Make Me One with Everything (is a Math Problem)

Say that I visit a psychotherapist. I have some choices. I can visit a Jungian or a Freudian or a Lacanian or a specialist in CBT or EMDR or Gendlin’s Focusing.

In each case, the therapist will use a specialized language and practice to help me sort through whatever problem I am trying to solve. Ideally, she deploys a language modality (Jungian, Freudian, Lacanian et cetera) with which she has optimal utility.

And I will do my part and she will do hers and healing will take place and – appropriately enough – I will credit [insert therapeutic modality] for the helpful shift. Thank you B.F. Skinner! Et cetera.

This dynamic reflects the fact that when it comes to being whole/holy/healthy/happy different languages work for different people. For some of us it’s psychotherapy in the Lacanian mode. For some it’s Christianity in the ACIM mode. For some it’s entheogens in a Native American mode.

In general, it is a fact that as we pursue healing – especially spiritual or psychological healing – the mode we select reflects a specialized language. It doesn’t work for everybody. Indeed, that’s part of its attraction: it is uniquely and especially suited to our particular unique experience.

I don’t think this is inherently a problem, so long as we don’t conflate “what works for me” with “what works for all people in all places at all times.” By all means speak your truth about A Course in Miracles or zazen or EFT. Just don’t use your truth to blot out another’s equally valid experience of truth.1

If this makes sense, I want to introduce another idea.

When I visit the psychotherapist, regardless of what mode she practices, she sets her fee and I satisfy it using the same mathematical language. If a Freudian therapist and a Jungian therapist both charge $120 an hour, then both will accept 6 20-dollar bills as payment.

Mathematical language is more broadly applicable than, say, the language of A Course in Miracles. Or Jung. Or Karl Marx or the Buddha.

Why does this matter?

Because it implies that there are levels of order – and languages depicting those levels – that are more inclusive – and thus more loving2 – than what we are presently using.

Math is a good example. So is biology.

To most people, ACIM is a bizarre word salad. Yet for some of us – certainly I am one – it was bread-and-water at a moment when my spiritual hunger verged on starvation. I was dying in that desert! And the Lord came in the form of a dense and strange blue book and delivered me.

For a couple of years I was very confused by how hard it was to make salvation clear – even to folks who professed to be students of the course. I knew the path I’d followed into the desert, knew what I’d done in the desert, knew to the last grain of sand the path I’d followed out, and . . .

Maybe six people cared and five them were just humoring me out of kindness.

Then I realized that there are as many ACIMs as there are students of ACIM and the confusion went away.

It is interesting in our living to look for the broadest common language to which we have access and to see where and how it links us to other people. I tend to feel closest to fellow ACIM students, especially those who share the excessive, quasi-Vedantic language with which I understand it.

But basic math – I mean literally addition and subtraction, some division and multiplication – unite me with everybody. Folks I know, folks I’ll never know, folks who share my political views, folks who hate my political views. Folks for whom ACIM is the bee’s knees and folks for whom it’s a steaming pile of horse shit. And the network of that unity circles the globe in short order.

Seriously: spend a dollar and the universe literally quivers.

I am not suggesting we become mathematicians or reinvigorate Pythagorean cults. Rather, I am suggesting a way of looking at our living that naturally expands it to allow for more love. There are languages that are so broadly functional and accessible that they transcend race, religion, gender, politics et cetera. We don’t even know we use them.

What does this suggest or imply about our devotion to the narrow semantics we tend to adore? And

What can we do to become more skillful with these broader, simpler forms of communicating? Can we find one – or more – that are simpler even than 1 + 1 = 2?

1. I am suggesting there are many ways to a truth, somewhat the way I suggest there are many ways to Boston (the utility of which are necessarily contextually-dependent). I am not making any assertions in this post as to what Truth is; I think for the type of observer you and I are, the “whole truth and nothing but the truth” is structurally foreclosed to us. Thus, pursuing it is a distraction. The appearance of many ways are the whole game, which is actually more than sufficient to establish and nurture a shared happiness, helpfulness and inner peace.

2. I am using “loving” here in the Maturanan sense of denoting a radical equality of all observers. Buddhists aren’t better than Christians, spiders aren’t better than flies, and moonlight isn’t better than a Brooklyn 99 episode.

