The path to enlightenment is no doubt winding; but letting go of a strong sense of ‘self’ is one of the core ingredients.

I’m enjoying Waking Up (as above) with Sam Harris, and in particular the ‘Path of Insight’ offered by the exceptionally wise Joseph Goldstein.

Yesterday was a pretty ordinary day at the (virtual) office. Plenty of small impediments and human scale frustrations. But I’m well prepared for this, thanks to my longstanding Monday reminder:

But remembering the ‘learned optimism’ of Martin Seligman (explained here) I changed this reminder recently… now it’s:

But on a much sunnier (in every sense) Tuesday, I’ve realised that Joseph Goldstein would likely nudge me to an even better place… namely:

Job done. No need for ‘self’ talk; just remembering to spot the universe up to its usual Monday tricks. Another step on the path to enlightenment.

: )

The Silent Cinema

Now here’s a peculiar thing…

Having done a fair bit of listening to people with soothing voices inviting me to contemplate my feet… and having read a couple of harder core books from the Dalai Lama… I’d concluded mindfulness and meditation wasn’t really me.

I’ve learnt how to breathe, seek enjoyment and find peace ‘in the moment’. I’m getting pretty good at it; and had assumed that was it.

But one slightly terrifying day in July – the 29th to be precise – I met and said ‘oh, fancy that; hello’ to the actual ‘me’ inside. The most bizarre experience I think I’ve ever had.

The simple process is to imagine yourself in a cinema, completely caught up in a film. Then imagine yourself sitting deeper in the chair and detaching yourself from the film and noticing all the people sat around you (especially vivid if you think of them as wearing 3D specs).

Next imagine yourself alone in the movie theatre… and then imagine all your thoughts and sensory perceptions are on the screen.

Now imagine that screen going blank…

What’s left?

The silent person watching the screen inside.

I found it frankly really weird. For the first time I met the silent, energetic, unstable whoosh of raw consciousness and mental energy which is the ‘me’ that sits deep inside.

I’ve not been back since if I’m honest. I noted it down and slightly left it be. It feels like a thing not to be messed with. Pure consciousness is enlightenment, life and death and personal identity all wrapped up in one bouncing, pinging, luminous, easily distracted, unstoppable beam of ‘always on’ energy.

I get meditation and Buddhism now; and fear pain and fear itself a little less. But I’m not sure I want to go back into the cinema and turn everything off again…

I’ve kept myself busy since writing ‘Enlightenment’ in my iPhone notes on 29th July. My next entry is a ‘to do’ list for two weeks of camping – on the 30th July – which feels a good enough excuse; especially given all that’s happened since.

But the quiet seat – in the totally silent and empty cinema – is a place I will have to visit again; even if I don’t fancy it much.

Absent a sudden and violent death, the silent cinema is an important place to know the way into I reckon… That’s the purpose of Buddhism I suspect – to be able to detach the ‘silent witness’ and the constant flow of mental energy from the ego, angst, fear and pain which capture it for most of the living years.

A bit scary though.


Having written this, I popped back into the ‘silent cinema’ this morning. All very painless. Eyes closed: hearing the planes, noises off, feeling the grumbling in the stomach and the ache in my shoulder – and slowly turning attention away from them and towards inner silence. A few thoughts and ideas ping around, a sense it’s all a bit self-conscious in there and then quiet; just quiet… a couple of good thoughts float by… then eyes open and life’s Technicolor cinema immediately fills the screen again with dazzling light, noise, distractions and opportunity.

Life seems even brighter today after a few minutes in the silent cinema.



The thought that ‘people’ are just a manifestation of different causes, drivers and phenomena is an interesting one. 

We all have a strong sense of ‘self’. And an equally strong sense of other ‘selves’ too – not least when those other selves jostle, oppress and thwart us.

So the Buddhist doctrines of ’emptiness’ and that we have no ‘inherent existence’ challenge the common sense experience of selves, ourselves and selfishness.

Somewhat tired, somewhat hot; and somewhere between bored and irritated – I had a moment of enlightenment reflecting on this, at a work event this week.

This speaker who is mildly irritating me, on many levels simply does not exist at all…

If I looked at them at the molecular level, they’d just be a greyish fuzz of particles – in fact when you think about it, at the molecular level it probably makes no real sense to think in colours or shapes at all, it’s all a probabilistic blur.

At a bacterial level, that person was a teeming mass of microbes; which largely outnumber ‘their’ own cells. And many of those were probably running faster, because of the heat of the room and the anxiety of speaking.

As they were speaking, the speaker was constantly having holes punched through them by cosmic rays – some generating cellular malfunctions and mutations which the person’s immune system was hopefully mopping up.

At a planetary level, the roomful of people I was sat amongst would be about as visible and significant as a handful of microbes on a Petri dish is to the human eye.

And at a room level, lots of mounds, fungi and little creatures were probably gently coming to life thanks to the light, heat, food and prey that sixty odd people were all exhaling, expelling, shedding and radiating. 

And that’s before we get onto scales of time – how does an hour of speeches look on the timeline of a mayfly, an oak tree or a solar system?

With all those things going on, it’s hard to stick with the idea that the only thing happening in that room, was a person with an ego imposing their ego on my ego.

Letting go of the ‘person’ and seeing the myriad causes, effects, scales and timescales in which you could see them, helped me escape irritation; and embrace a sense of wonder. 

Different perspectives helped me get a different perspective.

Wax on, wax off


Nine hours: aches in the triceps and the biceps, the adductors and the back, the shoulders and the groin – and a right pain in the butt cheeks.

Two bruised knees and the gait of an eighty year old – but it is done. No, not a karate training montage, but an old wooden floor made new.

Karate Kid’s Mr Miyagi would be proud. A front room floor is scraped and chipped free of decades of paint splashes, sanded and hammered and oiled and waxed.

And I am physically whacked. If I sit down I’ll be stuck down, so staying on my feet is the only option. But you can’t beat the sense of achievement of a laborious job well done. As TV Tropes rightly has it:

“Before Enlightenment, carry water, chop wood.
After Enlightenment, carry water, chop wood.”

— Buddhist Saying