038 📻 To suffer, or not to suffer, that is the question.

🚨 Assume there are spoilers everywhere. 🚨

Hello, everyone. I am Ithaka. And this is Sponge, a podcast of absorption and reflection in the process of returning to or becoming our most unreal selves.

The theme for today’s episode is this: perhaps the most crucial choice that we make is whether to struggle or not. And if and when one chooses to stop struggling, the struggle stops. Rationalization, intellectualization, as well as reasoning cease to matter. Instead, what matters begins to matter. That is something I absorbed while reading “True Meditation” by Adyashanti.

First, a short introduction about the author from Wikipedia, because Wikipedia seems like a more or less neutral place from which to get short introductions. Quote, “Adyashanti (… meaning ‘primordial peace’ …) is an American spiritual teacher and author from the San Francisco Bay Area who offers talks, online study courses, and retreats in the United States and abroad.” End quote.

And in the book, “True Meditation,” he writes, quote, “I came from the Zen Buddhist tradition, and in the Zen tradition, there is a long history in which the primary practice is meditation. In Zen, you often meditate for hours a day in the seated meditation posture for a prescribed period of time. And what I found out through many years of practice in this style of meditation is that I actually wasn’t particularly good at it.” End quote.

Shortly thereafter he says that he, quote, “needed to find a different way to meditate. The approach I was using clearly wasn’t working. This is when I began my investigation into what I call True Meditation. … I started to meditate in a different way. I let go of the idea of what meditation was supposed to be. My mind had a lot of ideas about meditation. It was supposed to be peaceful; I was supposed to feel a particular way, mostly calm. Meditation was supposed to lead me into some deep state of being. But because I could not master the technique of meditation as it was being taught to me, I had to discover a different way of meditating, one that wasn’t oriented around a technique. So I would sit down and let my experience simply be, in a very deep way. I started to let go of trying to control my experience.” End quote.

So. Yeah. A book about meditation.

At this point, which is August 2023, as I record this, I have never studied any meditation techniques other than something as simple as “look inward.” I do not know and do not use any rules about posture, time of day, length of each meditation session, frequency of the sessions, the diet, the physical exercises that may or may not accompany the sessions, and so on and so forth. I just do what the “I”—that eternally fascinating entity—tells me to do.

And… the results have been great. I am not enlightened. I am not awakened. And nevertheless, I am different. I don’t think you need to jump from externally-focsued to enlightened or awakened in order to say that meditation “worked,” in air quotes. I am neither enlightened nor awakened, and yet, I am in a different state, overall, even when I am not meditating. It seems to me that that is the element that can tell someone whether meditation is working or not—whether or not they’re different even when they’re not meditating.

In the past 5 months or so, tangible, observable results occurred in my life. For example, my insomnia vanished. I’ve had two sleepless nights, and I think it’s reasonable for me to assume that no medical professional would call that insomnia. Also, my skin rashes are gone—notablely, this occurred rapidly, after a specific meditation session in which I realized that the severe burning scratching, which came and went throughout my entire life, was a curious act of both self-harm and self-victimization. Self-attack and self-victimization. Also, the muscle knot in my abdomen, which was rock hard, and I mean, literally rock hard, almost vanished after another specific meditation session, which was when I actually began apologizing to myself for the self-attack as well as self-victimization. The muscle knot comes back when I am torturing myself again, mostly feeling sorry for myself, and it also reliably goes away when I focus on ceasing the torture.

Then there are other, more intangible and unobservable changes. For example, it feels like my days have expanded to 36-hour days, instead of 24-hour days. It’s such a weird thing. I sleep way more than before but I have more time. And, note that in the first 4 months or so, I meditated for 4-6 hours per day, on average. The record was, I think, an 8-hour day. I did this because there was not much else that I wanted to do. At any rate, even with all that meditating, I was doing the same amount of work as before. It’s difficult to believe that this can be possible—that I can sleep for 8 hours or so, then meditate for 4 hours, and still have time to do other things that I’ve been doing before I started meditating.

