Part 1 – Turning Outside
Some 250,000 miles later, having spent 20 minutes waiting for the other guy to get down the ladder, Buzz Aldrin became the second person to walk on the moon, July 21, 1969.
Back on Earth, 600 million people looked up in wonder: how must it feel to be the first humans to set foot on another world? Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were viewed as the ultimate pioneers at the cutting edge of human experience; if anyone was really alive, ‘doing it’, they were. So how did it feel to be up there living life to the max? Aldrin recalled of his return to Earth:
‘I said to Neil, “We missed the whole thing.” We didn’t share the moment of exhilaration here on Earth. We were sort of out of town doing something else.’
This recalls Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s comment:
‘There is always something missing. If you examine your mind in everyday life, you can see that something is missing all the time… You are never really happy.’ (Lama Zopa Rinpoche, ‘Transforming Problems’, Wisdom Books, 1993, pp.30-31)
Aldrin described the moon as a scene of ‘magnificent desolation’ but, tellingly, observed that the words also ‘seemed to describe my own inner turmoil’. (p.89) The cause?
‘What’s left? I wondered. What’s a person do when his or her greatest dreams and challenges have been achieved? I reached over to the small table next to the chaise and reached for my drink, Scotch poured generously over ice cubes.’ (p.86)
Thus, not only did Aldrin feel he had missed out on the peak experience of his life while he was having it, the experience left him without anything to hope or aim for. Worse followed:
‘Guilt and despair began to envelop me… How could I have gone almost overnight from being on top of the world to feeling useless, worthless and washed up?… There was no goal, no sense of calling, no project worth pouring myself into… Life seemed to have lost its lustre. On some days I couldn’t even find a reason to get out of bed. So I didn’t. Something was wrong; something within me was beginning to crack. I only hoped I could figure it out before I broke down completely.’ (pp.114-115)
This reminds of the famous encounter between emperor Alexander the Great and the mystic Diogenes. Travelling with his vast army to India to complete his global conquest, Alexander was advised that he would be passing a great sage who lived naked in a barrel by a river without so much as a bowl for his food. It was a spectacle that really ought not to be missed.
We can imagine the great emperor strolling with his amused, sceptical entourage down to the river. But in fact Alexander was taken aback by the grace, beauty and dignity of this curious individual who, on hearing the announcement ‘Alexander the Great is coming!’ laughed: ‘Anyone who declares that he is great, cannot be.’
In this extraordinary meeting, Diogenes asked:
‘Are you satisfied with conquering so many lands?’
Alexander replied: ‘No, unless I conquer the whole world I will not be satisfied.’
Diogenes laughed again:
‘Remember my words. Even if you conquer the whole world, your mind will ask for more, and there is no other world to conquer. Remember… you have conquered the world that is, and there is no other world to conquer – and mind is asking for more. You will be in such a frustration that you cannot conceive of it right now.’
Alexander shrugged off the comment and continued on his way. But, in fact, he had been shaken to the core by the meeting – he remembered Diogenes. At the time of his death, Alexander instructed that his hands be left hanging out of the funeral casket to show that he had left the world empty-handed, frustrated, exactly as Diogenes had predicted. Like Aldrin, ‘conqueror’ of the moon, Alexander had found only emptiness in ultimate ‘success’ – there was ‘always something missing’.
‘I always enjoyed challenging people to think beyond the stars, to reach for their own “moon” or “outer space”, whatever that might imply for them. Yet for me personally, by the autumn of 1970, there was a growing frustration and anxiousness at the center of my being that I could not resolve.’ (p.116)
He added ominously:
‘A volcano was seething within me, below the surface of my life, the pressure building more each passing week. The only relief I found was in another shot of Scotch – and then another.’ (p.118)
Ultimately, Aldrin’s family broke up, he married again, divorced again, and continued to hit the bottle. In 1972, he was hospitalised for four weeks for treatment and therapy for depression. Tragicomically, just eight years after the tickertape parades, the great moonwalker could be found working at a Cadillac dealership in Beverly Hills, where he failed to sell a single car. His comment:
‘You get a job as a car salesman and you’re a horrible car salesman. What does that do to a person’s ego?’
