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Extracts from “The Question to Life’s Answers” by Steven Harrison

Excerpts from one of my favourite authors, Steven Harrison, books “The Question to Life’s Answers”. Buy it here… Sentient Publications, I suggest buying the entire set.

You can find more on Google books here http://www.google.co.za/search?tbm=bks&tbo=1&q=steven+harrison&btnG=


This book is a series of explorations into how we can live. Can we live in relationship? Can we step into the unknown and construct a life unrestricted by our answers? How do we form our relationships, build our communities, raise and educate our young, care for our elders? How do we work and play? How do we address the suffering in those around us?


We know that thought cannot know. Thought can only think, and therefore can only think it knows. Any aspect that thought represents cannot describe knowledge, which is inclusive of the whole picture. – pg 4

I looked up “belief” in the dictionary. The definition was “mental acceptance of and conviction of the truth, actuality, or validity of something.” What then would a life beyond belief be?

There has to be some kind of deconstruction of the educated or conditioned viewpoint, which believes substantially in its information. Part of this is coming to grips with the notion of self. Is it there, is it not, is it actual or imagined? This deconstruction has to take place without replacing the old ideas with a new set of ideas (non-dualism, Buddhism, fill-in-the-blankism).

Then perhaps the experimental construction of relationship, schools, communities, and other social institutions can take place. The common basis for this construction would be exploration, which is dynamic, rather than a fixed ideology.

The challenge might be that such an exploration, being fundamentally unstable, requires a deep stability in the individuals engaged in it. Ideologies don’t require stability in the adherents since the ideology, being fixed, provides that. – pg 25

Do you believe in some for of intelligence behind the evolution of life and the existence of the universe?

I don’t believe in belief. If you want to take on a belief system, then you could take on, for example, the Christian Creationist belief. You would have to make a jump of faith at the point of creation, which is to say, you have to go from “I don’t know” to “I believe.” Likewise, if you go into the scientific paradigm, you have to make a similar leap: “I don’t know how the universe began, but I believe that their was a big bang.” There is no difference between “God created the universe” and “the Big Bacng created the universe.” In both cases you have to make that leap from “i don’t know,” which is authentic and actual, to “I believe.”

So belief is not rooted in the authentic and actual?

Belief is rooted in the discomfort with not knowing. Explore that state of “I don’t know” and see what it is, rather than short-circuit that vy overlaying an idea of any sort.

No matter how noble.

The thing about noble ideas is that they’re noble in a certain context. It was very noble for the Crusaders to head off to Jerusalem to conquer the Muslims. Except if you were a Muslim. Then it wasn’t noble. If you were a Muslim, it was noble to fight the Crusaders. – pg 31/32

When you actually strip away your entire collection of concepts, you aren’t left with “nothing.” You’re left with everything. You’re left with life itself. There is something vital that is energetically moving through our systems. You can’t strip that away, because it is the totality of everything.- pg 42

Why does the spiritual search end up being about power?

Spirituality is a fear based construction. While we like to think of it as a more positive thing, people are terrified. We’re afraid of death and we want to have a confirmed story that it’s not the case, that we go on, that there’s something more. One of the ways through that is to convince yourself you have the power to change it. When you get into very, very subtle areas of the mind, you can begin to see how you can literally construct reality. You can alter the nature of the way things are. And that starts to look very close to being able to escape death, because if I can move reality then i can move death. – pg 43

As long as we believe that we will find something to fill our emptiness and quench our pain, explain the paradox of life and assuage its vagaries, give us substance and meaning, we will fill our days with the quixotic spiritual search. This relationship to life may have the trappings of the spiritual, but is essentially self-centered. It is not the search for the dissolution o the self or even the integration of the self, but the expression of narcissism in its most duplicitous form.

Religious, philosophical, and spiritual systems suggest that we must go through some process, some systematic search, some basic preparation. But they are all built upon a false premise: that we must do something to discover the timeless now. There is no lack of access to the immediate moment. No preparation needed to be where we are – in that present. In the moment there is no “me” to be found.

The self is constructed out of thoughts strung like beads on the string of time – a sense of past and future, memory, and anticipation. But thought, time, and self are entirely conceptual. We search for resolution within a conceptual world in which there is no actual resolution. There are just the concepts of searching and searcher, and the concept that the searcher finds meaning and purpose through searching.

