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Recognizing Jesus

Yesterday I suggested that enlightenment is biological, and cited supportingly Humberto Maturana, who is a biologist. George Spencer-Brown observed that when we ask a philosophical question, we get a philosophical answer. It should surprise nobody that a biologist sees enlightenment on biological terms.

Yet I also allowed that enlightenment could be magical. Or Christian or Buddhist. It is my experience that if you ask Jesus to show himself, then Jesus will show himself. But does this mean that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life for everybody?

One way to handle this question is to assume that enlightenment/awakening/oneness/et cetera is a universal human experience that expresses itself through to cultural filters. Of course Jesus understood his relationship with God in terms of Old Testament monotheism – that was the relevant spiritual discourse and heuristic. Same with the Buddha. And Ramana Maharshi.

A lot of folks subscribe to this idea under the rubric of the perennial philosophy. Bill Thetford described A Course in Miracles in this way. It is a comforting ideology because it allows us to smooth out differences. We don’t have to prove our path is right, just culturally relative. And we can neatly absorb other paths by translating them according to our own. When Buddhists say X, they mean what Christians mean when Christians say Y.

This was persuasive to me for a long time. But it is predicated on an unsustainable assumption – that there is a universal objective (mind independent) reality to which all these spiritualities equally point. That is, any apparent differences are located in the pointing, not the reality.

But neither you nor I can step outside our experience and compare it to that independent reality in order to verify (or falsify) their 1:1 correspondence. There is certainly this – this this – but it may not point to anything else, much less something that is the same for every one else in the world.

On that view, we construct our God experience – our enlightenment or awakening experience. We make it out of the available material – Thomas Merton, Ramana, Eckhart Tolle, A Course in Miracles, Humberto Maturana. We cobble enlightenment out of the welter of our living. A biologist explains it one way, a neo-Pagan another. It points to nothing but its construction.

And, if you go deeply into it, the various explanations are not even uniform across their domains. That is, Maturana’s biological explanation doesn’t cohere for all biologists. Sean Reagan’s A Course in Miracles doesn’t cohere for all course students.

If you want to wake up or be enlightened or see the Face of God and live or experience nonduality then you have to give careful attention to the terms and conditions of your living. The answer – the road map, as such – is actually given to you because you are constructing it.

But “given” is too loaded a word here because it implies a giver who is not you. It’s more like you’re constructing the answer but pretending that you’re not. You are – if you will allow me to indulge ACIM – separating self and God and then forgetting that you did it. Most of us pretend that our living is reality, or at least a pretty faithful rendition of it, but there are no grounds for this. Separation, like unity, is just an idea.

This does not mean that anything goes! You can see how that level of permissiveness is not true in your living. You cannot force ascended masters to show up in your living room. You cannot levitate or talk to mice. You cannot make it rain dollar bills. A lawfulness abides and guides your experience, which includes the way you frame that experience. Look at it very carefully: what does it allow? What does it bring forth?

I want to share with you a little practice that works for me.

If you ask Jesus to show himself to you, then Jesus will show himself. He is unconditionally reliable in this regard. But. You will probably not see him because your preconceptions – and their offspring expectations – will crowd him out. Or efface him.

For a long time this frustrated me and I worked very hard to clarify my preconceptions, monitor my expectations, look harder or wider or less hard and more narrow.

Then, one day, rather that ask to see Jesus, I asked to recognize Jesus. I asked to remember Jesus. It is a different kind of request, a different kind of invitation. And so it brings for a different kind of experience. If you can imagine what happened when I did that, then perhaps you would like to do it for yourself. It is a gift, truly.

Yet please note that what works for me may not for you. In fact, it probably won’t. But it might. And if it doesn’t, then you’ve learned something. You’ve ruled something out.

The point is to give attention to our living and to see where Christ lives in it, and then to see what it means to bring Christ forth. Christ (or enlightenment or oneness or whatever) is not a secret but it can be obscured. It can be occluded. But also, you are allowed to bring a light to the darkness. You are allowed to be a light in the darkness.

Thank you, as always, for being here.

Love,
Sean

Enlightenment is Biology Realized

Gregory Bateson observed that often “Enlightenment is a sudden realization of the biological nature of the world in which we live. It is a sudden discovery or realization of life.”

Humberto Maturana would surely approve. In “Reality: The Search for Objectivity or the Quest for a Compelling Argument” he wrote:

I claim that the explicit or implicit answer that each one of us gives to the question of reality determines how he or she lives his or her life, as well as his or her acceptance or rejection of other human beings in the network of social and non-social systems that he or she integrates. Finally, since we know from daily life that the observer is a living system because its cognitive abilities are altered if its biology is altered, I maintain that it’s not possible to have an adequate understanding of social and non-social phenomena in human life if this question is not properly answered, and that this question can be properly answered only if observing and cognition are explained as biological phenomena generated through the operation of the observer as a living human being.

