On Awareness, Doubt, Socratic Dialogue, and Love

As human beings we are aware and we are aware that we are aware and this reflects a single unified awareness. Your awareness of a tree and your awareness of your awareness of a tree are the same awareness.

To some people this seems obvious. But I think it’s actually not. We have – as a consequence of our physical and cognitive structure – a sense that our “awareness of awareness” is actually a durable tangible self who happens to be looking at a tree. And we are very attached to that self, and our attachment is consequential. It begets a lot of distress and anxiety (and aggression) which, as A Course in Miracles suggests, need not be.

The suggestion here is that the tree and the self are similar phenomena appearing in the same awareness. That is, they are both just images in awareness and neither is more dynamic, valuable or complex than the other. That one feels more dynamic, valuable and complex is simply an aspect of appearing (sort of like how some stars appear brighter than others, or some ice cream flavors taste better than others).

“But wait!” you might say. “What about my past? My preferences? My desires and aversions? My hopes and goals? The tree doesn’t have them – I do.”

Actually, no. They, too, are appearances in awareness – albeit subtle appearances (sort of like noticing wind because of how the tree moves – wind itself is invisible). Describing goals, preferences, histories et cetera as our own – as if they are attached to a discrete self – is part of the confusion. It arises from – and reinforces – the underlying mistaken belief that there actually is a discrete self that can be threatened or rewarded, lose or win, live or die . . .

It’s a bit like how we cry when Bambi’s mother dies. We know that nothing actually happened. And yet, we are invested in the illusory narrative to the point that it evokes a powerful emotional response. I’m suggesting that Bambi isn’t the only narrative we’re falling for; we’re falling for the “me, myself and I” narrative, too.

“Okay,” you say. “But if I cut myself, you don’t bleed. If you eat some bread, my hunger doesn’t go away.”

While that argument feels dispositive, it’s actually not. Its premise assumes the point it aims to prove – that is, that you and I are separate beings having separate experiences. It’s a slightly subtler version of saying “water is wet because water is wet.”

Investigate the premise: if you are just an image appearing in awareness, and I am just an image appearing in awareness, then our various professions of experience are merely professions. They are merely appearances in awareness, which includes the sense that some are mine and some are yours. But if “me” and “you” are just images, then a compare-and-contrast exercise isn’t going to prove one is more “real” than the other.

For example, you wouldn’t compare a speech by Macbeth to a speech by Banquo in an effort to prove that one of the speakers wasn’t a character in a play. You wouldn’t compare the acts those characters take to suggest one is more real than the other. It’s the same with “you” and “me.” And you and me, too.

“Fine,” you say. “But you keep talking about ‘I’ and ‘you.’ Isn’t that hypocritical? If they’re not real or actual, why do you keep talking about them?”

Obviously language and communication appear, and obviously language and communication denote stuff. The word “tree” doesn’t just float in the ether – it directs us to a specific experience of a specific appearance. It’s relational, which is what makes it communicative.

But ask: how would dialogue function if I beat my chest and hopped around like an amped-up silverback gorilla? Or stood silently in place all day with my face turned to the sun, slowly rotating like a sunflower? What if I use semaphores? What if I invent a language, a la Tolkien?

I think the answer is that while meaning in those instances would shift – become more or less clear, more or less helpful, more or less intelligible – communication itself would still go on.

That, in turn, suggests that language, too – notwithstanding its complexity in signification – is an appearance. Of course I use language that reinforces the split in awareness that human beings experience. I appear as a human being. When “I” appear as a silverback gorilla or a sunflower, “I” do something else.

It’s all an appearance. Yes, some of it feels more personal and intimate – more sensuous – but so what? All that really shows it that language appears and sensuality appears and sometimes they coincide.

The suggestion I make is that we investigate this, and see what happens when we do, and in the interim just keep on keeping on. Do what is natural. Sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, laugh when you’re amused, dance when the music says dance. Be in dialogue with life, rather than lecturing it and insisting it conform to this or that expectation or opinion.

