Customer Reviews: Doing Nothing: Coming to the End of the Spiritual Search
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In this book author Steven Harrison focuses on an aspect of the "journey" that is hardly ever mentioned in this age of feel-good spirituality--that is, the action of most seekers is one of grasping. He suggests that instead of chasing after this or that "experience," we work at removing the ego from center-stage. Once we do that, the spiritual journey is done, because we find ourselves already in a highly spiritual state.
I can't disagree with his ideas here, however, he doesn't really explain well enough (for my purposes) HOW one does the work of getting the ego to budge from center stage (the book Shadow Dance by David Richo does deal thoroughly with this topic). His musings on the relationship of ego to consciousness and our daily lives are written in a way which is highly abstract and cerebral. For instance, "Integration can communicate with, interact with the projected thought-reality. It inherently commnicates because integration includes the space within which this thought-reality arises." OK, the whole book is not written that densely, but much of it is. This sort of prose is hard to sink your teeth into and digest in a way that changes your actions in the world. I now see why Jesus spoke in parables and metaphors--he employed simple, concrete terms, and it was the very simplicity of the images which allowed them to act as psychic catalysts ("the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed"). Harrison does include some little teaching stories in his book, and I savored them much as I once did an iced cola after driving across the Mohave desert with no air-conditioning. Regardless of the language, however, I think there are some important ideas in this book which make it worth reading, and I also believe the author has paid the personal dues necessary to be a teacher.
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on April 11, 2005
Many reviewers sound frustrated by Harrison's book. Most of the bad reviews complain that he didn't explain clearly enough HOW to do nothing. Harrison's point is that you can never figure out how, and yet the goal is certainly accessible. Those who attempt to approach it through a strategy or through understanding will fail because strategy and understanding are techniques only used by the mind. The mind is a tool that can copy and mimic, but is incapable of transcendent experience, after all what do you think is being transcended?

The mind can not get you where you want to go. The desire can not get you there either. As Harrison points out there is no getting there at all, but the transcendent experience of being is real. It sounds like an impossible conundrum, but it is not. The key is in Harrison's writing about thought. It seems obvious to say it, but to transcend the mind all thoughts must cease. Thoughts only originate in the mind. The thought of getting away from where you are or getting to another place must be given up, or you will find yourself going in circles of the mind.

Not very many people know how to stop their mind. It is our primary survival tool. Every thought you have is an illusion, including the thought of your personal identity. I should say especially your thought of your personal identity, since that is the root of all other thoughts. You think you are a person, you think you are your name and that your name identifies who you are. These are all just illusionary thoughts.

So what is the experience of having no thoughts? It can not be understood with thoughts of course, but what Harrison is doing is describing what the world of thought looks like from the world of no-thought. It is like trying to understand the majesty of the Grand Canyon with Braille.

For those who have had a glimmer of no-thoughtness through the study of Eckhart Tolle, or Eli Jaxon Bear, this book is useful as an anchor in that reality. Of course, that reality is the truth of our being, but day-to-day life often seems to reattach us to this world of thought identity. Reading Harrison is a very welcome daily meditation as a reminder of our true selves.

Harrison wisely recommends only reading his book once so as not to try to capture his meaning with the mind. Our true reality does not need to capture anything since we already exist in pure reality. Our thoughts in fact, are the very thing which separate us from it. I read only one page a day and in so doing find that throughout the day I am more and more aware of myself as a vast field of energy unbound by any limitations, content and connected to all life. If you don't get it, you don't get it. But just relax, stop trying, you will!
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on May 14, 2001
Without any overt reference to any sort of authority (transcending such is a fundamental theme here), this book clearly uses much of the same terminology and core concepts developed by the great J. Krishnamurti over decades of public speaking, and uses them to great effect. Once the truth of this teaching is realized, there is no longer any possibility of reliance on "concepts" of any kind, but paradoxically this realization must be expressed in words and therefore concepts if we are to communicate it; and if someone else (such as K) has clearly defined some ways to do so, there is nothing wrong in borrowing them. Harrison doesn't allow us to make the mistake of imagining that these conceptualizations are anything more than the finger pointing at the moon; it is the moon that is continually emphasized here. It is probably rare for someone who has arrived at this place to bother to write at all. We are fortunate that Harrison has.
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on February 18, 2009
There is much about this book that is useful for folk well down "the path", who have read similar books by Tony Parsons, J. Krishnamurti, Adyashanti, Poonjaji, etc. Knowing the language and landscape is useful as this book is often complex and densely written in trying to express what happens and is understood in the latter stages of awakening. Granted, it is about a state "beyond mind" and perfect expression, but others have made it clearer and more accessible.

