A Peak Performance weblog

Have you heard athletes on TV talk about being in ‘the zone’ of peak performance?  I have, and they said little that was helpful to me in finding the zone during work or other activities.  But to work masterfully, it seems obvious that it would be useful to have a clear vision of the ‘zone’ of optimal work to provide some feedback about how things are going moment by moment.

What about your experience?

What if we do something almost unheard of, something almost never done—look closely at our own best work experiences to see what was essential?  On those occasions when you did your best work, were you aware of time passing? Most people—of the thousands I asked during twenty-five years of workshops I conducted—say “No.” Do you agree? During peak work performance did you feel separate from or merged with your actions? Most people say they felt merged. But what was it like for you?  During optimal work was the work naturally fulfilling? Most people say “Yes.”

Can such facets or qualities of experience—­a sense of timelessness, merging, and intrinsic fulfillment—serve as a guide to peak performance in the workplace? I think so!  But if, as I did, you review the literature on productivity and quality, you’ll probably find that our experience—and especially how we do things—is precisely what is usually ignored. Instead, the emphasis in productivity improvement is on (1) measuring results, the bottom line, (2) what we do–particular valued processes or techniques, (3) personality traits and habits of highly successful workers, or (4) corporate styles and structures. But none of these inherently inspires us, gives us moment-to-moment feedback on how we’re working, or is applicable to every work situation.

I propose that attending closely to essential facets of our own experience—not a focus on the bottom line or “best practices”—is the driver and the key to simultaneously improving productivity, quality, and well-being.  But what are “essential facets of our experience?”    I don’t think there is an English word or generally used phrase that fits what I’m getting at, so it’s difficult to describe. However, here’s a simple example to help distinguish “essential facets or qualities” from “best practices”:  Suppose you’re working on a top priority project under a tight deadline, are totally engrossed, and then someone interrupts you and asks whether you want to get a beer right now.   A best time management practice in this kind of situation might be to simply say “No.”  While this may be a good practice in general, it doesn’t begin to cover the full extent of our options.  There are many different ways to say “No.”  If I’m feeling pressured, I might angrily yell “No.”  If I’m really tired, I might long to take a break, and my “No” could have an accompanying feeling of regret.  If I perceive it as a kind offer, I might warmly and softly say “No.”  I might reply with an element of impatient disbelief if it seems that the other person has completely failed to understand what I’m doing.  Etc.

The best practice of saying “No” is what is being done here.  But how this is done is just as important, and perhaps even more important.  Some ways of saying “No” will destroy a relationship, while other ways will improve it.  Similarly, some ways of writing a memo or giving a presentation will produce good results and be fulfilling, while other ways of doing the same things may be irritating or depressing.  It’s aspects of these “ways of doing things” that I’m calling “essential facets or qualities of experience.”  “No” can be said with forceful and separating emotion, with a neutral sigh of regret, with an appreciative nonacceptance, or with dismissive derision.   This micro level of options and experience—in contrast to the macro level of best practices—is hardly ever discussed or even acknowledged, yet I believe it’s essential to understand and foster peak performance in our own and others’ experience.  Only the granularity of such a micro level of experience can allow for truly continuous improvement, which—to be truly continuous—must provide feedback over smaller and smaller time intervals, even shorter than the time it takes to say “No.”

What might such a vision look like?

To do our best, it seems it would be helpful to have a vision of how we do things moment-by-moment during peak performance–how we directly experience optimal work. Is there really a balanced, general vision of optimal work? Can it be described in terms of some micro-level of “essential facets of experience?” If it’s general, applicable to any person, environment, and task, it cannot be defined in terms of specific things, processes, structures, traits, or styles. This would align with the proposition that “The best things in life aren’t things.” Defining such a general vision seems elusive and difficult, probably because rather than the usual emphasis on things and processes, it focuses on what Peter Senge calls “the subtlest aspect of the learning organization—the new way individuals perceive themselves and their world.” (Senge, 1990, p. 12)

But if a general vision doesn’t tell us specifically what to do, perhaps it would tell us how to work best. Perhaps perspectives and qualities of experience can define the zone. In fact, these qualities are what stand out in descriptions of peak experiences by geniuses, mystics, and peak performers of all kinds.

Further personal exploration

Let’s explore all our past peak experiences a bit and see what we can learn from them. Peak work experience should be just a particular case of peak experience. What were some peak experiences you had? Perhaps the best athletic experiences, or spiritual experiences, or work or relationship experiences.  Take half an hour to recall a number of them, and make some notes about them. This will probably be a very pleasurable half hour.  Note the essential qualities of peak experiences that you recall. Not just the specific events, what you were doing, but the essence of the experiences.  What made them your ‘best?’

Can you draw any conclusions? Do any of your peak experiences have some of the same qualities? Do they have the same qualities but different proportions of the same qualities?  Do some experiences have different qualities?

My conclusions

Here are the results of my exploration—including my own experience, a review of others’ research, a pilot study done with others where I worked, and hundreds of classes and workshops led over twenty-five years.  The diagram below is what I call the optimal work circle, and it summarizes research I’ve done on the zone of peak performance, and how it compares with our ordinary experience. Twelve aspects of enlightened experience, collectively called the zone, are at the center. Twelve corresponding aspects of our ‘normal’ Western experience are depicted on the periphery.