Aldrin quoted Carl Jung:
‘Space flights are merely an escape, a fleeing away from oneself, because it is easier to go to Mars or the moon than it is to penetrate one’s own being.’ (pp.172-173)
‘Hi, Want To Have Sex With Me?’
Showbiz celebrities naturally tend to be self-censoring. After all, their main function for advertisers is to associate brands with status and ‘success’. If not exactly happy or fulfilled, ‘stars’ must market themselves as living the ‘high life’. Corporations have no interest in signalling to consumers: ‘You, too, can be successful, adored, and consumed by nihilistic despair.’
It is to his considerable credit, then, that 1970s pop idol, David Cassidy, wrote with such candour and courage in his autobiography, ‘Could It Be Forever’.
As a child, I watched Cassidy rise to fame on Top of the Pops, and in numerous teen magazines, adored by crowds of young girls, my big sister among them. He surely must have found happiness at this time. After all, as he wrote:
‘I never had to hit on women. I didn’t have to. Women would come up to me all the time and say things like, “Hi, want to have sex with me?”… Sex was just sex. It was there. It presented itself to me numerous times during the course of the day, and I could take advantage of it or not. Pick anyone. Who would you like to meet? Who would you like to sleep with? I was 21 years old, I was always ready, and they were all so willing. Yeah, I can live with this… The most beautiful women in the world were calling me, saying, “I’ve got to see you. Please let me see you.” And they would come up to my room.’ (David Cassidy, ‘Could It Be Forever – My Story,’ Headline Publishing, e-book, 2007, pp.1899-1926)
One of Cassidy’s friends commented:
‘It used to astonish me the power of fame and celebrity, and what women would subject themselves to. They might be in a committed relationship, they might be married, and they would throw themselves at him. For a one-nighter they were going to just throw their morals right out of the window. The number of women used to astonish me.’ (pp.1988-2001)
A number indicated by the fact that Cassidy received between 20,000 to 30,000 fan letters a week. He commented:
‘Once the show went on the air, it became hard for me even to get into the studio in the morning. In the fall of 1970, there’d routinely be 40 or 50 fans crowding the entrance. Some of the more aggressive girls would bare their breasts, some would follow me while I drove home after working all day. There were girls who’d spend days and nights outside the studio, some even sleeping there.’ (p.1237)
‘I was particularly bothered by my inability to form lasting friendships with women.’ (p.2028)
‘With all the publicity exposure, it became impossible for me to go in a store or even walk down a street without being stopped by people. At first I enjoyed the sheer novelty of having fans. Quickly I began to sense problems ahead.’ (p.1249)
Six months into broadcasting ‘The Partridge Family’, the TV sitcom that made him famous, Cassidy contacted the publisher and owner of several teen magazines focused on him and the show:
‘I went into the office and said, “I can’t live like this any more. I want you to take me out of your magazines. Take me off your covers.” And he looked at me and laughed, in a kind sort of way.’ (p.1262)
There were other problems:
‘My friends were brutal about me being in the teen magazines. They laughed at me and tortured me beyond belief. To them, I was a joke.’ (p.1278)
The envy extended even to his immediate family:
‘My parents wanted success for themselves so desperately that they couldn’t be happy for me… my fame became torture for my mother as well as my father.’ (p.2704)
What seemed heavenly quickly became hellish:
‘There were times, during my tours, when I was afraid for my life, because I saw fans turn into a mob, and a mob can’t easily be controlled… they didn’t want to kill me – but their emotions were at fever pitch. And they all wanted a piece of me.’ (p.1443)
Before the end of the first season of the TV show, things started to go seriously wrong: ‘my body began breaking down from overwork… I had serious problems with my gall bladder. At just 21 years old, I was one of the youngest patients the doctors said they’d ever seen with that problem’. (p.1802)
As for life as a pop star:
‘No matter how pleasurable it might be for that one hour of the day when you were performing on stage, the other 23 hours of the day were impossible to cope with. They were hell.’ (p.1880)
Poignantly, Cassidy recounted the time he met Elvis Presley:
