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Choosing the Right Spiritual Path

So long as we believe a spiritual path and practice is necessary, then a spiritual path and practice will be necessary. Thus, for most of us – certainly for me – it is essential to find something that is helpfully resonant and clarifying. It will undo itself in time – and we will see the silliness of ever believing there was anything to do or anywhere to go (in a spiritual sense, a religious sense) – but still. Until we are there, we are here, and so it is here to which we give attention.

sledding_winter_trail

When you find the path, go sledding.

What is the right path? It is a question of resonance. It is like falling in love: there is an element of mystery to it. It will challenge you, succor you, and inspire you. You will know, and you will also resist knowing, so some discernment is called for. We have to be intelligent and willing; we have to roll with the bumps. We have to be mature: we can’t be like kids spitting out the kale because it doesn’t taste like ice cream. The path arises – appears – and so we walk it, and give attention to our walking.

At some point, the helpfulness (or lack thereof) of the chosen path will be clear. We will perceive the way in which it is meeting your perceived needs: to be loved, to be at peace, to live a meaningful and productive life, and so forth. Often at that point, the path will no longer be perfect. Its twists and turns and thorns will be obvious, perhaps frustratingly so. But it’s okay. At that point, we are no longer in the honeymoon phase but the marriage. We are ready to make the commitment. It doesn’t have to be perfect because we are ready to learn about the love that transcends the shallow level of ideals (happy feelings, preferential outcomes, etc.).

dancing_on_trail

When you find the path, and the path is uphill, try dancing.

How long does all this take? This finding the path, and walking the path, and learning whether it is a helpful path, and committing to the path? It depends. There may be a lot of stops and starts. We may go quite far along one trail before discovering a truer one. For me, there were several serious relationships before A Course in Miracles arrived and asked for my attention. All of those prior relationships were helpful in their way, until they weren’t. Seeing this, I gave my attention elsewhere. I was able to say “yes” to A Course in Miracles. It was on that path that I saw at last there is no path, and was able at last to rest in the natural grace of what is.

There is a real risk that we will find ourselves wanting to move on from this or that path not because it no longer serves but because it is serving us too well. Before awakening becomes fluid and peaceful it is often rocky and challenging: it brings us into deep and sustained contact with all aspects of the self, not just those that we like to share publicly. So again, discernment is needed. Am I moving on because the going has gotten too hard? Or am I genuinely being called to this new path?

running_on_winter_trail

When you find the path, get someone you love to run with you all the way to the bottom.

None of these questions are easy, and none of them can be answered by anyone else but ourselves. Friends and fellow travelers abound but they can’t walk that lonesome valley for us. It is helpful to see and accept this, and to become responsible for it.

There is no such thing as an objectively right way to awaken from the dream of separation. There are subjectively right ways, but not objectively right ways. It is imperative to give attention to our own experience, to be grateful for those who travel with us – briefly or otherwise, intimately or otherwise – and to be as patient and nonjudgmental as possible with all our brothers and sisters. Awakening to oneness is really a matter of becoming responsible for awakening – our own, not everyone else’s.

walking_winter_trail

But it’s okay to slow down and walk, too. It’s okay to take it seriously – to look down, to study the way, to focus. We aren’t alone, even when it seems so. And we are all already home – it’s only a question of seeing it that way.

I want everyone to be happy in a natural and serious way. I want everyone to feel creatively united to everyone else. Those are just words, and words are always a pale substitute for love, but we have to try. Loneliness and guilt, fear and anger, emptiness and regret are not inevitable. It is possible to leave their pernicious effects behind, and to dwell in a calm and quiet gracefulness. To that end, sustained and gentle attention given to the particular form of our spiritual search is always helpful. The answer wants to be found: even now it whispers our shared and precious name.

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Dreams I Can Only Imagine

Well, I decline the invitation and end up just sitting in bed like an old man, reading and writing at 2 a.m., happy enough, actually more than happy, while the old dog dozes and farts her way through dreams I can only imagine. Would it have been different if – when briefly drawing the curtain – there was either moonlight or stars? Yet by morning more snow is falling – fat flakes mixed with tiny flakes – not driven so much as lazy – as in “we’ll get there when we get there” – and my back aches extra in anticipation of shoveling but so what. The coffee tastes pretty damn good and for once I’m not a bunch of guys writing but just this one guy. As a matter of fact, I will have a burger with those fries, and also extra fries. Rereading Faraday’s The Chemical History of A Candle, which prompts Chrisoula to say “I bet he was a lot of fun in the dark,” to which there is clearly a subtext but not one I immediately understand, being more Faradayish than not. Also Husserl’s Introduction to Transcendental Phenomenology while taking notes, which Chrisoula understands means don’t interrupt, don’t make jokes. You can’t head North forever! Christ it’s a lot of work doing nothing, getting nowhere.