One of the things I often point out is that when we come to the insight that “it’s all awareness,” is that we go slowly with any conclusions we might draw from that. There is a sense that we’ve reached the summit of the mountain and our search is over, dissolved in the pure light of God/Source/Etc.

Well, maybe. But maybe not, too.

Mountain summits are not our home! They are part of what comes and goes – part of the experience that is never still but always shifting and shading. Each time I reach the top of Mount Ascutney, after refueling and giving a good hour or so to sitting quietly with the western view, I hike back down.

It’s not unlike when Jesus and his disciples meet Elijah and Moses at the top of a high mountain. The disciples want to set up tents and who could blame them? But Jesus does not cling to the peak experience. It passes. He descends from the summit and returns to the ordinary ongoing rhythm of living in the world.

I read that scriptural text as suggesting that summit experiences can be helpful and exhilarating but are not in and of themselves the end of seeking and uncertainty.

It is possible the insight that “it’s all awareness” is simply a clear seeing of the human experience of cognition and perception. That is, we have a particular structure and it brings forth a particular experience that appears dual but is actually non-dual. It appears singular but is actually shared, collective and inclusive.

On that view, the insight simply allows us to be happy in a serious, natural and sustainable way. Since “the other” is also our own self (or, better, is our self seeing itself another way), then patience, kindness, and inclusiveness naturally arise. We become creative and compassionate rather than competitive. We don’t wait on invitations to be helpful and we don’t get worked up about accepting help. Mutual aid and recognition abound. We become loving, or we become love itself, where “love” is understood as processual, flowing, relational. The rigid poles of subject/object, observer/observed dissolve because we understand them not as laws binding us to separation but as pointers to our fundamental unity.

However, I do not argue that this is absolutely the case! I merely point out that it’s as valid a possibility as positing “it’s all awareness” as tantamount to a radical spiritual awakening and enlightenment.

Nor do I suggest that those two possibilities are the only ones! Critical to my personal experience of spirituality – which is to say, of love – is an ongoing willingness to accept the possibility of other possibilities, including those I of which I am not now and may never be, aware.

In a sense, by not allowing ourselves to reach a conclusion, we sustain a kind of unknowing. We don’t ever reach the summit and set up tents; we hike and go on hiking – up and down, here and there, peak and valley, village and forest, desert and sea. I think of this approach to awareness and awareness-of-awareness as kin to Socrates’ insight that human beings cannot ever be wise, let alone “wisest of all.”

Here is how Hannah Arendt puts it in her essay “Philosophy and Politics.”

. . . only through knowing what appears to me — only to me, and therefore remaining forever related to my own concrete existence — can I ever understand truth. Absolute truth, which would be the same for all men and therefore unrelated, independent of each man’s existence, cannot exist for mortals.

Socrates insisted on epistemic humility – on doubt – but also on dialogue.

Arendt again:

Socrates therefore must always begin with questions; he cannot know beforehand what kind of dokei moi, of it-appears-to-me, the other possesses. He must make sure of the other’s position in the common world. Yet, just as nobody can know beforehand the other’s doxa (opinion), so nobody can know by himself and without further effort the inherent truth of his own opinion. Socrates wanted to bring out this truth which everyone potentially possesses. If we remain true to his own metaphor of maieutic, we may say: Socrates wanted to make the city more truthful by delivering each of the citizens of their truths.

“Maieutic” refers to the art and craft of midwifery. Socrates wasn’t trying to persuade anyone of his truth; rather, he was trying to help others give birth to their truth. As Arendt puts it, “the maieutic was a political activity, a give and take, fundamentally on a basis of strict equality, the fruits of which could not be measured by the result of arriving at this or that general truth.”

That is a beautiful and nontrivial point. We are apt to think of our seeking and pursuing nonduality in a spiritual context or frame, which makes it personal. Ascended masters appear to me and not you, Marianne Williamson is more spiritual than I am, Thomas Merton was closer to God than all of us, et cetera.

But the suggestion I make here – tracking Arendt’s insights – is that our seeking and pursuing nonduality is actually political, in the sense of bringing folks together in a consensual collective way.

