On Oneness

Perhaps we might consider the difference between oneness and one, and see the way the observing organism has a tendency to translate the former into the latter, and then to forget its translation, and – inevitably – defend against any effort to instigate remembering.

window_apple
the world through an apple

(The fragment longs to be whole. The human desires union – sexual, dialogic, communal, spiritual. Poetically, the jagged shard dreams of the clay pot of which it was once a part. Yet, any return to that state necessarily ends the fragment’s discrete existence. And any “whole” that subsequently emerges will have seams and cracks that recall its fragmentation).

How can we think about this? And how can our thinking inform our living?

First, we can say that “oneness” reflects a state of equilibrium. Picture a town hall full of citizens carefully listening to a speaker make the case for passage of a certain article, or a church in which the faithful attend the deacon’s homily. All are present, all are giving attention, all are committed to the shared nature of the experience, observing the rules which facilitate mutuality.

We might say that this state or condition of mutual attendance is one of harmony, in which the part neither regrets its “a-partness,” in the sense of needing to solve or amend or undo it, nor longs to aggrandize any apparent whole. That is, the citizen or church-goer is neither wishing they were elsewhere or otherwise (regretting their apparent separation) nor trying to colonize the shared experience in order to possess it as her “own.”

Yet obviously that regret and that colonization happen. Why? How? How does the simple harmony of “oneness” become the rude invader named “one?”

Here we might consider that “one” is a set. It is a bounded unit that includes itself and, by definition, excludes others. If we look again at the image of the town hall or the church, the “oneness” is composed of parts that are balanced. Yet any one part can take “oneness” and declare it “mine.” Our sensorimotor subjectivity allows for just this way of being. Separation is easy to perceive and, once seen, easy to identify with and, once identified with, easy to defend (including through aggression).

Can you see this in your own experience? The way you can be a singular you? Pitted against the world? Can you feel the sense of fear and guilt that naturally correspond to this separation? Can you see what you have done account of this fear and guilt? Can you imagine what you would do? Or could do, if pushed just so?

And can you see how if you shift your attention, even a little, this experience of “one” merges into something less threatening? It is happening right now – in this shared experience of language. You reading what another wrote, and understanding it, and responding to it, in whatever way – slight, dramatic, affirmative, doubtful – you respond.

It is always the other who reminds us of wholeness, and who makes our return possible.

Each person has a responsibility to love one another – to look upon his fellow man only as God created him – because he has discovered there is no difference between himself and his brother.

This responsibility is yours.
To accept that responsibility
will transform your life

(Tara Singh The Future of Mankind 156)

In essence, I suggest a delicate dance. Any human observer can experience herself as singular and discrete. Her subjective experience allows her to claim oneness as “hers.” “We” peacefully coexisting is translated into one with boundaries that need defending.

Yet at any time, one can instead give attention to oneness. Most of our spiritual discipline – those of us in the tradition of A Course in Miracles and other contemporary expressions of oneness – can be understood as perceiving oneness rather than one. If you look for harmony, it will show itself. But this looking – this giving of attention – needs to be liberated from ideas of what oneness looks like, feels like, acts like, et cetera. All of that are weapons in the war of the one. Beat them into plowshares, if you will.

We overlook oneness because we see instead our presumptions about oneness. That is, rather than experience a state of equilibrium (which requires the other), we look for a personal experience that is our own – that we have, possess, commodify, et cetera. Either is possible but given a choice, why insist on pain?

shelves, books
shelves, books, safe places

When I say – as I sometimes do – “this this,” I am simply observing that we cannot simultaneously stand with both feet in the river and both feet on the bank. We cannot simultaneously be on the trail to the summit and on the summit. Our capitalist culture will sell any insight, which can appear to cheapen it, but “be here now” is truly good advice, and giving attention to it as a practice is really all one needs to do.

Thus, through the gift of attention, “one” remembers “oneness,” which includes the other, who is “not-one.” Here it is helpful to remember that “the other” does not experience herself as “other” but as “one.” And that “one” experiences us as “other.” What we call “love” is really just the realization that everything we say and do in our living is being done to, with and through others each of whom could be our own self. This realization restores awareness of equilibrium and ends the observing organism’s “detour into fear” (T-2.I.2:1).

Or so one says on a cloudy morning, writing in a reconfigured hayloft, for others one has never met, and yet meets in the sweet fields of language, which are always Love spilling and sealing the seams of us.

Self Setting Aside Self

A non-trivial aspect of my spiritual practice – that is rooted in A Course in Miracles but diverges in thoughtful applied ways – is to set gently aside questions of mystery in favor of engagement with what appears, or what seems to be, the case.

mucking the pasture
not me – but Fionnghuala – mucking the pasture . . .

That is, when I am mucking the horse pasture, or clearing trails in the forest, or baking bread, I am less concerned with the abstract nature of the self – the light of pure awareness, say, or Consciousness (with a capital C) – and more with how that self is experiencing its self right now.

In doing so, the spiritual mystery of the self, its nature, its origins, et cetera – naturally dissolve. It is as if – and may, in fact, be that – love is content with the subject/object divide, so long as it is allowed to rest gently and non-confrontationally in the apparent division.

Also in doing this, I am engaging in a sort of bastardized Husserlian bracketing. I am giving attention to what is given, rather than struggling mentally (or psychologically or intellectually) to understand what is given. Again, it is my experience – my thesis, as it were – that love understands itself in the context in which it appears. So the bracketing – which intends to set aside complex questions of self which have riddled western history and thinking for millenia – becomes a way of knowing. It is as if the questions that were bracketed return or – even better – never left.

horses and fly masks
it’s fly mask season . . .

