to it. Because, in my experience at least, conviction is always accompanied by doubt; two sides of the same coin. I have tried to find peace in provable knowledge, but I have not found it there either, because not everything can be known or proven. The human mind is, in my opinion, incapable of providing answers to ultimate questions...

Now I have come to the point where I can find peace in the knowledge that I do not know and never will. No problem. I have no answers and I don't need to. The mystery of life overwhelms me and can move me to tears. To lock up this mystery in some 'answer', some belief, feels cruel, lifeless and above all ungrateful.

I do not know what is under the sand. In fact, I don't even know what the sandbox itself is, nor what is in it or where it came from. I only know that the sandpit is there and that I am in the middle of it.

A single flower, the cheerful hopping around of our dog Angie, the sound of the rain, the starry sky, even the pain in my back, tell me infinitely more and make every sense of doubt melt away. Living in this moment is all I really really know and ever can know.