Prepare for Transformative Change

I hear some talk lately about when things will go back to the way they were … as if they ever do that. On the other hand, I hear some talk about how things will never go back to the way things were … as if that weren’t always the case. I get it: in the current environment, some people are seeing fundamental impermanence more clearly than they have ever seen it before. And the stakes seem higher. But from a spiritual perspective, nothing really has changed in this regard.

All things change continuously. The entire phenomenal universe is a phantasmagoria of change. Nothing ever goes back to the way things were, if they were even that to begin with. Widen your gaze enough, and you will see that mountains rise up and crumble to dust as swiftly as storm clouds blowing overhead. The stars ignite and go out as quickly as match heads. Each moment is always this moment — ever present — and yet things always change. The things cannot be grasped because they are always changing, and the moment cannot be grasped because you cannot be apart from it. So there really is nothing to hold on to.

Usually, we hide this truth from ourselves, principally to stave off terror. We imagine an independent self, and project a past and future, with some sense of stability and permanence. But this is only the imagination at work. That separate self, that stability, that permanence, has always been a kind of illusion. In times of great upheaval, many people may glimpse the real depth of impermanence for the first time. But it has always been thus.

If we are shocked or disturbed by the nature of change, it is simply disillusionment at work. There is fundamentally nothing to fear. Our fears can spur practical action, but we are bound to them only by and precisely to the extent that we cling to our illusions. From the spiritual perspective, disillusionment at work is an opportunity for insight and awakening. Without insight, disillusionment may be experienced as a kind of trauma or an assault against one’s way of life. With insight, it is a catalyst for awakening. So to the degree that our eyes are open to insight — open and accepting — all change can fuel our spiritual growth.

Zen-master Dogen wrote:

“Firewood becomes ash, and it does not become firewood again. Yet, do not suppose that the ash is future and the firewood past. You should understand that firewood abides in the phenomenal expression of firewood, which fully includes past and future and is independent of past and future. Ash abides in the phenomenal expression of ash, which fully includes future and past. Just as firewood does not become firewood again after it is ash, you do not return to birth after death.”

Firewood and ash — birth and death — are only ideas. As are the mountains and stars and your self. Insight into impermanence can encompass everything. This can seem terrifying, overwhelming, as if you are falling into an abyss, which offers no purchase, no hold, and no bottom. But if we can go all in, giving up everything, including ourselves … then our insight may pass beyond the impermanence of all things, and into the absolute, into the divine, into the unchangeable, diamond-like perfection of transcendent wisdom.

From a spiritual perspective, the stakes are no different now than they have always been. And my advice in the current situation is the same advice I would give for any situation. Prepare yourself for transformative change. Seek the truth in yourself and the world. Try to accept the fundamental uncertainty and ever-changing nature of all phenomena. Surrender yourself to the will of God, to the flow of nature and the ungraspable, groundlessness of being. Realize the truth that has always been with you — through every state and every situation — and you will find a love, a joy, and a peace that will endure anything.

Available Now: That Which is Before You

That Which is Before You is available now as print book or a Kindle ebook, published by Empty Press  Additional ebook formats will come online soon.

This book is a testimonial of a profound spiritual awakening, which suddenly and completely changed my life and perception of reality. In addition to an account of what happened to me, the book includes insights, teachings, and guidance for spiritual practice.

Although I have been a writer for many years, until recently I mainly wrote fantasy, horror, and science fiction. I never would have expected to write a book like this, but here it is. I hope it brings people whatever measure of peace they are ready to handle. For I can tell you plainly that there is no shortage of peace for those who truly seek it.

If you are already on a spiritual path or just curious, you will surely find this work of interest. If you are skeptic — like I was — I encourage you to consider this account. This book comes from a place of clear insight. It doesn’t avoid difficult questions, and it doesn’t hold anything back.


“This is a deadly serious book, direct and to the point. If you read it, follow the instructions, and the time is ripe, it will kill your false sense of self and reveal That Which You Truly Are!”
— Joel Morwood, Author of The Way of Selflessness

“Matthew Lowes articulates spiritual awakening as only a skilled writer can, and in so doing, provides a map for others to follow. This is an important book.”
— Liz Cratty, MAAT, Theologian and Author

“Like a gut punch to your consciousness and beliefs about the nature of reality. Sometimes your delusions need to be knocked out of you. It can hurt and be scary, but there’s a clarity that’s impossible to deny.”
— Kaizen Taki, Founder of Movement Daily

Dungeon Solitaire Retrospective: Part 4/6

The Spiritual Themes of the Game

The safety of the wall is only an illusion.

Whether it is in the form of heavenly gems and divine graces or in flavor text accompanying the illustrations, you may have noticed some spiritual themes in the Dungeon Solitaire games. Of course, this is in keeping with the symbology of the tarot. The arcana are a reflection of the spiritual journey, and I’ve tried to bring that flavor into the games. But there is more to it than that.