Thinking Out Loud About Desire

We know anything because we can distinguish it from what it is not. Distinctions are being; they are existence. You can look at a maple tree and see how it is a maple tree and not a flower or a sky or a passing car. Maple tree and not-maple tree are how maple tree appears. It is this way with everything.

This is why it is so hard to argue that we can know God or the Absolute or The One Without Another. With what would you compare it to in order to ascertain that it was in fact the Absolute? If you can compare it to something it is not, then it is no longer “Absolute” but relative.

wild morning glory beauty and desire
pale wild morning glory out by the chickens

Therefore, who would want to meet God? The only possible thing you could say about the encounter was that it was obviously a lie. As soon as you knew it was God, you’d also know what was not-God, and so you’d not be meeting the Absolute but a pretentious facsimile.

If we have a desire to meet God or know God, and we can see how this desire cannot ever be met but only frustrated, then we might ask a new question: what shall we do with this desire?

In my experience of inquiry with desire, I learn that desire has two contrary goals, each of which negates the other.

First, there is a desire for a personal experience of God – of happiness, joy, ecstasy. To this end, I pray, do zazen, study A Course in Miracles and other nondual traditions, exercise, practice compassion. I take the self seriously.

Second, there is a desire to transcend personal experience – to undo the self, to be done with vanity and self-improvement and the hoarding of special experiences.

I want both! And yet to have both is to have neither, because they would cancel one another out. To have one rather than the other does not end desire, because I still want the other. And for the life of me I cannot discern a third option.

Thus, desire is forever paradoxical – always making demands of me that cannot possibly be met.

So it is interesting to give attention and see where – in our actual experience – these two aspects of desire appear most closely, nearly touching. Where is the body or other – be it human or animal or landscape or whatever – that intimates an end to the paradox, that suggests I can have my sensual experience and transcend sensuality?

I say “intimates” here because the argument can never be made explicitly. It has to be hinted at. I have to be seduced, because I know that logically it can never work. The two facets of desire are at odds. Any suggestion they can be wedded is as nonsensical as suggesting I can light a match under water.

So the suggestion is that when we are aware of the intimation and the body, the one, making it – the one slyly hinting that in its embrace our yearning will be both satisfied and destroyed – we have to go very slowly and be very attentive. The image is given to us as a gift. By giving our attention in return, we induce sacred relationship.

It is a kind of dance, which on the one hand has to do with logic and on the other with the utter absence of logic, even the opposite of logic. It is like studying a classic text on the moon by day and at night going outside and dancing naked in moonlight, reveling in moonlight.

Those become poles, right? The rigorous study and the reveling? And the work becomes not to privilege the one or the other but just to allow them both their space, their voice, their influence. When they cry out for public witness, we give it. Sometimes I do dance in the moonlight! Really! And when they insist on privacy, we give it. I will not tell you that I am reading _________________ by __________________ nor how I find it ________________________ with respect to ____________  and so am contemplating ________________________ if ___________ says yes.

Obviously I am describing here a sort of balancing of tension – wanting to come very close to the prong of desire that will destroy itself (transcendence) without losing proximity to the prong that extends itself (personal experience). It’s like surfing, maybe. Or running very fast down a mountain. Or crossing the river on a thin wire.

And I suggest that somewhere in that balance, we have the insight that paradox ends when we stop insisting on it, and begin to search for its origins. The two-pronged desire arises where? Why? How?

In other words, having given attention to desire, having to some extent acquiesced to it in its paradoxical wonder and creativity, now I want to meet its mother.

Desire arises as a consequence of our physical and cognitive structure. That is, I have the structure of homo sapiens, and that brings forth a certain experience of world and living in the world, and this includes an apparently paradoxical desire.

But the paradox seems to hinge on my belief in an actual self that can be either transcended or improved. What if that self isn’t real? Isn’t actually there as something that can be improved or fixed or transcended?

If that’s the case, then desire as such is a mirage. The paradox doesn’t present a real dichotomy, but a false one. On that view, when the impulse to self-improve arises (through learning or practice or exercise or diet or whatever), one attends to it. When the impulse to transcend the self arises (through prayer or meditation or forbidden ecstatic union), then one attends to it. No more and no less.

Thus, desire loses its privileged claims to primacy, intensity, individuation, etc. And the demands it makes are similarly deprived of privilege.

So back to the beginning then. What shall we do with our desire to know/see/experience God?

