2- Getting to Know Me
Even in my youth, I loved to figure out how things worked. So it was inevitable that my analytical mind would become fascinated by trying to understand my relationship to the voice inside my head. Before I could enjoy this intellectual fascination, however, I had to get over the fact that the personal mind was driving me crazy. Every time I saw something, that voice made some comment about it: I like it…; I don’t like it…; I’m not comfortable with this…; This reminds me of…As I became more and more accustomed to watching all this, a few questions naturally arose. First, why is this voice talking all the time? If I see something, I’m instantly aware of seeing it. Why does the voice have to tell me that I see it and how I feel about it?
I know what I see and I know what I feel. After all, I’m the one in here seeing and feeling. Why does it have to get vocalized in my mind?
Another question that arose was who am I who keeps noticing all this mental activity? Who am I who can just watch thoughts come up with a complete sense of detachment?
I now had two driving forces awaken inside regarding this newly found voice in my head. One was the desire to shut it up and the other was the pure fascination and yearning to understand what that voice was and where it came from.
my life was pretty ordinary. I only say that in comparison to what my life became. I became a driven human being. I wanted to know about the voice I had discovered, and I wanted to know who I was—the one inside experiencing all of this.
There was no way that others had not noticed this voice talking inside. It was so prevalent that you couldn’t miss it. I scanned through Freud trying to find the answers to my questions. I read book after book, but I found no direct reference to the voice talking inside—not to mention any reference to the one who is aware that the voice is talking.
I didn’t care what he thought. I was on an exploration, a journey of learning beyond anything I could have imagined. Every day I was learning so much about myself. I couldn’t believe the amount of self-consciousness and fear being expressed through that voice. It was so obvious that the person I was watching inside cared a great deal about what people thought of him.
I would watch the voice wishfully imagine how the conversation could have ended on a different note. I could see how much fear of rejection and nonacceptance were being expressed through that mental dialogue. It was overwhelming at times, but I never lost the perspective of watching a voice talking inside. It was obvious it wasn’t me; it was something I was watching.
One thing was perfectly clear: that voice had always talked before. But I had been so lost in it that I never noticed it as separate from me. It was like a fish not knowing it is in water until it gets out. One leap into the air and the fish instantly realizes, “There’s a body of water down there, and that is where I’ve always been. But now I see that I can get out.”
3- The Pillars of Zen
One day he brought me a book he thought might help. The book was entitled Three Pillars of Zen, by Philip Kapleau.
I started leafing through the pages of the book on Zen, and within minutes it became evident: this book was about that voice. My heart practically stopped. I had trouble breathing. This book was clearly about how to stop that voice from talking. Passage after passage spoke about quieting the mind. It used terms like the True Self behind the mind. There was no doubt that I had found what I’d been looking for. I knew there had to be others who had gained the perspective of watching that voice of the mind instead of identifying with it. Not only was there an entire legacy of knowledge spanning thousands of years that dealt with the voice, but this book clearly discussed “getting out.” It talked about freeing yourself from the hold of the mind. It talked about going beyond.
Needless to say, I was in awe. I felt a reverence for this book that I had never felt for anything in my life. I had been forced to read and study so many books in school. I now had in my hands a book that answered some real questions for me, like who am I that watches that voice talk. These were questions that I passionately wanted to know the answers to. Truth is, it was way beyond want. I needed to know these answers—that voice was driving me crazy!
What Three Pillars of Zen had to say was very clear and unequivocal. It said to stop reading, talking, and thinking about your mind, and just do the work necessary to quiet it down. The required work was equally unambiguous—meditate.
Before I even knew about meditation, I had tried sitting alone in order to make the voice stop talking. But that had never worked for me. With this book, I was presented a tried-and-true method that had worked for thousands of others. Simply sit down in a quiet spot, watch your breath go in and out, and mentally repeat the sound Mu. That’s it. Now do that for an ever-increasing length of time each day.
a trained person would walk around with a kyosaku stick. If you started to sleep or lost focus in another manner, you would get a smack on your shoulders with the stick. Zen was strict; there was no playing around. This form of Zen was serious work.
