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 πŸ™‚ ).

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.

Vestigial Arguments and Grace

I like the idea of vestigial arguments – arguments we make over and over that serve no functional purpose but yet remain, like that little bump at the base of our spine where a long time ago in a very different sort of world we had a tail.

Those arguments are non-functional but they do remind us of . . . what?

Something that was functional a long time ago, which we don’t need any longer, and really ought to just let go of.

A lot of what we argue about in the ACIM community is silly. It truly doesn’t actually matter. It’s a distraction from far more interesting dialogues and encounters. And yet on and on we go. Is Gary Renard a fraud? Which edition of the course should I read? On a scale of one to ten, how arrogant is Ken Wapnick? Did the historical Jesus really dictate the course?

Obviously I’ve contributed to this over the years. Perhaps there’s no way around that, I don’t know. My wordiness has begotten a lot of unruly bastards. I reached a juncture in 2015 or so where I stopped writing publicly about the course, deleted a lot of crappy argumentative posts (though clearly not all crappy argumentative posts), and generally reorganized my thinking when it came to course-related discussions.

What the net effect of all that has been, I can’t say. I sort of miss the attention you get when you dive into the middle of a big debate and act like it’s a divinely-mandated zero-sum competition to be the new Pirate King slash Favored Son of the One True God.

But also, being the Pirate King is stressful, not in the least because there’s always somebody else laying claim to your throne. There’s always another hill on which some contrarian is erecting yet another crucifix, so . . .

I’m happy, as happy goes in my experience.

The thing is, the inclination to be right or wrong inheres in the structure of the human being. Whatever ontological claims we make, we make from within the framework of a human being, and in the cognitive aspects of that framework, there is a decided preference for “right” and a matching decided aversion to “wrong.”

If we want to experience peace and joy, then we have to see how this preference/aversion feature functions in our structural being, and we have to figure out what it does that is helpful and what it does that is not.

For example, it’s helpful for knowing that cardiovascular exercise helps a body function better and thus can assert that “it’s right to exercise.” It’s helpful for knowing that sometimes it’s better to listen to your child than to lecture them and thus can assert that “it’s right to hold dialogic space for your son/daughter.”

It’s not helpful at all for knowing whether so-and-so should be studying A Course in Miracles or going back to a traditional Christian church and then telling them to do that thing.

That is, if you assert to me that I should have some kind of cardiovascular exercise routine in place to which I am generally faithful, then okay. The consensus on that is pretty clear. I can do it or not, but I’m not going to argue it’s ineffective or fallacious.

Similarly, if you assert that sometimes I need to listen to my kids when they talk about their experience of social pressure, rather than just lecture them about do this and don’t do that, then sure. I think the consensus is pretty clear there as well.

But if you say, “Sean, you need to go back to the Catholic church and repent on your knees before the crucified Jesus of history and beg him to let you back into the fold of the saved . . . ”

Well, that’s different.

That’s like saying I have to listen to Bach instead of Bob Dylan, but on pain of death. I mean sure. Have an opinion and feel free to share it, but . . . if your internal expectation is that I have to follow your opinion, then you should readjust your expectations. It’s not on me to conform to your preferences or make you feel better about living them publicly.

But still. What is the actual difference between advocating for cardiovascular exercise and worshiping Jesus Christ in this or that formal way?

My answer is: they show up differently in your living. They actually show up in your living with different burdens of proof, different kinds of supporting evidence, different rhetorical strategies and different emotional/psychological tenors.

Cardiovascular exercise enjoys cross-cultural application. It’s good if you’re Japanese and good if you’re Balinese. It’s good if you’re male or female, have a high IQ or a low IQ. It was good a thousand years ago and it’ll be good a thousand hence.

That’s not true of Christianity. Lots of people do just fine without it. Always have and always will.

Cardiovascular exercise enjoys the broad support of experts. There aren’t a lot of health experts out there saying “stay on the couch – don’t go for a vigorous walk – take the elevator rather than the stairs.”

That’s not true of Christianity. Lots of religious experts advocate other spiritual traditions and practices, and sometimes no tradition or practice at all.

And so on. You get the drift.

I am not suggesting that you are under some moral or other obligation to go for a long walk every day. I’m merely observing that doing so in the interest of your long-term physical health is largely incontrovertible.

And I am suggesting that adopting a practice of Christianity, while it may be helpful, is not sure to be helpful. Maybe you should be a Buddhist. Or drink some Ayuhasca.

I am orders of magnitude more confident about cardiovascular exercise than about Christian spiritual practices and yet . . . I want to be equally right about both. I know they’re different but . . . I want to be equally right about both. What gives?

If we go into this, it can become disconcerting. What’s going on when we really really really want to be right about Jesus? When we really want others to get and share the Christian way that seems to work for us?

Because the thing is, Jesus doesn’t actually work like that – a one-size-fits-all or my-way-or-the-highway kind of way. If we don’t see this, and adjust our expectations and living accordingly, then we are apt to miss a lot of whatever value is available in following Jesus down some Christian path.