I don’t want to go into this too deeply here, but I will say that during the time I was writing the Labyrinth of Souls rulebook, something unexpected and extraordinary happened to me. I had what could only be described as a sudden spiritual awakening, which instantly and profoundly changed my perception of reality. I know this may sound crazy to some people, because I would have been one of those people until this happened. But suddenly I had direct insight into the spiritual journey — beginning, middle, and end — in a way that couldn’t be denied. And some of that insight definitely found its way into the Dungeon Solitaire games.

Lose yourself and you will find the way.

If you’re interested these matters, my just released book, That Which is Before You, provides a detailed account of what happened to me. The book also describes my insights and teachings in light of this awakening, and provides guidance on spiritual practice. It’s notable that the image of a labyrinth find its way into that book as well. In an early section called “Orientation” I describe the spiritual journey this way.

“We can imagine this journey as one in which consciousness itself collapses into a particular point of view, identifies with a mind and body, and loses itself in a kind of dream, in a world of things, and in life and death. Once lost, sensing some lack, it tries to find itself. It looks everywhere but cannot find itself among the world of things. Until one day it just stops looking and, having never been absent, recognizes itself once more.

The wheel offers pleasure and pain, but nothing without suffering.

“The journey is like an adventure into a labyrinth. Within we are confounded by mazes and locked doors, enticed by wondrous treasures, challenged by terrible monsters, and entranced by endless illusions. It can be great fun. But in the midst of the labyrinth, when things get bad, it can get very dark indeed. It can seem as if there is no way out. But when we have exhausted every possibility of escape, and all our efforts come to a grinding halt, it is possible to wake up as if in the midst of a dream, and realize the labyrinth itself — and everything in it — is not actually real in the way we had imagined.

“This is the good news, and although the spiritual journey does not necessarily end there, it is important to say at least that much. It is possible to realize the enlightenment people throughout the ages have attested to. Whatever your true nature is, it already is, and cannot be apart from you.”

In you is hidden the treasure of treasures.

My take these things is not tied to any specific religion or tradition. However: I was a practicing Christian at various points in my life; I have long had a deep interest in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions and practices; I once slept in the tomb of Muslim holy man; and I’ve always been fascinated by shamanism and the full range of religious traditions in general. So while such descriptions reflect my direct experience, they also reflect my background. And this is true in Dungeon Solitaire as well. Look closely and you will see elements and traces from a number of mystic traditions.

The final realization cannot be explained.

From my own experience, I would say we are all on a spiritual journey, whether we know it or not. Of course, if spirituality is not your thing, these elements are easy to ignore within the context of an adventure game. They are easily relegated to the background where they act only on thematic levels. I’m not out to convince anybody of anything. And in any case, true insight doesn’t come from being convinced or not-being convinced of any particular idea or concept.

Delve deep, my friends, and may you find illumination, true happiness, and an end to suffering.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

The Commencement Address

This year, the graduating class at the high school where I work asked me to deliver the commencement address. I was honored to do so, and I took the task to heart. It was a rare opportunity to speak to a group of young people at a transformative point in their lives. And with the parents, family members, and friends of graduates, as well as colleagues and members of the larger community gathered in the gymnasium, it was the biggest audience I’d ever had the opportunity to speak to. I’d like to share these words with you as well, so what follows is the speech I gave, pretty much word for word as it was delivered.

COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS

Delivered on June 9th, 2018 by Matthew Lowes

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I have to say, I am deeply honored to speak with you on this momentous occasion.

Some people expressed surprise that I would accept this task. But honestly … this is an honor I could not refuse. I am immensely grateful for the education I received, and for all my teachers, both in and out of school. So to me, to stand before a group of graduates and address them like this, is one of the highest honors imaginable.

Of course, I quickly realized that being honored is not really enough in a situation like this. It’s more of a … you know … you have to say something meaningful kind of situation. And so here I am, charged with saying something meaningful to you — something that might make a difference in your life and how you see yourself and the world.

It’s a tall order.

A few of you seemed concerned about what I would or wouldn’t say. You came around and asked me to say something specific, or asked if you could see the speech. But frankly, I turned down all requests. What would be the point of me speaking if you all knew what I was going to say. Also, I admit I didn’t entirely know what I was going to say yet. But since you all asked me to speak, I knew that I would have to speak from my heart.

The truth is, I know you just well enough to know that I don’t know the funniest anecdotes to tell, or the greatest accomplishments to highlight. But I know you well enough to know that I am grateful to have met you. And I know you well enough to know that some of you have struggled to be here, and others have overcome incredible hardships. And I am immensely proud of every single one of you.

Your accomplishments have encouraged us all. Your struggles have touched our hearts. And your presence has brightened our days.

Each one of you is worthy of far more time than I have here.

