Letting Go of Awakening

The Upanishads say that “only once in a thousand thousand years does a soul wake up.” That strikes me as unverifiable in principle, which raises the question: why would the authors say this?

I think there are at least two possibilities, or maybe just one that can be taken either more or less cynically. I’ll start with the optimistic take.

You say that only one soul wakes up every million years because you want folks to stop thinking about waking up as a goal. The biggest impediment to awakening or enlightenment is the notion that awakening or enlightenment is something other than this – this this.

If you tell somebody the odds are overwhelmingly against their waking up, then maybe you can get them to focus on the actions that do facilitate awakening but are actually boring: mostly, noticing that when you’re chopping wood and carrying water, you’re chopping wood and carrying water and noticing it.

When you lean into the ordinary motions of living, and simply notice the grace or light in which it all appears – comes and goes, folds and unfolds, flows and flows – then you are near to the wisdom of the psalmist:

Be still
and know that I am God

It turns out that nobody can teach you to be still, but they can teach you to notice when you’re not still which – if you get curious enough, desperate enough, lucky enough – can suddenly flex into knowledge of God. You say “oh.” You say “oh.”

I think that’s the reason it’s not a bad idea to put the whole “waking up” thing to the side, and just get on with being a kind person in the world – help others, let them help you, don’t get worked up about small stuff, it’s all small stuff, et cetera. That this comes so naturally to us – and makes us so happy – is a huge clue to our fundamental essence.

What’s the cynical perspective on “forget about waking up?”

That’s what folks say when they want “waking up” to be a sign of their spiritual elitism. That’s the language of a priest caste that doesn’t want the hoi polloi soiling the altar. “I’ve got it and you don’t but if you’re deferential enough / pay me enough – I may share a few crumbs with you.”

I’m less enamored of teachers than I used to be, but when I was enamored of Tara Singh one of his insights I most admired was his recognition of the “lovelessness of ‘I get it and you don’t.'” Notice when you’re doing that and then don’t do that.

I felt like that summed up a lot of ACIM energy – Gary Renard and his ascended masters, Ken’s “ACIM is the true Christianity,” David Hoffmeister’s claims to special “white light” experiences, Liz Cronkhite’s “I don’t have an ego but you still do.” That’s all nonsense – or rather, it’s nonsense to the extent it’s held up as having spiritual significance in and of itself. It’s really just more of what happens here in the inside of nothing.

Awakening begets a fundamental equality, a radical sameness, which entails a responsibility to be as loving as the Love which got you going in the first place. This is easier than it sounds because the Love in question undoes identity which dramatically undoes one’s perception of separation. The boundaries of self and other, self and world are waaaay more fluid than we believe.

All of this suggests a possible third reading of that phrase from the Upanishads. I’m suggesting that awakening is a shift in perspective that makes clear there is no body or self to wake up and that everything is just happening, just appearing and disappearing, and that this is perfectly normal.

I am also suggesting that when we see this, we realize we’ve been chasing a ghost, and it was the chase that distracted us from the simple clarity that there is only this: this this.

In other words, you can’t not be awake. You’re awake right now, even if “awake” is experienced as “a dream in which I wish I was awake.” But seriously: no harm, no foul. No worries. Really.

Still, people do get worked up about waking up – they aren’t awake, others are, they want it, they don’t want to want it, what’s the secret . . .

Thus, we might say something ridiculous like “only once in a thousand thousand years does a soul wake up” because we know that there is no such thing as waking up. Or sleeping. So why not just get it off the table at the outset?

Easter Love and Last Steps Home

Ten years ago when my relationship with A Course in Miracles was just beginning, people talked about Gary Renard a lot. Were his ascended masters real? Was he a big liar?

It seemed to matter that one take a stand on that question. And lingering behind a lot of the conversations was an implicit longing for supernatural experiences of one’s own – to be visited by illuminated beings, to channel the newest insights of Jesus, to see lights, hear voices, taste Heaven.

folded crocus
Yet another crocus . . . there can be no secrets in Love . . .

These are old desires, familiar to all of us and our ancestors. Nor is there indication they are going away any time soon. I am hardly immune myself. Part of appearing human is the longing to be other than human, to transcend human.

And yet.

When I give attention to the world, what I notice is its lawfulness and transparency. By lawfulness, I don’t mean people’s behavior. I mean the apparent physical world itself: the appearance of violets, the flowing of rivers, the taste of apples. And by transparency, I mean the still calm intelligence in whose care all this appearing and flowing and being unfolds and is extended.

Can you make violets multiply beyond measure? Can you make them green instead of purple? Can you make the river flow in another direction? Can you make the trout in the river grow wings and fly away? Can you you go to the orchard and see bananas on the trees? Instead of black bear scat under the blueberry bushes can you see gold coins?

Easter sunrise splitting the hills that my Holy Prefect Emily Dickinson once gazed at . . .

