Paul Hedderman: The Zen Bitch Slap

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I met Paul Hedderman at the Raleigh SIG retreat in October 2010. His unique phrasings and energetic personality immediately caught my attention. It’s not too surprising that a guy whose website is would pique one’s curiosity.

paul heddermanListening to Hedderman speak informally to three or four interested listeners Friday evening, I tried to pay more attention to his presence than his words. For what it’s worth, it felt like he rested somewhere solid; from which place his engaging personality would spring forth then return to rest. Later, I heard Paul describe himself as traveling easily, and I agree.

So what does Paul Hedderman have to say? His Zen Bitchslap site is aptly named as he tries to shake our ego-induced hysteria of self-importance with verbal whacks. “Selfing,” self-identification is our core mistake, he says. Like many teachers, he finds spiritual practices to be more bondage, since everything we do has the word “my” preceding it. My practice, my relationship — it all revolves around a self which will vanish.

Here are a few other Hedderman slaps:

What we attempt to do here is share about what we are not.
You just see there is no relationship.
The whole how and why of recovery is to quit playing god.
Who are you buying off by all your doing? The god of your mind’s making.
I’m not looking for relief for self; I found relief from self.
There is no see-er that is seeing.
The best way out is to realize you were never in.

Hedderman believes there is nothing for a seeker to do except just stop being a self. In this belief, he falls victim to the simplicity of retrospect. We tend to look back upon our experiences and smooth over the details. The struggles which proceeded a moment of realization are discounted when the realization reveals the illusory nature of all experience. I am left wondering how effective a teaching he offers. He says, “Hopefully there is a sense of certainty that is contagious…. That’s why I do three talks a week.”

To get a better sense of his teaching, I listened to several of his weekly talks available on his website. After stating at the Raleigh retreat that he doesn’t like questions, I was curious how he interacts with people. While there doesn’t appear to be much dialogue in his weekly talks, I did hear one exchange with a woman who wasn’t buying his message. I found Paul quite talented in trying to help her understand that she could not be both a body and a spirit. He used a chair to represent the body and the space in which the chair appeared as the spirit. He was very patient with her aggressive preconceptions, though he finally gave up, saying, “well, we’re just having different experiences.”

Paul Hedderman’s weekly meetings are in San Francisco and Marin City, California. I recommend checking him out. I find him honest and accessible. His background in recovery and AA gives him a strong grasp of the many ways we attempt to live a lie.

After moving to California I found the opportunity to attend a satsang with Paul Hedderman. We met at a small church in Marin, and pulled the chairs outside to enjoy the California weather for an hour-long session. A man of no pretense, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, Paul began talking after a few seconds of silence. “Probably none of you are here for ‘nothing,’ but if you could come away with that, that would be something.”

Paul spoke for forty-five minutes, then opened the door for questions. I told him it sounded like luck as much as anything we do that brings us an answer and wondered what he thought about that. He agreed, but pointed out that “entertaining the possibility” [that we are not the mind, thought, etc.] was a way to allow grace to occur. “Entertain the possibilities; put yourself in positions,” [for grace].

His teaching is simple in a way, but he also pushes the listener to be honest, to observe, to consider the facts of their experience. Is there any solidity to the identity? Is everything about “us” after the fact of experience? Are we (the “I,” the “me”) simply a ghost? Definitely a guy worth spending time with. After the meeting, a basket was passed for donations with absolutely no fanfare or feeling of requirement. Very cool.

In fact, I grew to like Paul Hedderman so much, that I made a film about him:

Traveling Lighter with Paul Hedderman is available at my Poetry in Motion Films website.

Paul Hedderman’s contains numerous audio and video of talks, all for free.

If you like the written word, there is a small book based on Paul’s Saturday morning talks. The Escape to Everywhere is not a transcript of any one talk, but more of a collection of aphoristic snippets that capture potent strokes of Paul Hedderman’s teaching. Here is an excerpt:

We are saddled with the proscribed way of looking called self-centeredness. Everything is perceived as to how it pertains to me.
The thing to do is to turn the light on it to see that all there is, is subject; there is no object called me as a subject.
There’s just subjectivity. That’s the truth.
Then enlightenment and all these goal become non-goals, because you realize there is nothing to seek. I am that which I’ve been looking for.

In 2017, Paul released Under A-Rest. I have not read it yet, but it looks to be an examination of the 12 Steps, AA, and the illusion of a separate self that fundamentally drives all addiction.