Central values of the circle describe how, best ways, to experience, not what to do. At the center are deeply shared values, and our most valued and essential qualities. As we become masters in life, our experience changes from having the qualities on the periphery to having those at the center of circle. Continuous improvement can be defined as increasing involvement, moving from experience at the periphery toward experience at the center whenever possible. By fostering this type of continuous improvement, we have an effective implementation of “managing by values,” whereby the values are the boss, our principal guideline.

We have a means for “continuous improvement through a commitment to act on our expressed values.” (Blanchard, 1997, p. 68)

The twelve dimensions

Each radius or dimension of the circle above has a number from 1 to 12.  Looking at the part of radius #1 near the periphery, you can see that ‘self-effort’ and ‘controlling’ are aspects of our typical cultural view.  And near the center, on dimension #1, ‘unobstructed flow’ and ‘no controlling’ represent parts of a fairly enlightened view.

Each radius corresponds to one of the following twelve questions:

  1. What happens to personal will, effort, and control as one develops?
  2. What’s the source or cause of things? How does experience arise? How do answers to these questions change as one changes?
  3. How does the experience of accomplishing things change as we excel?
  4. How does the experience of space, boundaries, objects, and the world change as we grow?
  5. How do personal space and mind change?
  6. How does identity change?
  7. Where does knowing happen?
  8. What happens to the content of knowing?
  9. What happens to our typical fragmentation of being? How do health and wholeness arise?
  10. What happens to desire, need, and fulfillment as we come to live life to the fullest?
  11. How does the experience of time change?
  12. How does reality seem to change as one matures?

Other radii—or dimensions—could probably be used to represent other useful questions besides these twelve.  But the dimensions shown above hold considerable significance for most of us, and reflect might be called competencies for living.

On dimension #1, the central quality ‘unobstructed flow’ is something like an ‘answer’ to question #1.  The ‘answers’ at the center are what seem to be central to living all of life to the fullest—what you might call ‘optimal living’.  And all these central features taken together could be called a vision for living masterfully.  Most peak experiences can be characterized by the central qualities, although the qualities seem to appear in varying proportions in different experiences.

How does all this relate to work? 

Represented on the circle are different facets of perspectives.  Given any work—or any other activity, for that matter—that work can be done with many different perspectives or in different ‘ways’.  For example, you can sort checks in a way that’s timeless, or you can race against time while sorting checks.  The timeless facet is at the core of dimension #11, while racing against time is part of linear time, a feature near the periphery.  This circle depicts how we do things, and not what we do.  Anything can be done with lots of different world-views, whose features are presented on the circle.  My research so far indicates that the optimal way to improve anything, whether work or not, is to facilitate improvement along all twelve of these dimensions whenever opportunities present themselves.

The following ‘pages’

Corresponding to the twelve dimensions of the circle, the material on the following pages contains the above twelve questions, guiding principles, guiding questions, paradoxical statements, and quotes from various sources (see the bibliography at the end of this article) describing the central qualities.

The guiding principles attempt to summarize changes that occur as we move from the periphery of the circle toward the qualities at the center.  The guiding questions may be helpful during actual work situations to identify situations that can be optimized.


The word paradox is often taken to mean “a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.”  In this article the paradoxes have two parts:  the first part refers to a conventional or practical interpretation, and the second part refers to another interpretation that might be called “experiential,” or “as felt or perceived.”


Dimension 1:  Flow

What happens to personal will, effort, and control as one develops?


Guiding Principles:

As time and energy are fragmented less and less into the volition of a self set in contrast to the energy of nature and physical process, or into a potent doer dominating a passive experiential surrounding, the flow of events becomes more and more powerful and effortless; eventually action and movement do not exhibit any friction.

More simply:  The less willful imposition and resistance, the more powerful and effortless the flow of energy.


Guiding Question:

Are you applying effort or control to something that feels separate from you, or is your activity flowing effortlessly by itself?



There can be tension and resistance without effort by a self.

There can be coordination and order with complete spontaneity, and without control by a self.

There can be dancing without a sense of a dancer, or doer of the dancing.

There can be a particular person doing something while there is complete spontaneity, with no doer.

There can be attribution of causation without experiencing a causative entity or event separate from an effect.



Quotes for Dimension 1:  Flow

I discovered the middle path of stillness within speed, calmness within fear.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 11)

It’s a giddying rush that’s free of any effort on my part.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 19)

You do not let go the bow string, it just happens.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 25)

[football player Red Grange] runs . . . with almost no effort. . . . There is only the effortless, ghostlike, weave and glide upon effortless legs.   (Murphy, 1995, p. 86)

[golfer Bobby Jones:]  I was conscious of swinging the club easily . . . . I had to make no special effort to do anything.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 86)

He is no longer wasting effort fighting and restraining himself; muscles are no longer fighting muscles.  In the normal situation, part of our capacities are used for action, and part are wasted on restraining these same capacities.  Now there is no waste; the totality of the capacities can be used for action.  He becomes like a river without dams.  (Maslow, 1962, pp. 105-6)

