Pain Monster

My mind is regularly an incessant ramble of thoughts. Voices, ideas, clashing views, criticisms from the past, flashbacks, constrictions from the pain monster needing to, as Eckhart Tolle says [1] come out once in a while and feed.

In fact, for myself, I didn’t know my mind could be any other way until my early thirties when I hit a crisis. Then it happened. I read a book about mindfulness, glanced in the mirror, saw the pain written on my own face, cried, sobbed, grinned and laughed at it – and then came the miracle. For the first time in my adult life my incessant thoughts just stopped. Stopped: and I didn’t die.

Stepping Out

The first thing I noticed was that my brain was near breaking-point. But by then I already knew about that: Doctors had confirmed it. But this was different. I was feeling it. I was experiencing it somehow a little bit from outside. I was aware of physical pain inside it where, moments before, I hadn’t even noticed even that. The poor thing was exhausted and falling apart at the seams.

The Warm Fuzzies

The second thing I noticed was a very deep and profound peacefulness coursing through my entire body – starting in the middle [2]. I recognised this instantly as the sort of rare happiness I’d get once-in-a-blue-moon on good days. But now – here it was; and instead of coming in a warm fuzzy burst then fading, it felt like it had come about to stay. Centred, for the first known time. Centred and awake.

After that, it was a revelation to me that, through meditating on a regular basis each week, I could access this peaceful separation from my incessant brain and find the warm fuzzies. And as I did so, my brain started to heal – in part because of that stillness. (But I admit I started taking medicine too. Perhaps Neuroscientists can explore that one.)


That’s nirvana: awakening, right there. The peaceful, balanced, vivacious innate natural condition of being human and alive [3]. Buddhanature. The original face [4] you had before your grandmother’s hedgehog was born. The kingdom of heaven is like, is like, is, is, right now is. Tada! This is “The Way” (what “Tao Te Ching” effectively means).

No Going Back

I knew there was no going back. There was to be no un-awakening. My incessant thought brain could no longer claim that it was itself all of me for the simple reason that part of me could now look at it. What is that? What is it? Curious!

The Impostor

Even more powerful than this: I knew the incessant brain to be an aspect of what in this trade we call ego or, more profoundly in Zen, self. It’s nothing innate or original about me at all. It’s an impostor. A bunch of illusions. Noise and drama.

The Psychognome

Later on in practice I realised other things. Some of that incessant stuff is really, really ugly. Some of it’s not mine. And if I give into it, as soon as I do so, I’m at its mercy. It’s the angry hidden operator. The psychognome [5]. No wonder Buddha says to guard against it at all times [6].

Hell Is Other People

I really don’t want my life dictated to by my own angry hidden operator. I’ve seen what it looks like, for one thing. For another thing, the more I sit, the more I know that – under its spell – I’m just making true the adage “hell is other people” for you [7]. Breaking the spell I know something else. Something a wise old man wrote down for me on a piece of paper. “Peace in yourself is peace in the world”. [8]

Less Is More

Much later, I heard a nun say “when we start to sit, we do it for ourselves. When we’re still sitting decades later, we’re doing it for other people”. So, Happy Christmas. Here you go. Have less of me.

Give Up Already

You are Buddha. You always were. All of the Buddha’s wisdom is inside of you. What’s more – you’ve always known. The only thing separating you from obtaining it is you. You thinks there’s something to obtain. There isn’t. There’s something to let go of. You. Let go of you and you’ll feel the biggest inner peace, the greatest joy, the most profound stillness, the deepest understanding of the stuff of life that you’ve ever known and never thought possible. You can’t fabricate it through thought. You must let you go in order to experience it. The miracle is found not in receiving but in surrendering.

[1] See p.144 onwards in “A New Earth” (Plume, 2005).

[2] Great Frames of Reference Sutta. Mindfulness first goes to the chest.

[3] The Maha-Satipatthana Great Frames of Reference Sutta notes seven factors of awakening: mindfulness, analysis, persistence, rapture, serenity, concentration and equanimity. Yeah! Mindfulness is totally just the gateway. The same is repeated in the Anapanasati Mindfulness of Breathing Sutta. But note: the monk (in Buddhism that means female or male) is not attached to these factors either. So where does that leave ‘mindfulness’?

[4] Some dude Eno.

[5] I have my friend Christian to thank for the phrase “psychognome”. Used with permission. I owe him a coffee. Or a vodka.

[6] See Dhammapada (Path of Wisdom) 3: Cittavagga (“The Mind”) Since it’s in the mind’s nature to seize what it desires, the conquest of the mind must be guarded unattached. A proactive thing. In the same sutta I also note 12: Attavagga (“The Self”) Neglecting your own welfare needs for someone else is pretty pointless.

[7] Turns out I was bang on the money with this. Anger and what I’m calling here the incessant brain wrap together. The ninth grave bodhisattva precept even says so. A monk I like once put it this way: “you cannot have anger unless there is a self”. The Ninth Grave Precept by John Daido Loori, Roshi or read similar (the same?) in “Invoking Reality: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen”, John Daido Loori

[8] Thich Nhat Hanh. Yeah, this is totally a brag. Oops.