‘There was a sadness about Elvis that I recognised in myself. He too surrounded himself with friends. I knew all about the hysteria and madness he had gone through. So we had a unique sort of connection…
‘Meeting Elvis that time was like seeing myself ten or fifteen years from then, sad and lonely. I couldn’t get it out of my head.’ (p.2213)
Once again, something was missing:
‘Even though there were millions of people who loved me and worshipped me and wanted me, I needed something more.’ (p.2354)
Like Aldrin wishing he could have watched the moon landings from Earth, the ‘more’ that Cassidy wanted was actually less:
‘I began to envy my old high-school classmates who’d gone on to college. I even envied people with “normal” jobs. Either of these paths seemed preferable to the one I’d taken. I started longing to have any other career but my own. It may sound absurd now, but it’s true. There I was, rich and famous, a star, wishing at times I could be some thoroughly ordinary, anonymous guy instead. I’d dream about what it would be like to work at a real man’s job.’ (p.2367)
The pop industry quickly spawned a new star, Donny Osmond, and Cassidy was cast out. Between 1970 and 1974, he had made about $8 million. By 1980, his net worth was less than $100,000. When he fled his failed marriage, he had less than $1000:
‘My only possessions were the things I could carry out of the house. I didn’t have a car. I didn’t have a job. And I didn’t have anywhere to live.’ (p.4058)
The suffering did not end there:
‘When I retired, I suffered a breakdown. Or several successive breakdowns, it felt like, because each time I thought I’d fallen as low as I could go, the bottom would drop out from under me again.
‘For the first six months I locked myself in a room. I sat alone talking to myself, trying to figure out what had happened.’ (p.3419)
Insomnia, alcohol abuse and other problems became chronic. Tragically, in 2017, Cassidy announced that he was suffering from dementia. Later that year, he was hospitalised for liver and kidney failure, from which he eventually died aged 67.
Intermission – Cultural Filtering
Our critique of corporate media at Media Lens begins in politics but it does not end in politics. It begins there because it is easy to understand that a profit-oriented media system dependent on advertising will not tell the truth about those advertisers. More generally, it is obvious that a corporate media system will not tell the truth about a world dominated by giant corporations. It will not tell the truth about corporate domination of party politics, about the corporate interests driving foreign policy’s endless resource wars (‘humanitarian interventions’), about an economic system designed to subordinate people and planet to profit.
These are crucial examples of cultural filtering that help us understand why corporate-owned politics finds billions to spend on white elephant military ‘solutions’ to non-existent threats, while doing essentially nothing to respond to the imminent, existential threat of climate change. The simple logic: arms industry responses benefit big business whereas climate change action threatens big business. It explains why our culture has long been swamped in climate scepticism, climate cynicism, climate mockery. The power of the campaign has been such that the world appears to be on course to end with neither a bang nor even a whimper.
But there is much more that, in my opinion, is even more interesting. Cultural filtering explains why our society believes so passionately, with such fervour, in the merits of material consumption. It explains why we are so utterly convinced that happiness is best sought in high status production as employees of exalted, brand-name corporations run like mediaeval fiefdoms granting financial, health and ego protection to their private citizens.
But there is more even than this. Cultural filtering explains why, just as criticism of a newspaper’s adverts is of course nowhere to be seen in that newspaper, a discussion of whether happiness can be attained by turning attention inside rather than outside is not a concern, not even an issue for ‘mainstream’ society.
This really is remarkable because, for millennia, right across the globe, spiritual teachers like Buddha, Bodhidharma, Jesus, Lao Tse, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Patanjali, Nanak, Kabir, Ikkyu, Hakuin, Heraclitus, Saraha, Mansoor, Mahavir, Maharshi, Meera, Krishna, Lazy An, Gurdjieff, Osho and Tolle have come to the same conclusion – that beneath the physical body with its various pleasures and pains can be found what Buddhists call a ‘bliss body’ (Saṃbhogakāya).