[An] aspect of fully-functioning is effortlessness and ease of functioning when one is at one’s best.  What takes effort, straining and struggling at other times is now done without any sense of striving, of working or laboring, but ‘comes of itself.’  Allied to this often is the feeling of grace and the look of grace that comes with smooth, easy, effortless fully-functioning, when everything ‘clicks,’ or ‘is in the groove,’ or is ‘in over-drive.’  (Maslow, 1962, p. 106)

Experience is typically described as involving a sense of control—or, more precisely, as lacking the sense of worry about losing control that is typical in many situations of normal life.  (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 59)

. . . a unified flowing from one moment to the next, in which he is in control of his actions, and in which there is little distinction between self and environment, between stimulus and response, or between past, present, and future.  (Ackerman, 1998, pp. 125-6)

When fully appreciated, Great Time is seen to be a kind of perfectly liquid, lubricious dimension—it is quintessentially ‘slippery’. . . . It is as though all the friction in the world were removed. (Tulku, 1977, p. 162)

Our speech and gestures become totally irrepressible and spontaneous, welling up from ‘time’, the dynamic center of our being. (Tulku, 1977, p. 191)

We have complete control in the special sense that we do not need to control anything. (Tulku, 1977, p. 254)

Discipline and a willingness to relax the usual temporal structures can be gateways to this pointless time, but ultimately such measures do not go to the essential ‘point’. When we adopt particular attitudes or release specific energies, we proceed from point to point. Now there is no point to such a procession and no place to arrive at. Without special effort—for no effort is needed—the whole of experience is already transformed.  (Tulku, 1994, p. 302)

Instead of objects presenting themselves to awareness, subject, objects, awareness, and experience are all given ‘by’ time. A steady flow presents itself without leading on to identity and substance, comment and construct. (Tulku, 1994, p. 311)


Dimension 2:  Creativity



What’s the source or cause of things?  How does experience arise?  How are things created?  How do answers to these questions change as one changes?


Guiding Principles:

The less the cause or source of experience and events is seen to be the self, the mind, some event in the distant past, the familiar here or present, or any other agent within a scenario, the more spontaneous and comprehensive the creative process becomes, ultimately leaving nothing outside its scope.

More simply:  The less the cause of things is seen to be a particular agent outside of or within a scenario, the more spontaneous and comprehensive the creative process becomes.


Guiding Question:

Do things feel familiar, somewhat predictable, or even habitual, or does each new moment, along with all that appears in the momentary scenario, seem spontaneous and fresh?



Appearance and events can have identifiable causes and sources within the world, and yet things can feel as though they come out of nowhere, with no source or cause.

The same objects, people, and world can be recognized repeatedly over time, and yet be seen as fresh, original appearances each time.

People and things can be assigned a historical identity while felt to be discontinuous or to be recreated moment by moment.


Quotes for Dimension 2:  Creativity

The source and resting point of all existence appears to be space. (Tulku, 1977, p. 10)

The source of experience is not the self, the mind, some psycho-physiological apparatus, or any other item within the ordinary world view. (Tulku, 1977, p. 49)

Great Space is not a separate thing or cause; it is not ‘elsewhere’, nor is its ‘creative act’ to be located in the time of the remote past.  (Tulku, 1977, p. 74)

We live in a very fantastic, magical world.  There is no ‘doer’ or performer of the magic. (Tulku, 1977, p. 107)

All drab items, facts, and trends can become alive, inspiring symbols….They are no longer seen as produced by—and tied to—a ‘horizontal’ temporal series.  So they, in their givenness with us, can point in what seems at first like a different, more vertical and liberating direction. (Tulku, 1977, p. 145)

There is no fixed world order that stands outside and around us, ensuring that our experience stays within proper limits. (Tulku, 1977, p. 253)

We are not creatures, products of Space and Time.  Nor were we caused at some time in the past and then left on our own.  We are all being newly born within Space and Time, second by second…. (Tulku, 1977, p. 300)

The less we insist, the closer we draw to the invisible energy of the Body of Time: the creative impulse through which appearance itself manifests. Allied with this creative force, we approach each challenge with new resources. Nothing is strictly impossible, for nothing is firmly established. (Tulku, 1994, pp. 165-66)

Everything—whether past, present, or future—is seen to be unoriginated, because ‘knowledge’ perceives that, in point of fact, there is no moving time. (Tulku, 1980, p. 54)


Dimension 3:  Accomplishment



How does the experience of accomplishing things change as we excel?


Guiding Principles:

The less effortful our operations on separate existents or events embedded in a temporal grid, the more balanced and the greater productivity is, with events and products appearing to be nonexistent, uncaused, and unoriginated, while in another sense remaining measurable and attributable to particular individuals.

More simply:  The less distinction between ourselves, our work process, the things we’re working on, and time, the greater the productivity.


Guiding Question:

Are you efforting or looking forward to getting things done, or are you currently completely satisfied within your work-in-progress?



While we can attribute production and service to a particular individual, that person can experience the work as an activity that flowed by itself, with no effort.