And as you fall in love with all this – this beauty, this bounty – can you not fall? Can you stop that within you which longs to partake of the beauty and extend the bounty?

Truly: what have you ever done that God cannot undo, and what have you ever left undone that God cannot do?

When we sit quietly and give attention to living, we perceive its beneficence. It takes care; it lives and offers its living. Here, too, it is clear that “I need do nothing” (T-27.VIII.10:1). Indeed, what even am I? “I” not apart from the dew in the meadow, the stars in the sky, the thrumming of blood between this heart meeting that heart . . .

The extraordinary experience (ascended masters, new scriptures, disco ball spirituality) distracts us from the miracle of ordinary experience – the very living presence of Love in the world as it is given, right here and right now. And when we perceive this gift – this givenness, this Love – it flows through us, undoing the sense of separation, and we learn again that the Love of God, being All in all, permits no exclusion or alienation. There is no “Sean,” no “Mike,” no “Cheryl,” no “Robin.” There aren’t even violets and rivers. There’s just this: this this.

horses on Easter morning wondering why I’ve got a camera and not hay . . .

Truth is, we don’t need ascended masters. Or rather, we already have ascended masters, save for most of us they appear in mundane forms easily overlooked. Here is the vegetable garden already being planted, here is the potato garden ready to be expanded here is the flower garden and here is its bee hive, here are the horses and the chickens, here is the nearby river and the back porch on which to sit quietly at night and listen to the river as it flows quietly beneath ten thousand stars and low rolling hills, the far side of which my wise and loving and fiery Sister Emily Dickinson once gazed at.

What wonder! What gratefulness! What a miracle!

It is not required that we stray beyond the very living that is right now, right here blessing us beyond any measure, each and every aspect of it calling us home to our God, in Whom self, other and God are utterly dissolved, melted and commingled beyond commingling.

A hidden Easter egg reminding me yet again that nothing is ever hidden
. . .

There are no secrets. Nothing is hidden. We need nothing that is not already given. Only the willingness to see it and the readiness to accept it. The Peace of Christ is here; the Love of God is here. I offer you my wordiness as a hand, that by taking it, you and I might together behold Creation more clearly, and gather it calmly in our shared heart. Shall we not – on this day of resurrection and new beginnings – together take the last step home?

We are not Bodies

The body’s adventures always end in death. There is no way out of this. Death touches every aspect of the body’s experience: whatever happens, be it good, bad or in-between, is always terminal. There is nothing that is permanent or consistent in the body, what the body makes, or what the body does.

prismThus, so long as one’s identity, one’s selfhood, is entangled in any way with a specific body, then death will appear to be the end of that self, too. There is nothing the self can do to or with the body that will prevent this.

When these facts become clear, then the following possibility appears: we can question our identity and investigate its apparent location. We can see if we are bodies or if we are not.

You and I are students of A Course in Miracles because at some point in our living we became willing to look into the apparent finality of death, glimpsed its false premise and became willing – however dimly – to know the truth.

We asked a question and the course was given as (or as part of) the answer. This is why it behooves us to attend the course closely, in a serious and disciplined way. There are many trails to the summit, but we asked for one especially suited to our experience, and that trail was given. This is it.

Most of us do not seriously question our identity and investigate its apparent home in the body. The ego – which is literally (and simply!) the argument that self and body are inevitably permanently conjoined – is alternately vicious and wily in its efforts to get us to look away from it.

It is critical to understand that the ego is not a thing, but an idea. It is a pattern in thought, not thought itself. It does not have any independent existence or identity. When it fights, it is merely doing what it was made to do. When it pleads with us, the same. When it beguiles us, the same.

The ego is nothing more than  a part of your belief about yourself. Your other life has continued without interruption, and has been and always will be totally unaffected by your attempts to dissociate it (T-4.VI.1:6-7).

Ego is just a persuasive idea that we no longer recognize as “just an idea” or “just a pattern in thought.” Thus, questioning our identity and investigating its apparent home in the body feels threatening. And because the threat feels real, protecting against it – by ignoring it, arguing against it, projecting it – makes sense. What else can a body do?

So we look away. This looking away can take the form of opting for another path, or arguing with this or that ACIM teacher, or just raw denial. Maybe I’m a Buddhist! Maybe Ken Wapnick was right after all! I don’t have a problem with the body! These are all forms of negotiating with the ego, of trying to compromise with it, and they never work.

They never ever work. Indeed, they are part of how the ego sustains itself.

What do we do?

Imagine you built a little castle of sand at low tide. Imagine you love it and others admire it, too. How proud you are!

Then imagine the tide comes in and begins washing the castle away. You don’t negotiate with the tides. You can’t plead with the sea to stop flowing. You can’t compromise.

The sea just does what seas do. You have to let go of your castle.

Bodies die. Full stop.