That is, we are entering into dialogue – image unto image – in order to learn that we are images, and equal, and so learning together what our equality and togetherness mean.

On this view, the end of the self, as such, is actually the opening out of the self into Love, which is all-of-us, which does not exclude the inanimate or non-sentient. The self melts; the collective, too.

I hint here then at the possibility of a structure in or to awareness that is premised on love. And what I intend by that is to notice that meaning is inherent, and that it’s relational. Or perhaps, even simpler, just noticing that there is order – something rather than nothing, meaning instead of no meaning, order instead of chaos.

Humberto Maturana noticed this – and reflected on it more deeply and helpfully (often collaboratively with women like Ximena Davila and Pille Bunnell, which matters) than any other writer/thinker to whom I’ve given attention. He and Bunnell wrote:

Love expands intelligence, and enables creativity. Love returns autonomy, and as it returns autonomy, it returns responsibility and the experience of freedom.

In his work, Maturana frequently returns to the following definition of love: “Love is the domain of those relational behaviours through which another (a person, being, or thing) arises as a legitimate other in coexistence with oneself.”

The suggestion I am making is that the relations implied here – the mutuality, the acceptance, the arising – is the order that grounds awareness, and thus becomes the fundament, the ground of our being.

That is, we are loving animals who are aware of love and of loving and of ourselves as love and loving and that clarity about this is what brings peace, happiness, cooperation, consensus, compassion and all of that. Indeed, upon seeing this clearly, nothing but “peace, happiness, cooperation, consensus, compassion and all of that” can arise because that is what we are. We love; we are loving.

I started this essay building a fairly traditional case for “there is only awareness.” I do that because a lot of folks whose work I admire have that insight as their goal, or reach that insight and have as their goal transmitting it to others. I appreciate that.

Yet I think that insight is not an end but a beginning, and that we can still reflect and observe and re-reflect in wake of – in the light of – this insight. And, further, I suggest that what we learn is that we love and are loving and in that sense Love is all there is.

Nor do I relinquish the Socratic impulse – to go on doubting and in our doubt to be in dialogue with the other. So I am always in a state of remembering, recovering, recognizing, relinquishing, relishing, reveling . . . There is no end to it. Nor can I say where the beginning is, or was.

It is like I stand on that line where the sea is always meeting shore. Each wave dulls then obliterates the messages we leave, topples then erases each castle we build. Yet the sand remains and the desire to communicate and construct remains, and so we – like the sea and the shore – go on, forever together as one.

Is Now a Moment in Time?

In his essay “Is Now A Moment In Time?” Michel Bitbol talks about “. . . the pure referring ‘now’ from which everything is referred to.”

“Everything” is this case refers to time as well. That is, in “the pure referring ‘now'” there is no time; time is also referred to, a signification arising in a world signified by the pure referring now.

And yet . . .

squash_plants
These are volunteers – squash plants we did not seed or intend to grow – but nevertheless grow in a manure pile aging in order to be added to the garden. Volunteers have nothing to do with time! But they make me happy, reminding me life goes on without my supervision.

Perhaps a simpler way to think about time this is to differentiate between chronological time (it takes a year to learn to speak passable Greek) and psychological time (I’m too old to learn a new language).

Chronological time is not complicated because it is helpful. It correlates with the seasons, the phases of the moon, menses, childhood and adulthood, birth and death. It’s just a way of organizing a living that is already loosely naturally organized.

But we internalize it and thus become slaves to the clock and the calendar. They were made to be helpful but we have become their servants. Jim Harrison called clocks and calendars “cosmic business machines.” Suddenly we are in a race against failure, death, closing time, Friday . . . None of which exist – nor do we – in Bitbol’s pure referring now.

So an interesting exercise is simply to give attention to this “pure referring now” and see what happens. Can we reach that place in which a) there are no distinctions and – yet, somehow – b) distinctions arise?

Can we find the non-differentiated stillness which generates all differences?

It’s kind of a trick question because if we say “yes,” then we’ve made a distinction – we’ve distinguished the “non-differentiated stillness” from what it is not. We mean well, but we’re kidding ourselves.