Quotes for Dimension 3:  Accomplishment

The person in the peak-experiences usually feels himself to be at the peak of his powers, using all his capacities at the best and fullest. . . . He is at his best . . . . This is not only felt subjectively but can be seen by the observer.  (Maslow, 1962, pp. 105-6)

His behavior and experience becomes . . . self-validating, end-behavior, and end-experience, rather than means-behavior or means-experience.  (Maslow, 1962, p. 110)

[My self-actualizing subjects were] uniformly more capable of effective action.  (Maslow, 1962, p. 124)

In . . . healthy [self-actualizing] people we find duty and pleasure to be the same thing, as is also work and play, self-interest and altruism . . . .  (Maslow, 1962, p. 163)

To the extent that we try to master the environment . . . to that extent do we cut the possibility of full . . . non-interfering cognition. . . . To cite psychotherapeutic experience, the more eager we are to make a diagnosis and a plan of action, the less helpful do we become.  The more eager we are to cure, the longer it takes.  Every psychiatric researcher has to learn not to try to cure, not to be impatient.  In this and in many other situations, to give in is to overcome, to be humble is to succeed. (Maslow, 1962, p. 184)

The purpose of Zen archery is not to hit the target, but rather the concentration . . . . When the archer does hit the center of the target in such a state of mental calm, it is proof that his spiritual discipline is successful.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 11)

Chains of events even within our ordinary space are seen to be nothing other than a kind of ‘space’ projecting ‘space’ into ‘space’.  Yet…such an orientation…may seem to conflict with ordinary categories and distinctions unless we are sensitive to its purpose and range of application. (Tulku, 1977, p. 7-8)

‘We’, our position, goal-orientedness, and experience . . . are . . .  nonoccurring and nonlocated. (Tulku, 1977, pp. 100-101)


Dimension 4:  Objective Space



How does the experience of space, boundaries, objects, and the world change as we become more virtuous?


Guiding Principles:

The less we try to establish ourselves as autonomous beings confronting reality as a contrasting world of entities that are separated from each other by space, the more we see how we and all familiar things, while distributed over ordinary space, are nevertheless unseparated and even intimately connected within and as a higher-order, dimensionless space.

More simply:  The less things and beings seem separated by ordinary space, the more they are interconnected as dimensionless space.


Guiding Question:

Do objects and events take up space and appear to be separate and dispersed, or are do they seem intimately connected in and even as one space?



Familiar things, while separate and distributed over ordinary space, are nevertheless unseparated and even intimately connected within and as a higher-order, dimensionless space.

While the physical world may be a referent for any activity, no world order seems fixed outside and around us.

Objects may have an inside and outside, yet they need not have any perceived depth.

While there may be measurable lengths, there is no felt distance.

Although objects have volume, they aren’t experienced as extending in space, or exclusively occupying space.

Geographical coordinates and points, and ‘here’ and ‘there’ can mark positions; however, there are no felt spatial divisions or extension—everything is the same space, ‘here’.


Quotes for Dimension 4:  Objective Space

[long-distance runner Bill Emmerton:]  I felt as though I was going through space, treading on clouds.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 17)

[golfer Jack Fleck:]  I can’t exactly describe it, but as I looked at the putt, the hole looked as big as a wash tub.   (Murphy, 1995, p. 38)

[Charles Lindbergh:] . . . as though I were an awareness spreading out through space, over the earth and into the heavens, unhampered by time or substance, free from the gravitation that binds men to heavy human problems of the world.   (Murphy, 1995, p. 65)

Everything is made of emptiness and form is condensed emptiness.  (Einstein)

One small part of the world is perceived as if it were for the moment all of the world.  (Maslow, 1962, p. 88)

The astronomer is “out there” with the stars (rather than a separateness peering across an abyss at another separateness through a telescopic-keyhole).  (Maslow, 1962, p. 105)

A truly comprehensive ‘space’ . . . is not set in contrast to solid, opaque ‘things’. (Tulku, 1977, p. xi)

When a single feather and a thousand worlds are equally this space, who can say which contains which? (Tulku, 1977, p. xli)

Dichotomies like ‘existence’ and ‘nonexistence’, ‘object’ and ‘space’, become resolved in the light of different and more accurate conceptions. (Tulku, 1977, p. 14)

Surfaces can appear as such and still be more transparent, because—in a sense—they ‘reflect’ the degree of our own relaxation. (Tulku, 1977, p. 16)

Although…structures…are finite in size, the…’space’ dimension may be those structures without thereby being finite. (Tulku, 1977, p. 39)

The Great Space dimension reveals an all-inclusive unity that, rather paradoxically, is not spread out over any region. (Tulku, 1977, p. 62)

Great Space . . . has no extensive dimension. (Tulku, 1977, p. 112)

While all familiar things are…distributed over ordinary space . . . , they are all intimately connected insofar as their Great Space dimension is considered.  (Tulku, 1977, p. 112)

Each finite . . . region of our realm is virtually infinite in its Great Space aspect. (Tulku, 1977, p. 112)

All existence and experience is like an apparition, a surface with no substantial core, no dimensions to it, no wider and founding environment. (Tulku, 1977, p. 199)


Dimension 5:  Mental Space



How do personal space and mind change?