What does this look like – or how is it enacted – in my living?

Say that I am mucking the horse pasture. I give attention to the task which includes both physical and mental elements:

– noticing where the manure is;
– forking it into the wheelbarrow;
– eyeballing the horses eyeballing me;
– noticing the birds, butterflies, and insects;
– noticing the flowers and grass;
– hydrating if necessary;
– not rushing and not slacking and not hurting my body;
– dumping manure in the proper compost pile (they are divided     according to time of year and length of time spent composting);
– stirring the pile if and as necessary;
– putting the tools away

This is a lot to do! And, of course, it all sort of arises in an apparently singular welter. There is the work and there is the way my body handles it. There is the environment and the way in which attention reveals it – the more attention given, the more there is to attend. There is the overarching context of loving these very horses and wanting their living to be clean and pleasing and safe. There is the comfort and diligence in composting manure to enrich our gardens and allow us to barter with neighbors, and there is thus an overarching sense that one is doing to the best of one’s ability what is best and most loving for the collective.

It is not necessary to do anything in order to be aware of all this! It simply happens. And there is a natural corollary: it is not necessary to understand the self or its origins or its true nature in order to be a self or experience a self or bring that self into loving application. Simply do it and observe what is happening as it happens.

 

distant pasture
the pasture at a distance a little after dawn

The suggestion I make – because it arises from my experience – is that the mysteries and the mysticism (and salvation and awakening and present-moment-awareness and . . . ) are all simply natural aspects of what is naturally happening. They are included in the package, as it were. And they reveal themselves as we give attention to what is happening, which is not dramatic or intense but merely this very living that we are doing and were always doing.

No more and no less: and just enough, just so.

Spirituality and Wild Goose Chases

The idea there is some external purpose to life – divine or mystical or otherwise – is problematic in the sense that it tends to promote wild goose chases and inattention to what’s right here right now.

light, crucifix
light, openings, crosses, rafters . . . the space in which we find ourself tells us a story about our self . . .

We are “children of a loving God,” or we are “sleeping spiritual beings surrounded by a light which gently awakens us,” or there are ascended masters of various sizes, shapes and proclivities who have secret wisdom to offer . . .

These (and other) narratives are old stories born of an unwillingness to stay with the present moment, and the uncertainty (or unknowing) that such staying mandates. They are designed to magnify the self (even – sometimes often – under the guise of undoing the self) by giving the self something to do, like search for itself or for God or for Truth.

There is nothing wrong with these stories, other than that we believe them to be true and make use of them accordingly. An adult parent who believes in Santa Claus isn’t hurting anybody, but his children might be disappointed come the morning of December 25 when there’s no gifts under the tree.

It’s not a question of letting go of distracting narratives but simply looking beyond or through or around them. Think of them as blossoms in a garden that has absorbed all our attention; now we want to see the leaves and stems, and the smaller flowers here and there, and the cool shadows close to the earth, and the ants and so forth.

Attention and observation of the present moment in its fullness is literally the work of a lifetime, and it doesn’t help to be running after imaginary angels and gods and scriptures and so forth.

One way to think of this is to distinguish between the narrative we make and the narrative we are given. The latter is peaceful, even when ostensibly violent or conflicted, while the former reinforces and reifies conflict, no matter how apparently pure and noble our intentions.

In my own experience, which may or may not be helpful, what works is to become aware of the nature of attention – its scope, its responsiveness, its operative fullness – and simultaneously to let attention be, or at least discover the limits of “my” relationship to it.

The suggestion is that there is no “you” or “I” directing attention, though those pronouns and that which they temporarily signify do show up within attention. But their appearance is more in the nature of a reflection than anything solidified or capable of agency. They are helpful in a limited way.

I say “suggestion” in order to be clear that experience or being in these respects may show up differently for other folks. Those differences are generally only slight differences of degree, but the semantics employed to express those differences can admit to gaps one can ride an elephant through.

It’s good to go slow and not be in any rush to build a tribe or even get anywhere in particular. The collective has already found us, and “the way,” strictly speaking, does not require any discernment on our part.

Of course, it can sound silly to say that – even mystical. It can sound like some sort of divine imperative to be a couch potato or slacker or just existentially indifferent.

But the suggestion – there’s that word again – is that the opposite is more accurate. There is work to be done, learning and teaching, communication awaiting sundry embodiments. Absent a central director – God or self – life doesn’t stagnate but opens into a dynamic flow, flowering even, where the focus is not on outcomes or advantages, save in the broadest and most abstract sense.

It is a paradox but “you” become most peaceful and productive and creative when there is no longer an “you” to be found, and the world is saved – which is to say, made anew in us – once we stop our endless fixation on its shortcomings and griefs.

Maple Trees in Place of Jesus

What would a maple tree do?

I don’t see it quite so often anymore, but for a time folks would pose this question: what would Jesus do?

maple_tree
maple trees visible through the hayloft sky light . . .

I think it’s a poor question on several counts, though I understand the folks asking it had good intentions, and certainly in some instances, asking and answering that question, brought about desirable results. But still.

I’m not sure my proposed alternative – what would a maple tree do? – is any better, but I do think it might nudge our thinking in interesting directions, which in turn might prove helpful in terms of the world we bring forth.

Anytime someone says “Jesus” it is prudent to ask what they mean. It is one of the more complicated pair of syllables one can utter.  When it is said, is what is meant the historical Jesus? The Jewish peasant who was a follower of John the Baptist, assumed and transformed his teacher’s ministry for several years, and then was executed by the Romans?