On the other hand, if we say “no” then we’re sad and disappointed because we are very much attached to the idea that folks who perceive the “non-differentiated stillness” are a bit more spiritual, a bit more beloved of God, Jesus and the Buddha, et cetera.

But we aren’t talking about a competition here. We are talking about a way of seeing or thinking – or living, really – in which a natural alignment, a natural coherence, of structural and ontological experience appears, dissolving separation, fragmentation, dissociation and sacrifice.

What remains is the gift of Love, which is the Sun around which the gift of attention joyfully revolves.

Humans exist only as a potential to receive,
When this takes place the world is transformed.
For only then, you, the Holy Child of God,
have It, Love, to give.
For sure this is possible.
It is not difficult. We already are “That.”
We need only to put the fear of undoing away.
We will together go into the web of words
with the Light of Love and awaken our Self.

(Tara Singh Remembering God in Everything You See 61)

Tara Singh’s emphasis on reception matters because it shifts the focus from doing – from activity, intention, goals and outcomes – to simply sitting quietly, giving attention, and trusting that God will provide and that Christ will be the light in which we remember that “Nothing real can be threatened” and “Nothing unreal exists.”

Of course, it is hard to be receptive this way. It is hard to sit quietly, just giving attention to whatever arises, just receiving – as a gift – that which arises. We are so hellbent on striving, fixing, improving, amending, doing . . .

Yet it is in this stillness – this deliberate slowing-down, breath by breath, this letting-go-by-letting-be – that we at last catch glimpses of impersonal, unconditional Love. We begin to perceive in a clear gentle and sustainable way that dissociation and separation are not possible, save as a passing form of experiencing our own self.

Ramana Maharshi was asked once why mental bondage – thought patterns, egoic conditioning and habits – was so persistent. His answer was clear and practical.

The nature of bondage is merely the rising, ruinous thought ‘I am different from the reality’. Since one surely cannot remain separate from the reality, reject that thought whenever it rises.

And I would soften that the tiniest bit to say simply let that thought of separation arise and do what it does until it just floats away, which it will certainly do. It’s not a problem (not even when we make it one).

If we do not cling to the concept that we are dissociated from Love – separated from God – different than what is real – then eventually those concepts will lose their stranglehold in and on our mind. They will drift away like rain clouds and what remains will be radiant and luminous, bringing happiness to all, without condition or qualification.

What a blessing to know there is no “other.” We are all one, for Life is one. The power of oneness is in every man, woman and child. It is superior to the power of institutions. Within each one there is the vision of wholeness – a light (Tara Singh The Joseph Plan of A Course in Miracles for the Lean Years 70)

The pure referring now is the stillness from which all life emerges and into which it all falls back. Life is one. God, as such, is not akin t0 patriarch watching over his lambs but more like the generative fertile Earth mothering us all. The referring now is not a time, nor even an experience, but that from which time and experience are differentiated by virtue of reference.

If this sounds complex or mysterious, well yes. It can sound that way. And appear that way. It can feel that way. And yet attention – brought lovingly, gently and generously – to our experience of living, of being the instance of life that we are, will intimate a whole in which there is neither birth nor death, nor beginning nor end, and we will know that we are blessed.

Inner Peace and Christ as Light

With respect to inner peace, the suggestion here is twofold.

First, the world is forever an image of God which is endlessly partial and thus merely hints at God.

For example, imagine that you see the Sistine Chapel but only through a narrow window. The size of the window only allows you to perceive a slim portion of the overall work. What you see captures the grandeur and loveliness of the whole but never the whole itself. You want to see the whole – how could you not – but the means of seeing forever limit your perception.

In that way, our structure as human beings brings forth a partial world. It appears “whole” relative to us (there is only this – this this!) but upon investigation and consideration, we see that this relative wholeness (while helpful, natural, lovely, nurturing, et cetera) is never Wholeness itself.

Second, the light in which this partial world is seen, is perceived, is Christ, and the light is what lives. What is seen – the actual image – does *not live, anymore than a photograph of you can speak, bake bread, make love, visit the horses, et cetera. You are not the image of you, nor is anything else.