Over the past two years my study has concentrated on certain writers (Maturana in particular, Bateson less so though his thinking informs the writers and thinkers I have studied). I have leaned away from – without leaving behind – spiritual language and modes that for so long dominated my thinking. It has been a calming and nurturing process (and not without a certain “two-steps-back” quality). One lets go and discovers they never had to cling so hard in the first place, for the peace they sought was always there, already given.

I let you go
and the Lord appeared as your absence
which I did not resist

Perhaps we are never not healed, and all that happens is we become aware of our selves as such.

For certainly, there is a sense one has of everything as integrated, as fitting into a performative responsive whole that simply works, where both wholeness – and the various fittings of which it is comprised, and their integrated functionality – are given to us, and in the giving – which naturally includes the awareness of the giving – we are made truly naturally happy for it is clear that nothing is missing or could ever have been missing or ever will be missing. This is it: this this, for there is no other this.

Critically, an aspect of this this is not fully understanding it, even forgetting it, and having questions about it, desiring to explore it alone and with others, yearning for further insight, desiring to frame and offer those insights just so in language (or other art forms or dialogue settings) and so forth.

That is, the ongoing nature of living after awakening to the nature of our living as reality is not dissimilar from what it was like before. Brush your teeth, water the horses, don’t eat too many potato chips, do unto others . . .

And really, how could it be otherwise? What is happening is always what is happening and includes what happened and what will happen. Even being confused about this fundamental ordinariness – to the point of being visited by angels and ascended masters or perceiving apparent violations of natural law and naming them “psychic” or “supernatural” – is happening. Ask for a mystery and the cosmos will comply.

Together, it all adds up to normal. It adds up to this: this this. It can’t add up to anything else, and the insistence – subtle or otherwise – that it must add up to something else is the primary cause of our existential angst (which, it turns out, is optional, not unlike a game setting. It’s okay to be happy 🙂 ).

This is another way of saying that what happens after awakening – or enlightenment (to use Bateson’s phrase-of-choice) – is a more functional or helpful praxis because we are attuned to the biological order underlying experience. As Maturana puts it, mind, ego, and psychic and spiritual phenomena

. . . do not take place in the head, but . . . are distinctions made by an observer of the different manners of operation of the living systems in their different domains of interactions . . . we find that the mind, the ego, the psychic and the spiritual are some of the distinctions that an observer can make of the different kinds of networks of conversations in which we can live in recursive (behavioral and physiological) coupling . . .

So we observe a way of living that works. Then we observe another way. On and on it goes. What occurs in awakening is that we are less resistant to how our living appears, which appearance includes how we explain and describe it. It doesn’t have to be magical or religious; it can be biological. But it can also be magical. It’s okay.

We are also aware that our living is entangled with that of others who may deploy other modes of explanation and description and that this too is merely a feature of our living, rather than a problem to be solved (or attacked or defended against).

The preceding two paragraphs rest on the fact that as we awaken to the given reality of our living, the most noteworthy insight that comes to the fore is the fundamental equality of all things. It is to this equality that we respond. It is this equality that is the ground of love and inner peace.

. . . when I speak of love I do not speak of a sentiment, nor do I speak of goodness, nor recommend kindness. When I speak of love I speak of a biological phenomenon; I speak of the emotion that specifies the domain of actions in which living systems co-ordinate their actions in a manner that entails mutual acceptance . . . (Maturana)

“Mutual acceptance” is the hinge on which Maturana’s understanding of love turns. To love is to allow the other to be as and what they naturally are, and to refrain from insisting that they exist or function in a way that we deem more pleasing or helpful but which is antithetic to their own being. This applies not only to other people but also to wasps and maple trees and quartz rocks and galaxies and so forth. Loving this way is not easy but it is natural; when we give attention to it, our living changes in ways that bring forth peace and happiness as interior qualities that readily extend beyond the body unto the world (because the world and the body are not separate but mutually specify one another). Love begets its own generative capacity; it is its own potential.

Differences appear as a function of the body which brings forth a world conducive to its function. But these perceived differences do not correlate in a 1:1 way to an observer-independent world. The object of my desire is not “out there” but is rather an appearance generated to direct my attention to an inherent everpresent generative capacity for love that is not apart from me. The other exists not as an island we must visit or colonize but rather as a sort of mirage which facilitates and sustains our happiness, which is both individual and collective. Even in the arms of the other this is so, and we must never forget that unto the one, we too are other.