To say one is going to do what that Jesus did is not easy because we don’t really know what he did. That is, constructing a rational narrative for that man’s life is a matter of informed (to greater and lesser degrees) conjecture because there is so little evidence with which to work and all of it is deeply biased.

Almost inevitably, when we talk about Jesus then we are really talking about our own political and cultural interests and agendas now.

There is nothing wrong with talking about political and cultural ideals and projects, but to assume that the historical Jesus would be on board with them is a largely unjustified leap.

Folks might also be referring to the Jesus of scripture. But that Jesus is an idealized (as in “existing in imagination or idea,” not “the best” or “perfect”) Jesus. It is Jesus according to an author or authors who had specific goals and constructed a Jesus  that furthered their goals. (Hence the generous variation in the Pauline epistles). Since scripture does not have one author but many, there are many Jesuses in the New Testament, and even more in the various communities that have evolved in response to its scriptural variegation.

That Jesus – because it is an idea – can be put to literally any end one likes and so more or less ceases to function in any meaningful way. Jesus opposes the death penalty! Jesus supports the death penalty for cop-killers! And so forth.

Critically, nobody can admit that the scriptural Jesus is merely an idealized Jesus – they always claim it is the true historical Jesus. Why? Because absent that embodied authority, their position becomes merely one among many, and not the right or true position.

There is a lesson in that for those of us still working through what it means to be a body or a spirit or a spirit in a body or a body with a spirit . . .

One can see this dynamic at play in the community of A Course in Miracles as well. This Jesus also functions in an idealized way – rewriting traditional Christian concepts like forgiveness and atonement (though not quite as radically as Ken Wapnick and others proposed), indulging nonduality, et cetera – and is also the historical Jesus. Indeed, in the creation stories that surround the scribing of the ACIM material, Helen is positioned as having been one of Jesus’s followers in a previous life.

In other words, when somebody asks “what would Jesus do?” it is always code for “what do I want to do in this situation?” Using Jesus is just a way of blessing off on our preferences, of implying that what we do is right or true or The Way. And while sometimes this produces happy results – feeding the poor, visiting the imprisoned – it can also produce unhappy results like discrimination and other forms of violence.

mornng_coffee
morning coffee . . . marble slab for a coaster . . . light in the hay loft lovely . . .

Is my suggestion – what would a maple tree do? – any better?

Jesus was a human observer whose range of activity – both mental and physical – approximately mirrors our own. He could lay a hand on the sick. He could lecture a crowd. He could eat bread and drink wine. He could go for a walk or kneel to pray or draw in the sand.

A maple tree does not do those things. It can’t. Thus, to compare ourselves to a maple tree is to fundamentally reframe our idea of what it means to act and think. It moves us out of the familiar “human” range and into another range.

Maple trees do not move. They don’t travel. That means that what happens, happens. When a hurricane comes, they can’t move to another town. If somebody comes by with an ax, they can’t hide. They can’t fight back. If a squirrel decides to live in their branches, they can’t say “I’d rather save that space for a chickadee.”

Maple trees don’t foliate in winter. Tough luck for them if they’d like to. In fall their foliage dies in lovely reds, yellows and oranges. Tough luck for them if they want to try blue, purple and silver. In spring, they produce a sweet sap. Tough luck for them if they’d rather produce beer. Or just take a break from sap-production altogether.

Do you see the trend emerging here?

In our human observing, maple trees are essentially passive. Their relationship to their environment – their way of living in a world – is one of acceptance. What happens, happens. Their ability to actively shape is muted. They don’t have dramatic powers of resistance. If an evil man who has just slaughtered a thousand men sits beneath a maple tree, he will enjoy the same cool shade as a virtuous woman who just midwifed a baby would.

Is the challenge the maple tree poses becoming clear?

Maple trees need sustenance to live; in that sense, they have appetites. Yet they don’t take more rain or sunlight than is given to them. The rain that is given is what they receive. The sunlight that is given is what they receive. The soil is the soil; they don’t shop for a replacement.

Is the discipline the maple tree demands becoming clear?

So when we are faced with a crisis – when we would call on the model of Jesus to help us choose how to act – what happens when we call instead on a maple tree?

I think – that is, it seems to me in this wordy and meandering way of living – that maple trees counsel acceptance, patience, and tolerance. They would counsel these practices to a radical (a demanding and unfamiliar) degree.

details
bookshelf detail . . ,

Yet we are not maple trees! If a tiger is bearing down on us, we should by all means move. But maybe we should also not adopt a policy of killing or containing all tigers because they are incredibly efficient carnivorous killers.

If we are hungry, then we should eat. But maybe also opt for food that was grown in a sustainable way, the value of which is measured not only in its cost at the grocery store. Maybe align our appetite with justice and love: farmers and homesteaders who are thinking not only of economic bottom lines but also ecological wholeness.

We are not maple trees – but we are not Jesus either! We are just the human observer that we are, doing our living in coordinated ways, with other human and animal and plant and mineral observers. Together we bring forth a world. The question is always what world shall we bring forth? Since love is the foundation of our being – the pliant nutritious loam of our shared existence – what actions and coordinations most probably and efficiently and sustainably bring love forth?

Jesus is okay but confusing to the point of distraction. So maybe let Jesus go on that account. At least see what happens when you do. Maybe become the disciple of maple trees. Maybe find out what a maple tree does in the domain of its experience and then – to the full reach of your own being – do the same in the domain of your own.