It is possible to resist this fact for a long time, and to become discouraged and even depressed in the process. When death is allowed to appear to triumph over God and Creation, what other feeling is possible?

The other option – the one that A Course in Miracles offers – is simply to learn that “we” are not bodies. On that view, the body’s adventures (from food to sex to healing) don’t touch us. The body’s end is not “our” end. We no longer need “a way out.” We aren’t “in” in the first place.

But knowing this is an all-or-nothing deal and it can’t be faked. We have to let the body go entirely, without condition, holding nothing back, in order to learn that we are not the body. We can’t become cheerleaders for letting go while subtly or secretly holding on, and we can’t let go just a little. We have to let go all the way.

Critically, this “letting go” does not happen at the level of the body. It is a decision made at the level of mind. There is nothing the body can do to let go of the body; it’s like asking water to let go of “wet.” That’s not how it works.

This becomes a real challenge. We are so “in” our bodies, that we can’t discern what it means to make a decision apart from those bodies. We keep looking for an embodied experience of “nonduality” or “letting go.” We want to experience – in the body – bodilessness.

But the body doesn’t have bodiless experiences. You can’t change your body in order to change your mind about what the body is.

Only when we accept this can the Holy Spirit begin to actually teach us what mind is and thus allow us to change our mind about bodies and learn that we are not bodies and are unaffected by what appears to happen to bodies.

. . . [The Holy Spirit] knows the Will of God and what you really will. But this is understood by mind perceived as one, aware that it is one, and so experienced. It is the Holy Spirit’s function to teach you how this oneness is experienced, what you must do that it can be experienced, and where you should go to to it (T-25.II.6:2-4).

This is hard. It is painful. We come to the Holy Spirit in a sense of utter defeat. We become willing not because of valor or intelligence or holiness but because we can’t see any other option.

The Holy Spirit meets us at the bottom. And there it begins to gently but surely teach us that we are not bodies.

What do we do then with the body? How does one have a body and let the body go?

A Course in Miracles is clear that the best – really, the only – use of the body is to bring joy and peace to others. This is actually a profoundly simple exercise. It happens naturally when we stop emphasizing the personal nature of the body’s experiences. When the body is no longer “Sean’s,” then it naturally becomes helpful to others.

Here, I’d like to say something about prisms, which have been very helpful symbols to me over the years. There is an equivalent in your experience. (Or, if you like, you can become obsessed with prisms). They are a cheap and efficient way of experiencing a deeply instructive, natural beauty.

When I was a little boy I was obsessed with prisms – mostly in quartz and drops of water. I could ogle rainbows a long time. They were so beautiful. I marveled that the world functioned in such a way that this beauty could be so consistently produced.

Prisms made me happy and they made me feel that God was good and never not attending in a care-filled way. I kept an eye out for them; I had favorite rocks. I didn’t mind ice or rain at all. Prisms hid there.

One day, when I was seven, the janitor at our little local school, gave me an actual prism, turned me to the window, and told me to hold the prism to my eye. I had never done this before. I had no idea what to expect. I don’t know what I looked like when I followed his instructions but the janitor and the two teachers present burst out laughing. I can still feel how happy my obvious sense of wonder and amazement made them.

What I learned in that moment was that one didn’t have to wait on sunlight to hit the back pasture quartz rock or for raindrops to hang just so off the maple trees. You could take the prism with you. You could be safe and happy anywhere. The gift of beauty and joy was no longer conditional; it went with me.

That was forty-six years ago and a day has not since passed that does not include prisms. I hang them everywhere; I often have one in my pocket.

And here is the thing: the body is a kind of prism. Or you can think about it that way. Its value, as such, is that the light of Love may pass through it and inspire others by reminding them of the Love that is in them.

Prisms do not make decisions; they have a structure and they do what that structure does. Given light, they offer beautiful flourishes of light’s spectrum.

To let go of the body is simply to stop insisting it have a structure or purpose other than the one that it naturally has. When the body is given to God, then God becomes peace and joy extended to other bodies. We do nothing. That’s really important. Prisms don’t cooperate with the light; they don’t negotiate with the sun; they don’t decide to share beauty; they don’t decide who to shine for or when. They are what they are and what happens happens.

Thus, don’t be stressed about your body. You are not a body. But the body isn’t a bad thing. It’s not evil. It’s not a problem to be solved. It can make love, eat chocolate, drink coffee, go for long walks through the village and beyond. It can hang prisms everywhere.

Again, the body is merely a prism through which the light of Love passes or doesn’t pass. Ego and self-obsession are like curtains or veils obstructing the light. Drop them and the love will radiate naturally.

The happiness that we extend and share is not an ersatz happiness. It’s quiet and calm and nondramatic. It doesn’t make things worse; it doesn’t assert itself; it doesn’t insist on going where it’s not invited; it helps because it doesn’t want to hurt.

This happiness is loving because it expands us and our living – it opens us to others. It becomes us.

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.


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.