The Law of Attraction is a Half-Truth

The law of attraction is so appealing. I hear more and more about it online each year. People trying it out, talking about it.

It’s appealing, I think, because it’s truthy. It has truth in it. But it isn’t the whole truth. And for that reason it may even be a dangerous teaching.

My own summary of the law of attraction goes something like this; and this is of course a summary and a personal spin on it so it won’t do the whole thing the justice it does perhaps deserve. ‘Reality is such that we live in a quantum hologram and our perception influences the outcome. So if you believe bad things will happen then they will. And if you believe success or good things will happen, they will’.

There’s truth to that. The universe wants us to be well. Also, if I believe bad things will happen or are due to me, then that will be my mental story and I will go about organizing reality to fit my belief. I will be an agent of change to my reality in as much as I will sub-consciously filter information, influence relationships, change circumstances, blank things out until they fit what I believe is going on. When the bad luck comes, I am then able to say “this always happens to me” or “there, I told you so”, and this feeds my pain body. My pain is fed. I can continue to justify to myself my pain and my drama. And so it goes on.

On the flip side, if I believe good things will happen or are due to me, then that will be my mental story and I will go about organizing reality to fit that belief. I will be an agent of change to my reality in as much as I will sub-consciously filter information, influence relationships, change circumstances, blank things out or allow things in until they fit my belief. When the good luck comes I am then able to say to myself “that was the law of attraction. It works”.

All that’s going on here is that our default state as human beings is that normatively we expect negativity. We all have a drama; a karma; a story. Quite often that story will be based on our conditioning. And quite often our conditioning has been negative in one way or another. And so nine times out of ten we are following the law of attraction negatively.

All that the law of attraction does is say that there’s a principle here and if you believe you can have positive change in your life you are more likely to get it. Now, that’s true. But not becuase the law of attraciton is true, but because through that discipline, that new habit, we thereby jettison the sub-conscious negative patterns. In doing so we are more awake to what is really going on; less likely to filter out information that would fit our negative story and so on.

All that the law of attraction is doing is encouraging us out of our everyday negative micro-dramas and mini-stories. Our subconscious controls. Once we have a method of doing that (of any kind) then of course we will see change in our lives.

But you don’t have to follow the law of attraction in order to attract all the success you can get, all the happiness you can get, all the joy you are able to experience. You just have to be awake. Alert to the present moment. Aware of what is really going on rather than what fits your drama.

And that’s really really important. Because sometimes reality will give me a wake-up call. Buddha was right, you know. Life is full of impermanence. Impermanence and entropy are the staple diet of the fabric of reality. And from those things arises pain and suffering. Pain and suffering can jolt us into awareness, and there comes the benefit of them. Enlightenment is often found the hard way. Again and again. And that will always be the case.

Now, a heavy jolt – some bad news – won’t fit a picture of the law of attraction alone. Sometimes it will disrupt that picture. What will we do if it does, and we believe in the law of attraction? Blank it out and blame ourselves. Maybe I wanted this to happen subconsiously! Maybe I wanted my cat to die! Maybe on some level I needed this bad thing to happen!

No. It’s just life. Deal with it.

For me the law of attraction is a new age version of the American prosperity theology. It’s no better than “go with bliss”. “Go with bliss” and “happiness bubble” and “avoid negative people” is not enlightenment. Enlightenment is sitting next to a difficult person until they are no longer difficult. Enlightenment is going with pain until it is nolonger pain.

Enlightenment is a knife edge. You are god but try holding on to that without ego. You can change your reality, but really you can only do that by being awake to the ways you tend to manipulate information to fit a picture and choosing a different set of options. It’s good to have dreams, but you can’t have dreams without a self; and the self is an illusion.

I’m learning to have dreams. I’m learning to set plans that will be a happy way to carve out a future. And that feels alien to do because of my karma. So I know I need to do it. And those plans may come to fruition. They may not. But I’m not going to get them to become real if I don’t believe they will (the law of attraction). Then again, they may just not; and that will be just how it is if that’s what happens.