Rational Thinking With Respect to Spiritual Mysteries

We might say that practical answers are important according to context.

For example, I want to bake bread and make soup for dinner.

It helps that there are bread and soup recipes. It helps there is a coop nearby that sells vegetables, flour, herbs and spices. It helps that I have homemade bags in which to store what I buy.

The recipes, the coop, and the bags are all made by people. People used language and engineering and design plans to put these things together and then sustain and share them.

planting
seeding the garden . . . that time of year . . .

In our home, we put a lot of thought into gardening and animals. We think about fencing, pastures, veggie rotation, when to plant and when to harvest, how to better age compost, putting food up, bartering with neighbors . . .

This sort of rational informed thinking and planning is very useful for gardening and creating a safe, local, sustainable food supply.

Is it as useful for awakening? Or enlightenment? Encountering nondual experience? Whatever word or phrase we want to use?

Maybe!

If we agree that there are many paths up the mountain, then one of them must be the way of rigorous scholarship, intellectual effort and rational thinking. That is, one of the ways up the mountain is the same as the one that allows us to make and sustain a homestead.

But in going up the mountain this way, we have to take care not to disparage paths that are characterized less by reason and more by, say, devotion. Entering into personal relationships with idealized Christs, writing Rumi-like paeans to the Goddess, worshiping on our knees, and so forth.

There are folks for whom that kind of approach to spirituality works. I don’t want to ignore or otherwise denigrate it by pretending my way is superior.

If all paths lead to the summit, then all we can say of a given path is that it is effective relative to our perspective. Because we want all being to have the same freedom we have, we must recognize that other folks will choose other paths, and those paths will be effective relative to their perspective.

Yet even as we take these varying paths, we are on the same mountain, and our passing-through affects all of us.

Our garden is not separate from other gardens in the area. For example, by including many flowers, we nurture local bee populations, which strengthens other gardens (as they, in turn, strengthen ours). By composting literally everything that can be composted, we minimize waste (and waste removal costs and energy) and build up the soil for the gardeners and homesteaders who will come after us.

In a similar way, our commitment to growing and raising food on our homestead, supplementing that production through a network of local farmers and homesteaders, and shopping locally for the balance, ripples in non-trivial ways across local, regional, national and global economies.

mulch hay in the garden
mulch hay ready to be scattered through the garden as planting begins in earnest . . .

We do the work we are doing, with the understanding that its effects do not end with whatever limits we impose on our collective human experience.

In a sense, I want all people to be as thoughtful as is possible with respect to conserving and nurturing natural resources. Being aware of how we consume seems to make the world safer and more productive for all lives. But the way in which folks do this – their readiness, their willingness, their access (to land, cooperatives, income et cetera) is not uniform. Love obligates us to see and honor this.

So in all things we do what we can. A reasonable goal seems to be to make our doings as coherent and loving as possible. This is true for our so-called spiritual practice as well. Give attention to it. What works? What doesn’t? What do you wish would work but can’t seem to make work? What issues keep coming back? Who is helpful in your process? How do you define “helpful?” and so forth.

We are already awake. Nonduality is the ground of our being. But distractions abound. Sometimes rather than walk our path we defend it. Or try to force others to walk it. Sometimes we close our eyes and then complain that we can’t see. Sometimes we are content with what is given. There is no law that says you have to climb a mountain, or go all the way to the summit. It’s okay to not worry and be happy. It really is.

Most of what distracts us goes away naturally when we slow down and respond to life as it appears without making a big deal of it. In a sense, one comes to the realization that not all mysteries have to solved. Some of them we can just enjoy.

Who Was Helen Schucman?

Was Helen Schucman psychic?

In my view, that question functions as gossip – akin to speculating about someone’s sexuality. We are all intuitive to one extent or another. We all express our intuitions in deeply personal ways. Singling out one person’s expression for analysis – especially without their consent and participation – feels intrusive and unkind.

But beyond gossip, I still think it’s a poor question. A “poor question” – in my view anyway – is one that does not yield a boatload of subsequent questions, each deeper than the last, that together leave us not with answers (which are only questions in utero) but an abiding sense of wonder and gratitude.

Here is how I would frame an inquiry into Helen’s psychic powers: does it matter if she was psychic?

The way that we answer that question is interesting because it anticipates another – more interesting and fruitful – question: who actually wrote A Course in Miracles?

Helen Schucman (with an assist from Bill Thetford)?

Or Jesus (with an assist from Helen Schucman with an assist from Bill Thetford)?

The way that we answer that question speaks volumes to how we view the ACIM curriculum. If we believe that Jesus dictated it, then we are apt to believe that by embracing it we are ipso facto embracing Jesus. We become students of the course ordained by Jesus Himself. We get as close to a contemporary disciple as one can get.

But since A Course in Miracles ultimately refutes the existence of separate identities, it also denies the identity of an itinerant peasant who was executed by the Romans a couple of millenia ago for carrying on the work of John the Baptist. If you carefully follow the course, you reach a juncture where there is no Jesus.

Nor, by the way, is there a Gary Renard (or an Arten or Pursah). Or a Ken Wapnick. Or a Tara Singh. Or a Marianne Williamson. Or a . . .

But those fine teachers are not the real sticking points! The sticking point is that there is no [insert your name here]. And most of us would cheerfully throw Helen Schucman herself under the bus rather than give up our own identity.