I didn’t have a group or a teacher. All I had was the book and a very sincere yearning to see if these practices would take me where I wanted to go. So I started to do Zen meditation on my own.
Within a week I built that to half an hour, twice a day. There were no fireworks or deep experiences. But concentrating on my breath and the mantra was definitely diverting my awareness from the incessant chatter of the voice. If I made the mental voice say Mu, it couldn’t say all the crazy personal things it usually said.
But this trip wouldn’t turn out to be just another camping trip—this trip was destined to have a profound impact on the rest of my life.
I was just a novice, but I was very serious about doing the practices and finding out what it would be like if the voice actually stopped.
The whole notion of meditating was so meaningful to me that from the start it was like a sacred experience. I picked a tree to sit under, just like the Buddha. Then, very dramatically, I told myself, I’m not getting up until I’ve reached enlightenment.
What happened under that tree that day was so powerful that even now my body shivers and my eyes begin to tear just to think about it.
4- Absolute Silence
I crossed my legs in a full-lotus position. I knew I wasn’t proficient enough to hold that posture for long, but I thought I might as well start with the official meditation position. I straightened my back and neck, and I began to concentrate on my breath expanding and contracting in my abdomen. The Zen book instructed me to make the Mu sound way down in my belly, below the belly button. I watched my breath go in and out from way down there.
I used my will to concentrate with extra intensity and sincerity. It must have made a difference because I went deeper inside than I had ever gone before. It seemed that concentrating on the movement of the breath in my belly created a force that linked the outflow of breath from my nostrils with the inner movement of my abdomen. Every time I breathed slowly out my nose, I felt a warm, inviting sensation throughout the area below my belly. The sensation was so nice that my attention naturally centered there. For a period of time, I simply lost myself in the beauty of the experience.
Some time later, the length of which I had no way of telling, the mental voice began talking about how beautiful the experience was and how this must be real meditation. Since my awareness was drawn to that mental voice, it was drawn away from concentrating on the breath. The meditation experience seemed to have run its natural course, and I began to come down to my normal mental state.
But this meditation session was supposed to be different. I had told myself I wasn’t getting up until I had broken through. So I willfully began concentrating anew on the movement of the breath in my belly and on the sound of Mu. I lost myself once again in the warm flowing force that tied my exhalations to the warmth in my abdomen. The force became much stronger as I concentrated more deeply. Eventually, all consciousness of my body and my surroundings was gone. I was only aware of the effortless flow of warm energy that was building and expanding at the core of my belly. I was not there; only the flow was there.
This experience of drifting in and out of the deep state went on for a prolonged period of time, perhaps hours.
At some point, I must have lost the will to refocus during one of those moments when self-awareness returned. I had been far gone in a very deep and peaceful place, but I started to come back. I don’t know how long I had actually been sitting, but the first thing I became aware of was the pain in my legs. They hurt a great deal from sitting in a full-lotus position for so long. The voice of the mind had not started back up yet. I was just there, kind of dazed, but very peaceful and deeply mesmerized by the experience. I suppose I would have continued to come down, but an amazing thing happened. From back behind where my sense of awareness had been centering came a booming voice. It said very sternly: “DO YOU OR DO YOU NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS BEYOND YOU?”
This was not the voice of the mind I was so used to struggling with. Ever since I first noticed that chattering voice, it was talking in front of and below where I sat inside. This new invocation came from behind and above where my sense of awareness was now situated. In any event, its stern challenge shook me to the depths of my being. I didn’t feel the need to answer the question, because every drop of me yearned to go deeper. So I took a breath in, then deeply pushed myself into the out-breath, and I was gone.