Nevertheless, I hope that I can give you some piece of advice, or a perspective on life that might be helpful. And with that in mind, I don’t want to reminisce about past glories, nor speculate on all the great things you may do in the future. I don’t want to pretend that there haven’t been hard times, or that there won’t be hard times to come. I’m sure there were, and there definitely will be.

Instead, I would like to talk about this moment, right now. For it is always in the present moment that we are living. It always has been, and always will be now. In this way, everything that has ever happened has happened today, and everything that ever will happen will also happen today. That is when our lives are unfolding. And this will always be the case, for you, for me, for everybody.

So let’s think about this. The past, as we remember it, is already gone. The future, as we imagine it, will never really arrive. It will always be now. This present moment that we are experiencing goes on throughout our entire lives. So how we live, here and now, is always what really matters.

This may seem obvious, but it’s a fact that is so easy to lose track of. It’s so easy for us to become distracted, unconscious of our remarkable existence in this present moment. And it’s so easy become wrapped up in our thoughts about what has happened and where it’s all going, or to become entranced by our ideas about who we are, what we’re doing, what we’ll become, what we’re capable of, what we should or shouldn’t do in the future, what could happen, and what it all means.

Of course we need to remember the past, to acknowledge and learn from it. And we need to plan for the future as well, to set course now for our greatest aspirations. But never forget that the present moment is all there will ever be. Whatever you do, even when you’re remembering and planning, you will always be doing it now. And even when you are not really doing anything, you cannot help but not do it now.

So whatever joy you seek in life, you can only find it in the present moment. And whatever you intend to accomplish, you can only work towards it in the present moment. And whatever problems may arise in your life or that you perceive in the world, you can only solve them in the present moment. And whatever kind of person you wish to be, you can only be that person now, in the present moment.

Life can seem incredibly complicated, but the truth is very simple. Moment by moment, we live these beautiful lives. They are filled with soaring heights, mundane plains, and abyssal depths. But whatever happens, have courage for the moment. For all we can do is attend to ourselves and the situation at hand, always living in this present moment.

Wisdom has not changed throughout the ages. But it’s up to you to discover what it really is. I can only give you a taste, point in the general direction, and encourage you to discover it for yourselves.

To all those ends I say: Be kind, be curious, be loving, be truthful. And I say all these things in the deepest possible sense.

Endeavor to find out who you really are and what your true potential is. I assure you, it’s way bigger than you can imagine.

And through it all, always strive to understand what it is to be a good person.

It won’t always be easy, but moment by moment, if we can just be that, everything else will take of itself.

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Thank you, and congratulations to the Class of 2018!

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The Importance of Inspiration

From the 2014 archives at ShadowSpinners, here are some of my thoughts on inspiration:

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Thomas Edison famously said “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” While the spirit of this quote is most certainly true — it takes a lot of hard work to excel in any endeavor worthwhile — this saying has been used far too often in a manner that downplays the vital importance of inspiration.

Depending on how well Edison did his calculations, he may have exaggerated his point by quite a bit. After all, Nikola Tesla, Edison’s chief rival, not so famously said, “a little theory and calculations would have saved him [Edison] ninety percent of his labor.” You do the math.

In a practical sense, inspiration is not a magical feeling that randomly overwhelms you, or a fairy who whispers in your ear. These things are more usefully cast as motivation, which can be disciplined, and skill, which can be learned. Inspiration, on the other hand, is a thought that gives rise to form. It is the very reason a work comes into being the way it does.

As a writer, it’s important to figure out what your story is really about. What idea, or feeling, or effect do you want to convey to the reader? If you haven’t figured out what you’re trying to do with a story, your chances of succeeding are pretty random. Hence the need to understand your inspiration.

Whether you’re a person who likes to write first and figure out the story while rewriting, or the type who likes to figure out a few things before starting, a conscious examination of what inspired you to conceive of such a story will go a long way toward shaping what you’re trying to write. Inspiration gives focus and vision to the creative process.

A story might be inspired by any number of thoughts, ideas, images, or characters, but the more clearly you understand your inspiration, the greater your chance to realize its full potential. Edgar Allan Poe thought a short tale ought to be inspired by a singular desired effect, preconceived by the author, and that every sentence should work toward building that idea.

Inspiration can be found anywhere, if you look for it. I found the inspiration for this piece in an interview with Horacio Pagani, a designer of hand crafted super high performance cars. His parents were bakers in Argentina, and while he certainly worked hard to create his dream, what struck me most was the specificity with which he described his inspirations, and his passion for turning them into amazing cars.

Many great artists can clearly articulate their inspirations, and this is probably not a coincidence. So yes, there will be perspiration, and I dare say there will be blood, tears, and sacrifices along the way too, but don’t underestimate the importance of inspiration, especially if you aim to create something extraordinary.

*First Published on ShadowSpinners, February 2014.