Helen Schucman – not Jesus – wrote A Course in Miracles. It expresses her lifelong fascination with Christianity (especially the healing implicit in Christian Science and the mysticism inherent in Catholicism), and its nexus with psychology and with emerging popular views of eastern spirituality. Critically, in order to effectively write this material, she had to pretend it wasn’t her doing the writing but rather Jesus.

In other words, I don’t think there was any way for Schucman to face the ACIM material other than to displace it. Or – to put it into course terms – project the material onto her projection of Jesus and then deny that’s what she was doing.

Most of us who read the course are de facto enablers of Helen, in the sense that we go along with her fantasy. We pretend that Jesus really is implicated in authorship of the course. I don’t think any of us get away from this aspect of A Course in Miracles. Saying Jesus wrote it is sexy. Saying that we are followers of Jesus through A Course in Miracles is righteous. And sexy + righteous = special. It’s our favorite equation.

I know that for many students to dismiss Jesus (and perhaps Helen Schucman and A Course in Miracles too) this way amounts to an assault on the sacred. Forgive me. But also, consider the possibility that denotations like “sacred” may themselves be an assault on that to which “sacred” points.

So here is another question. If A Course in Miracles was written by Helen Schucman, and reflects in part her confusion about Christian spirituality and identity, and in part the popular enlightenment zeitgeist of the sixties and early seventies (manifest to varying degrees of effectiveness in Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, et cetera), would that be okay? Why or why not?

Back when I was practicing a half-assed Zen in Vermont, I read Kodo Sawaki. He was a confusing teacher, largely because – especially back then – I preferred my spiritual teachers to radiate holiness. You could say chop wood and carry water but the actual chopping and carrying was for schlubs.

Sawaki was – and is, really – good medicine for that kind of confusion and arrogance.

The asshole doesn’t need to be ashamed of being the asshole. The feet don’t have any reason to go on strike just because they’re only feet. The head isn’t the most important of all, and the navel doesn’t need to imagine he’s the father of all things. It’s strange though that people look at the prime minister as an especially important person. The nose can’t replace the eyes, and the mouth can’t replace the ears. Everything has its own identity, which is unsurpassable in the whole universe.

Sawaki recognized that his methods and style were controversial, especially for folks invested in concepts of “sacred,” especially as they applied to “identity,” ours or anyone else’s.

They say that my sermons are hollow, not holy. I agree with them because I myself am not holy. The Buddha’s teaching guides people to the place where there is nothing special . . . People often misunderstand faith as kind of ecstasy of intoxication . . . True faith is sobering up from such intoxication.

It is easy to become intoxicated with A Course in Miracles – the scribe was psychic, Jesus is its author, popular teachers are taught by ascended masters, it holds out the possibility of light shows . . .

If that’s your thing, then it’s your thing. Give attention to it and see where it goes. For me, its yield was more in the nature of an ersatz high one has to work harder and harder to sustain. But my way is not The Way.

In my experience, it was helpful to treat the course as a course, allow it to function as if functioned, and then move on. A Course in Miracles introduces you to an inner teacher that it calls the Holy Spirit, and that teacher takes over the curriculum. It is deeply personal and deeply effective. One doubles down on their study and – when the times comes, which it does – let the whole thing go.

Thus, beyond the high drama and supernatural special effects so many of us project onto the course, there is the simple promise of becoming peaceful and happy to an almost exquisite degree, simply by seeing the self for what is and thus ending our personal resistance to experience. That is the real promise, and the real joy. And for it, my gratitude to Helen Schucman is immense.

A Spiritual Experience of Nonduality

The situation that confronts us – to which a spiritual experience of nonduality is apparently a possible answer – is an old one. How do we know what is real? Or true?

Thousands of years ago, Xenophanes of Colophon pointed out that even if someone happened to acquire perfect knowledge of the one true world, they would never know they had done so. Why? Because in order to verify the truth of knowledge about the world, one has to compare their knowledge to the world, and we only have access to the world through our knowing.

In other words, we can never step outside of experience in order to verify that which gives rise to experience.

old_weathervane
an old weather vane set just so among the raspberry bushes . . .

You can look into this for yourself. Pick a nearby object – a cup of tea, a flower, a sleepy cat. Prove that your perception of it is true – that there really is a cat “out there,” independent of your perception of it.

Every move you make to ascertain the object’s independent existence must occur within the realm of your subjective experience. You cannot ever get outside of it.

Thus, while you can surely testify that something is going on, and you can be a witness as to the nature of that something’s appearance, you cannot verify its independent existence.

How you respond to this fact determines the nature and extent of your happiness and helpfulness.

The suggestion I make is to see that this experience is simply inherent in human observers. Our perceptual and cognitive capacities operate within a given range and produce this experience. One of the aspects of this experience is that it appears dualistic but can be conceived of – on better than decent evidence, by the way – as nondualistic.

And the further suggestion I make is that this is no big deal. It’s not a spiritual mystery. It’s not a problem to be solved. It’s not a secret divulged only to the worthy. It’s merely an aspect of human experience of which it is helpful to be aware, because awareness of it tends to nurture kindness, gentleness, generosity, et cetera, which in turn nurture happiness, our own and everybody else’s.

Of course, there are other ways to frame this insight. Consider Sailor Bob Adamson, who I think is one of the clearer and more reasonable neo-advaitic teachers out there.

If you are seeking truth, reality, God or whatever you like to call it, I suggest that you start with the only reality you are absolutely certain of – that is, the fact of your own being . . . That knowing is constantly and ever with us . . .

Like most contemporary nondual traditions and teachers, Adamson points out that it is our belief in the self – the “me” or the “I” – that gives rise to literally all our problems.