When my sense of self-awareness began to coagulate again, my experience of being was very different from anything I had ever experienced before. I felt pain in my legs, but they were very far away and the pain had a warmth and beauty to it. As I regained some awareness of my body, I tried to lean my head a tiny bit forward. Nothing moved. It was as though my forehead was pressed against a wall. Something very solid was resisting even the slightest movement of my head forward. I immediately realized that the sheer intensity of my concentration had created a well-defined force that flowed outward from my forehead and curved back to the point in my lower abdomen where I had been concentrating. I know this must sound strange, but it felt like a magnetic field that was so strong I simply could not move against it.
This was not the only powerful energy I was experiencing. I had been sitting in a full-lotus posture with my hands resting on my crossed feet. In that position the whole of my hands, arms, and shoulders formed a closed circle. Now that complete circle had become another one of these force fields. I could neither move forward nor sideways—I was locked in what I can only describe as perpendicular energy flows. Whenever I breathed out, the flows became more tangible and intense. The entire experience was so completely enthralling that I did not actually regain awareness of my surroundings. I only came down far enough to see that my body was overcome by these energy flows. Then, once again, I heard: “DO YOU OR DO YOU NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS BEYOND YOU?”
I was truly experiencing the sound of silence.
Most important, there was no voice. There was not even the memory of what it would be like to have chatter in that sacred place. It was gone. All gone. All that was left was awareness of being. I simply existed, nothing more. This time no stern beckoning entreated me to go beyond. It was time to come back.
The first thing I noticed as I became aware of my surroundings was that the external energy flows I experienced earlier had drawn inward. I now felt a very beautiful flow of energy up my spine to the middle of my forehead. I had never experienced this before, and almost all my awareness was drawn to that point. Meanwhile, there was still great pain in my legs, but that wasn’t a problem. It was just the quiet experience of pain. No complaints, no mental dialogue about what to do about it. There was simply awareness, completely at peace with what it was aware of.
I opened my eyes. What eased in through those openings was like nothing I had ever seen or dreamed of before. The wetland area before me appeared like a Japanese rice paper painting. It exuded gentleness and stillness. The tall grasses swayed in the gentle breeze, but their movement had a stillness about it. Everything was so quiet, so serene. The trees were quiet, the clouds were quiet, the water was quiet. There was absolute stillness in the midst of the movement of nature. My body was quiet, and there were no thoughts at all. I could have lain there forever melting into the peace that surrounded my sense of presence.
I was definitely not the dancing type. But now every movement of my body was like a ballet. There was a graceful flow when my arms moved, and I really saw the difference when I began to walk. With each step I could feel every tiny movement of the muscles in my feet. I flowed from one step to the next, and the movement itself was intoxicating.
The amazing part is that this state lasted for weeks.
5- From Absolute Peace to Absolute Turmoil
Shelly and I returned home from the weekend trip, but I could not relate to the life I was coming back to. I had changed completely in a matter of hours. My normal inner state had been transformed into a state of absolute clarity. Neither desire nor fear could touch me in those early days. Even thoughts faded away before reaching my seat of awareness. All I remember experiencing at that time was a powerful, unwavering sense of one pointed intention—I will never leave this state. No matter what, I will never allow anything to take me from this place. No voice of my mind had to say that to me; it was who I was. I was no longer Mickey Singer. I was the one who would never betray that peace or allow anything to disturb that transcendent stillness.
I was like a child having to learn everything all over again. I had to learn to eat in a way that was consistent with that peace. I used to smoke pot; I stopped completely. My state was crystal clear, and I didn’t want to dull it one iota. I had to learn to go to classes and take tests while remaining perfectly centered. I was in a doctoral program, on full fellowship. I had to learn to use my intellectual mind without disturbing the peace that I now loved more than life itself.