Reality is not a vending machine or a self-service website. The Way is not a magic trick. And the law of attraction is not the whole truth.


Each Moment Is the Universe (book review)

This is the title of a book by Dainin Katagiri. (The subtitle is ‘Zen and the Way of Being Time’.) Published by Shambhala and available from the International Zen Association UK (IZAUK) Zen Boutique, and elsewhere.

Here are some parts of it that leapt out at me when I read the book.

p.116 ‘When egolessness comes up simultaneously with practice, practice is free from suffering. You become free from your own body and mind and experience complete spiritual security, stability, and imperturbability. THis is called emancipation. Emancipation – the individual, direct experience of human life – is the culmination of the quest. Sometimes we say this is realization, or actualization. Actualization is not just the manifestation of your individual experience of the truth; it us your life interconnected with a tree’s life, a bird’s life, water’s life, spring’s life, autumn’s life, and the life of the whole universe.

Buddhism teaches that all things – those we can see and those we cannot see, those we can think of an d those we cannot think of, those we can imagine and those we cannot imagine – must be accepted as beings in Buddha’s world. We should accept all beings and understand them: see where they come from, look at their face” and at the same time we should be ffee from all things. So just accept all aspects of human life, whatever they are. This is called freedom. Freedom is not escape from suffering or any of the various aspects of human life but acceptance of the ir true nature as beings in Buddha’s world.’


p.163 ‘Within each single problem there is an important opportunity to make the depth of your life mature. To realize this opportunity, first you have to throw away the usual sense of suffering and touch the heart of suffering. Deal with suffering right in the middle of suffering. Then suffering gives you lots of instruction. Whether you have a problem, pain, or pleasant feeling in zazen, please sit. That’s it! You must be tranquil and calm down. Otherwise you can’t see the panoramic picture of how existence is functioning every day.

Sit in zazen, calm your six sense consciousness, and then quiet the egoistic manas consciousness. At that time, basic consciousness touches all things, without exception – the whole universe. That is alayavijnana, the serene and tranquil state of consiousness that is the original nature of human life. This mind of tranquillity is called bodhi-mind, universal consciousness, or the Buddha Way.’


p.171 ‘Real spiritual power is the power behind power. The power behind power is the true meaning of effort. It is pure action without needing a particular goal. Instead of expecting to get a result from our effort, we give quality to our effort. This is a very important practice for us. That’s why spiritual life is very calm, very quiet, and very stable. That’s why you can be very stable and very calm’.


p.211 ‘We have to live within the law of causation, but we also have to turn the results of causation into eternal possibility. Eternal possibility is life with no limitation, no separation.’ p.222 ‘People don’t believe in a long-range life and always see life in the short-range. They want to do something; they want to finish something in this lifetime. Then they become nervous, irritated and cold. They experience stress and have a nervous breakdown. If you don’t take a long-range view of life in the human world, you become crazy. So you have to take care of your life with a long-range hope and just keep going. Every day form a habit of doing small things without expecting any satisfaction of your individual desire. Then your life is just going, in peace and harmony. …Most people get out of temper the more they practice meditation. This is not the real spiritual way of life. So even though you don’t like your busy life, let’s find small things that you can do right in the middle of that busy life. Just light a candle around you, one by one, day by day.’


If you want to read books, this one will do.

Incoherency of Self, and the Amnesiacal Echoes of PTSD

The Buddhist notion of the Self is that it is not as coherent as we would like to think. We create a self image with a story, a drama, about itself. But we even forget this story and where we were taking it. It changes in such a way from day to day that a film director would sack his continuity error man if our lives were films in production. Our image of ourselves is not who we are. It doesn’t even get close.

There’s lots on the web about Buddhism and the Self. It’s quite a meaty subject, and I don’t want to go into it here.