But at the same time, it’s completely logical, because most of the mental chatter I used to have just vanished. Completely vanished. This mental chatter used to occur the second I woke up to the moment I went to bed. And even then it didn’t end. Often, it felt like I was in mental chatter mode even in my dreams. That’s completely gone. So, although the external measurement device that is the clock may say that a day on earth still has 24 hours, for me, in my reality, indeed the day has expanded by at least 50%, possibly more. I just don’t spend much energy on thinking anymore, because there is no need or want to think.

And later in the episode, I will describe even more intangible changes in my life that have begun since I started meditating regularly. But when I list all these things, I think it’s understandable for folks to say any of the following. That I am an anomaly. That I am in my early beginner’s luck stage. Or that I’m actually not doing meditation, but rather that it’s something else, and that I am delusional.

Moreover, when I say that I intend to continue to keep the theory to a minimum and not learn techniques for meditation for as long as I can avoid it, I think it’s also understandable for folks to say any of the following. That I’m not doing my best. That I am clueless, and that’s why I think I don’t need a lot of theory. Or that I am too inexperienced, so on and so forth.

All of that, very understandable. Hence why I read this book and why I am talking about it on this podcast, right now.

Adyashanti says, quote, “It doesn’t matter whether one is brand new to meditation or has been meditating for a long time. … One of the most common things I hear from many … people is that, despite having meditated for all this time, they feel essentially untransformed.” End quote.

I daresay, I hit the bottom of my life so hard in March/April 2023, that I was one of the lucky people who did not go through the years of technique obsession and instead went for transformation right away, albeit very tiny steps of transformation. I was specifically intent on avoiding that path of surface logic that is actually the most illogical path, that path of external reason that is actually the most unreasonable path, and that path of apparent rationality that is actually the most irrational path. Logic, reason, rationality, as well as statistics, datasets, and even attempting to fix things, find solutions, and learn from mistakes—all of that was pointless, useless, and as worthless as how I felt at the time and for a few months thereafter.

So, indeed, it so happens that at this time, the “different way of meditating” that Adyashanti mentions seems to be the only way in which I know how to meditate. The way I meditate may be shallow and may need depth, but I’m saying, it seems to me that I don’t need to begin digging another well. I’ll just keep digging this particular well because it came naturally to me and besides, he says that he and others he has observed can reach deeper states perfectly well by digging this well, so to speak.

 And… “True Meditation” is a very short book. Less than 100 pages long. My guess, based on much of the message of this book, is that he kept it so short because, from his experience and the experience of others, too much theory was often detrimental. It is the path to rationalization, intellectualization, and reasoning.

This book is also highly repetitive. My guess is that it was intentional. It seems that the book could have been one-third its current length. But then perhaps, the folks who want, or think they want, or need, or think they need a certain amount of theory may have felt not taken care of. Or maybe he wanted the experience of reading this book to be such that one does not have to go back to the previous pages; one can just keep on reading, trusting that the important messages will repeat themselves over and over again.

And one of the important messages is that theory may be helpful, but that theory is not the thing that matters. The thing that matters is the thing that matters. And in order to get to that thing that matters, the most crucial thing isn’t to amass knowledge, it’s to make the one crucial choice: whether to struggle or not. If and when someone chooses to stop struggling, the struggle stops. And there’s no theory required to make this choice. At all.

Before I hit the bottom and needed/wanted something, anything… Before that point in timespace, spirituality or religion or any of the psyche- and mind-related areas did not appeal to me. As I quoted earlier, from the book, “they feel essentially untransformed.” There was no change in their essence despite decades of studying. And they said so, the examples I saw in my life. Either directly or indirectly, they said so, most notably by attempting to separate their belief from what they called the rest of their life. Or, the real life. Which… in and of itself is shocking.

The amount of control they need, the fretting, the defending, the barrier-setting, the pointing at the enemy, clinging, dragging around baggage, then wondering why they cannot transform—was astounding. I could not distinguish between them and the most ego-focused moneymaking scheme guru on Youtube. In fact, ego-focused moneymaking scheme gurus know themselves very well. Some of them are great. They are great speakers, great storytellers. I sometimes listen to them because the order in which they present information is, wow, impressive.