During those next few weeks, I felt like I had been born anew. I found myself yearning to go back beyond. In fact, every time I sat down to meditate I was drawn back into an elevated state. Some veil had been torn aside inside of me, and it was now totally natural to pass back through it. I started waking up at three in the morning to be able to do prolonged meditations. Throughout the day, I would sit whenever and wherever I had the opportunity. Only a small part of my life was about my outer existence. What I was really about was learning to stay deep inside while my outer life passed before me, leaving me at peace.
I wasn’t able to stay that detached for long, however. After two to three weeks, the unassailable inner peace began to develop cracks. These cracks allowed the voice of my personal mind to leak back into my sanctuary of silence. I struggled to get it back. Oh, did I struggle. But the struggling itself was inconsistent with the absolute stillness. There was nothing I could do. I had to just sit in here helplessly watching as the Land Beyond My Dreams gave way to my noisy inner state. It never dawned on me that I could try leaving my outer existence in order to maintain the inner stillness. That effort would come a little bit later.
I eventually realized that if I didn’t want to listen to the mental chatter, all I had to do was slightly increase my concentration on the energy flow to my brow. The thoughts would then pass right by without disturbing me. Letting the thoughts go became a game to me. All of life was a lighter experience than before.
I tried in vain to hold on to her, but at some point I saw something I had never been able to see before: the sheer strength of my personality and intellect had not given her the room she needed to breathe. If I truly loved her, I had to let her go. Right at that time, I had a friend who needed someone to house-sit while he was away. I moved into that house and began the process of nursing a broken heart.
Exploring the inner state of deep peace had become the purpose of my life.
“Mickey” was down and out; I wanted to go in and up. In those days I was certain of one thing: he was the problem, and he had to go. I had become dead serious about getting rid of him. But I had no idea how.
6- South of the Border
I struggled to translate, “This milk is from my mother for the American on the hill.” I was so moved, and I thanked him so much. Here I had thought the worst, as usual, and it turned out to be an act of kindness in the middle of nowhere in Mexico.
7- Disconnecting the Panic Button
I went to my van and pulled out the large supply of brown rice and dried beans I had stored under the backseat. I handed them all over to the women preparing the food. The women were so appreciative that it almost made me cry. This stuff meant nothing to me and so much to them. This was another one of life’s lessons I never forgot: the joy of helping people.
Was it possible that life had more to give us than we could ever take for ourselves?
8- Unexpected Inspiration
I realized that the probability of finishing my doctoral degree was rapidly decreasing. I only had a few courses left, but then there were the qualifying exams as well as the dissertation. Nothing was left in me that wanted to be an economics professor. I wanted to explore inside, deep inside. The depths of my meditations were all I cared about.
I began to write and thoughts began to flow. I did not worry about what I was writing or second-guess my thoughts. It was very much like meditation. I kept my personal self out of it completely and just let unbridled inspiration flow.
At some point in the process, a flash of inspiration welled up inside of me. I went from not knowing what I was going to do with the paper to knowing exactly what I was going to write. It was as though a cloud of knowing instantly formed back behind the quiet mind. It happened as fast and powerful as a flash of lightning. At first, no thoughts were involved. It was more of a feeling, just a definitive knowing that I now knew where the paper was going and how to get there. Then the thoughts began to form. They came slowly at first, then they poured into my mind. I still had to pull them together into a logical flow, but the seeds were all there. It was an amazing process to watch.
When artists create a work, they first get the inspiration, and then they bring it down to the physical plane. That process is exactly what happened to me that night alone in my van. The inspiration for the entire paper came all at once, and then my mind digested it and gave it form. Instead of a sculpture, a painting, or a symphony, my work of art was an economic treatise.
No matter how hard I might have tried, I could never have written that paper based solely on the efforts of my logical mind. I wondered if there was a way to tap into the brilliance of that inspiration on a regular basis. It would be years, but eventually I would learn that one can constantly live in that state of creative inspiration.