Because of that enormous belief (in a ‘me’) there is this so-called human suffering. It is only a ‘me’ that can be fearful. It is only a ‘me’ that can be anxious. It is only this ‘me’ that can be angry or full of self-pity or anxiety . . . See that the ‘me’ is the cause of all my problems.

This is similar to the observation in A Course in Miracles that our one problem is our belief in separation, and once we’re clear that it’s not actually a problem, then we will realize that we have no problems and so must be at peace.

If you are willing to recognize your problems, you will recognize that you have no problems. Your one central problem has been answered, and you have no other. Therefore, you must be at peace. Salvation thus depends on recognizing this one problem, and understanding that it has been solved. One problem, one solution. Salvation is accomplished. Freedom from conflict has been given you (W-pI.80.1:1-7).

I appreciate what these teachers and traditions say. My own sense is that the way it is said can sometimes can confuse students by instilling in them a sense that a problem-free existence is possible and represents a pinnacle of spiritual wisdom. We end up chasing yet another metaphorical wild goose, when the point was to just settle down.

piglets
this spring’s pigs . . .

When we see the self for what it is – basically a recursive loop – what happen is not that problems disappear but rather that they are perceived from a new perspective. They are just happening rather than happening “to me.” Suffering in the personal sense abates. But still, if you get a cold, expect a runny nose. If you don’t get enough sleep, expect fatigue and crankiness. Just don’t expect to be so attached to the experience of fatigue or illness as “yours.”

Really, what changes is not so much the experience itself but our resistance to the experience. When you know that everything is coming and going, then the apparently isolated instances, good and bad, stop mattering so much. The need to intervene – to improve, amend, block, avoid, clutch – stops being so intense. Sometimes it rains and sometimes it doesn’t.

This state of clarity about self and the corresponding nonresistance to experience is desirable. It makes us happy and we want to be happy, at peace, et cetera. Don’t feel guilty for having this goal. It’s part of being human.

More to the point, it’s attainable. Lots of folks reach this state of inner peace, achieve fluency and efficiency with it, and are able to pass it on. Only some of those folks do so from a spiritual or religious perspective. There are many trails to the summit!

If you want an apple, walk to the orchard and pick an apple. It is not a spiritual crisis and religion does not have a monopoly on orchard maps. By all means, pray and sing hosannas as you go, but don’t confuse your hymns and prayers for walking. Don’t confuse them with the orchard. And don’t confuse them with apples.

Happiness is inherent in the human observer because we are loving animals. Remove – through clarification, contemplation and service – that which obstructs love, and love will be what remains. Happiness will be what remains.

The surest way to do this is to make others happy. Devote yourself to service and to the extent you’re worried about self-improvement, try to improve those aspects of your being that make you more helpful to others. When you do, you will discover another old truth: only by giving love away will you know love.

Nonduality and the Nature of Desire

Yet ask: where does an object go and what does it do when it is not appearing in the unified flow of subjective experience?

When we look into nonduality – conceptually, experientially, poetically, et cetera – one of the first insights is that Being presents itself as unified to a center that is stable.

There are no gaps in experience and you are always present unto it.

For some reason, this is not instantly clear to everyone. It can take a while – giving attention, studying, practicing – to become aware of it. And then, after one has become aware of it, there seems to be a tendency to become fundamental and conservative with respect to it. That is, we consider it THE answer and protect it accordingly.

That is a simplification, of course. Lots of folks who make contact with the felt sense of unified subjective experience go on with great subtlety and care. Lots of folks recognize it as the beginning of a dialogue, rather than the solution to a problem or a mystery.

raspberry_bush_ascending
raspberry bush ascending unto Heaven . . .

Imagine you are climbing a mountain. With great effort and skill you claw your way to the summit and . . . discover that you have reached the base at which you began. You have executed a loop rather than an ascension. You thought you were going in a line – making progress, improving, advancing, closing in on a goal – and instead you were going in a circle.

Perhaps “awakening” as such is like that. One realizes the loop. The nature of the loop is that it does not have a beginning or an end. Even calling it “the loop” betrays an intention to declare the inquiry into ongoingness over. Errors abound! For there are no mountains, no Buddhas, no angels, and no sacred texts. There isn’t even an altar on which to declare the Loop a God.

What I am calling the “Loop” here, others might call a “self.” Yet others might call it “Christ Mind.” Or “Present Moment Awareness.” Or “I Am that I Am.”

light_apple_tree
gazing up through the apple tree . . .

The name is not the thing that is named. But naming things is helpful because it allows us to communicate – to be in dialogue, as I like to say – and we do want to be in dialogue. We very much desire sharing. It is almost like the other exists in order that we might be known unto them, as if the collective were an infinite sea of longing forever meeting itself in salty undulation.

Give attention to this desire, this longing. What does it want? How does it make itself clear? Is it separate from what it wants? What, if anything, can you find beyond the specific objects to which it is directed – the desire for this person, this school of thought, this activity, this tradition?

At the beginning of this post (this post), I asked where objects are and what they do when they do not appear in the present unified flow of subjective experience. Maple trees, Ursa Major, the small of your lover’s back . . .

Notice that in order to ask that question, I have presupposed the existence of space and time (i.e., things wait somewhere). What is the relationship between desire and this presupposition? Is the one possible without the other? Does the one owe the other its existence? Does the one want the other?

In the spirit of dialogue, I offer a final thought with respect to those – possibly unanswerable but certainly fun and interesting – questions.

