Melvyn Wartella passed away in May 2011, but I was fortunate enough to make contact with him before then. “There’s a fellow you might want to look into,” said my friend Bob, “He lives somewhat like a hermit and claims to have had an awakening. His name is Mel. He’s seems quite a gentleman.” A little investigating on my part revealed that Melvyn Wartella was truly a gentleman, remarkably sincere, and definitely profound. Here is an excerpt from our first email exchange:
I am, of course, saying to let go of the ego, but mostly I try to point out how the ego came about and what is beyond the ego. If a person really understands the problem they will find their own way back to sanity. I just point in the right direction.
Yes, I do want people to understand the ego is unreal, and why. If one really looks at the whole process within themselves and others it becomes clear this is true. It isn’t really a method as just a way to help the native wisdom that we all have to become more active in people’s lives.
People do come to me for guidance and help. Back in the 70’s and 80’s there were more people coming to me but they were mostly interested in getting over some problem they were dealing with. Then when things were good I wouldn’t hear from them again until their world fell apart again. They were not serious about awakening. So I spent a long time of just relating with the few who came along who were serious, they are rare.
I have been told by many that what I have shared with them has helped change their lives for the better. Many now understand the problem we all have faced, yet only about two have had anything close to a real awakening. But I find that true of most teachers. I, at this time don’t have meetings but I am open to it if some serious people come along. I mostly deal with people on the Internet. I also live in an area where there aren’t many people. The few who are into the spiritual seem to be more into a traditional path than what I offer.
After this email, Mel was kind enough to submit to my less-than-polished interviewing skills:
Question: Is it important for an individual to have an awakening?
Melvyn Wartella: Yes, it is important. If one, even intellectually, sees how the ego process distorts just about all of our perceptions and keeps one in a state of insecurity, then it becomes very clear that we all need to awaken. Our relationships, both with individuals and other societies are just about always hurt by the egocentric insecurity most people live with. We can’t hope for the end of wars on this planet unless we come to see the madness the ego causes. The greed caused by that insecurity will in time destroy our environment. Awakening is getting well, sane, and becoming a true individual, undivided,whole.
Q: Do you see a purpose to life?
A: Yes, very much so. Here again the ego can distort reality. What the ego sees as a purpose will be based on its relationship to life. It will look for a purpose that has the promise of continuing to be what it thinks it is. That has no purpose. That is the dreamer trying to find justification to go on dreaming. But real purpose doesn’t really come up if we are seeing clearly. Life is the purpose of Life. The living, which is expressing the highest form of creative animal this planet has ever known, is enough. Being Life Itself is enough. One can go deeper into this, though it is not really needed, and point to something quite profound. That is we are evolving into a state of being where we will realize our true creative potential which has no limits. Right now, we see the mind/body connection clearly, but it is only the start. We will someday see it isn’t mind/body as much as it is mind/Mind. We live in a mental universe that can be expressed in an apparent material form. Most of us are at the baby stage of this process. When the ego has been seen through then the evolutionary process is accelerated. We become what we always were, that very process of creativity that is the Universe. The ego dream has cut us off, at least in the dream, from our true Being.
When one awakens, we don’t just all of a sudden go to the front of the line of creative evolution. There are habits of the ego process that go on for some time, but the awake person understands this and even with some baggage still being carried, there is freedom.
Q: What is the purpose of your life?
A: Life is all the purpose I need. To express what life is trying to express is enough. As people awaken, part of that process is seeing clearly what the problem was. With that insight, there is a natural draw towards others to help them see. One knows there are only going to be a few who are ready to understand. Therefore, you don’t push anyone. It all has to unfold naturally. But with the problems the world is facing now, there is a clear need to accelerate the process as much as one can.
Q: You did not “meditate, chant, or follow any religion.” You did not have a teacher. What did you do on your search?
A: From early childhood, I was drawn to try to understand why people were so violent and hateful. That need to understand grew deeper as the years went by. I didn’t trust anyone, so there was nowhere for me to turn except to my own mind. I just watched what was going on in me and around me. Sometimes it was very conscious, sometimes not.
Q: You mentioned living a counter-culture lifestyle. Did drugs play any role in your search?
A: During my hippie years I wasn’t into drugs as most of my friends were. I did try LSD a few times and it was interesting. What I saw made it clear I was on the right track in how I was going about trying to understand. I had hopes at first that LSD could be used as an important tool in the evolution of humans, and I still feel for the right person at the right time in their lives it can help. However, it can also hurt, so I would never promote its use. Also, as I questioned my friends about their experiences with it, it became clear that few of them saw what I did. With out the legwork I had done to prepare for its use most would not see that deeply into life. All of the meaningful insights I was lucky to have had did not come from any drug. My psychedelic period was for only about a year. I saw it was not taking me any deeper, so why do it?
Q: You say, “We cannot be fully free of all this suffering until we awaken from the dream of ego. No matter what we do to free ourselves it will be useless. We can turn to religion, which will also be useless, being based in ego/insecurity. Nothing you identify with can free you. This process will go on until you die unless you can find it in yourself and see it with such clarity that it comes to an end.” How does one begin, step by step?
A: By finding out what the problem is. Once we fully understand the problem our native wisdom will take over. You will begin to see how it is expressed in a million ways within yourself and all the others around you. As that clarity deepens, the ego will be seen so clearly that at some moment when we are not looking for it, the mind just turns on itself and you will find you are awake. By the continual state of attention to what is going on, you are painting the ego into a corner. When it cannot move anywhere because it is seen for what it is, then freedom is at hand.