Given the first condition – partiality and intimation – longing naturally arises. We long to know that which we are structurally prohibited from knowing. Or, put another way, we long to transcend our structure. Thus desire – holy and otherwise.

Sometimes this longing begets practices – a wide range of them, some spiritual, some not – which aim at transcendence or understanding, at – broadly speaking – managing this longing.

One of those paths – the path on which I shuffle and stumble, so often confused, occasionally clear and joyous, nearly always wordy – deploys a Christian language and ritual which aims at comprehending and integrating – and comprehending and integrating comprehension and integration – nonduality.

On that path, our savior is a Living Christ, who is (I suggest) “the light in which this partial world is seen, is perceived.” As I sometimes say – less dramatically and poetically, with less theological gravity: “give attention.”

Attention is a gift to us, because we did not invent it, and it is a gift from us, because We can – with care, with intention – offer it. To give attention is to notice deliberately, and noticing is a form of love.

Thus, when we give attention, we love, and what we attend is “in love” and this giving-attention-as-love can become ecstatic and holy very very quickly. One slips into it; indeed, in a certain light, a Christly light, one is never not slipping into it.

The wonder of this amplifies when it becomes clear – as in time it must – that we, too, are attended. We, too, are simply images visible in the light that is Christ.

That is, when we turn attention on itself, to its source, there is nothing to be found. The central self, organizer, director – the one for whom so much is at stake – is simply not there. There is no center and, also, the center is everywhere. Alleluia!

This is the paradoxical beauty of attentiveness: eventually everything in it dissolves without actually dissolving. There is nothing there, and everything is there to prove it.

All of this should be understood simply as a way of thinking about this shared experience of being human, a way of ordering that experience in order to make us happier, healthier, more peaceful and helpful, and so forth.

We have a subjective experience of being, of being human in a context (world, culture, family, obsessions, challenges) and the question arises of how we are to respond to that experience and context.

The way that we respond works or fails to work, and we adjust accordingly (often without knowing we are adjusting, for it is natural to seek balance, homeostasis, coherence – this is what life does, that is how God Gods).

Thus, I enter daily – moment by moment – a relationship with Christ, who is the light in which all things (including Christ) are seen, and that light (that consciousness, awareness, spaciousness) is always sufficient unto our longing, especially when we relax and allow longing to simply be a phenomenon to attend rather than a problem to be solved.

I don’t say that God – the Whole, et cetera – appears. I don’t make any grand assertion like that. I simply say that the longing engendered by partiality – this endless dance of distinction which is our living – is satisfied by Christ, by devout and faithful attention to the light in which the longing appears.

I say this not to teach you – for indeed this is the lesson you are always teaching me – but rather to say that your student is happy, grateful, ambling hither and yon, and home.

Self, Self-Image and God

Say that I take a picture of you, and set it next to you. Now I have you and an image of you.

wild_violets
wild violets near the apple trees where to mow would be to refuse the gift attention offers

If I want to feed you – bake you bread, make you tea – I will not place sustenance before the photograph.

If I want to hold you or walk with you, I will not cradle or sidle the photograph.

You are not the image of you.

If we throw the photograph into a fire, you do not burn. If we throw it into a lake, you don’t drown.

This is clear to the point of silly, right? The photograph is an image of you and you are not the image.

Now say that the embodied self – the one I feed and hold and walk beside – is also an image. On this view, the photograph is an image of an image.

But if this is so, then what is that image – the embodied self – an image of?

That is, the photograph is an image of your body, which is your external appearance to an observer (who could be your own self). But if your body is also an image, then of what is it an image?

Here I am going to dodge a little, but playfully. Here I will say that your body – that vivid, three-dimensional, pulsating loveliness – is a distinction which arises when any observer (which must include you) distinguishes “you” from all that is “not-you.”

{in this way you bring forth – for me – love}

On that view, you – your body, your appearance – is a cleft in the void, a brief seam in the indivisible wholeness that is God, pure emptiness and plenitude, not-one-and-not-two, one-without-another and not-one-without-another . . .