Part 2 – Turning Inside
You will probably have noticed the harmonics that reverberate behind the harsh clanging of church and cathedral bells. It is a continuous, harmonious humming that swells and falls. It reminds strongly of the blissful feelings that arise like a subtle melody in meditation, with the difference that the latter are uncaused.
Kabir said of this phenomenon:
‘I hear bells ringing that no one has shaken.’
This is the sound of ‘one hand clapping’, of ‘music’ not caused by the stroking or striking of a string, or any other action. Kabir said:
‘Some bells are ringing, and nobody is ringing them. Some music, some melody, is there, but I can’t see anybody creating it.’
This seems absurd: a claim that intense delight can be experienced without our doing anything at all, as described by Basho:
‘Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
‘Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.’
Spring comes, happiness arises, the wintry nightmare of the human condition melts away, by sitting quietly, doing nothing. This really does seem preposterous, and yet this ‘music’ of meditation is real (its clear footprints detected even by scientists at the University of Wisconsin), radiating not just bliss, but also peace and loving kindness. It arises, for example, when we sit quietly watching feelings of sadness, or fear, or jealousy, or anger. It is found when we learn to direct attention away from obsessive thinking to sensations and feelings; when we retain some attention in feeling even when thinking, talking and writing. As Osho explained, perseverance is required because the mind has awesome momentum:
‘You will have to dig like one digs a well. Layers and layers of mud… and for days together you don’t see any sign of water. Many times you become tired, exhausted, desperate…
‘Many times you are so frustrated you stop digging, you say: “It seems futile, useless. It seems there is no water here!” Many times in your spiritual journey this will come, but if you go on digging, one day the first signs of water will show. The mud is no more dry, it is wet – that wetness is called love. When in your inner being you go on digging and the mud becomes wet, that wetness is love. Love starts flowing. It is muddy in the beginning, it is full of many other things. But one goes on digging… the mud becomes less and less, and more water will be flowing. One goes on digging… then the mud disappears and fresh water will be flowing. One goes on digging… and one has come to the source, the springs. Now you can take as much water as you want and your well will never be empty. You can go on sharing, and the more you share the more you will be getting.’ (Osho, ‘I Say Unto You, Volume Two’, 1977, pdf)
The fact that this ‘music’, this love, is uncaused is significant: there is nothing we have to do to make it ring out. Rather, there is much that we have to stop doing that we might ‘hear’ it. When we stop, we find it is always there, has always been there. It is the benevolent ‘sound’ of being.
This uncaused ‘music’ is enchanting, astonishing, but also subtle. We have to be paying attention to hear it. We have to turn inwards to ‘listen’, and of course we have to be present to catch the ‘sounds’ arising in the here and now. We fail to hear it because we are never here and now, we are always looking outwards and forwards. Our heads are thrust into the future, in dreams of how we are going to become an astronaut, a world conqueror, a pop star.
When we’re racing along a motorway to some meeting, when we’re rushing to catch a plane, do we notice even the music of birdsong beyond the hard shoulder? Our attention is consumed completely by the traffic roar on the road and in our goal-seeking heads. Above all in our heads. If the bliss of being is comparable to the background harmonic behind the ringing of tiny bells, the thinking mind is a roaring jet engine at take-off thrust. If the bliss of being is a radiant golden sun, the thinking mind is an impenetrable cloud of inky-black smog.
It takes immense energy to keep creating this cloud obscuring our inner ecstasy, but we perceive no alternative. We somehow convince ourselves that, while we have never succeeded before, our thinking mind will deliver us to some future peace and happiness through external ‘success’. Osho said:
‘Mind is taking almost eighty per cent of your energy, giving you back nothing, returning nothing – it just goes on absorbing eighty per cent of your energy. It is like a desert. The river goes on flowing and the desert goes on absorbing it, and nothing comes back. And the desert does not even become green, does not even grow grass, does not even grow trees, does not even become a small pool of water – nothing! It remains dry and dead, and it goes on soaking up the life energy.
