The Non-dualogues share the conversations between slumberfogey and the pilgrim, in slumberfogey’s flat in London. Occasionally, the pilgrim brings friends, who join in the discussion.
slumberfogey: Ah. You’ve come back! Excellent. Did you pass the Sainsburys on your way here? It’s just a few doors down.
pilgrim: Don’t worry. I have biscuits.
s: Biscuits. What a wonderful idea! Thank you.
p: While I make the tea, can you tell me how we’ll get started?
s: You are a quick study, aren’t you? Okay, why don’t you start by telling me what is happening?
p: Let’s see… Arsenal lost to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup this week, which has put my knickers in a twist. My mum’s boiler’s on the blink, so I have to find someone to sort that. I got a pay rise, which brings me almost up to minimum wage…
s: Slow down. Everything you’ve said (except perhaps the knicker thing) is about the past or the future. I mean what is happening, now? Let’s even capitalize it - What Is Happening?
p: Right now, I’d say, Prime Minister’s Questions are happening, for what it’s worth. Polar bears are starving. Tottenham fans are having a giggle.
s: Pilgrim. Are you in a grumpy mood? Have a biscuit, and let’s be more precise.
p: I’m not sure exactly how many polar bears are starving.
s: I mean, none of those things is in your direct experience right now. Ideas about them are, granted. But tell me What, in your direct, indisputable experience, Is Happening. Now.
p: I’m sipping tea, chewing a biscuit, and trying to speak at the same time.
s: That’s an excellent start! How do you know you’re sipping tea?
p: What do you mean, how do I know? I’m right here, sipping. And this, (slurp) is tea!
s: You’re handling this moment with the precision of a World War II bombardier. Imagine yourself more like a laser eye surgeon. What Is Happening?
p: I’m imagining myself as a laser eye surgeon.
s: Are you taking the piss? Okay. How are you certain you’re imagining yourself as a laser eye surgeon?
p: I feel like I’m missing something here. Or maybe you are.
s: How are you sure you’re not dreaming of picturing yourself as a laser eye surgeon?
p: Because I’m sitting here, awake, and a bit annoyed.
s: If you were dreaming, wouldn’t it also seem like you were awake?
p: Okay. I think I see what you are getting at.
s: Good. Let’s try again. See this photo? What Is Happening?
p: Light is reflecting off of a photo in your hand. Some of it is entering my pupils and striking my retinas, sending signals up my optical nerves to my brain, which creates a disturbing mental image of you wearing a mankini and stroking a llama.
s: Ah. A scientific explanation. First, that’s my mate, Phil in the llama suit. I had a beige leotard on under the mankini, so relax. It was a fancy dress party. Outrageous! Second, I love science. Can’t get enough of it. But the scientific answer gets updated. Newton updated the theory of light. Maxwell updated that. Quantum mechanics updated that. What description would have been accurate in any of those eras, would survive science’s future advances, and would be accurate whether or not you were dreaming?
p: I am seeing an image of you stroking a man in a llama suit.
s: Better! Now, can there be any doubt you are seeing it?
p: Well, I’m not smelling it, am I? Thank God.
s: What if you were in a terrible car crash a year ago? What if the doctors could only save your brain and keep it alive in a vat? What if they could stimulate the visual cortex with electrodes to produce images of me in a mankini?
p: Then I’d say science got its priorities terribly wrong at some point.
s: What description would be accurate in that scenario and all the others we’ve mentioned?
p: I have an image of you in a mankini, stroking a man in a llama suit.
s: Better. Better! But, you have it? What, are you inert? Like a bowl?
p: I am experiencing an image of you in a mankini, stroking a man in a llama suit!
s: Even better! But does the image, in itself, convey that it is me stroking a man in a llama suit?
p: Is this ever going to end? Okay. I am experiencing an image of you holding an image. I am also experiencing a belief that the image you hold is of you stroking a man in a llama suit.
s: Super! Terrific! Laser surgery standard. What was different about that final description?
p: I only appealed to my direct, mental experience.
s: That’s right. All of your older descriptions might have been accurate, but you can’t be sure they were. That last one, you could know. It was only imperfect in that you had to use words to render it for me. But now, it’s just a memory that may or may not be accurate. You see. What Is Happening is your complete, instantaneous, experience. Nothing more and nothing less. Shall we look at it more closely?
p: Closer than we already have? Are you kidding? Can we move on from the mankini?
s: You’ve sharpened your attention, but you’ve narrowed your focus to do it. Let’s see if we can maintain the attention but with a broad, open awareness. Are you up for it?
p: Let’s go.
s: Okay. Close your eyes.
p: Please promise me you won’t take off your clothes.
s: Of course I won’t! Please!
For the next few minutes, don’t reply by speaking. Just think to yourself.
Do you notice the sound of my voice? Its pitch? Its volume? What other sounds are you aware of, now—between the words or beside them?
Do you sense the pressure of your bottom on the seat? Of your feet on the floor? The feeling of your clothes against your skin? Of the air on your face? What other touch are you aware of?
Do you notice any tastes? Does the breath moving through your mouth have a taste?
Are you experiencing any smells? From your bath or your meal? What other smells are you aware of?
Now open your eyes. Experience the surrounding light. The array of colors. The shadows. Do you notice my image? Images of other objects? Which images are clear and which blurred? Do the images change, move? What other sights are you aware of?
Eyes closed again, notice the position of your arms, neck and head. Which muscles are taut and which relaxed? Do you feel warm or cool? Hungry?
Is there any sense of fear, comfort, impatience, or peace? Feelings of love or anger?
Do you notice thoughts? A succession, each arises and dissolves as the next replaces it. Memories. Anticipations. Questions. Decisions. Are you aware of a sense of will?
All these components of experience—these phenomena—in ever-changing, varied combinations, make up What Is Happening in every second of life.
How was that?
p: Wild! In a way, I know all that is always going on, but it has never struck me so clearly.
s: See how comprehensive, how complete, What Is Happening is? How everything—including any thoughts or feelings of approval or dissatisfaction with What Is Happening, any wishes it were different—is an aspect of What Is Happening, within experience itself?
p: A lot of it is thought, especially if you include memories, anticipations and judgments. I guess a lot is emotions as well.
s: Your experience can be conceptually broken into sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, thoughts and sensations (where sensations include emotions and other bodily sensations). But do you realize that all those categories are just concepts? Do you experience things in those separate categories?
p: I guess not. It’s all just one big multimedia wave, isn’t it?
s: That’s right. There are no boundaries within your experience. Those categories, when they occur to you, are just thoughts. We’ll talk more about boundaries next week, and about where you fit into all this.
p: Where I fit in? I’m right here!
s: Perhaps. Let’s see next week. Until then! Mind your step.
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.