I think we have to demote it to equality with our desire for a slice of cake, a deep kiss, a walk in the woods, the feel of the river on our feet and ankles, the sight of a black bear, Emily Dickinson poems, toads in the garden, violets, snakes et cetera. It’s one of those, and one with those.

But this demotion is also a bringing-forth, because it implies that our desire for God is natural and readily met. Indeed, by placing it in a family of other longings, we open the possibility that “God” is not other than “a slice of cake, a deep kiss, a walk in the woods, the feel of the river on our feet and ankles, the sight of a black bear, Emily Dickinson poems, toads in the garden, violets, snakes et cetera.”

red lily paradox of desire
solitary lily out front off Main Street

Whatever happens when the black bear lumbers across the trail before me, or when we unfold in one another’s arms, or wade through the river at dusk, or share dessert on the back porch, it is also what happens when we encounter God. The satisfaction, joy, happiness, pleasure is the same.

It is a fairly short step from this fact to the suggesting that the sight of the black bear is itself a sight of God, a glimpse of the divine. And that our kiss brings forth the Lord as Alleluia, and the river we wade through is the Divine afoot in our own watery being.

I don’t suggest that we are seeing the whole! I suggest the whole remains forever beyond our grasp. Always I suggest that! Yet the glimpses we obtain – over and over in our living, this very living we live right now – are themselves sufficient. We are letting go our insistence that God somehow exceed the range of our being and experience. Desire is met and lit accordingly.

July 2019 Housekeeping

Some random thoughts near the end of July . . .

garden1. I sent a newsletter out, this time musing on the nexus between collard greens, being and love. The garden has been both bountiful and beautiful this summer, more than ever reminding me of the collaborative nature of our living. Correlations with A Course in Miracles abound.

If you’d like to sign up for the newsletter, please do.

2. Back in March, I mentioned my interest in beginning a dialogue group loosely-focused around ACIM. Nobody responded to that but I remain interested! Or even a once-a-year camp in the backyard and talk about God around the fire thing.

Something in me moves now in the direction of sharing not only in writing but in something closer to a circle of friends, brothers and sisters bound for glory, serious students thinking aloud together . . . The description matters less than the sharing, but you get my drift.

gardenAnyway, I reiterate my interest and willingness to organize, host, talk first and so forth. I’m not averse to an online arrangement, but that’s more complicated given my rural location, lack of reliable internet access, et cetera. It’s always nice to just share space in a dialogic way.

In any case, if you’re interested, let me know. I’m here. I’m glad you’re here, too.

Lenten Writing: Love is our Praxis

In “Autopoiesis, life, mind and cognition: Bases for a proper naturalistic continuity” Villalobos suggests that “the autopoietic aphorism ‘to live is to know’ . . . means that cognition, in its most basic and embracing sense, corresponds to the praxis of living.”

I put the essay down – I am reading and writing and cooking at once, the house empty for a few more minutes – and think again how a sense of how to live naturally appears in our living. Nobody has to teach us how to breath digest food or fall asleep. We don’t have to learn how to think or communicate or have preferences.

Critically – and invoking Maturana – we do not have to learn how to love.

Love is our natural praxis, even if it is blocked or impeded or confused or what-have-you. We are homo sapiens amans.

If we have to learn anything, it is how to recognize what we already know how to love and be happy. Basically, we need to get out of our own way.

So to live praxically – to be praxical – is to love, but in a natural way, not an affected way.

What do I mean by “affected way?”

I mean that it is possible to invent “kinds” of love, and then based on that categorization, to segment who gets what love and how much and when they get it, and then – and this is where the conflict begins – assume the order we’re applying is God-given, correct in some absolute sense, reflects a Platonic ideal, et cetera.

Love as we practice it – praxical love – reflects equality, consent and freedom. It is aware – or, at a minimum, aspires to be aware of – all others, not merely the others with whom it happens to be in physical contact. Our spiritual partners, sexual partners, intellectual partners, poetic partners, noumenal partners . . .

Those relationships – which vary in form – do in fact reflect a pure or ideal love that (if we are tracking A Course in Miracles) is God-given, God-lit, grace-filled.

We could call the form a symbol of the love; symbols enhance communication when they are viewed pragmatically and taken seriously. They become problematic if we conflate them with Truth, if we take them literally.

May I edit this living – this life – so that its symbols align more harmoniously – coherently – with God-lit love?