This search is in vain. The searcher, which is the core sense of self, is both the problem we seek to solve and the problem that searches for the solution.This fundamental realization brings the spiritual life as we know it to a screeching halt. It is over. There is nothing to do because there is no doer. There is nothing to resolve, nothing to fill, nothing to fix.

But this is not the end; it is the beginning. Coming to the end of the spiritual search is the end of spirituality and the beginning of spirit-actuality. Spirit-actuality is not the expression of our need for something, the search for something, or the absence of something. It is the actuality of spirit, the articulation of what life brings to us, the exploration of unity, in which we are at once a part and the whole. The perspective has changed from the “me” looking for resolution to a “me” turned inside out and upside down – “we” – consciousness peering through the eyes of “me.”- pg 51

You talk about ending the spiritual search. Should we stop searching?

The whole concept fo spirituality is a contrivance. It posits that there is a spiritual world and a non-spiritual world. What’s the non-spiritual world? If I wake up and go to work in the morning, is that non-spiritual? If you take away the conceptualization of spirituality, then isn’t everything spiritual? Then what are spiritual practices for? Why are we trying to get to this spiritual world if we are already i the midst of it? There’s nothing wrong with spirituality, other than that it doesn’t actually exist.pg 54

… We were not searching for truth or for love; we were looking for power and control, for safety. We were infants looking for father and mother.It is easy to see that the search of the young man in that world of teachers of spirit, of magicians and miracle workers, of yogis and lamas, is a fiction. The story collapsed under the weight of its own fantastic need for a happy ending in which the seeker merges with the universe, but is still there to tell all his friends about it.

There was never a search , only the attempt to acquire power and control over life.pg 57

Trying to be loving wasn’t the same as finding the root of my fear, … – pg 60

They seemed amused at my drive for this spiritual power, my impatience, and my demands for demonstration of their spiritual prowess. What they threw back at me was, “What are you afraid of?” Well, what was I afraid of?

This was a whole different matter, indeed. The spiritual quest, the noble search, the expression of everything that is good, was suddenly reduced to a neurotic expression of my own fear. I wasn’t on a spiritual search; fear was on a spiritual search. This “me” is fear. What could fear possibly find other than more of its own kind? And, let’s face it, there is no purer expression of fear than power.

The great teacher-transformers suddenly seemed like terrified children. The spiritual search was a sham. Without the sham, the world is just as it is. Everything is spiritual and nothing is spiritual. So, no, I don’t align myself with a teacher or tradition.

Coming to the end of the spiritual search is coming to this realization that everything and nothing is spiritual?

It isn’t a realization. It is the exhaustion of the idea of spirituality. This idea creates the division of the spiritual and the non-spiritual. – pg 61

You don’t put much faith in negating thoughts, but I believe that if one practices diligently, the ego gets steadily weaker, and a point comes where it disappears. This method does not produce a dramatic loss of ego, but a slower, less traumatic loss.

The chipping away of the ego that you describe brings about relative change. But how can it bring about fundamental transformation when the one who is chipping away is the actual problem? You have the idea that the self can do something about its condition, which is the fundamental illusion. Is there a traumatic loss of self outside of the social construction of such? Of course, that can seem pretty traumatic.


How do you know that the state of mind has changes and not the describer of these states? Is there a difference? This past, which is memory and thought, conditions the present. We then struggle to free ourselves from that conditioning. The attempt to be free and the measurement of how well we are succeeding is itself the conflict.

Even in mindfulness meditation, the tradition in which I was trained, the sense of trying to fix something exists. Even though I try to be aware of it, I am being aware of it in ordedr to fix it.

You’re constantly trying to fix yourself, and in doing so, you’re actually creating the problem. When you see that complete loop, then you’re just left holding the paradox.That’s all. There’s nothing to do with it. It’s a state of beingness that makes most of us very uncomfortable. Just be with a condition that’s not broken and not fixable – and imperfect. – pg 65/66

I’m suggesting that the whole hierarchical structure is inherently corrupt. – pg 68

Take the enlightened person out of his or her context and see what happens.

Out of their environment with their followers, their teachings?

Yes. Put them in a convenience store in New York City on the night shift for twelve hours and see what happens. I don’t think that enlightenment exists for these teachers outside the context of the group, the theology, and the belief system. If you’re inside that, it’s an enlightened state, but that enlightened state exists only with the agreement of the two thousand followers.


Does the fact that their words have lasted all these years speak to anything?

If you come back ten thousand years from now, there will still be Styrofoam containers with the McDonalds logo printed on them. Does that give the McDonalds logo substance? I think religion tells us something about the human psyche.