There is in experience a sense of order, and this order appears to be purposeful. Without it, I cannot bake bread, throw a baseball with my son, muck a pasture with my daughters, walk with Chrisoula through the village, or even write this sentence.

It is almost as if, in the absence of order, love would have no means to know itself or show itself.

Thus . . .

Love Does Not Compare: ACIM Daily Lesson 195

Let us pause for a moment and think of those with whom we compare ourselves. I mean literally search our thoughts and find those individuals (or groups even), and maybe even do a little comparing right now.

Aren’t these folks easy to find? Easy to objectify? Easy to envy or scorn? Those who are less patient, less diligent in their scholarship, less attentive to food security? Those who are richer, thinner, or can run farther faster? Those who panic when faced with a crowd and those who can’t shut up and share the stage?

sun_rising_red
dawn in the hayloft, light hinting red

It is helpful to see this rogues gallery and to acknowledge its existence. We made it. Its halls are worn bare because we visit so often and so faithfully.

Lesson 195 of A Course in Miracles is ostensibly about gratitude, but it yokes this core concept to our tendency to compare ourselves to others and find them – or us – wanting. Comparison, it turns out, is not a recipe for inner peace.

You do not offer God your gratitude because your brother is more slave than you, nor could you sanely be enraged if he seems freer. Love makes no comparisons. And gratitude can only be sincere if it be joined to love (W-pI.195.4:1-3).

Love makes no comparisons . . .

We have to stay with that phrase for a moment because it is so utterly beautiful and also so mind-numbingly ridiculous.

Doesn’t that phrase feel electric in your brain? “Love makes no comparisons,” “Love does not compare . . . ” Doesn’t it resonate when uttered as if the very angels of Heaven were harmonizing along with you?

And truly, don’t you feel a little self-righteous saying it? I do. Like how cool is it that we are the ones who know that love makes no comparisons . . .

But look. As human observers, we make comparisons. We live by them. We compare foods, find some nutritious and others a chemical abomination, and then eat accordingly. We have to go on a long drive and opt for a Bob Dylan playlist, not Techno, because we want to be happy and relaxed on our drive, not jaw-grinding insane.

Or we love someone – we hold them, kiss them, watch over their rest, catch our breath when they smile – because we’ve been around, we’ve seen the options – and this someone is the best someone. They’re good to us, they make us laugh. They know when we need a little extra attention and when we have to be alone. Not just anybody can be this somebody!

You cannot not make comparisons. Okay? You really have to see this! You have to see how comparing actually inheres in your body, in your thoughts, and in the language you use. Comparison is you; it’s as much you as anything else you’d like to say is you.

We have to see it that way because if we don’t, then the utter ridiculousness of the lesson – upon which its helpfulness is predicated – won’t be clear. You see? You are being told to adopt as a practice something that you literally cannot do. It isn’t fair. It’s masochistic.

So what do we do?

Lesson 195 advises us to let our gratitude make room for “the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid, and those who mourn a seeming loss and those who feel apparent pain, who suffer cold or hunger, or who walk the way of hatred and pain of death” (W-pI.195.5:2).

All these go with you. Let us not compare ourselves with them, for thus we split them off from our awareness of the unity we share with them, as they must share with us (W-pI.195.5:3-4).

Do you see what happened there? We – you and I, of all people – got thrown in with “the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid, and those who mourn a seeming loss and those who feel apparent pain, who suffer cold or hunger, or who walk the way of hatred and pain of death.”

It’s not a mistake. It’s a fact of our shared unity. If you are honest, can’t you see yourself somewhere in that list? It’s not a description of others – it’s a description of our own living.

Comparison only makes logical sense if there are at least two things. I can compare my right hand to my left hand, but not my right hand to my right hand. I can compare the maple tree out front to the maple tree out back, but I can’t compare the maple tree out front to the maple tree out front.

What is one and thus the same cannot be compared to itself.

We thank our Father for one thing alone; that we are separate from no living thing, and therefore one with Him. And we rejoice that no exceptions can ever be made which would reduce our wholeness . . . We give thanks for every living thing, for otherwise we offer thanks for nothing . . . (W-pI.195.6:1-3).

Sure, you say. We are one. But it feels and seems and appears like we’re separate . . .

Yes. I hear that. It is an important insight. And really, to pretend otherwise is vain and pretentious. And we are past that now. We don’t wake to fake awakening or act out fantasies of nonduality or pretend we’re in an intimate 1:1 correspondence with Jesus, Yahweh, and the Buddha.

It’s good to be clear that we are having a dualistic experience. It’s good to remember that we are not alone in saying it. And it’s good – it’s more than good, actually – to give close attention to what the course asks of us next in the lesson.

Then let our brothers lean their tired heads against our shoulders as they rest a while. We offer thanks for them. For if we can direct them to the peace that we would find, the way is opening at last to us (W-pI.195.7:1-3).

Please see the clarity of that last sentence: it does not say that peace that we have or know or are. It says the peace we are still looking for. It refers to the peace we haven’t found. It envisions a future state that is not this present state.

You see? The course is recognizing that we aren’t there yet. We don’t get it yet. And it is no big deal. The sky isn’t falling, pits aren’t opening, and lions aren’t laying down with lambs.

So we can relax and get on with the other two sentences in that passage. We give thanks (sentence two) and then help our brothers and sisters rest (sentence one). We put the metaphysics and intellectualizing aside and actually help our brothers and sisters.

And isn’t that the part we all want to skip? It’s so much sexier to read Francisco Varela and Emily Dickinson, write Japanese short form poetry, see who liked our last post and who retweeted our last tweets.