Q: Isn’t there a more concrete step?
A: There is no step by step, unless you call attention and observation steps. Have I not made it clear that one should observe the way the mind works? If you do watch this whole process then the mind can come to a deeper level, which is wisdom. It is beyond the mere using of the brain to re-enforce the ego.
Q: Is there anything within me that is not ego?
A: Yes, your character, your creativity, your wisdom, your living energy, your capacity to love and care for others, your sense of wonder, all the joy and happiness you feel and express and the miracle of perception, to mention a few things beyond the ego that we all have build in. The ego is just a distorting process of misidentification that causes one to misalign with the flow of the Life Force that we truly are. The ego is nothing. Just as any dream is nothing in itself. Though it may cause fear, hatred, violence and insecurity, it is still only a dream. What we are as human beings is a marvelous wonder. So much of that wonder is blocked by the invisible wall of ego. The Universe is an infinite/timeless living wonder and we are one with It. Never feel bad because you feel you have an ego. You don’t have one; no one has ever had one because it does not exist.
Q: Are there signposts to let me know I’m on the right track?
A: Yes, clarity. As the mind starts to really understand there come lightness, as sense of poise and balance that one did not have before. However, there will also be times of fear and dread, which should be welcomed and faced. That is the ego fearing the end of the dream. Not that the ego knows it is dreaming, or is the dream, but a subconscious sense of doom starts to be felt. This is the time to look ever more clearly, but also a time to be quiet.
Q: Did you ever get sidetracked on your search?
A: Yes, many times. Then one gets drawn back in to the questioning and feels refreshed with new energy to go deeper. Getting sidetracked is okay, even healthy at times. It gives what you have learned a chance to be digested. However, once you really start to look into all of this, you can’t go back.
Q: It looks like it took about 14 years from your first profound realization till the ego-death. Could this have been sped up?
A: From the first Satori until the full ego death was about 8 years. The insights before that were powerful, but they were not a true awakening at the deeper level. As to what could have sped up the process: I don’t know if it could have been sped up? Each new insight led to the next and an almost infinite flow of subtleties in between. However, if I had known someone who really understood, was awake, and had the problem pointed out clearly, it may have saved time. But I was not into trusting any other mind but the one I had to work with.
Q: Is there any particular lifestyle you feel more conducive to the search? It sounds like you lived pretty close to nature.
A: It is far easier to look into life if your life is pretty simple, mine was. I made sure it was and was happy to live that simply. Being close to nature has always helped me to focus and let go. Yet, I was dealing with being a parent, a husband and all the day to day things most of us deal with, but on a smaller scale. If you can, be where you are happy, or as happy as one can be in these times. If you have a friend or two to talk with who also has an interest in understanding, that can help. However, we have to do the looking wherever we are, doing whatever we have to do. I can see that I could have been in a city and very busy and still learned a great deal. It is really difficult to say what anyone should or should not do. If the will to understand is strong enough, you will see, understand, and awaken. But do go into the wilderness whenever you can. Even if that wilderness is in a city park.
Q: There is the very strong presence in your writing of concern for this planet. I assume this is an experiential conclusion and not the result of conditioning?
A: It is neither a conclusion nor conditioning. It is a fact that this planet is in big trouble.
Q: Is this a feeling on your part that all life is special since “you” are all life (as recognized in your awakening), so you must protect life?
A: It isn’t a feeling. It is a realization of the fact that life is one and I can’t feel separate from it. If you see your house is on fire, you act.
Q: I think what I’m driving at is: are not death and destruction just as much a part of creativity and life as evolution is?
A: Yes, death and destruction is a part of creativity and life as evolution. Before the development of the ego and the destruction caused by that process, this planet was in perfect balance. Humankind’s seeming separation from the wholeness of life has completely thrown off that balance. It is very evident what this has done to the natural world, which includes us.
Q: What is death? Do you know what death will mean for Mel?
A: Death doesn’t exist as most people think it does. Life is change, death is just part of life. When one awakens you realize there is only one Life and you are It. Not as the personal you, ego, but Life Itself. There is the death of the dreamer who feels he/she is separate from Life, but that isn’t really death. However, it is the only death you will know. As for Mel? That has already died. The body will someday run out of steam and disintegrate. So what? I am not the body and I am not in the body. The body is in what I am. There is no loss.
Another insightful piece from Melvyn:
Chanting, praying, or following some religion is meaningless to enlightenment. Meditation of the Zen flavor can help quiet the mind so it can see more clearly, which may be of some aid to awakening. I did not meditate, chant and certainly did not follow any religion. Religion is a part of the ego dream and has nothing to do with reality.
I also never had a teacher. Throughout history there have only been a few really good teachers. Today we have more claiming to be teachers who clearly have not awakened unless you call a spiritual hiccup awakening. For the most part they are so-called Moon Buddha’s; reflecting what they have read or heard but with no real experience. It seems like many, too many, of the teachers today are what I call Conclusionists. They have a mental picture of what it is all about and plant these images into the minds of their students. Then the students come to a conclusion, which makes them high for a moment, and they think they are awake. Enlightenment is never a conclusion. It has nothing to do with the thinking mind. Except the clear need to go beyond it.