Whereas, the so-called spiritual or religious folks? Really, I had, until 5 months ago, not found appealing models to emulate. I mean, I knew of the existence of enlightened people. They are on Youtube, and in book format, and in CDs and whatnot. And they have reached states of awareness that I cannot even imagine. But they… they weren’t real people to me. There are many extraordinary people in this world, and if they’re the only ones who can reach special states of awareness, then why would I bother to try? Also, if those who wanted to become like those enlightened people were more ego-focused—meaning, more obsessive about externals and more resistant to lack of externals—than the most exteranlly-focused capitalist, then why… what’s the point?

Someone said, and I don’t remember who said it, maybe it was Alan Watts. He or someone else said something along the lines of, Why would I work? Why would I try harder to be more miserable? If I’m gonna be miserable, why not put in the minimum effort possible, in being miserable? — And that was exactly my sentiment. I don’t see the greatness in trying to suffer.

Fortunately, I guess it was meant to be that in March/April 2023, I encountered some practically-minded spiritual folks who actually make their practice part of their life.

And this podcast is not for those who want to suffer. This podcast and anything I do is for folks who would prefer not to suffer if they can avoid it. This does not mean that life is gonna be all easy, because, you know what? If life is all easy, you know what happens? Boredom. Predictability. And that’s a form of suffering. So, I’m not saying there won’t be difficulties in life. I’m saying, pretending to accept suffering while actually being obsessed about it is just resistance against the simple truth that one is still clinging to ego-centered values even as one pretends to be rising above it by pretending to accept suffering.

From the book, quote, “There are actually good and specific reasons why some meditation practices, including the kind of meditation that I was once engaged in, do not lead to this promised state of transformation. The main reason is actually extraordinarily simple and therefore easy to miss: we approach meditation with the wrong attitude. We carry out our meditation with an attitude of control and manipulation, and that is the very reason our meditation leads us to what feels like a dead end. The awakened state of being, the enlightened state of being, can also be called the natural state of being. How can control and manipulation possibly lead us to our natural state? …

… Many meditation techniques, when you look at them closely, are a means of control. As long as the mind is controlling and guiding our experience, it is unlikely to lead us to natural state. …

… You can achieve a lot of things through a style of meditation that is basically technique-oriented or manipulation-oriented. But what you can’t do is come upon your own natural and spontaneous way of being. …

… Real meditation is not about mastering a technique; it’s about letting go of control. This is meditation. Anything else is actually a form of concentration. Meditation and concentration are two different things.” End quote.

That said, Adyashanti does acknowledge the value of techniques. The point isn’t that they’re completely worthless, it’s that they aren’t the essence.

On the value of techniques, he says, quote, “These techniques and disciplines have been taught for hundreds and thousands of years, and I am not suggesting that they have no value or merit. They do have value and merit. What I am saying, however, is that it’s when we start to let go of this focusing, that we can approach our natural state of being. Often these techniques obscure our natural state of consciousness. …

… if we are not careful, these ancient traditions and techniques—many of which I myself was taught, and which have great value—become an end instead of a means to an end. People end up with what is simply a discipline. They end up watching their breath for years and years and years, becoming perfect at watching their breath. But in the end spirituality is not about watching the breath. It’s about waking up from the dream of separateness to the truth of unity. …

… while proper posture is useful, what often happens is that the spiritual seeker’s mind gets so focused on perfecting and maintaining a particular posture that the result doesn’t lead to openness. Instead, it often leads to a hypersensitivity about the perfection of one’s posture.” End quote.

The obsession with techniques shaped the typical image of the so-called spiritual seeker that I had in mind until early 2023. They say they are seeking in the vast openness—and what they’re seeking, I don’t know, but they say they’re seeking—but the way they seek is… rigid. Almost frigid. Yeah. Like, they aren’t human. Tin man people. Even if they were to find something, they wouldn’t know, because they wouldn’t be able to spot the found thing with their mind’s eye; they wouldn’t be able to open their eyes, because it’s so firmly, definitely, determinedly, absolutely shut.

Why put in extra effort to achieve this state? One can enter this state plenty in the ego world. Join any military organization, any corporation, any political party. Fight for that promotion, sabotage each other for good grades, enter the marriage market, the job market, the academics market, any market. We tend to be in this state, to varying degrees, if we got some semblance of education with the explicit goal of succeeding in the external world, whatever the definition of success might be. You can be in this exact fearful, limited, barricaded state with fewer delusions as well as less spreading of delusions if you stay in ego land.