So my use of the word “happiness” in this context does not refer to the ersatz pleasure of “things are going well for me right now” or “I got what I wanted” but rather to a sustained awareness of the given coherence of living that transcends (by including and allowing) the various relationships (of objects, events et cetera) that occur in and as our living. This understanding of happiness does not come and go because it is not predicated upon what comes and goes, but is a sort of underlying calm in which our usual experiences of happiness and sadness are simply accepted without a lot of drama.

It is like we are given a gift – a puzzle, say. And our focus is not the process of putting the puzzle together, or admiring it when it’s finished, but rather on the lovingkindness that underlies the giving of the gift, and a sense of abiding awe and respect for the laws of living that allow such lovingkindness to exist and function, to extend itself to and through us.

When our attention rests on the underlying love and the laws, or natural order, by which love exists and functions, then we naturally become extensions of that love, which is really to say that we no longer resist – through confusion, distraction, disappointment et cetera – the natural given extension of our living.

Again, I am using words like “love” and “happiness” in ways that are somewhat different from their common use in order to make clear that when we give attention to the coherence always at work in our living, we are correspondingly “enlightened.” This is not a unique spiritual activity nor the domain of a particular religion, but rather the simple application of common sense to our living as we live it.

Seeing it, awareness of its affects begins immediately. A gentle release of much of the tension that characterizes our human experience begins. We recognize, however dimly, that this tension – whose manifestation run the gamut from annoyance with the weather to nuclear war – is optional. It turns out we don’t have to suffer, and our refusal to accept suffering is what allows us to mitigate the suffering of others (we are blessed as we bless – blessing is always mutual). There is always another way, if one so chooses, and it is always available because it arises naturally in and as what we already are.

On Wanting Life to be Different

Wanting things to be other than they are is a form of not looking at things – it is a way of not giving attention to what is – and so it is a form of violence because it denies the very existence of that which gives rise to it.

Here is life, the very way it is given to us, and rather than lean into it through attention – which is a form of devotion – we deny it in favor of an idealized future, thus wielding time as a cudgel against the very thing that can bring us joy and peace: the ordinary world as it is ordinarily given.

Donald Hoffman argues that consciousness and its contents are all that exist, and argues further that this does not obviate a useful scientific method and corresponding mathematics. He is not opposed to a spiritual life, or a spiritual mode of living, but insists that it must incorporate math and science. Life must – in Eliezer Yudkowsky’s memorable phrase – “add up to normal.”

In the end, this is how A Course in Miracles appears in my life: as a spiritual self-study program that aims to teach me to give attention to the very life I am living as the way to learn that God and love are the means to sustainable peace, and that I am mistaken when I believe otherwise.

You will note that in the preceding paragraph I executed a semantic sleight-of-hand that would probably make Hoffman wince: I equated “consciousness” with “God and love.”

I can say that if the understanding is that I am using language to make a point that may also be made with other language forms. That is, if I am not subtly arguing that God is better than consciousness, or different from consciousness, and so forth.

But it is hard to be clear about this, to know for a fact that when we say “God” we are not unconsciously evoking that patriarchal deity whose intentions and actions control the terms and circumstances of our living.

I suggest the course is not asking us to “believe” in God, so much as to behave in particular ways with respect to giving attention to the world of our living and then seeing what happens as a result.

I further suggest that “what happens” is normal and ordinary. Nothing happens like Jesus parting the skies and appearing to us or other ascended masters appearing in our living rooms or anything else.

Rather, what happens is that we settle into our lives in quiet and nondramatic ways, and bring forth love in and through our bodies and the lives they lead which is, it turns out, all we have to do to experience the grace of God’s deep and abiding peace.

The yellow maple leaf stranded in my bedroom window is simply a yellow maple leaf – no more and no less – and yet once I am clear about this, and no longer insisting it be symbol of God’s love, or even God’s love itself, then its beauty becomes almost overwhelming. It is, unto itself and the one observing, amazing. As is everything else.

Thus, gratitude and reverence become second nature. When are they not merited? When it seems they are not merited, it is only because I am confused about what to do with attention, and the solution to my confusion is always to simply give attention, which is to consent to be directed, which direction is always available and always loving.

Now, for a time, this “direction” appears in terms of the world – specifically, in terms of the world as I experience it. So it might be a directive about bringing a relationship to a close, or adopting a certain curriculum for class, or taking a new route home from work. My job is just to do it – just to follow it – without getting especially worked up about it.