That it held on to such teachings for so long?

Yes, that the human mind wants a belief system. It wants to have mythic figures. It wants to divide itself from its own potential by projecting a God figure. That potential exists in each of us in this moment. We decide not to accept that because we want our cars, our houses, our stereos, our computers, and the rest of it. That’s what we are drawn to.

You suggest that the various modes of spiritual practice that have been used for thousands of years are irrelevant to the discovery of ultimate truth. What practice do you see as valuable in aiding us in this discovery?

No practice is going to aid us in the discovery of ultimate truth. If you understand that enlightenment is myth, then what practice would you use to get enlightened? If the place isn’t there, then how do you get to it? The value of these practices is that they give you some technical information about how your mind and body work. That’s as interesting as learning about architecture, or mathematics, or art history, but it doesn’t result in enlightenment. You can be a master of the workings of the mind, but if you are deluded by your sense of self you will simply use that mastery to manipulate people.

So obviously you don’t see any value in petitioning prayer.

Petitioning prayer has no value as a means to becoming enlightened. Does it bring a person temporary relief from pressures that they may be experiencing. Does it calm them? Does it make them feel better? Does it give them a sense of doing something? Probably. – pg 74-76

It is, at its core, the base materialism of the spiritual search. Any context that reinforces the spirituality of narcissism lacks integrity.

I would suggest that corruption exists in any power-based structure, and spiritual power is no exception. Most people are not interested in seeing this because they are getting what they want from the spiritual structures, just as they do from corrupt political structures. – pg 78

We’re drugging our students with Ritalin so they’ll sit still in school. We’re drugging our workers with Prozac so they won’t be depressed about going to the factories. And we’re drugging ourselves with television and the Internet so we don’t have to face our own boredom with our life. Our culture is trying to restrict something that cannot be contained, and that is the movement of consciousness. For psychologists, perhaps the more accurate response is to become like a shaman, to become a midwife of this transformation. – pg 88

The question also remains whether interfering with a crisis is also interfering with healing, or for that matter, whether interfering with anything is useful. – pg 89

Who would we be without our problems?

Some teachers talk about ego as a path, rather than as pathology. You’re really saying that ego is pathology.

No, I’m saying that the attempt to fix the ego is pathological. I’d say the attempt to do anything with it is pathological. This is where the language of doing nothing comes in. Can we simply look at what it is without attempting to fix it? And does that in some way change our relationship to the so-called ego? Because once I’ve got an ego and am trying to fix it, I’ve simply slathered layer after layer of concepts onto something that we’re not even sure exists.

What if I do the opposite? What if I do nothing about his thing called the ego? Let’s say I’m an arrogant guy. I’m prone to anger, I’m a lousy communicator, and I’m tense all the time. I can try to fix that through any number of techniques, or I can do absolutely nothing about it. What if that is the entirety of the universe – my anger, my tension, my lack of communication? What happens then? What happens if that’s all there is? Does that fundamentally change the space in which I can work with my own experience?

As you describe it, it sounds frightening to me.

It’s terrifying! We don’t have an escape route. And the whole process-oriented world is about an escape route. It’s not about dealing with ourselves. It’s about not facing ourselves by creating time, by creating process. If I can sit another retreat, or go to another seminar, or read another book, then I’ll be able to fix everything. Of course it never works. We just get farther and farther away from the truth.


And the fixing of it isn’t really fixing it at all. In fact, it’s creating the “problem” that appears to need fixing.

Exactly. This is the whole Alice-in-Wonderland world that psychology and spirituality have created. – pg 93-95

The mind creates a conceptual framework that misdirects us from the fullness of our world, our life, and our relationships. The ideas of enlightenment, spirituality, psychology, and therapy – all the process-orientated approaches to understanding – are problematic, because they move through time. They are always taking us outside of where we are into a potential future that we can call enlightenment or resolution. pg 99

The way we are structured is towards effort, to try and get things. Effort is useless in regard to transformation. When we look at that, what we imagine is a kind of void-state, in which I give up my effort. And then there’s the nothing, and nothing is something that we hear so much about.

What is actually left when I give up my effort is a tremendous amount of energy. It’s just not mine. It’s a dynamic quality; it’s not a static quality. – pg 104

I choose to stay in control because it seems safer.

You think you have a choice in the matter. You believe you can either stay in control, or give up control. The choice itself is an illusion. It is the illusion of thought. Thought posits that it is the chooser, but it is mechanical.