The ego land works. And is very open about its priorities. It is perfectly functioning, in its own system. That’s why it’s possible to live in ego land without feeling the explicit need or want to go elsewhere. It’s perfectly possible to attend public schools, attend college/univerisity, get a job, get married, have kids, and not be interested in spirituality/religion and be perfectly happy, be highly fulfilled, and have a well-functioning, holistic worldview.

But when one is in ego land within so-called spiritual pursuits? From observation, it seems that it’s difficult to get out of that trap, which is why this short book and what it says is valuable.

Quote, “Awakening and enlightenment can happen to straight, erect meditators and slumpy, slouchy meditators who sit out on a lawn chair or however they are drawn to sit.” End quote.

Why, then, is it that many meditators do keep obsessing over rationalization, intellectualization, and reasoning?

Adyashanti says, quote, “For a human being to let go of control is actually an immense thing. …

… It’s a revolutionary transition. A lot of people I’ve met have forgotten that transition, forgotten to let that transition happen. They’ve forgotten that the point comes relatively soon when you can—and should—let go of control.” End quote.

I think this is why not uncommonly, folks hit the bottom and then they transform. This was my case. I never would’ve let go if I didn’t feel like there was nothing in this world for me anymore.

The thing is, this feeling of hitting the bottom can be spiritual, but also could stay purely—or seemingly purely—in the ego world. Say, if someone’s business goes bankrupt and they lose everything and they become homeless and their whole family leaves them. And despite all that they survive. At that point, a spiritual transformation could occur, knowingly, but also, for this person, in their internal world, perhaps they may not interpret that in a spiritual way at all. And nevertheless, because they let go, they will enter a transformed state—one that some spiritual seekers don’t get to even after decades of clinging to intellectualization.

At any rate, this part from the quote is particularly true. “The point comes relatively soon when you can … let go of control.” This point of transition. It’s a choice. This is a matter of decision. Perhaps this is the one area we have free will for. We don’t know why we’re born in the country we’re born, under the parents we’re born under, with these particular genes. We don’t know why we end up going to a school in a certain school district with certain teachers and students, which will influence greatly whether we go to college or not, whom we meet as our spouse or not, and whether we ever move to a different country or not, so on and so forth.

But no matter where we are and what we do, at all times, the one choice we can make is whether to struggle or not. And if and when one chooses to stop struggling, the struggle stops.

This is the… this is the part that I’ve been trying to imply in a not-too-hyper-spiritual way in the past many episodes. This isn’t theory-land. This isn’t rationalization, intellectualization, or reasoning. This is a state of being that completely shifts your existence into another realm. And, as I said, I am not enlightened and I am not awakened. And even so, just this letting go, or beginning to let go, will shift the world dramatically. You don’t need to meditate at all for this early shift. You can just decide to shift and boom, you’ll be there.

And you can feel it in your body. I guess with more and more deeper letting go, you’ll be able to feel it even more in your body.

Regarding what happens during meditation, Adyashanti says, quote, “When you think, ‘Aha! I understand that,’ it’s not a matter of logical thought. It’s something that just registers in the mind, and in the body.” End quote.

This last part, the body, has been, in my limited experience, critical.

Whatever is “I” cannot be separated from the other parts, although there may be an illusion that they are separate. The body, the ego mind, whatever is in the unconscious, as well as other dimensions—they are all “I.”

I love my ego-mind by the way. It’s what kept me alive for all these years, preventing me from being forcefully logged out of the game, so to speak. Claiming that the ego must be killed, especially in a struggly way, is ridiculous. It’s like saying the body must be abandoned. It’s like… it’s the most struggly, most weirdest thing ever. No. Nothing needs to be killed. The body is excellent for… meditation, for one thing. And really, there has got to be a reason why it’s there. The idea of forcefully eliminating it is so counter to… well, at least what Adyashanti seems to be implying regarding enlightenment and awakening, and also counter to… just… even at the logical level. Even at the intellect and reasoning level. It… it makes no sense to want to kill the ego or to kill the body. Maybe they’ll vanish, but that’s different from killing them.

Quote, “You come into the natural state by letting go of control by letting go of effort and resting in a state of vividness. It’s very simple. It couldn’t be simpler. Sit down; let everything be as it already is.” End quote.