9- The Promised Land
I told myself that if the seller wouldn’t come down to my price, it wasn’t meant to be. I was completely at peace with either outcome. As it turned out, that sense of detachment gave me the edge I needed to successfully negotiate for the lots. I succeeded in the purchase, but I didn’t feel a sense of joy. What I felt was a sense of resolute determination. What lay ahead of me was not going to be easy. I had already committed so much of myself to exploring what was beyond me—now I was going to commit everything.
10- Building a Sacred Hut
11- Get Thee to a Monastery
I awoke every morning at 3:00 a.m. and sat for a few hours of meditation. I would then do contemplative walking out on the fields.
When I walked, I would become acutely aware of every step I took and every movement of my body. This helped to prolong the peace I felt from my morning meditations.
It was an extremely strict lifestyle, very different from anything I had ever experienced. But just as an athlete is willing to give everything, every day and night, to train for the Olympics, so I was willing to give everything, every moment, to drop the part of me that was holding me back from where I so desperately wanted to go.
It didn’t take long before I noticed that food had a major effect on my practices. The less I ate, the easier it was to fall into a meditative state. So I tested the limits of how far I could go without eating. The balance I reached was to eat a small dinner salad every other day and fast in between. My intention was to give up everything possible that pulled my attention outward. This would allow me to more fully focus on the deeper inner states.
I don’t know where I got the idea that if I held the rope tight enough, my lower self would go away and leave me alone. But that is how I lived for about a year and a half. The part of me that had dominated my entire previous way of life had no place in my new life.
The noisy, demanding personal part of me didn’t go away—he just began to resign himself to the intense discipline. I thought it was working, but I would soon come to see that I was very wrong.
12- When the Disciple Is Ready, the Master Appears
just as Three Pillars of Zen had shown up exactly when I was ready for it, so another book had found its way to me.
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.
Chapter after chapter transported me into a world that should have been very foreign to me. But because of the transformative events that had been happening to me, I could at least relate to the Indian saint’s life story. It became very clear to me—I had merely stuck my toe into the ocean Yogananda was swimming in. He was a master of the entire field of knowledge and experience I was seeking. I could feel it to the core of my being. Yogananda had gone far beyond my beyond and had never fully come back. He had learned to exist in that state, yet still be present interacting with the world. I had found my teacher.
I was no longer alone on my inner journey.
My heart’s aflame and my soul’s afire—Just for You, You, You, Just You.
Interestingly, I could relate to that. Since I had touched that beauteous place deep inside of me, my heart was aflame too. In fact, I had lost interest in everything else. I only wanted to meditate my way back beyond myself.
I had heard that Christ said that the Kingdom is within you, and I was aware that the Bible talked about a peace beyond all understanding. I knew about such a place inside of me where the peace was so deep that it had completely transformed my entire life.
I had begun this journey by wanting to know who I was who was watching the mental voice. I now realized that the great saints and masters of all the religious traditions had gone beyond their personal self to find their spiritual self. Yogananda called it self-realization. What a perfect term for all I was about at that point of my life. I wanted to realize the nature of the one who watches—my true, innermost self.
there was the notion that you have to die to be reborn. That is exactly what I had been trying to do, die of the personal to be reborn in the spiritual.
Section II - The Great Experiment Begins
13- The Experiment of a Lifetime
Thus far my entire path to inner freedom was focused around my meditations. That was where I went to become filled with a deep sense of peace and serenity. And it was working, to a degree. I could sit for hours with a beautiful flow of energy lifting me upward, but I couldn’t break through to where I longed to go. Furthermore, the personal mind always returned once I got up and became active. I needed help, and it came one day in a flash of realization. It dawned on me that perhaps I’d been going about this in the wrong way. Instead of trying to free myself by constantly quieting the mind, perhaps I should be asking why the mind is so active. What is the motivation behind all the mental chatter? If that motivation were to be removed, the struggle would be over.
most of the mental activity revolved around my likes and dislikes. If my mind had a preference toward or against something, it actively talked about it.
I decided to just stop listening to all the chatter about my personal preferences, and instead, start the willful practice of accepting what the flow of life was presenting me.