I’ve recently been reflecting upon the way Buddha explains the Self, leading me out of attachment to my own whims and fancies of who I am. And whilst I’ve been doing that something else has been happening too. A sense of something going on mental health wise. On the surface this looked like a kind of amnesia – an echo of having had PTSD. But on closer examination I realised this feeling was a short-hand message from somewhere deep within for something coming from several sources. One was the amount of times I kept finding things that I did or wrote or documented whilst I DID have PTSD or was on anti-depressants, and noticing that I’d completely forgotten those things until seeing them again. And another was a sort of jumpiness which has come about from having, unfortunately, been surrounded by at least two people with anxiety issues of their own; this bringing back some PTSD-like behaviours for myself. In the jumping, there was no sense of time to dwell on specifics – and so some information (often unimportant) in the recent past would be lost.

So on the one hand I’ve been reflecting on letting go of self-made images and reflections of a self identity, and on another hand I’ve been troubled about incoherency from another angle.

This has not been a pleasant phase. But it has been useful and, in its own way, intriguing. Then, as if to bring closure to this moment, I read the following paragraphs in Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Icehenge’ novel:

“Memory is the weak link. This year I will be three hundred and ten years old, but most of my life is lost to me, buried in the years. I might as well be a creature of incarnations, moving from life to life, ignorant of my own past. Oh, I “know” that once I climbed Olympus Mons, that once I visited the Earth, and so on; I can check the record like anyone else; but to recall none of the detail, to feel nothing for this knowledge, is not to have done it.

It isn’t as simple as that, I admit. Certain events, moments scattered here and there in my life, exist in my memory like artifacts in the layers of an excatavion: fragments of meaning on the debris of time, left in a pattern of deposition that I fail to understand. On occasion I will stumble on one of these artifacts – a trolley bell in the sreet, and i see an Alexandrian’s smile – a whiff of ammonia, and suddenly I am reacquainted with my first daughter’s birth – but the process of deposition, the process of recovery, both are mysteries to me. And each little epiphany reminds me that there are things I have forgotten forever – things that might explain me to myself, which explanation I sorely need – and I clutch at the fragment knowing I might never stumble across it again.

So I have decided to collect these artifacts, with the idea that I had better try to understand them now, while they are still within my reach – working as the archaeologists of old did so often, against rising waters in haste, while the chance yet exists: hurrying to invent a new archaeology of the self.

What we feel most, we remember best.”

Zen Gardens, and the pursuits of the mind

A Zen Garden represents the human mind.

Large stones sit in the garden as if rising up out of the pebble carpet. Around these large stones are usually ripple patterns in the pebble carpet, representing movement or a disturbance in the pebble carpet caused by their uprising from beneath the carpet layer.

Everywhere else that the large stones do not ‘rise up’, the pebbles are usually set out in meticulous lines, representing order or harmony.

You contemplate a Zen Garden from a balcony. Sometimes this balcony is entered through a special gate house, where you take off your shoes before entering.

The idea is that each large stone represents a thought arising in the mind. But what you must realize (sic.), is that you are not the large thought arising. Neither are you the ripples and disturbances caused by the arising of the large thought. Neither are you the bliss represented by the ordered pebble carpet, because if you identified yourself with that bliss (or nirvana), it would just be another large thought, and not the same thing as that bliss itself. You are instead the person who observes all of these things, gets up, turns around, and walks out.

Over time it is possible to still the mind in sitting meditation enough that when you do have a large thought arise, no other thoughts surround it. In this state of mental clarity it is possible (though difficult) to investigate that thought a little bit.

This is not the object of meditation, and not really something to distract oneself with. But occasionally it just happens.

Sometimes when it happens, reflecting on the first large thought encourages the arising of lots of other thoughts, and before too long there is no clarity and calm; only monkey mind.

Provided the still and clear state is maintained, however, it is possible to just look deeply into the one large thought which has arisen.

Again, it is easy to start judging it as a good, bad, wise, or silly thought. This, again, is not much use as an exercise. This is not what I mean by investigating a thought.

But it is possible to ask yourself, what is behind this thought? If I acted on this thought, who would gain what? What would I stand to gain?