Who wants to go donate a few hours at the local food pantry? Who wants to walk around the crappy parts of town and hand out coffees or blankets or bologna sandwiches? Who wants to visit a nursing home and read to someone who never gets visitors? Who wants to knock on doors for signatures for a bill that would ban pesticides that are harmful to bees? Who wants to do the dishes even though it’s not your night to do the dishes?

Tara Singh is my ACIM teacher because he brought the course out of the clouds. He ended the distractions of mysticism, psychic powers, ascended masters; really, he ended the ideal of special experiences altogether. He taught me that the earth is my home, not the sky. He taught me to garden and gaze dreamily at the stars, to enact local service and to go off to a quiet place to pray, to study critical texts and clean the bathroom.

shadow_prisms
my shadow gesturing at blurred prisms on the hayloft’s western wall

Lesson 195 never says this but it should: Act in the world with your body. Act in a way that helps other people. When you do this, the love and peace from which you still feel alienated, and the oneness that remains true even though you can’t really see it yet, will be revealed.

An ancient door is swinging free again; a long forgotten Word re-echoes in our memory, and gathers clarity as we are willing once again to clear . . . Walk then in gratitude the way of love (W-pI.7:4, 8:1).

So don’t sweat the comparisons. Let them come, let them go. Don’t sweat the impossible. Don’t try and mentally work out what it would mean to be beyond all that. If it’s your job to understand and help others understand, then that will happen. But right now – and perhaps for a long time to come – our job is to love one another, to help one another.

We are the lost and forsaken. We are the lost sheep. But it’s okay! Don’t look for home, don’t complain about how unfair life is, don’t lament your fate. Rather, with clear eyes, gaze about and see the widow, the orphan, the soldier, the prisoner, the refugee, the hungry, the frail, the abandoned, the hopeless . . .

They are here: help them. In simple nondramatic ways, be of service. See what happens next.

Love Comes Naturally

Yet it is natural to love one another. It does not take effort or discipline; we don’t have to be taught. Love arises in us as a condition of our being. You could say that we are love, and does it not feel true? Does it not feel like you did not say those words alone but in concert?

light_facing_east
facing east, surrendering

In the hayloft where I write three windows face east. Glass bottles line the dusty sills, prisms hang in the panes. At dawn, as the sun rises, the room fills with a glorious light; rainbows glide across the walls and floors. At times I cannot bear this loveliness and have to look way. Other times it makes me as happy as if war itself were forever dissolved, the hungry fed and the imprisoned set free.

And yet war goes on. Hunger goes on. The prisons are full. The poor cut their pills into quarters. So my studies go on, laying me low, brushing me aside, lifting me up . . .

Why? What is the cause of this long sufferance? And what if anything shall we do to end it, you and I?

In A Course in Miracles, “separation” is the belief that we have an identity apart from Creation itself. But the course teaches that this belief is an error.

You have not only been fully created, but have also been created perfect. There is no emptiness in you. Because of your likeness to your Creator, you are creative. No child of God can lose this ability because it is inherent in what she is . . . (T-2.I.1:3-6).

In his essay Biology of Love, Humberto Maturana noted that “love is the grounding of human existence,” but acknowledged that we are alienated from this basic truth.

In the blindness that the negation of love creates in our living, we stop seeing ourselves as part of the harmonious interconnectedness of all existence in the unending dynamics of life and death, and we begin to live guided by ambition, greediness and the desire for control . . . we suffer because we become denied by the very same world and psychic existence that we are bringing about, as this is a world and psychic existence that denies the fundaments of our existence as loving animals.

Thus, as A Course in Miracles points out, “[T]he secret to salvation is but this: that you re doing this unto yourself” (T-27.VIII.10:1).

No matter what the form of attack, this still is true. Whoever takes the role of enemy and of attacker, still is this the truth. Whatever seems to be the cause of any pain and suffering you feel, this is still true (T-27.VIII.10:2-4).

light_and_love_and_miracles
light
and love
and miracles

We are loving beings who make systems by which our capacity for love – but not love itself, never love itself – is thwarted. And yet as we construct these systems, so can we also deconstruct them. We can give careful and sustained attention to what obstructs the free flow of love in and through our being and do the necessary work of clearing space, opening channels, and getting out of the way.

For it is work and it is not easy. It takes effort. It takes discipline. It takes time and energy, more than we might care to give. We have to learn to see the fundamental deception in a sustained way, which is the only way it can be dissolved. We have to see the deception of self-satisfaction – “I’ve done enough” or “I’m all done” or “It’s too hard / confusing / unrewarding.” It is the hardest step of all.

For the work is not to perfect our own being but to clarify it through service and contemplation so that the world itself – the collective that holds the individual as dearly as it holds the all of us – might remember its natural inclination to love. Tara Singh said to be fully awake was to be always learning.

A student has to give life for life.
Learning is to Be the Children of God.

(Tara Singh, The Voice that Precedes Thought 155)

ACIM_light_you_bring
the light you bring,
A Course in Miracles

So I go on reading the difficult texts. So I surrender to what I cannot understand, what yet baffles me, what ruins me and in my ruin lifts me up. So I open my eyes to loveliness and to that which would obscure and denigrate and end loveliness. For it is through the clear seeing of our own poverty and ignorance that the grace to learn is given. To awaken is merely to begin again, forever.

So this morning I come to the hayloft, and write this, and offer it to you, whose love is my salvation, and whose joy is my joy is our joy.