I started this new practice with something very simple, the weather.
I clearly remember deciding that from now on if life was unfolding in a certain way, and the only reason I was resisting it was because of a personal preference, I would let go of my preference and let life be in charge.
Clearly, these were uncharted waters for me. Where would I end up? If my preferences were not leading me, what would happen to me? These questions did not scare me; they fascinated me. I didn’t want to be in charge of my life; I wanted to be free to soar far beyond myself. I began to see this as a great experiment. What would happen to me if I just inwardly surrendered my resistance and let the flow of life be in charge? The rules of the experiment were very simple: If life brought events in front of me, I would treat them as if they came to take me beyond myself. If my personal self complained, I would use each opportunity to simply let him go and surrender to what life was presenting me. This was the birth of what I came to call “the surrender experiment,” and I was totally prepared to see where it would take me.
I had gone through most of my life thinking I knew what was good for me, but life itself seemed to know better.
14- Life Takes Charge
As amazing as it seems, the doctoral student they chose was me.
The voice in my head went nuclear. I watched it screaming inside, No! I can’t do that. I’ve dropped out of all this. I need to devote my time to my practices. There is no way I’m going to start pulling down all my old economics textbooks—I’m done with that. In the midst of all that protest, I remembered my recent commitment to surrender to what life brought before me. That voice I was watching was not my spiritual adviser; it was my spiritual burden. This was the perfect opportunity to get it out of the driver’s seat.
Finally, I heard myself say out loud, “Yes, I would be glad to help out. I will tutor him.”
This great experiment in surrender had truly begun.
I was no longer in charge of my life.
15- The Prince and the Pauper
I was tutoring him as an act of surrender to the flow of life, and I didn’t want to be paid.
When I received notice back from the university, the administration had mistakenly signed me up for all three exams. Now what was I supposed to do, surrender to that?
I started observing myself to see why taking the third exam threatened me so much. I had no intention of actually finishing my degree, so why did it matter? What I discovered was that it was simply the fear of failing in the eyes of others. I knew that if I sat for my written exam in public finance, a field I was completely unprepared for, I would fail miserably. That prospect of failure disturbed me and set the inner voice on a nonstop dialogue about how to avoid the exam. What an opportunity to get rid of that part of me. I no longer saw the administration’s mistake as a problem. I saw it as a challenge to further let go of myself. So I decided to take all three exams and willingly accept the experience of failing the third one.
The first two exams went very smoothly. I had done a lot of work with Alan in these areas, so I knew the material reasonably well. As the day for the third exam approached, I strengthened my heart for the inevitable. I would march into that exam and willingly let a part of my ego die a painful death.
What ended up happening changed me for the rest of my life. The day before the exam, I allowed myself to pull down the public finance textbook for the first time. I took the large book outside and sat it beside me as I did my yoga. When I finished my postures, I felt quiet, peaceful, and totally prepared to face the next day’s ordeal. As if to examine the sword I was about to fall upon, I opened the book to an arbitrary place. I read both pages that appeared before me. I performed this ritual three times before holding the book up to the heavens as a sign of my willingness to surrender.
Three of the questions were exactly about the three places where I had arbitrarily opened the book the day before. I was stunned. I stood there for a long time unable to even take a breath.
How could this be? It had happened again. In the name of transcending myself, I had surrendered and willingly faced my personal fears. Then at the last moment, instead of certain hell, I was lifted up to heaven.
I had felt as though life was asking me to willingly let a part of me die that day. But now I realized that life was asking me to get out of the way and let her do her thing.
Days later I was called in by Dr. Goffman and complimented on the excellence of my public finance exam. This recognition from the chairman of the department should have pleased me, but instead it actually made me feel guilty. I recounted the whole story and asked if I had somehow done something wrong. Dr. Goffman got up, placed his hand on my shoulder, and told me to stop trying to be so humble. He then directed me out of his office.