Through such questioning, it is possible to notice that most thoughts – perhaps as much as 90% of thoughts* – are not relevant at all to things which must be done today. Instead they are supporting some kind of drama, or story, or power game that you (we all) are involved in creating.

And so it is that the mind (the ego) is almost always pursuing some kind of power game; some kind of pursuit towards grandeur (even if it is negative grandeur).

In the same way, some say “what is ego anyway?” or “how is it possible to function as a human being without ego?’, and that is because it is very difficult to overcome the ego. In terms of the pursuits of the conventional mind, the ego is taking up so much mental energy that it becomes impossible to imagine one’s self without it.

*I believe Eckhart Tolle suggests something like 98%.

Atoning for evil karma

“The river laughed. Yes, that was how it was. Everything that was not suffered to the end and finally concluded, recurred, and the same sorrows were undergone.”
Hermann Hesse, ‘Siddhartha’ (1922)

“It’s a long, long Way,
‘Cause I’ve been there before,
And I ain’t goin’ back there no more”
Seasick Steve, ‘Long Long Way’ (2011)

Atoning for past karma, in Buddhism, is for me at least a process of having to be awake to the grim process of the desires of old karma, while also being awake to what these desires result in, and being awake to a better way.

Old formulations are easy and automatic no matter how dysfunctional they are. Wanting to live in anxiety of the presumed expectations of others (‘never good enough’), in earnest of myself (‘is this right’), in low self-esteem (‘of course not good enough’), in expecting punishment for the sake of punishment (‘hell is where I belong’). These are all automatic patterns. But they are all also harmful, and dysfunctional.

There is no other way to a better way, than to go through this process of change. And ‘going through it’ is the same thing as atoning. Having distance from the old dysfunctional patterns, recognising them when they arise, being aware of a different response, learning to take that new response.

I misunderstood ‘to atone’ before because that is a word used in Christianity; often to mean saying sorry to God. Truly atoning is not saying sorry to anybody or anything, but simply committing to the process of change from negative karma. Saying sorry makes no difference at all, whether it is to God, or to an ant!

Buddha confirms that attaining Enlightenment is a very difficult thing to achieve. Persistence is required, and it is easy to lose nerve. He is also very clear. When we lose nerve and go back to the automatic and comfortable ways, they do not stay comfortable. So it is that we trap ourselves in a karmic cycle. Ever repeating itself because we are afraid to move on.

There is much less pain, and much more freedom, to be had with just a little persistance. Not persistance at doing ‘right’, but persistance through the grim challenge of re-living our own karmic causes and effects whilst also being awake to them and realizing a different manner altogether.

But I’ve read many people say this, and not understood it until now. Only now is this a lived reality. And that’s the funny thing about the Way.

Just so many words on a blog. There’s a sunset outside, and small birds are singing.

Everyone’s butting Buddhism

This is a rant.

I’ve noticed several speakers – all of them seem to know of each other – Ken Wilbur, Richard Rohr, Andrew Cohen, Eckhart Tolle…. adding a ‘but’ to Buddhism. Butting it.

It does not go far enough. It does not engage with present life. It does not have a God Incarnate like Christianity does. It teaches these things, but not quite as well as modern psychology or my religion or spiral dynamics or whatever.

I sit my but.

Buddhism Basics


This is an iterative document. I will be updating it as I go in the coming months and years, until it has reached a state that feels right. If you find this document, and after reading it you would like me to do more work on it, I will happily spend some more time updating it.

It is based on direct learning from two different Buddhist centres;

Thrangu House in Oxford, UK and,
Oxford Zen Group

It also relies quite heavily on some books about Buddhist practice and experience.The main one is:

Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience. Donald W Mitchell. 2nd Edition. I can highly recommend this book.

At the moment, there are some parts that are incomplete. If anyone has any feedback about the document, or suggested edits or corrections, I would be grateful to receive them.