Jesus is not like cardiovascular exercise. Jesus is more like the option of walking if you’re going to bother with cardiovascular exercise at all. He’s the method, not the reason the method is necessary. With cardiovascular exercise you can walk or run or whatever. There are all these options and they all work more or less the same; it’s a question of fit. Consult your doctor, your preferences, your goals and . . . get on with it.

Same with religion and/or spirituality.

But.

Cardiovascular exercise solves the problem of fitness. Generally, our bodies age slower and function better when they get a degree of cardiovascular exercise. This is why there’s broad consensus; this is why it’s becoming common sense, like libraries are good things and drinking paint thinner is bad.

What problem does monotheism solve? Or Christianity? Or, even more to the point, what problem does A Course in Miracles solve?

If the course weren’t available, what would you do instead? And if that alternative were not an option, then what would you do?

Keep going with this exercise. If alternative X isn’t available, what’s next? Keep going. What happens?

Thoughtful atheists sometimes point out that even if you somehow logically persuade every monotheist on the planet to give up on God, you still have to deal with whatever problem humans were trying to solve when they invented God in the first place.

But I suggest that we not go into it that way – like it’s an academic problem to which we can fit this or that theory. I suggest going into it in a personal way. In the same way that you would explore why you chose this or that life partner, why are choosing – or at least choosing to stay with – monotheism? ACIM? Fill-in-the-blank.

(It works for anything – why are you practicing Buddhism? Undergoing CBT? Taking LSD? – but it’s more germane for me to write about monotheism because that’s where I cut -and am still cutting, in some ways – my teeth).

There are easy answers, of course. “It’s what I’m familiar with, given my family background and cultural orientation.” Or “it makes me feel good/gives my life meaning/contains a strong social component.”

Sure. And sure/sure/sure.

But keep going. Can you find that within you which – if God were not real – would cause you to invent God and believe in God and work like all get-out to sell God to others?

That is an interesting and helpful spiritual practice that I absolutely think you should undertake right now.

Living in the Sight of God

God doesn’t hide. If you want to see the face of God, and you haven’t, it’s because the face of God is either not what you expected or not what you want. And that’s on you, not God.

garden flowers reveal that god does not hide from usThere is – because there is always – another way.

Turning away from the face of God out of confusion or pride or arrogance is not a crime. You won’t be punished; but you will continue to experience the grief and discomfort that attends turning away from the face of God. And the anguish is very much God’s, as much as it is yours.

That’s a clue.

Still, very few of us want to gaze directly at the Lord, for the experience undoes so much of what we believed mattered about our lives. When our eyes rest on God, we realize that we have been living second-hand lives. We have been pretenders careening through meaningless dreams, crazed dogs chasing tails they will never catch, zombies mindlessly pursuing goals we neither chose nor can unchoose.

Often, on seeing this truth, we turn back. We turn away from God. Who would blame us? The hurt is intense, the shame nontrivial. How can seeing God make the life I live appear to be so much shit? This can’t be God, we tell ourselves. God would not allow my life to be such a sham.

Or – darker and deeper – we tell ourselves that if this is what it means to see God, then we’d rather live a lie. We’ll take the shit, thank you very much.

For we cannot behold God and live. This is an old and sturdy truth. We can count on it. If we see God, a death occurs. Yet the death is not an end but rather a rebirth unto eternal life. We give up what dies in favor of what can never die.

Or, better, we give up our identification with what dies in favor of what can never die.

It is the truth that sets us free. It is the truth that liberates us from the cycle of birth and death, so that we might live forever. And the truth is already given, in a form that we can readily perceive and understand. Call it God’s face and then will to gaze at it without fear or doubt or hesitation.

When we are ready to look and see, then we will look and see, and we will know the truth. We will remember God, and live in God’s Heaven forever.

If you’ve been looking, and you still can’t see, then find someone to talk to about this “still can’t see” thing. Nobody can look at God for us but there are folks who are good at helping us figure out what’s standing in the way. Are we scared? Disappointed? Clinging to illusions? A little bit of all of those? Or something else entirely?

Don’t be afraid to step off familiar trails. Don’t be frightened by teachers who have only part of the picture. Sometimes you’re there to teach them, and their “teaching” is a form of study which you gift to them. Give attention to black bears and violets, maple trees and moonlight. They have something to say about God, too.

Be not alone so you can be not afraid. The world is full of brothers and sisters who are lonely for Christ, and whose loneliness is expressed in words and forms with which you are familiar. Find them, and comfort them, and let them comfort you. Be home with them in Christ, that together you might together remember the Home you share with God.

So long as you have questions, answers will be given. Yet a day comes when the questions subside, and one rests gently in what is given, asking only how to give it away. For what you are is love, and only when you extend that love do you know that love.

And knowing that, you know that there is no longer any reason to not see God. What else could you behold but God? What else is seeing for?