The major drawback is the title and premise that by "doing nothing" one will come to "the end of the spiritual search". In fact, that is not what the author did as he details that he "sought out every mystic, seer...throughout the world", did "long periods of isolation and meditation", "spent long periods in India and in the Himalayas searching..." etc. He concludes "it was all useless".

As I pointed out to the author at a presentation, there is now exhaustive and conclusive evidence from the best scientific laboratories in this area that his "useless" practices of 25 years reshaped and functionally modified his "brain" in a way that made his awakening much more likely, even if he finally moved beyond them.

"Neuroplasticity" has been demonstrated for many skills, from meditating to playing the violin. To claim that it was useless is like having a world class Olympian, chess master, or pianist, claim that all of that previous training was useless.

The belief that there is nothing you have to do, just "be enlightened", has been around for decades; it is seductive because we want it to be that way. Unfortunately, that isn't how it works. Check out the bios of those who claim it is.
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on January 17, 1999
Steven Harrisons book is important for anyone on a a religious quest. It is especially important for those who are studying Buddhism. The book fits very well with "Buddhism Plain and Simple" by Steve Hagen and with "The Meaning of Mind" by Thomas Szasz. (Though I suspect Dr Szasz might object to having his work placed in the Eastern Religions category it is helpful to those who are wrestling with the issue "what is mind".) Mr Harrisons book also fits well with Batchelors "Buddhism Without Beliefs". This book must be read carefully. It's central message (on my interpretation) is the central message of Buddhism; once you abandon the "self" the quest is over. This doesn't mean one can quit the deep spiritual life; it simply means, as Gautama the Buddha is reputed to have said, once you reach the other shore of "enlightenment" you no longer need the raft that took you there. This is a wonderful book. Seekers of all kinds will like it. Buddhists would do well to read it more than once.
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on October 15, 2002
Once I saw, through my own experiences, that all belief systems are just that--beliefs, with no basis in reality--I was left with "nothing" to hang onto. This may seem like a desperate condition--and at times it was--but it seemed to me like the only honest way to live, to admit that I know nothing. Reading Doing Nothing gave life to my understanding of the bankruptcy of beliefs. It gave me a fuller appreciation of what this means in a human being's day-to-day life. And it helped me to see that even when we give up our "belief in beliefs" they are still there! I experienced this book as an extended and very moving Zen koan that is just the doorway to a life of complete engagement with the truth of unknowing.
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on June 27, 2003
How anyone can imagine that they are being helped by this book is beyond me. To quote Samuel Johnson, "What is good is not original, and what is original is not good."

The gist of the book is that even the "quest for enlightenment" can become a hangup of its own. Instead of "chasing" such things as enlightenment, awareness, peace of mind, and the like, the author suggests that we just... still...let the stillness work on our minds...and stop all the restless striving.

That's a good point. It is made in about 8 words in the Bible--"Be still and know that I am God"--and not many more in the Tao Te Ching, which says, "The ten thousand things rise and fall while the self watches their return." It also occurs in the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, and other spiritual works.

None of those works takes 132 pages to make the point, as Harrison does, and none of them write in his leaden prose, a style that enables you to glide over 20 pages before you suddenly recollect yourself and realize that you have hardly absorbed a word. I am thinking of paragraphs like this, on page 53:

"We can only address this question within the context of the objective reality. By standing back from reality, our freedom is limited by our dissociation and fear of contact. We truly live in this relative world only when we have an intelligence that transcends division. This intelligence must be based on both a recognition of the nature and limitations of the relative 'me-object' relationship and the underlying unity, which is its wellspring."

...and on, and on, and after PAGE of this ... Would *anyone* willingly read this in preference, for instance, to St. Paul's beautiful and elegant "Now we see through a glass darkly; then, we shall see face to face; now I know in part; then, I shall know, as also I am known..."

Harrison writes like a bright 10th grader who, having been congratulated for having a more mature vocabulary than his classmates, seeks to deserve the compliment by writing in his idea of "grownup" prose. The result is deadly.
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on April 17, 1999
This is not a typical book being read by the author tape, but rather a presentation/discussion by the author of the content of the book DOING NOTHING. For those who liked the book, the tape is an interesting compliment-- and like the book, fairly challenging to our spiritual concepts. The publisher, Sounds True, specializes in spoken wisdom and this tape is just that.
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on March 17, 1999
This is really quite a fine book. There isn't a wasted word and the message of the book is clear. I was surprised to find this book after nearly giving up on the possibility that there was anything of substance being published in the spirituality genre. I highly recommend Doing Nothing.
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I have bookshelves literally overflowing with books written by authors who know about spiritual topics. It has been refreshing to read a book written by an author who knows. It was likely not a coincidence that I obtained this book and a copy of the Upanishads in the same week. Steven Harrison does a wonderful job of succinctly presenting timeless wisdom in a form very relevant to our modern lives.
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