Guiding Principles:

The less the sense of separation between ‘our private world’ and the ‘world of others’, the mind and physical reality, the more inside and outside are deactivated, and it becomes clear that the self, the ordinary mind, ‘personal space’, and ‘objective space’ all derive from a higher space; eventually an overall understanding—which is itself a kind of space—expresses and is all presentations.

More simply:  The less separated ‘our private world’ and the ‘world of others’, the more inside and outside are seen as the same undivided space.


Guiding Question:

Is there a private space or personal world that feels separate from everything outside, or do inner and outer, subjective and objective appear to be inseparable facets of the same undivided space?



I can have a mind without needing to feel that it’s separate from others’ minds.

I can have a mind without feeling that it’s stable, continuously existing, or independent of ‘the outside’.

I can have a personal space or position without having to feel separate from anything/anyone else.


Quotes for Dimension 5:  Mental Space

He is more able to fuse with the world, with what was formerly not-self, e.g., the lovers come closer to forming a unit rather than two people, . . . the creator becomes one with his work being created, . . . the appreciator becomes the music . . . . (Maslow, 1962, p. 105)

Lower space is like a walled enclosure.  If these walls can be somehow rendered transparent without thereby setting up new walls and points of view, the notion of inside and outside is thus deactivated . . . . (Tulku, 1977, p. 15)

We, our space, our awareness are all deriving from a higher space and understanding. (Tulku, 1977, p. 42)

The more you ‘open things up’ . . . the more you experience yourself as . . . Space, which has no ‘place’, no ‘position’. (Tulku, 1977, p. 45)

There is actually no ordinary mind at all. (Tulku, 1977, p. 63)

We completely transcend a self-centered orientation and become fully with everyone and everything else.  Locations and attitudes, problems and confusions, no longer bind us.  (Tulku, 1977, pp. 113-114)

The shape and form of what appears becomes inseparable from the shape and form of mind.  (Tulku, 1994, p. xliii)


Dimension 6:  Identity



How does personal identity change?


Guiding Principles:

The less ‘charge’ that the self-component has as the agent dominating a passive surrounding, the clearer it is that the ‘self’ is a generalization of many instantaneous presentings of ‘time’; eventually our sense of identity is seen to derive from an awareness that is not limited to a particular position or ‘point of view’ at all.

More simply:  The less the self dominates ‘its’ surroundings by taking various positions, the clearer and more fluid our awareness.


Guiding Question:

Is there a sense of self that stands apart from experience and externals, or do you feel identified with, or the same as, what’s happening?



There can be people with names and histories who nevertheless have no sense of substantiality or continuous existence.

There can be recognizable personality without an experience of personality-owner and without a feeling of repeated patterns.


Quotes for Dimension 6:  Identity

Being ecstatic means being flung out of your usual self. . . . consciousness vanishes . . . and you feel free of all mind-body constraints.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 19)

[When judo is practiced properly,] There will be no curtain to separate you from your opponent.  You will become one with him.  You and your opponent will no longer be two bodies separated physically from each other but a single entity . . . .  (Murphy, 1995, p. 32)

[auto racer Jochen Rindt:]  You just . . . are part of the car and the track.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 23)

[auto racer Jimmy Clark:]  I don’t drive a car, really.  The car happens to be under me and I’m controlling it, but it’s as much a part of me as I am of it.   (Murphy, 1995, p. 32)

We had known some of the most exciting climbing of our lives, had reached a level of unity and selflessness that had made success possible. . . . we felt . . . an extraordinary elation, not solely from our success, but also because we had managed to become such a close-knit team.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 112)

[Japanese swordsman:]  When the identity is realized, I as swordsman see no opponent confronting me . . . . every movement he makes as well as every thought he conceives are felt as it they were all my own . . . . (Murphy, 1995, p. 130)

[Stirling Moss:]  You have to be part of the car.  It’s no longer that you’re in a car and doing something with it, that’s why I refer to this as a complete entity. . . . I feel a car is an animate object.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 133)

An actual appreciation of ‘time’ shows that the way in which it presents identities, differences, and interrelations is a direct evocation of ‘space’, of ‘no-things’, of non-plurality. (Tulku, 1977, p. 146)

Our usual rigidity and lethargy derive from the fact that the ‘self’ that we ordinarily try to improve is a generalization of many instantaneous presentings of ‘time’. (Tulku, 1977, p. 178)

This Knowledge is not oriented around us as the subject in a world of objects.  It is with everything and reveals everything, without establishing an ‘active subject’ and a ‘passive object’. (Tulku, 1977, p. 252)

Forms appear but do not take birth; they exhibit but do not take up the conditions they portray. A new condition prevails: ‘things’ as appearance are space, while space appears ‘in’ things. The borders between ‘is’ and ‘is not’ are no longer solid in the same way. Appearance shares in the ‘no identity’ of space, ‘taking’ form without a body. (Tulku, 1994, pp. 33-34)

We too appear in the dance of time. At one level, we continue to ‘be’ our patterns and our limits, our prospects and our aspirations, the identities we proclaim and the perceptions we own. But . . . things are and are not. Opposites unite, for it is only the rational that makes divisions.  (Tulku, 1994, p. 147)


Dimension 7:  Locus of Knowing



Where is the locus of knowledge?  Where does knowing happen?