Of course, this is all experienced as your body (as an image, an appearance) by my body. “A cleft in the void, a brief seam in the indivisible wholeness that is God, pure emptiness and plenitude et cetera” is poetic wisdom or nonsense, according to whether it helpfully points in the direction of – facilitates, really – entering directly intimately this experience of image-intimating-God.

If I have a photograph of you – an image – I will tend to the image with love, because it reflects you, right? I don’t throw it in the fire or in the lake. I don’t desecrate it.

But I don’t confuse the image with you, the embodied you, the you that I walk with, bake bread with and sit quietly before the fire with.

In the same way, given the actual you, the embodied you, the sit-by-the-fire you, I am patient, gentle, helpful and kind (according to my limits, which are legion), again, because the embodied you reflects – indicates in its partialness – God.

{for our partialness is holiness, our appearance itself is Christ forever indicating the generative God out of which all appearance rises}

The image hints. It points at what gives rise to it. Appearances, too, hint. They arouse a desire to know fully, wholly, directly, intimately the other, who is our own self, which is also a hint, an appearance longing for the other. The world is constituted, is brought forth, by this mutual reflexive longing, the self forever seeking itself in the other – the multiplicity of others – all of whom are intimations of God, Wholeness, Generative Emptiness, the Divine Et Cetera and Holy Et Alia et cetera.

{for the world is always the brim, always spilling, always the horizontal refulgence, the eclipse that never eclipses, the shirt that never fully falls to the floor but hangs suspended in half-light, angel and ghost, holiness and haunt, here and not-here both}

At the level of the image – the appearance – which is the level of distinguishing, of distinction – there is only ever longing, the existence of which is contingent on never being fully satisfied, fully met, or fully given and received.

Yet by entering longing – by giving attention to its moisty circularity – one glimpses – tastes – God, which is both void and plenitude, timeless and formless, before and after and outside language and also the radiant essence always speaking, forever bringing forth the joy and peace that surpasses understanding in love: this love: this you, always you.

Love Begins With Two

In “You Have to Be Two to Start: Rational Thoughts About Love” Ernst Von Glasersfeld makes an interesting observation which is that in order to experience love, “you have to be two.” That is, what is one has to construct an other – become two – and then be in relationship with that other in order to know love.

This relates to George Spencer-Brown’s notion – supported by his weird but rigorous algebra – that the universe is capable of seeing itself, but in order to do so must cleave itself into a part that sees and a part that is seen. It distinguishes itself from itself.

But Spencer-Brown points out that since the universe is not actually distinct from itself, any division is always partial and thus, in its partiality, is false to itself. It hints at oneness, but is never actual oneness.

That is, so long as we are experiencing self and other, we might catch glimpses or intimations of oneness, and these hints might be comforting or orgasmic or exhilarating, but they are never actual oneness, no matter how intense or apparently persuasive.

Von Glasersfeld’s analysis makes clear that love is not a mystical union wherein two separate parts become one such that the separate parts are no longer separately identifiable. Rather, it is a common-sense art two (or more) separate parts practice out of a shared desire to see and share with the other.

We are self and other precisely because what is one – what distinguished by us as self and other – desires love. In this sense, the appearance of separation is the literal form of desire.

As von Glasersfeld understands it, insisting that love be “mystical” or “spiritual” can actually impede our experience of it.

I have reached the conclusion that there is a widespread illusion that makes the continued existence of love impossible. As long as children are brought up to believe that love just happens like a magic spell which comes from outside and creates and perpetuates itself, then it cannot function. Love – as Ovid pointed out long ago – is an art. It has to be constantly created and requires persistent vigilance, care, and thoughtfulness.

Given the appearance of self and other, we must become responsible unto the implicit – the apparently embodied – desire for love.

In this sense, a “mystic” is really someone who has learned that unity is our shared fundament and then does the hard work of sharing that learning and practicing it with others (broadly defined so as to include sunflowers, pine trees, oceans and stars et cetera) each of whom could be our very own self. Thus, as von Glasersfeld points out, to be loving always includes an ethical responsibility unto the other.