‘Mind is a great exploiter. That is where, in the desert of the mind, in the waste land of the mind, you are lost.’
Aldrin was lost in space, but he was really lost in mind. Cassidy was lost in the celebrity firmament, but he was really lost in mind.
Delight awaits anyone able to detect the subtle ‘music’ arising beyond the mind. Most often, we manage it only when we become so thoroughly disillusioned with the great campaign to seek happiness ‘out there’, when our efforts have ended in such misery, disappointment and failure, that our minds (literally out of ideas) at last fall silent enough for us to become aware of this phenomenon. Sitting defeated in the wreckage of our lives, doing nothing (because there seems to be no point in doing anything, because everything fails), we feel a delicate sensation of bliss bubbling up like a tiny spring in our hearts. We are sitting quietly, doing nothing, with no reason to feel anything more than the usual anxiety, sadness, guilt, futility and despair; and yet we find we are experiencing a delight beyond anything we felt when we were stumbling around the moon to no purpose, when we were receiving one more backstage blow-job.
This is why Patanjali began his great teaching: ‘Now the discipline of yoga.’ Now, finally, after everything else has been tried and has failed outside, now is the time – we can at last experiment with turning inside. In his ‘Song of meditation’, Hakuin lauded the benefits of studying Zen scriptures, but added:
‘How much more he who turns within
‘And confirms directly his own nature.’
When we turn in, focus attention on our emotions (rather than trying to escape them), watch the movement of our thoughts, ‘the heaven of boundless samadhi’, the ‘lotus paradise’, the uncaused ‘melody’, begins to reveal itself. After decades spent as a human doing – busy, mischievous, wretched – we become a human being. Because it is only when we are simply being, when we stop doing, that we can detect the subtle fragrance, music, vapours of internal bliss. Not that we somehow abandon all doing. Rather, we become acutely sensitive to the deep suffering of goal-oriented behaviour seeking external sources of happiness.
Is it possible that the initial, tiny babbling brook of bliss can become a torrent, even oceanic? Are the mystic masters of human culture correct? Is it true that the more we turn away from this source of inner bliss in our hearts, the more we fall into despair? Is it true that the louder the roar of the head’s ambition in pursuing the moon, stardom, fame, name – and even, ‘a better world’ – the further we move away from this source of inner happiness; so that, floating high, egos inflated with hot air, our lives becomes a hell?
Conclusion – Structural Extroversion
In their ‘propaganda model of media control’, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky identified five key factors filtering corporate media output: elite ownership bent on profit-maximisation, dependence on advertising, state-corporate subsidised news sources, political and legal flak, and the hyping of foreign ‘threats’.
These structural, carrot-and-stick pressures combine to ensure that ‘mainstream’ media ‘serve the ends of a dominant elite’. In my view, we can add a sixth filter: extroversion.
Corporate media owners, managers and journalists are required to promote the virtue of ‘obtaining gratification from what is outside the self’. Individually, they have all, of course, devoted themselves to climbing academic and corporate career ladders in pursuit of conventional, extrinsic ‘success’. Do they despise the idea that a deep solution to the human condition might be found within? If they gave it any thought, they probably would.
But the deeper point is that, regardless of their personal inclinations, corporate media executives are employed by a fanatically extroverted corporate system; a profit-maximising machine that quite obviously must have consumers focused outside themselves, must have them seeking extrinsic pleasures in buying, consuming, travelling, doing.
As Chomsky said so well, this system excludes anything and everything that threatens short-term profits:
‘The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist.’ (Chomsky, ‘Deterring Democracy’, Vintage, 1992, p.79)
This is true even of the reality of the current environmental crisis threatening human survival. What chance, then, the great mystics delivering an identical message from every part of the globe?
They cannot exist for our corporate culture, except as dusty relics, perhaps as quaint tradition, but mostly as incomprehensible, pre-scientific ‘navel-gazers’ unworthy of attention.