Guiding Principles:

The less we see knowledge as just something located inside our heads that we try to achieve during certain acts of knowing, the clearer it becomes that knowing is not just a particular type of event, but a mode of ‘seeing’ which is not limited to a particular position or ‘point of view’  relative to passive objects; eventually there is a balanced encompassing of the whole situation, a ‘knowing’ clarity that does not radiate from a center, but is rather in everything, and everything is in it.

More simply:  The less knowledge is that which is both lacked and held by a self, the more it becomes a balanced, unowned encompassing of whatever manifests.


Guiding Question:

Is knowledge simply something that you or others possess or lack, or do you feel intimately part of what’s around you, knowing things that are happening from inside them?



While an individual can know and perceive, knowing need not feel like it belongs to a person, takes time, or radiates or occurs from a center.

When a particular person knows an object, there may be no felt distinction between knower and known.

When a particular person knows a locatable object, knowing can be experienced as a nonlocated encompassing field.


Quotes for Dimension 7:  Locus of Knowing

It is possible that ordinary ‘knowing’ and the observed insentient physical basis for it are both the result of a higher-order ‘knowing’ having taken up a certain stance or position. (Tulku, 1977, p. 25)

The knowing ‘by-standers’ and the known ‘outside-standers’ are no longer accepted as what is really knowing and known. (Tulku, 1977, p. 240)

We can develop a mode of ‘seeing’ which is not limited to a particular position or ‘point of view’ at all. (Tulku, 1977, p. 27)

The higher-order space or field is not falsified or blocked out by the appearance of discrete objects.  Thus, we might say that higher-order knowledge does attend to conventional items and perspectives. (Tulku, 1977, p. 30)

We, our space, our awareness are all deriving from a higher space and understanding. (Tulku, 1977, p. 42)

Knowing is . . . particularly not just something located inside our heads, as the conventional picture of an isolated knower would have it. (Tulku, 1977, p. 240)

This Knowledge is not oriented around us as the subject in a world of objects.  It is with everything and reveals everything, without establishing an ‘active subject’ and a ‘passive object’.  The apparent object pole and the containing world horizon can all be ‘knowing’. (Tulku, 1977, p. 252)

There is no longer a ‘looker’, but instead, only a ‘knowingness’ which can see more broadly, from all sides and points of view at once.  More precisely, the ‘knowing’ clarity does not radiate from a center, but is rather in everything, and everything is in it.  There is neither an ‘outside’ nor an ‘inside’ in the ordinary sense, but rather a pervasive and intimate ‘in’ or ‘within’ as an open-ended knowingness. (Tulku, 1977, p. 282)

Full knowledge dissolves the ‘distance’ between knower and known that characterizes conventional not-knowing.  With no distance, an intimacy of knowing emerges, and knowledge becomes inseparable from love. (Tulku, 1987, p. xlviii)


Dimension 8:  Content of Knowing



What happens to the content of knowing?


Guiding Principles:

The less that knowledge is a possession that only allows the self to identify and distinguish what is desired from what is not, to place what is ‘known’ into familiar categories and judge in terms of oppositions such as good and bad, the more that knowing illuminates the relationship between subject and object; eventually knowing merges with the subject under investigation, becoming an awareness that seems to ’embody’ both clarity and appreciation, ‘understanding’ and ‘feeling’.

More simply:  The less that knowledge is restricted to a self’s identification, categorization, and judgment, the closer it comes to a clear appreciation merged with the subject under investigation.


Guiding Question:

Is knowledge simply identification, categorization, judgment, and detached observation, or is awareness an illuminating clarity merged with the subject being explored?



While particular objects, events, or thoughts are known, still there can be a sense of comprehensive, unbounded knowing.

The perception of a particular object need not involve a sense of a perceiver nor any feeling of separate context for the object.

Thoughts can express distinctions without referring to experientially separate objects, people, or events.

Memories need not refer to a separate past position, and hopes, anticipations, and expectations need not refer to separate future positions.

Pain, suffering, and emotion can appear without a relatively positioned victim or owner.   


Quotes for Dimension 8:  Content of Knowing

At the level of self-actualizing, many dichotomies become resolved, opposites are seen to be unities and the whole dichotomous way of thinking is recognized to be immature.  (Maslow, 1962, p. 207)

[Soccer player Pelé:]  Intuitively, at any instant, he seemed to know the position of all the other players on the field, and to sense just what each man was going to do next.   (Murphy, 1995, p. 38)

[weightlifter Yuri Vlasov:]  Everything seems clearer and whiter than ever before, as if great spotlights had been turned on.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 119)

With all ordinary thoughts—even as these thoughts—you may discover…freedom from subject-object fragmentation. (Tulku, 1977, p. 61)

Knowingness has the quality of perfection.  It is not simply a content of knowledge, for it involves no sense of a subject-object duality. (Tulku, 1977, p. 219)

Great Knowledge is….Arguments and assertions cannot single it out or refer to it.  It is not a meaning….It is unlearned or nonlearned learnedness. (Tulku, 1977, p. 253)