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Without Effort

I linger where the snow blows
hard off the hill
amazed
as always
at how much happens without my effort

birch_tree_snow

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On Remaining Teachable

rainy_tulip

rain falling on tulips
is all we need
for now

Being teachable matters in the sense that we don’t know what we don’t know. Reality is that which contains all possibility (all potential) equally, including the possibility of impossibility. Since the only answer is “there is no only answer”, sitting around and admiring sunlight on snow (or rain on tulips or what-have-you) is all there is. You can’t go wrong consenting to happiness.

Many years ago I interviewed a very intelligent scientist, the chair of the science department at a nationally-recognized university. He told me that in fifty years human beings would know everything. Everything. There would be no more mysteries, and nothing left to discover.

I love science very much, and have great respect for those who can’t be bothered with haiku and sonnets, but that comment struck me (then and now) as foolish. It is impossible to know what we don’t know, which naturally obviates the possibility of knowing everything. We can always say “what next” or “what about” or “what if.” We can always look at a conclusion and postulate its extension or expansion. As my father used to say with respect to trout fishing, “there’s always another pool up ahead.”

Being teachable simply means that we are humble with respect to – on account of – what we don’t know. It means that we accept the possibility of what we don’t know. This is a kind of openness in which what is – call it Christ, God, Holy Spirit, Life, Source, Brahman, Ground of Being or whatever – the divine et cetera – teaches us effortlessly because we are it.

This is a course in how to know yourself. You have taught what you are, but have not let what you are teach you. You have been very careful to avoid the obvious, and not to see the real cause and effect relationship that is perfectly apparent (T-16.III.4:1-3).

“You have not let what you are teach you . . . ”

To be a student in this way requires a sort of active passivity: a willingness to give attention to experience (both internal and external) without leaping in to name everything and insist that its lesson arrive at this or that conclusion, produce this or that result. The challenge here is our conviction that the self – what we are in truth – is what we do. And what we do too often obscures what we are.

You are not two selves in conflict. What is beyond God? If you who hold Him and whom He holds are the universe, all else must be outside, where nothing is (T-16.III.6:1-3).

It seems relatively clear to me that dictating formal prayer or meditation practices can quickly become oppressive, where being “right” about the particular form substitutes for actual insight or learning. By the same token, I have come to understand that my morning routine (especially my devotion and relative fidelity to it) – rising early, walking the dog, sitting quietly in darkness, then studying, then writing – has become a rhythm through which – or by which – the Ineffable reveals itself.

In other words, discipline and routine may well be called for, helpfully called for, especially in the sense that they undermine the egoic need to make things new and exciting over and over. The ordinariness of life is somewhat paradoxically its most rippling luminosity, but realizing it as such cannot be forced: we have to let life teach us: we have to allow it to reveal itself.

sunlight-on-snow

snow buntings
permitting
a requisite
glimpse of light

This revelation – the diamantine glimpse of reality – is a sure thing but it does help to meet the conditions of learning. If you ask me what those conditions are my answer is: I don’t know. But if you give attention to your life – gently and consistently – then the conditions will naturally emerge and you will be happy to meet them and, in time, you will be awakened and – sometime after that – you will realize you always were awake, and that it’s no big deal either way.

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Insistence Itself

One wants to declare the parts matter, or retreat somehow to a polished shell (turtles, always turtles), or simply be paid a decent wage to live in a cottage and “read until the end.” The monastic fantasy is only problematic when we decline to examine the underlying projection. Otherwise, why not? What happens in the river is up to the river but that doesn’t mean we aren’t participants, or presents maybe. The one way to say it matters, is perhaps one way to say it but I am starting to see there are others. Persephone at last understood as a mode of insistence not on cycles or seasons or greenery but on insistence itself. This vs. that. Nobody is going anywhere but on the other hand it sure is nice to be busy. Thank Christ for writing, which is optional of course, but still. You want to have something to say, even if it doesn’t need to be said. Thus this. Thus what passes, passing.

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Life Asks Nothing

how strange and lovely that moment
when you see clearly
that being is simply the awareness
that life asks nothing
of what for so long now
you have been calling
your self

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Waiting on Miracles

fence_slats

gaps in the fence
permitting
this or that glance

The miracle is a shift in thinking in which thought aligns, however briefly, with Truth. This means that we are not indulging our narrative preferences – this is good, this is bad, I am this, you are that. We let those be, like blades of grass or floating contrails. They are no longer our concern. The miracle is both impersonal and factual, a shock to our illusory comfort (always predicated on preference), and a clear bolt of lightening in our self-imposed dark (always a consequence of preference).

Truth, in this instance, is neither an object nor a stance taken with respect to objects. It is not an opinion. Nor is it a stranger to us, nor even unfamiliar (like a friend we have not seen in many years). It is simply what is, the wholeness of being, the fullness of the moment. Nothing is excluded (not even possibility, not even the possibility of impossibility) because nothing could be excluded. It is in the nature of the space in which thought happens, or the luminous ground from which it emerges, though both those analogies are inadequate.