And… I could keep quoting this book, but as I said, the book is so short. It’s worth a quick read. It’s something you can read in one afternoon with two cups of coffee.

And even if you aren’t going to meditate, this book would be helpful. You just go through your life, being aware. That’s all. You don’t have to sit. You don’t have to do it for two hours or five hours. Perhaps we might not be enlightened and awakened if we take that route, but boy oh boy, we’ll be more enlightened and awakened than if we would’ve been, had we clung to theory. Even if we were to choose to stay firmly in the externally-focused ego land, the choice to stop struggling can be immenselyv valuable. Things like getting good grades would probably become easier. In fact, the earlier a young person learns this, the more effortlessly successful they will be in life, I daresay.

I wonder if I’ll maybe do an episode on… Nikola Tesla or someone like that. He is frequently mentioned as the person who did things from… pretty much… the universe. He didn’t struggle for ideas; he let them come to him. And someone like Einstein is also mentioned frequently as a person who received from the universe. I would’ve thought that scientists and engineers can’t unite their being into their seemingly ego-focused field of work, but oh, they can, apparently.

I guess it is not possible to un-state oneself. It is not possible to un-being oneself. Whoever you are, you are. Even if you don’t meditate.

But maybe you’ll enjoy meditating. It’s fun. Again, I’m in early days, and… I don’t meditate so many hours in the day anymore. These days, the maximum is 4 hours, instead of the minimum being 4 hours. And I do so much of it because… really, time expanded, and also, it’s fun. It’s much fun. The time I don’t spend on analyzing, statisticizing, or learning—which sounds really nice until it starts blurring the core—that time, I spend on meditation. And I stopped suffering to a great degree. Again, this doesn’t mean nothing happens in life. I am not a lifeless tin person, I am not an empty rock. If anything, everything is more vivid. Both in meditation and outside of meditation, everything is more vivid. And so even when suffering comes, it comes and then it goes away, and there is less suffering because I choose to not choose suffering.

Especially this… pair-perception. Things come in pairs. And so when there is a question, there is always an answer. And… I can’t describe this yet, because my experience in this area hasn’t been full yet. But, before early 2023, when I had a question I had to look for the answer elsewhere, and I was never sure if the answer would be there. But now, the second a question arises, which, it doesn’t even do as often anymore, that very second, I can feel the answer. And thus, past, present and future become one. Because this point in linear time at which I thought of the question and the point in time at which I will find the answer suddenly… it feels like they’re one. It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s a very secure feeling. It’s from the perspective of the observer that is the unity—or as unity-like as it can get for a newbie like me—rather than from the game character dwelling in the world of dualities. Basically it’s like the feeling of a novelist instead of one of the novel characters. Or rather, all and therefore none. It’s the feeling of being the novelist, the novel characters, the storyline, the background, and the novel itself, and thereby being none of them and all of them at the same time.

So… yeah. I am hoping this presents meditation in a practical and intriguing light. And I hope that especially my saying all this, of all people—as in, a person who isn’t very positivity oriented, or, I don’t know, optimism oriented, or… bubbly… rainbowy… or rosy… The fact that I, of all people, am saying this—I hope it will intrigue some folks out there enough to consider the choice of deciding not to suffer more seriously. Because, you know, if I’ve always been positive optimistic bubbly rainbowy rosy, then, it’s like… how do you know if meditation is the thing that made my life better? But I have never been such a person, so, when I say that life is more excellent than it ever has been, even while shitty things happen—because, again, this isn’t about sterilizing life, this is about making life more vivid—anyway, when a not very optimistic positive bubbly rainbowy rosy person like me says that the rollercoaster waves of life are more excellent than they ever have been due to meditation, then it’s not because I interpret anything and everything as “good.” It’s because, maybe, meditation actually is practical.

And that is all for this episode. Thank you for listening.

If you liked this episode of Sponge, please share it with a human.

You can find a link to the full transcript in the show notes. Also, visit ithakaonmymind.com to find out more about everything else I do, besides Sponge.

Stay true, everybody.

All links


  • Adi Goldstein – Slow Haze
  • Liquid Memoirs – In Search
  • We Dream of Eden – I See You in Light

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