‘Knowingness’ is inexhaustible and can be neither fragmented into little knowable packets nor foreshortened by known content of any sort.  This does not mean that ‘knowingness’ is a vacant absorption, but rather that ‘things’ and encounters are themselves ‘knowingness’. (Tulku, 1977, p. 271)

The shape and form of what appears becomes inseparable from the shape and form of mind.  (Tulku, 1994, p. xliii)

Mental projection can practice the instant reflection of images, arising within memory or awareness like an image in a mirror, but never entering the mirror itself. (Tulku, 1994, p. 151)

In this new vision, distinctions come from wholeness and remain within wholeness. (Tulku, 1994, p. 165)

This knowledge was freely available:  less a possession to be obtained than a luminous, transparent ‘attribute’ of experience and mental activity. (Tulku, 1987, p. xlv)

As we learn how to take knowledge itself as the topic, inquiry and wonder give rise to the love of knowledge.  The source of our knowing merges with the subject under investigation, and knowledge becomes an ever-present companion and guide. (Tulku, 1987, p. 14)


Dimension 9:  Well-Being



How do health and wholeness arise?  What happens to fragmentation of being?


Guiding Principles:

As habitual self-images lose their feeling of reality and the boundaries among self, mind, body, personality, and others become more open, experience becomes less fragmented and conflicted; eventually we draw a wealth of nourishment and energy directly from our own being, free of separations and disharmonies.

More simply:  As inner and outer partitions lose their feeling of reality, greater nourishment and fulfillment is drawn directly from being.


Guiding Question:

Are there boundaries and divisions among your self, mind, body, and personality, or is fulfillment and satisfaction naturally and directly accompanying a sense of wholeness?



There can be a person with a personality, reasoning, emotion, sensation, intuition, and different body parts without any sense of fragmentation or feeling of separate ‘parts’.



Quotes for Dimension 9:  Well-Being

It happens when our inner forces are resolved.  And when a person’s forces are resolved, it makes us feel at home, because we know, by some sixth sense, that there are no other unexpected forces lurking underground. (Alexander, 1979, p. 51)

[defensive tackle Joe Greene:]  Playing with every part of yourself [with] the will to get the job done. . . . You have great awareness of everything that is happening around you and of your part in the whole.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 7)

[climber Arlene Blum:]  Like coming home to a place of beauty, splendor, and peace—a place where I felt I belonged . . . . (Murphy, 1995, p. 10)

[climber Rob Schultheis:]  I felt . . . bliss, a joy beyond comprehension . . . a feeling that all ills were healed, everything was all right, always had been, really, and always would be.  There was nothing wanting in all of creation; anything less than perfection was impossible.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 124)

An integrated, natural intelligence, unfragmented into reason, emotions, sensations, and intuition, is our greatest treasure, and our key to progress. (Tulku, 1977, p. xxxiv)

No aspect of an experience is ‘outside’ or apart from knowingness according to this perspective.  Everything is now ‘within’. (Tulku, 1977, p. 268)

No separations or disharmonies are found when appearance is seen as the embodiment of Knowledge. (Tulku, 1977, p. 277)

We participate in an uncontrived intimacy.  (Tulku, 1977, p. 287)

Wealth is intrinsic to our Being.  When this is recognized—without there being a recognizer—there can be no bondage, fear, or worry, and no ugliness or imperfection, for the presence of these is itself incomparable beauty. (Tulku, 1977, p. 297)

In this new vision, distinctions come from wholeness and remain within wholeness. (Tulku, 1994, p. 165)


Dimension 10:  Need and Fulfillment



What happens to desire, need, and fulfillment as we come to live life to the fullest?


Guiding Principles:

The less we see our selves as lacking and needing pleasures and things, the more everything—all situations, thoughts, and emotions—is found to be immediately fulfilling; there are no isolated packets of nourishment to be grasped at in an anxious or a ‘venturing out’ manner.

More simply:  The less a self is seen as needing things, the more everything is found to be immediately fulfilling.


Guiding Question:

Are you driven by a desire for pleasure or a need, or is everything being found to be immediately and inherently fulfilling?



A person can have desire and preference, or can pursue this or that course of action, without any sense of need or deficiency.

Whether a situation is labeled positive or negative, ugly or imperfect, fulfillment and complete appreciation are immediately available.

Within a finite duration of clock time infinite fulfillment is available.

Though most of the world is outside the individual, a person need not feel cut off from or lacking anything.  


Quotes for Dimension 10:  Need and Fulfillment

We can find everything to be clear and fulfilling, and can see that there are no isolated packets of nourishment or knowledge to be grasped at in an anxious or a ‘venturing out’ manner.  (Tulku, 1977, p. xvi)

‘Space’ and ‘time’ are not just backgrounds or supporting mediums for further experiences.  They provide a very special form of nourishment for our humanity, which is usually nurtured only indirectly through the pursuit of our physical pleasures and needs, and our ego-centered values. (Tulku, 1977, p. 156)

This idea of infinite growth does not mean that we need to follow some long, difficult path.  Great Knowledge grows, not by making linear progress, but by opening up to the infinite perfection that is ‘here’. (Tulku, 1977, p. 216)

Although infinitely greater ‘knowing’ is available, it is not ‘here’ in this or that, nor is it outside or elsewhere.  This is not meant as a riddle, but as the suspension of the riddle which our common condition of searching for fulfillment is always posing. (Tulku, 1977, p. 241)

Fulfillment is available within all situations, thoughts, and emotions, whether convention labels them as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. (Tulku, 1977, p. 271)

We participate in an uncontrived intimacy.  We are also absolutely self-sufficient in a nonegoistic sense.  We can draw nourishment and energy directly from our own being, directly from Space and Time. (Tulku, 1977, p. 287)


Dimension 11:  Feeling of Time



How does the experience of time change?