The partner is always what we experience of him or her. We have abstracted him or her from our own experiences and therefore he or she is our construction and not, for example, a thing in itself which exists independently from us.

Everyone and everything that we encounter is a distinction that we – ourselves distinctions – make. To be “mystical” is to perceive in a sustainable ongoing way the underlying unity inhering in our apparently disparate experiences.

I suggest that the sustainability of this insight necessarily makes us radical peace activists. When we perceive love as the fundament, then we also see clearly how so many of the models and systems used to instantiate and maintain justice, equity and peace and so forth are broken and dysfunctional and so must be discarded and replaced.

This is true when it comes to caged children at the southern border of the United States, hungry women and men living without shelter, and reliance on non-local and corporate food producers to eat.

Thus we contemplate and study oneness but we are also seeking to bring love forth in the actual apparent circumstances of our living. To paraphrase Henri Nouwen, a mystic who is not making the world a better place has only learned half the lesson, and the radical peace activist who is not aware of her unity with all life has likewise only learned half the lesson.

Learning half the lesson does not mean that we cannot be happy but it does mean that deep joy and inner peace, and a world free of hatred and fear, remain ideals that are only occasionally sampled, rather than sustainable mainstays of our shared living.

Jesus was a revolutionary who did not become an extremist since he did not offer an ideology, but himself. He was also a mystic who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. In this sense, he also remains for men and women of the nuclear age the way to liberation and freedom (Nouwen Seeds of Hope 220).

I do not suggest these are easy lessons to learn, nor hold myself out as an exemplary student. The way is arduous, if less so than we were taught. It takes attention; it takes commitment.

Like you, I work not from a sense of superiority or spiritual excellence, but from a sense of duty and humility in which learning is ongoing. The return of love unto love is cyclical. We are never going to “graduate;” we are not travelers who will one day arrive at a place called Heaven. There is nobody who “wakes up” or becomes “enlightened.”

More and more I see the work of love as akin to gardening and homesteading, wherein we work cooperatively with one another and with the earth to bring forth sustenance in the form of a cycle which nurtures body, plant and earth as one.

We might identify with one aspect of the cycle more than another – we might even appear to be one aspect of the cycle (gardener rather than plant, say) – but what matters is the attention and devotion we give to our ongoing experience of the cycle. Plants and soil are attentive, too. If we aren’t noticing this, then we aren’t noticing love in its fullness.

So here – where I live and study and act – we trade and barter for seeds. We compost as much as possible and return it to our gardens and the gardens of our neighbors. We grow mostly what feeds us (kale, potatoes, squash, beans) but also some of what delight us (decorative gourds, miniature pumpkins). We put food up and trade and barter and potlach with other local farmers and homesteaders. We do most (not all but most) of our shopping at cooperatives in which we are members.

It is not enough – it is not nearly enough – yet it makes us happy, relates us creatively to our little patch of earth and the women, men and other creatures with whom we temporarily dwell. It builds soil for those who come after us; it minimizes our dependence on corporations and other entities we do not respect. But still.

It makes sense to us to live this way, however imperfectly. It feels coherent. It is a way of perceiving the other and our selves and our shared world in ways that maximize shared healing, wellness, happiness and so forth. It emphasizes cooperation, coordination and communication.

Nouwen wrote that we are human not because we can think but because of our potential to love, which love is a poor reflection of the greater love that created us.

I am speaking about a love between us that transcends all thoughts and feelings precisely because it is rooted in God’s first love, a love that precedes all human loves . . . when we trust that the God of love has already given the peace we are searching for, we will see this peace breaking through the broken soil of our human condition and we will be able to let it grow fast and even heal the economic and political maladies of our time (Seeds of Hope 260, 267).

Nouwen’s God is Spencer-Brown’s Universe and von Glasersfeld’s One-which-makes-itself-two. The distinctions in language are not essential; the experience to which they point does matter, because it can helpfully point us in the direction of an ever-deepening, ever-encompassing, ever-self-seeding love.

We are unto each other like soil and blossoms, like sun and rain, harvest and pantry. May our shared grace and Thanksgiving be bountiful!