To explain Autolysis, I will use a (shortened) text from the book “Spiritual Enlightenment? The damnedest thing!” by Jed McKenna. Jed speaks with one Arthur and he explains what Autolysis is. Jed McKenna calls it ‘Spiritual Autolysis’ and he explains why in later books, but I call it simply Autolysis.
Jed McKenna: ‘Autolysis means self-digestion, and spiritual means… hell, I don’t really know. Let’s say it means that level of self which encompasses the mental, physical and emotional aspects. Put the two words together and you have a process through which you feed yourself, one piece at a time, into the purifying digestive fires.
The process of Spiritual Autolysis is basically like a Zen koan on steroids. All you really have to do is write the truth. Just write down what you know is true, or what you think is true, and keep writing until you’ve come up with something that is true.’
Arthur: ‘There are three hundred and sixty degrees in a circle.’
JM: ‘Sure. Start with something as seemingly indisputable as that, and then start examining the foundation upon which that statement is built and just keep following it down until you’ve reached bedrock, something solid—true.’
A: ‘There aren’t three hundred and sixty degrees in a circle?’
JM: ‘The question presupposes that there’s a circle.’
A: ‘There’s not a circle?’
JM: ‘Maybe. I don’t know. Is there?’
A: ‘Well, if I draw a circle…’
JM: ‘I? When did you confirm the existence of an I? Draw? Have you already raced past the part where you confirmed that you are a separate physical being is a physical universe with the ability to perceive, to draw? Have you already confirmed duality as truth?’
A: ‘I guess that’s what you mean by following it down. This is very confusing. I don’t even know where to start.’
JM: ‘It doesn’t matter where you start. You could start by using Ramana Maharshi’s query, ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What is me?’, and then just work at it. Just try to say something true and keep at it until you do. Write and rewrite. Make it cleaner and cut out the excess and ego and follow it wherever it leads until you’re done.
This isn’t about personal awareness or self-exploration. It’s not about feelings or insights. It’s not about personal or spiritual evolution. This is about what you know for sure, about what you are sure you know is true, about what you are that is true. With this process you tear away layer after layer of untruth masquerading as truth. Anytime you go back to read something you wrote, even if it was only yesterday, you should be surprised by how far you’ve come since then.’
A: ‘What’s the reason for writing it down? Why not just do it in your head like with koans?’
JM: ‘The reason for writing it down on paper or on a computer where you can see it is because the brain, unlikely as it may sound, is no place for serious thinking. Any time you have serious thinking to do, the first step is to get the whole shootin’ match out of your head and set it up someplace where you can walk around it and see it from all sides. Attack, switch sides and counter-attack.
You can’t do that while it’s still in your head. Writing it out allows you to act as your own teacher, your own critic, your own opponent. By externalizing your thoughts, you can become your own guru—judging yourself, giving feedback, providing a more objective and elevated perspective.’
A: ‘Does that make Spiritual Autolysis a path of intellect as opposed to a path of heart or a path of devotion or a path of service?’
JM: ‘Spiritual Autolysis is an intellectual endeavor, but I balk at calling it a path of intellect. It’s a process of discrimination, of unknowing what is untrue, of progressively stripping away the false and leaving only what is true. Discrimination is used in a machete-like manner for hacking one’s way through the dense underbrush of delusion, or, if you prefer, in a swordlike manner for hacking off one’s own delusion riddled head. Intellect is used as the sword with which ego commits a slow and agonizing suicide — the death of a thousand cuts.’
JM: ‘Here’s a thought. When you’re doing the writing, Spiritual Autolysis, do it for someone else. Write it for someone else. Express your knowledge for someone else’s benefit. Write it for publication, as if the whole world will see it. Or write it as a series of letters to your son, or to an imaginary friend, or to the child you once were. Whatever. Use the process of Spiritual Autolysis as a means of expressing your own highest knowledge for someone else’s benefit. And, of course, keep improving it until you’ve stated the truth.’
A: ‘Which I’ll never do?’
JM: ‘What, state the truth? No, of course not.’