The Non-dualogues share the conversations between slumberfogey and the pilgrim, in slumberfogey’s flat in London. Sometimes, the pilgrim brings friends, who join in the discussion.
slumberfogey: Pilgrim! At last. You're late!
pilgrim: Isn't 11am a good time for you?
s: No, I mean two months late. My biscuits ran out seven weeks ago.
p: slumberfogey, I told you I'd be away for two months. I've been on a building project in Central America.
s: Oh, I remember now. Still, no biscuits.
p: I've got biscuits with me. Shall I put on the tea? What are we discussing today?
s: Who are you?
p: You recognise me, don't you? I'm Gary, but you always call me pilgrim.
s: So "Gary" is your name or "pilgrim" labels you, but is either who you are?
p: Oh, I get it. We're diving straight in, then. So I'll skip the bits covering where I'm from, what I do for money, what party I vote for, my ethnicity and my religion, because knowing you, you're looking for something different...
s: So, you are...?
p: Well, just a bloke. A person. A human. (An Arsenal fan.)
s: Don't sell yourself short. You're not "just" anything. But let's take "person." Did you say you had biscuits?
p: Yes! I'm bringing them out with the tea. Okay, so yeah, I'm a person.
s: And when you say you're a person, you mean you are... what? What is a person?
p: An individual.
s: Interesting. Let's remember that word and come back to it. So an individual what? And don't say "person," because we don't want to go in circles. You've already said a person is an individual.
p: An individual body, I guess.
s: Anything special about the body? Would a cadaver count?
p: No. A living body.
s: Ah. So you are a living body. How are you aware you're living?
p: Being alive is obvious. I'm moving around and stuff.
s: To pick up on the line of questioning I'm taking you on, pause for a moment and hearken back to our discussion last time about "what is happening." Although two months have passed, I hope we don't need to replay the whole discovery.
*** Intermission ***
p: Right, so I'll try to keep my answers to what I can be certain of. My direct experience.
s: Excellent! So, according to your direct experience, what is the body?
p: Well. I see it when I look at my hands, chest, legs or feet. I see my face's reflection in the mirror. So an aspect of the body is images I experience.
s: Great. What else?
p: I feel it all the time. My hand can touch my belly or slap my thigh. I feel my teeth chatter. My stomach rumbles. (I hear that as well.) My heart beats. I sense my limbs' position. Body movement, warmth, cold, hunger. So I guess the body is also a bundle of sounds and sensations.
s: Super. Anything else?
p: I smell my breath, too. I taste my lip bleeding or sweat rolling into my mouth. I guess the body is a collection of the same types of perception that come from "out in the world" plus the internal sensations.
s: Interesting. "Internal." Internal to what?
p: Internal to my body.
s: But you say - as far as you can tell from your direct experience - your body is those things. So some of those things can't be "internal" to the body. That's saying bits of the body are internal to itself, while other bits aren't.
p: I'm not used to examining the body this way, so I get tied up in how to express myself.
s: You're doing great. Just consider more carefully within what those perceptions and "internal" sensations rest.
p: Wait! I've got it! They sit in my mind. I am my mind!
s: So you are not your body but your mind?
p: Well, perhaps it's not so simple, since the mind is dependent on the body.
s: How so?
p: The mind depends on the brain, which is part of the body.
s: How does your direct experience tell you this?
s: How do you experience your mind's dependence on the brain?
p: I guess I don't. I base it on what others say and what I've read.
s: Okay. I'm not saying it's wrong. The mind may be dependent on the body, but let's stick with the things you can know, from your direct experience.
p: Yeah. So I'm sticking with saying I am my mind.
s: Do you, as a mind, include or contain anything else beyond the perceptions and sensations of the body?
p: Ah! Well, I have millions of ideas, memories, emotions, expectations, wishes and judgements in my mind. I guess my will sits in the same place.
s: Yes. Lot's more stuff, huh? When you say those things sit in the same place, what is that place?
p: My mind.
s: But if you are the mind, what is the "My" bit? If you are the mind, then saying "My mind" is equivalent to saying "My me."
p: But I'm distinguishing my mind from other minds.
s: What is your direct experience of other minds?
p: Ah, I get you. My experience is only through sights, sounds and other perceptions, which we've covered. I don't experience other minds. So are you saying they don't exist?
s: Well, that would be hard for me to say, since slumberfogey is one of them! No, they may well exist, but let's stick with what you can be sure of from your direct experience. We're taking empiricism seriously.
p: Okay, so I'll get rid of the "my." All those forms of thought and all perceptions of the body, plus all body sensations sit in me.