18 thoughts on “Paul Hedderman: The Zen Bitch Slap”

  1. I’m having a great time hanging out with Paul and his peeps around him. My response to him comes in waves. First meeting and week after was very intense. Second week was nice, but also what the heck is going on. Third was steadier and clearer overall. I feel like something takes when I’m with him, and I’m fortunate to have such a clear fellow in my orbit. It’s also great that he has a recovery background as I’ve recently committed to program again. He both cuts to the core of, and supports my recovery work. I also laugh a lot around him.

    Thanks Shawn!

  2. I learned more from who I wasn’t than searching for who I am. Who I am were not my thoughts at all . When silencing the thoughts I just started to understand what I was not my thoughts, not my action. I just was what I am in this moment, nothing else. Just present to the present moment. Thanks for all you do.

  3. Paul is a narcissist charlatan, who uses laymens knowledge and slaps on confusing adverbs and twists a simple idea to make it sound complex to tric listeners into thinking he has special knowledge. He takes a simple idea and says the same sentence over and over again changing a few words and twisting it up to make himself sound enlightened and intelligent when he is far from intellectual. He’s a wannabe fake sprirthal guru that Uses confusing language to try and sound profound. He’s a ego maniac. I’ve been to server of his talks and he says the same exact thing for an hour week after week

    1. It’s probably better to enjoy music you like, than to focus on a dislike and then translate it into criticisms that sound like a cacophony themselves. I find Paul’s talks like music. He even includes sometimes, “you get nothing” from these talks. Except, I’d say, what you “get” from music, if you have the ears to hear.

    2. If your moving from mind there can be judgements on Paul’s words and message if you moving from the spaciousness his words are clear and his message direct . I was a monk for 25 years and am also in the recovery program and have yet to hear nonduality spoken about so succiently and with such clarity . There is nothing false about Paul Hedderman. I have been around sudo teachers and I can smell inauthenticity a mile away.

    3. Lol…yeah it’s a “perception” shared or NOT …my personal sight is that He (just as TOO many other) “organized religion s ” can be dangerous in many ways” …these are seemingly to convince with all the statements ending in “yes?” Or “yeah?” As if He needs You to agree like any sales person tactic… Sadly He like TOO many have been through a LOT of “self medicating” addiction according to His shared story. ..when one shares their OWN personal perception of SELF so powerfully (instead of true inner strength) for my Ears i hear a need to be followed to convince feels as Religious fervor which can be dangerous cultish like too many “Gurus” …not my way at all. Care Infinite?

  4. It is too bad, but inevitable that when we are told what we are not, that it takes a message that we are only able to hear if said in our personal language… Paul speaks my language, it is difficult to imagine that his clarity of expression can be taken any other way but clear… Too bad for those who miss it…. May all who meet and listen (to Paul or others) see the lightning and hear the thunder that awakens them to the non-awakening…

  5. The words of Paul Hedderman when he says, if I quote rightly:’ Self can’t get out of self; the only way out is to realize it has never been in.’ echo the words of J Krishnamurti when he said: ‘ Freedom is at the beginning, not at the end’.

  6. I’ve listened to a number of his talks and they are quite powerful. It’s the stuff that you can’t even try to wrap your mind around – but just keep with it and listen. His message is pure and true.

    For those who have disparaged him with their comments on this page – they are so deeply entrenched in their own ego prison that they can’t possible grasp the message.

    Thank you Paul!

  7. I don’t know Paul, but the little I have heard and read resonates with me! To those who disparage him “get over yourself”!

  8. I can only judge Paul’s message based on what I have seen of him on YouTube and read about him online . What I really appreciate about Paul is the unpretentious way in which he tackles this one topic that we are interested in – our presupposed self . Paul really only riffs on one topic – this is wholly appropriate when dealing with the one single preconception which is the genesis of suffering . Whether Paul is an ego maniac or his breath stinks or you don’t like Paul’s mannerisms – is entirely irrelevant . I hear Mr. Hedderman’s simple message clearly and I think he is doing a very good and necessary job . Paul is one of the people who help me focus on what is important in this life and he describes the simplest and most direct and practical ideas that serve to remind us of what we are not.Thanks Paul !

  9. Someone once said that you learn more about the author of a comment than from the subject itself…
    I read and listened from many sages and spiritual seekers, I would dare to say that Paul seems to have a high level of integrity. He often asks to listen to the message not the messenger.

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