Right now I am writing by the bedroom window where a startlingly holy and gorgeous maple leaf hovers directly in my ken, like a God-given searchlight illuminating my whole life. Yet in a few minutes, I’ll be on my back on the back porch stairs, trying to repair the railing broken by falling ice last week, a task that will be difficult and frustrating and will not feel especially “God-given.”

Unless, that is, I am willing to go slowly and accept it as God-given. For that is the bottom line here: nothing is that isn’t God, and there is nothing – no idea, practice, action, behavior, object, or other – that will not restore to my awareness the utterly precious and unconditional nature of God’s Love for His Child who is not separate from Him.

“Fake it ’till you make it,” my brothers and sisters used to say, many forms of healing ago. Look for Love. If you can’t see it, give it. If you can’t give it, at least don’t give pain and suffering. And if you do end up in pain and suffering, remember it will pass. Pain and suffering passes; that is how we know it’s not the gift of God.

Joy and peace – quiet, enduring, unassailable, forever offering itself to us by extending itself through us to others – does not pass. It’s there waiting. It lives us as we live it, aware or otherwise. Its unconditional nature – its forever existence – is our home and salvation, for exactly as long as we think we are lost and forsaken.

The Many Ways We Get Home

Often when I am especially grateful for A Course in Miracles, I write about it in what I hope are helpful ways. I try to focus on the mechanics as I understand them, and not to overdo the spiritual drama. Being happy is not a race so we’re all experts and beginners at once but it’s easy to forget that. I really do want you to love me.

The thing is, the language of A Course in Miracles is not broad. It doesn’t – to borrow a course term – generalize well. Half the key phrases, like forgiveness and atonement, have meanings that are bound up in Christian Science, German transcendental philosophy and a version of Freud that so far as I can tell nobody has taken seriously since the late fifties.

None of that means the course can’t be helpful; it manifestly can. But it does mean that after a certain juncture, one sort of finds their self  longing for a more inclusive dance.

Or not! Ken Wapnick’s apparently stubborn insistence that the course means what it means and that we shouldn’t be looping in Buddhism and Lacan and so forth are understandable from that perspective. When you’re home, you don’t burn down the building. It’s your home!

But one woman’s home can be another woman’s way station. I sometimes feel as if the “celestial speedup” – a delicious phrase and concept – doesn’t obligate some of us to aim for a vocabulary and practice that is less formally onerous. The goal is to be happy (in a deep and sustainable way) and not right about this or that spiritual path. Does it matter?

Well, yes. Clearly. But also: what’s right is what works. And so it’s important to be rigorously honest about what works and what doesn’t. A Course in Miracles is comforting to me, but I don’t always trust that. I’ve been good over the years at hiding what hurts beneath a veneer of respectability.

Sometimes when I write posts like this one or this one, I wake up in the middle of the night thinking: be careful of pretending that you’re more committed than you are. Be careful of coveting some esteem you haven’t merited. And I get up and walk out back to the horses, who are very calm and beautiful in the moonlight, and let things sift and settle and simmer, which they always do.

In general, I think it’s important to divest from overly theistic belief systems. Assertions with respect to absolutes or unconditionals or objectives feel altogether unsustainable to me. There is always this: this this, and it never doesn’t reflect love and lawfulness, and it’s never not sufficiently responsive. Also, it doesn’t depend on posturing with respect to what causes it.

In general, I think it’s important to observe the Golden Rule – to basically act in ways that are clear that what’s good for A is good for B, and also generally increase the possibilities for our shared living. As Ken used to say (here paraphrased): a good way to live is to make everything about other people

In general, I think that “love” means allowing others to exist without defending themselves. Love assumes radical equality. You don’t have to prove your value or worth to me, and I don’t have to understand your value or worth. Your value and worth are established.

In general, I think explanations are less effective than descriptions, and “how” questions are more helpful and creative than “why” questions. Very little appears to be forbidden (although how would we know?), but it’s also clear that some of our actions are more functional and expansive than others. Why ignore this?

All of those observations make for a kind of living that is basically uncertain and slow. In a lot of ways, my life is shifting into a mode that most people find at best boring and at worst emblematic of the very problem they’re trying to fix.

But more and more I don’t observe any problem other than the various faulty lenses (or interpretations) that I bring to my observing. A lot is given – is just here – and my contributions are sort of beside the point. It’s when I get confused about this and start bopping around like the hyperactive love child of Julie McCoy (cruise director) and Merrill Stubing (ship captain) that things begin to grind and grate unhelpfully.

For a long time I used to think that what Bill Thetford said to Helen was “there must be a better way.” But at least in the text, what he actually said was, “there must be another way.”