And anyway, those kinds of statements – “thought aligns, however briefly, with truth,” “the luminous ground” – are maddening to various degrees. Explanation often turns into justification, which doesn’t help anyone. A kind of gentle sustained attention to what is before us – both internally and externally – seems eventually sufficient. We begin to perceive the way in which how we see – again, both internally and externally – is conditioned, and thus partial. And what can partiality beget but segments, fractures, portions, partitions, et cetera?

It is important to note that we want to fragment life, at least in the sense that we are evolved in such a way as to facilitate fragmentation. Our brains naturally divide that which is perceived, the better to understand it and thus coordinate response and reaction, which is to say, functionality. I am not saying this is right or wrong – it is simply a fact. This is how thought works. The problem is that we pretend the fragments are the whole – that they are real and true. Life is so much gentler when we just let it all be, and see our partiality for what it is – which is simply a mode of seeing that is contained within the whole.

That is what the miracle (as we are using the term here, in the mode – imprecisely perhaps – of A Course in Miracles) does. That is what it is for. The miracle is the insight that fragmentation is not wholeness and – critically – that wholeness is unaffected by our confusion, by fragmentation. That is literally all the miracle does. Of course the context of the miracle will shift for all of us – some of us will experience it while meditating, some while hiking, some in the midst of a kiss. It doesn’t matter. The form of the miracle is the least interesting aspect of it; its content is always the same: fragmentation is not wholeness. Only Truth is true. Et cetera.

The miracle passes. It is temporary, a stop-gap. It is like a flash of light in a dark landscape that illuminates enough of the trail to allow a few more steps upon it. The further we go along the trail, the more frequent and sustained the miracles – these flashes, these lights – become. Eventually we are no longer walking in a darkness briefly interrupted but rather in a sort of twilight; and this twilight itself grows brighter and brighter; becomes luminous, and illuminative.

The miracle is that insight which – over time – renders itself unnecessary.

But we do not understand miracles: and they are necessary because we don’t understand them. This is to say that we can’t force the miracle – we can’t demand right thinking happen now. If right thinking were so easy or malleable – if it were so readily accessible, it if were so subject to our will – then we wouldn’t need help. We wouldn’t have invented philosophy, religion, psychotherapy, hallucinogenics, Tarot cards and so forth nor relied upon them so . . . But we are too tangled up. Therefore, if we are going to be become clear and coherent – if we are going to locate ourselves outside time and space – then we need help. The miracle is our help.

Concern yourself not with the extension of holiness, for the nature of miracles you do not understand. Nor do you do them. It is their extension, far beyond the limits you perceive, that demonstrates you do not do them. Why should you worry how the miracle extends to all the Sonship when you do not understand the miracle itself? (T-16.II.1:3-6)

When Nisargadatta was asked for tricks or methods or ways to Truth, he generally responded much like in the following exchange.

Question: Did you get your own realisation through effort or by the grace of your Guru?

Nisargardatta: His was the teaching and mine was the trust. My confidence in him made me accept his words as true, go deep into them, live them, and that is how I came to realise what I am. The Guru’s person and words made me trust him and my trust made them fruitful.

What moves me in this regard – this idea of trust from which so far as I can see, Nisargadatta never wavered – is simply that Nisargadatta eschews any prerequisite knowledge or experience. His guru said that he was “something changeless, motionless, immovable, rocklike, unassailable; a solid mass of pure being-consciousness-bliss,” and Nisargadatta believed him, gave attention accordingly, and learned that his Guru was right. He was awakened to his true nature.

horses_kissing

Our horse Jack – on the right – nuzzling his Mother, Lilly.

That is a way to think about miracles: we are told that they are real, that will operate to awaken holiness (which is to say, authenticity, coherence, lovingkindness, et cetera) within us, and to extend it – and we are told that our job is simply to accept all this as true and go about our business. Let it be. It is enough to know the truth is given to us; we don’t have to also decide what to do with it, who to share it with, and so on and so forth.

Honor the truth that has been given you, and be glad you do not understand it. Miracles are natural to the One who speaks for God. For His task is to translate the miracle into the knowledge which it represents, and which is hidden to you. Let His understanding of the miracle be enough for you, and do not turn away from all the witnesses that He has given you to His reality (T-16.II.5:3-6).

I write sometimes about passivity – a kind of energetic passivity – in which one is giving attention without leaping via judgment into experience, in which the dualism of observer/observed is allowed to simply be. I don’t mean sitting around expecting miracles; I mean doing what is given us to do while trusting in miracles. Bake bread, walk the dog, teach the class, write the poem, shovel the path . . . and trust the miracle. Don’t think about the miracle – trust the miracle.

The insight will dawn, because it is already given. Inevitability is a kind of law here. Fun house mirrors don’t actually distort anything; they just seem to. So it is with perception: it’s askew, but it can be corrected. It can realign itself. Our efforts to get it to do so are always futile; we accomplish the most by doing nothing. Which is – sometimes, for some of us – the hardest thing. Hence the usefulness – albeit temporarily – of a practice: the lessons of ACIM, devotion to walking or art, love affairs with chickadees. The practice becomes a distraction, so that unexpectedly we become aware of what is already here and always was and we take note accordingly, miraculously.

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