s: You say the perceptions of the body sit in you. Do the perceptions of the rest of the world (the images of the surrounding room, the sound of passing traffic, etc.) sit somewhere else?
p: No. Same place.
s: So all perceptions, sensations and thoughts sit within you, yes? So who or what are you?
p: I am the mind.
s: What is the mind?
p: I'm getting tired. I dunno. The container of those things?
s: Seeing things in a whole new way can be taxing. Those "things," those perceptions, sensations and thoughts. Do you remember how we rolled them up in our last meeting?
p: Oh yeah. I worked out (with your help) that I don't ever experience those different categories. They all come in bundled, undivided experience.
s: Exactly! And my little term for undivided experience is "What Is Happening." So, who or what are you?
p: If the mind is What Is Happening and I am my mind, I guess I am What Is Happening. Right?
s: You sound uncertain. How can you be certain What Is Happening is happening?
p: Arrrrrggggggghhhhhhh! This is exhausting. I always feel stupid when you do this.
s: Sorry. Maybe The Trial of Socrates is inaccurate. Perhaps his students killed him out of frustration.
p: What? What are you on about?
s: A classical allusion, young man. You guys have lost touch with your roots. Not enough time. Back to my question...
p: How do I know What Is Happening is happening? Because I'm experiencing it! It is my direct experience.
s: Right. You're not an inert container of those aspects of experience, of What Is Happening. You are its experiencer. So who are you?
p: I am the experiencer of What Is Happening.
s: Perfect! And What Is Happening is the flow of experience arising to awareness and receding to make way for the continuing flow "behind."
p: So I'm the experiencer, but I don't know what the experiencer is. I'm not the body - I experience the sensations and perceptions making up my direct experience of the body. Likewise, I'm not the mind - I experience the thoughts that are my direct experience of it. And, I'm not the external environment - I experience the perceptions composing my direct experience of the external world. So what am I?
s: That's what I asked you! And you've peeled away a lot of confusion. You've worked out that you are no thing (nothing). The things are aspects of What Is Happening. You are the experiencer of the things. If you still seek yourself as an object, as a thing, you'll come up empty. You - the experiencer - are not a thing.
p: I'm not sure how thrilled I am to be nothing. So my school teachers and ex-girlfriends were right.
s: Maybe it's not so bad. You used to believe you were a thing - a body or a mind or their union. You now see you are not a thing. Perhaps a further step awaits discovery. Are you willing to take on some homework?
s: Okay. Between now and when we next meet, look for boundaries.
s: I'd like you to investigate different boundaries on several "levels." I'll email this to you, but hear me out.
What would this imply for what you are???
Let's discuss what you find.
Until next week, pilgrim.
Phil Grimm's Progress is off for its final edit, with Phil Owens. Unless I hit unforeseen snags, I'll publish it - in ebook form - by the end of April. We'll see about print.
It started last summer, a week after returning from a camper van trip with J to Holland and Denmark. I often have wakeful periods in the middle of the night. Those periods began to fill with ideas for a story - in mythic form. I'd recently re-read Parzival and the Stone from Heaven, and I pictured a spiritual seeker with little self-knowledge, on a quest to discover himself.
I'd read lots of nonfiction about Taoism, Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta and non-dualism more generally, but I'd never come across a modern allegorical approach. In my less humble moments, I imagined penning a cross between Parzival, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Tao of Pooh and Sophie's World. My aim was a fictional work that illuminated, entertaining along the way.
The book wrote itself over the next seven weeks, although it was only just over 50k words in that first draft. Realising I had no idea how to write a book, let alone get one published, I turned to professional help from Alice Peck. Because she's such a pleasure to work with, Alice is very busy. I paused for a while for her to come free and tear into my manuscript. In the meantime, I gave it to a few patient early readers.
By Christmas, the draft was back in my hands, along with feedback from Alice and the first readers. After a few weeks' work, the second draft went out to a next round of helpful guinea pigs. The discussions with them raised three significant points:
"Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"
So, a major re-write occupied and entertained me for another four or five weeks. Then I tucked into an involved round of self-editing - reapplying the "rules" that Alice had taught me. The book expanded to just over 80k words.
Then, when I learned that Phil helped one of my favourite new sci-fi authors, Ian Sainsbury, I contacted him for the finishing touches.
There you have it, the story of Phil Grimm's conception and impending birth. Watch this space for updates and launch announcement!
I'm curious. I like looking beneath and behind the obvious, also looking for what is between me and the obvious, obscuring or distorting my view.