Guiding Principles:

The less that time carries the existential character of being an inescapable force compelling us to move within a linear temporal grid, the more that all going from place to place and from experience to experience seems to occur as a succession of experiences in the same ‘spot’; eventually time appears as energy that does not occur in moments, and is neither linear nor sequential.

More simply:  The less compelling our sense of time passing, the more time appears as a nonlinear and nonsequential dynamic process.


Guiding Question:

Do you notice a feeling of time flowing around you, or are you timelessly involved in things?



There can be distinguishable past, present, and future times without any felt separation between the times.

Events can ‘occur’ without any experienced movement or transition from one to another.

Clock time may be finite and limited, but the experienced duration of a period of clock time is not at all fixed.


Quotes for Dimension 11:  Feeling of Time

A single play may seem like forever or an inning may seem like only a second.   (Murphy, 1995, p. 40)

[football player John Brodie:]  Time seems to slow way down . . . . It seems as if I had all the time in the world . . . and yet I know the defensive line is coming at me just as fast as ever.   (Murphy, 1995, p. 42)

[Tom Seaver:]  As Rod Gaspar’s front foot stretched out and touched home plate, in the fraction of a second before I leaped out of the dugout . . . my whole baseball life flashed in front of me . . . .  (Murphy, 1995, p. 47)

There is a common experience in Tai Chi . . . . Awareness of the passage of time completely stops.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 47)

Different times do not violate the nondistributive nature of Great Time.  They are not linked, in a way that irrevocably separates them, by their respective positions in a temporal series.  The ‘series’ is a fiction. (Tulku, 1977, p. 106)

Time is neither linear nor sequential; in fact, there are neither moments nor successive movement, and thus no succession. (Tulku, 1977, p. 136)

Time, any ‘time’, is actually enabling, not restraining, if appreciated and used with the right ‘Knowledge’. (Tulku, 1977, p. 142)

Time ceases to be seen as unfolding distributively, from one thing to the next.  Instead, it penetrates directly through all meanings and partitions to show Great Space in a perfect, timeless encounter—timeless in the sense of being unconditioned and without ordinary duration. (Tulku, 1977, p. 150)

The Body of Time transitions the appearance of what appears. Without confirming division, it allows for the conceptual separation into past and present and future. (Tulku, 1994, p. 162)

The boundaries distinguishing five minutes from one second are unreal in a certain sense, and so any amount of experience constituting five minutes could also be had in one second.  The ‘small’ interval is not really smaller, nor is the ‘larger’ one really larger. (Tulku, 1980, pp. 41-2)

We are ‘time’, rather than merely isolated objects located in, but separate from, it. (Tulku, 1980, p. 53)


Dimension 12:  Feeling of Reality



How does reality seem to change as one matures?


Guiding Principles:

As experience, events, and substance are explored, the fixed sense of reality grows more attenuated, eventually giving way to complete openness.

More simply:  When ‘happenings’ and existents are thoroughly explored, nothing substantial is found as a ‘core’ or foundation.


Guiding Question:

Does reality seem solid, fixed, and substantial, or does everything seem wondrously ephemeral?



While objects and people exist and interact, they can seem ethereal and insubstantial.

When events occur, it can seem dreamlike, as though nothing at all is really happening.

The clearer our perception, the less we see reality as a compounded object.

Though knowledge may refer to physical and mental realities, certainty is diminished in proportion to how experientially separate entities seem.

Experiential fragmentation of objective reality destroys certainty.


Quotes for Dimension 12:  Feeling of Reality

[Charles Lindbergh:]  All sense of substance leaves.  There’s no longer weight to my body, no longer hardness to the stick.  The feeling of flesh is gone.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 116)

People have told us that the world “seemed like a dream” after an uplifting game or sporting expedition.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 117)

[runner Ian Jackson:]  My body seemed insubstantial like some ethereal vehicle of awareness.  (Murphy, 1995, p. 135)

Everything is made of emptiness and form is condensed emptiness.  (Einstein)

Substance gradually grows more attenuated, eventually arriving at a final stage that is open and empty.  (Tulku, 1994, p. 4)

Substance is a mysteriously condensed form of what in our ordinary way of speaking we would call ‘nothing at all’. (Tulku, 1994, p. 5)

For each appearance, there is nothing above or beneath it, no point of origination more solid than its own communication. (Tulku, 1994, p. 18)

‘Before’ the present manifestation, ‘before’ the ‘before’ that manifestation presupposes, appearance without substance offers the other side of birth . . . . (Tulku, 1994, p. 27)



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Tulku, T. (1977). Time, space, and knowledge:  A new vision of reality. Berkeley, CA: Dharma Publishing.

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