Well, there is always another way. Which may or may not work – we have to find out by giving attention. And if it doesn’t work for us, it still might work for others so we have to give it space. And others, too.

To this day I miss some of my college professors and  certain courses because they changed my life. They taught me how to think better, how to evaluate texts and belief systems, all with an eye toward being a healthy happy man who isn’t making things worse. But I wouldn’t go back there, because other learning projects came, and anyway, we have to get on with living.

Is it this way with A Course in Miracles? Time to move on/time to get going, as brother Tom Petty sang? I am always wondering that myself, especially when I find myself being fairly orthodox with respect to it (as the last two most recent posts indicate). Yet what can we do but flag our concerns – notice what’s there to be noticed – and then keep going?

A Course in Miracles Lesson 108

Near the end of ACIM Lesson 108, the course proposes an interesting equation: the measure of joy, peace and love that we receive is equal to the measure of joy, peace and love we give.

On that view, the cause of our unhappiness or discontent is our unwillingness to extend happiness and contentment to others.

Another way of saying this is that if we view the world in terms of what it can give us – if other people, places and things are valuable only in terms of what we can get – then our unhappiness is guaranteed.

This happen when we separate giving from receiving. Rather than see them as one movement (which they are), we set them up as discrete actions in both time and place. Giving precedes getting. And, because they are now separate, we can judge them as good or bad, preferable or or not preferable.

Lesson 108 intimates that if we want to be happy, then we need to realize that giving and receiving are the same and cannot be separated in terms of cause and effect or preferred and not-preferred. When this is clear, our only objective will be give love, because love is all that we want to receive.

The sameness of giving and receiving is not obvious at the level of the body. At that level, they are obviously different. To get a slice of pie is not the same as to receive a slice of pie. Loss and gain are meaningful to bodies. Sacrifice means something.

Yet it is possible to see that the happiness we feel at receiving a slice of pie and the happiness we feel at giving someone a slice of pie are the same. And that sameness is a clue; it points to something that is worth learning.

There is a light in which all things are seen as equal, and attention to this light allows us to pass quickly through the many forms of differentiation in order to arrive at what A Course in Miracles calls the “One thought, completely unified” that serves “to unify all thought” (W-pI.108.5:1). This is not a mystical process but a pragmatic healing.

This is the same as saying one correction will suffice for all correction, or that to forgive one brother wholly is enough to bring salvation to all minds. For these are but some special cases of one law which holds for every kind of learning, if it be directed by the One Who knows the truth (W-pI.108.5:2-3).

The idea here is that there is a light in which it is clear that giving and receiving are the same. Our work is to perceive the light rather than to work out an intellectual understanding of how giving and receiving are one movement. I mean, we can work that out in that way, but intellectual understanding doesn’t readily generalize. It’s a relatively narrow and constrained form of healing. And effective generalization is a critical aspect of the healing contemplated by A Course in Miracles.

. . . when this special case has proved it always works, in every circumstance where it is tried, the thought behind it can be generalized to other areas of doubt and double vision. And from there it will extend, and finally arrive at the one Thought which underlies them all (W-pI.108.6:2-3).

When we see that giving and receiving are one, then we can use that vision to undo other apparent splits.

So Lesson 108 invites us to close our eyes and practice giving what we would like to receive: love, peace, patience, kindness, joy, laughter, gratitude . . .

What happens? This is where the lesson has some special value, in my experience. In the actual application of the lesson, do we experience love and joy and peace to the degree that we want? Not the idea of love, joy and peace but actual love, joy and peace?

I think most of us, if we are honest, will confess that while we are perhaps getting a whiff or joy or a hint of peace or a trickle of love, we are not awash in the eternal and infinite flow of them.

If we can say that, then we can take the next step and see that this is because we are not giving the eternal and infinite flow of love, joy and peace. And so we remain stuck – in ways that are perhaps subtle and hard-to-see – in the kind of seeing that insists giving and receiving are separate.

This is a valuable insight! Properly accepted, it leads to humility, and in humility our practice begins in earnest because it becomes fundamentally honest about its shortcomings. Of our own we can do nothing. We can’t even see the problem clearly, let alone solve it.

Thus we become students whose posture of learning is most amenable to the Holy Spirit’s instructive intervention. We become faithful because there is no other option that we can see. We are not spiritual experts but beginners.

And yet our beginning is also our end, for in it we are joined with out Teacher and with all our brothers and sisters. Our shared “classroom” is transformed into a manifestation of the One Love which is our shared identity. What we learn is what we are because just as giving and receiving are one, so are having and being. Thus we relax in “the perfect safety of God,” where “inclusion is total and creation is without limit” (T-6.V.C.10:9-10).