The small self is simply thought, arising with the idea of the thinker. Coincident with each thought is the thought of a thinker, because of the way thought structures itself as a subject in relation to objects. That’s all you are. We refer to that as the context, and then we talk from that and through that and about that. In the middle of all this we ask the question, “How do “I” allow life to move?” You may notice that life is moving, whether you think about that or not, whether you think you control it or not. So something else is moving, and this dynamic whole, this quantum potential is the chooser.

There is free will, but it’s not your free will.

That dynamic whole is somewhere in the background. I can’t just go there at will.

Thought can’t go there at will. Thought doesn’t have the capacity to be anything more than what it is, which is fragmented. It can’t be whole. – pg 106-107

Sometimes you give up.

What if you just stayed “given up”? Not as an idea, but facing the fact that all these attempts just create the opposite. Facing the fact that the idea of release just creates a sense of release, which eventually contracts and creates the need for the release again. Isn’t the problem the whole business of going through the cycle – the addiction to release, the fear of contraction?

We’re so conditioned to that. We are constantly trying to solve problems.

We’ve been conditioned to that through all our spirituality. What if we don’t continue with our spirituality?

What is the purpose of being spiritual? You might as well quit that, too.

Look at what happens when you consider quitting the spiritual path. Look at the fear. Who am I if I’m not spiritual? What will I do if I’m not spiritual? There we are. There’s the unknown.

You’re asking the impossible, I’m afraid.

I’m not asking anyting of you. You don’t have to do anything about any of this. I’m just asking if we can see what we’re doing. Each of us is constantly trying to create a concept, thoughts, technology, or way of living that creates a permanent state of saety for our self. I’m not trying to create a state in we are safe, in which all of life is safe. That’s not it at all. I’m trying to create a state in which I am safe.

So I’ve tried all these things and none of them have worked, and… – pg 144-145

Does something move from life itself that motivates us? Are we animated by life, or are we animated by this neurotic drive for survival? The only way we can discover that is by looking at the survival drive clearly.
Perhaps that leaves us sitting here empty, without motion or motivation. We would die. And that’s actually what we have to do. We have to die psychologically. The psychological self says. “I don’t want to die; I need to durvive. I can find a way to be okay.”
There is no way to be okay, because the field of thought is inherently divided. Every thought has a subject/object relationship to the world around it. Every thought divides the world. There’s no thought that is whole. Because it’s a divided world, there’s always something outside of me that is a threat. That world of thought can never be stable. We can meditate for a thousand years and thought will still be divided. It will still have a subject and an object.
Go to the place in yourself in which nothing energizes your personal thought, your personal world. There you can face the death to the personal. – pg 146

Isn’t there a link between biological survival and psychological survival? Don’t we think that the survival of “me” is dependant on the survival of the body?

Imagine a world in which we want the body to survive but we aren’t concerned with fame, glory, wealth, and prominence. In that world, the distribution of resources would be very simple. If we had no other psychological needs then we would simply be feeding each other, clothing each other, and housing each other.

How does survival of the body become survival of the psychological self? We may be developing as a species. The primitive, reptilian part of our brain may be creating the sense of fear, neurosis, psychology. It may be that we’re developing different ways of organizing ourselves physically. As our physical security becomes more evident, the fact is we don’t need to be so worried. We live in a culture that is so rich and incredibly secure, and yet most of our time and energy goes into being more secure.

The whole dilemma is based on the notion that we exist outside of ongoing experience. Since that’s simply conceptual, there’s nothing we can do but be who we are. We have to do nothing.

This is the collapse of the attemt to leave thought. We’ve been trying to find our way out of thought into this other realm we’re calling consciousness or faith. We wanted to see if there may be something that is not thought, something whole.

For a while there, it looked like doing nothing was the access to wholeness or consciousness. Now it is suggested that there’s no place to other than thought. – pg 150-151

Glossary – definitions from askoxford.com

narcissism – /naarsisiz’m/

noun excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.

— DERIVATIVES narcissist noun narcissistic adjective.

— ORIGIN from Narcissus, a beautiful youth in Greek mythology who fell in love with his reflection in a pool.

quixotic – /kwiksottik/

adjective impractically idealistic or fanciful.

— DERIVATIVES quixotically adverb quixotism /kwikstiz’m/ noun.

— ORIGIN from the name of Don Quixote, hero of Cervantes’ romance (1605-15).

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