Would that be “right” praxis?

Yet, for all my wordiness I do not know this love very well, neither source nor symbol, content nor form.

I am often confused and conflicted. Am often estranged from those I long to hold close, arguing with those who I long to praise, talking over those I wish only to hear. I am lonely a lot. I am prone to religious fantasies.

Is characterizing my living this way a move – however clumsy, however uncertain – towards a coherent praxis of love? That is, isn’t the one who is confused about love the one for whom a loving praxis is most required?

[Or am I playing again, setting up a straw man – a straw spiritual pathos – to elicit sympathy and otherwise distract from the clarity that is right here right now insisting there is no other?]

When I say that love is our natural praxis, I assert that there is nothing to do but trust one another, attend gently and efficiently what arises, and be prepared for sudden changes in the dance. New partners, new steps, new music . . .

As this Lenten Writing has slipped my intentions, been less a lantern lighting the dark months until Easter and more a moon between clouds: here, briefly – brightly and clearly – and then gone, long enough you wonder is it there still.

But Lent goes on, even when by the calendar it is not Lent, as writing goes on (writing is my praxis – how silly to ever imply otherwise!), even when it is not Lenten Writing, and the going on is the actual light, the actual luminosity (what Henry said, here paraphrased, how Christ is the light in which all things – including Christ – appear).

One writes and sees what they write and says: okay, so I am learning how to let love be love. That is good to know! On this, the fifteenth day of Lent, and the first day of Spring, may all things – green and wordy and otherwise – be like unto their Creator.

March 2019: Housekeeping

This little post is more in the nature of a long-winded housekeeping note than anything else.

1. I sent out a newsletter (correlating a little poem of Emily Dickinson’s with ACIM principles of love and service). If you’re interested, you can sign up for the newsletter.

2. I have been rewriting old lesson posts. I began writing them back in 2011; my sincerity and devotion to that project were sound but the writing itself was rushed and a bit more biographical than necessary. Hence, rewriting.

Rewriting is not merely editing what has already been created. It is creating again. It makes something new. The process has been helpful to me, particularly in the way it has reminded me of Tara Singh’s observation that any one lesson of the course can awaken us from the dream of separation.

This is not to deny the lessons’ cumulative effect, nor to urge anyone to abandon a traditional linear approach to the curriculum. What works is what’s helpful! I merely testify to an ongoing experience of the richness of the material. It retains the viability of living scripture.

The rewrite has reached the first five lessons, if you are curious:

Lesson one
Lesson two
Lesson three
Lesson four
Lesson five

3. I would like to begin an ACIM dialogue group. My preference is to meet physically, perhaps once a month or so, for a sustained course-related sharing. I envision something along the lines of a Bohm dialogue-inspired workshop, with folks who share my approximate approach to and intensity with course material (which approach, Lord knows, is not for everyone).

I wonder if there are folks in an approximate radius to me who would be interested? I live in western Massachusetts. I am happy to travel a little (a few hours drive, say), and to be responsible for organizational details and coordinating.

If you’re interested, feel free to drop me a line or comment. Sometimes a sustained community can be a helpful resource in terms of insight and application.

4. Finally, I was going to add this material into the newsletter, but keeping that project simple matters, so I’ll post it here instead. It’s a couple of paragraphs from Eleanor Rosch, a scholar and writer whose work (especially when it comes to the nexus between religion and psychology) I find both challenging and nurturing.

To try to isolate and manipulate single factors that actually operate only systemically is like killing a rabbit and dissecting it to look for its aliveness. This is . . . a question of the kind of mind with which one perceives the world, whether in life or in science.

Opening to the wisdom in not knowing may be even more important than opening to experiences within knowing. Acknowledging not knowing is what evokes the genuine humbleness prized by every contemplative and healing tradition.

(from More Than Mindfulness: When You Have a Tiger by the Tail, Let It Eat You).

The emphasis here is primarily on epistemic humility – that is, beginning with what we don’t know, and what we don’t know we don’t know. Secondarily, it observes that what we perceive as distinct and separate tends to be an integral aspect of a system, and cannot be meaningfully considered apart from that system (nor, really, exist apart from the system – this includes, by the way, our self).

Given those premises, how shall we gaze at the world? With what sort of mind shall we approach our loving and living?

Thank you, as always, for reading and sharing with me.

Love,
Sean