I could not find anywhere else on the internet where there is a concise summary of the essence of Buddha’s teaching that is useful for getting to grips with the main tenets of the teaching, how they fit together, and how they work. Many online resources focus on the great tradition of the Sutras. Wonderful though Sutras are, my gut feeling and my own feeling is that Westerners will need somewhere much more simple to start than Sutra stories in getting to grips with Buddhism.

I freely admit, however, that I wrote this document for my own benefit and pleasure. If it is useful for you, then all well and good and how delighting.

Buddhist monks on walkathon for environment

“The yatra is a way of embracing the ‘walking life’, which is beautiful and stress free. Why should we quit walking for cars and helicopters, when they cause so much damage to nature,” the Gyalwang Drukpa told reporters here before commencing the journey on May 25. Read more

Enlightened does mean free to experience life

For much of my adult life so far, I realise, I have not been present in it. Now that I have had my ‘sudden awakening’, my moment of zen, I can see this.

It’s like I was always caught up in a mental story. Most of it was about worrying about the future; so much so that I would often miss out on experiencing what was going on around me. Even miss out on conversations. Present in the room, but not present mentally within myself or with others.

I have read enough to understand that this behaviour is extremely common, and would suggest that it can be more common in those who have experienced a lot of stress or hardship in life.

It would be easy to feel pain about this; as though I have been deprived of experiencing life. Cheated. But feeling pain about it is exactly the sort of absent-minded activity that caused the absence in the first place; it does not help me to stay present today, in the moment. Therefore, I choose not to feel pain about it.

Today I have learned that what Buddhists call ‘dependent arising’, or ‘attachment to the samsaric world’ of things, possessions, relationships, is a liberating thing to be free from.

For a while I have been scared that to remove myself from any attachment to experience in the samsaric world is a cloaked form of the same old absence from experiencing life. I have been afraid of non-attachment, feeling as though it is some kind of religious instruction denying me yet again from living my life. It seemed to threaten me with another form of experiential denial, just like my mental stories did before.

But I have learned that it is not a negative thing at all. Not a religious instruction, but a suggestion of something that might help tremendously and wonderfully. It is a beautiful thing. It is the perfect way to be. It harnesses the potential for, ultimately, an egoless sense of immortality. And… it requires presence.

Experiencing what is happening right now, and responding skillfully to that, is non-attachment. Being properly and fully present – genuinely here fully in the moment – it is not possible to attach to things. Dependent arising becomes impossible. Attachment or dependent arising require a mental story. They require time – a past and a future. A mental sense of time does not exist when you are present in now.

Non-attachment is not another form of mental absence, or denying myself to really feel experiences and enjoy myself. (Permission to enjoy myself please…) It is the very way to go deeper into life, and into now.

Or putting it back the other way; presence in the now results in non-attachment at the same time as liberating me to experience what is going on right now in life.

This is hard, and also very easy at the same time. It is hard to stay present. It takes practice and a lifetime. But it is also a lot simpler and easier than ‘trying’ to detach myself religiously from everything. ‘Trying’ is another mental game. Another version of mental absence. Trying so hard to be enlightened that I am missing enlightenment.

And so another block on the path has been removed.

If You See the Buddha on the Road

If you see the Buddha on the road, you must kill him,
If you see the Buddha on the road, you must kill him,
He’s no guide, he’s no god; even blind, he’s no guide dog,
You must kill him.

If you see the Buddha on the road, keep looking,
If you see the Buddha on the road, keep looking,
If it’s him you want to see, you’ll be looking constanty,
Keep looking.

If you see the Buddha on the road, keep walking,
If you see the Buddha on the road, keep walking,
Walk enough, he’ll fall behind, but will that give you peace of mind?
Keep walking.

If you see the Buddha on the road, unlucky,
If you see the Buddha on the road, unlucky,
Means you’ve got more miles to go; yards of fast and years of slow,
Unlucky, man.

(This is a song based on the title of a book ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients’, the soto zen tradition of speaking in riddles, and the great North American slide guitar tradition.)