. . . thus, it is good to be clear about the nature of our expectations: when I am an awakened being, it will look like this. It will feel like this. Others will respond to me in this way. And so forth.
Expectation, even though it is directed at the future, is predicated on the past. No – it is the past. That is where our ideas come from. We met or read about someone who professed to be awake, and we began to associate and free-associate. Over time – all that reading and studying and watching videos and going to workshops in the interest of enlightenment, of spiritual liberation, et cetera – those associations become a sort of fixed object: the awakened self. Our awakened self.
Thus, awakening – which is not a future event but a present cognition of a present reality – is largely or altogether missed because it doesn’t fit our prearranged ideal. Our seeking constructs a model that neatly, nearly perfectly makes finding anything impossible. We are too busy reading A Course in Miracles, or studying the 20th century advaitists, or meditating, or admiring our vegetarianism, or writing about awakening and so forth.
None of those things are bad in and of themselves, of course. It’s just that in the ultimate sense, A Course in Miracles isn’t any more significant than Danielle Steele. Consuming life in the form of plants isn’t morally superior to consuming it in the form of a chicken. And so forth. Yes, yes, we have to make decisions and live some way, but the point is that awakening is not contingent on those decisions. Awakening is not conditional. It is not contingent on any external appearance or construction or circumstance. Our belief to the contrary is what makes seeing this simple truth impossible.
We could put it this way: what we are in truth is altogether unaffected by our decision to eat meat, or to have an affair, or to be an ACIM student rather than a Buddhist, or to write poetry rather than ad copy for Budweiser, and so forth. Life does not stop because of our ideas about life – because of our standards or preferences. It doesn’t even change because of those ideas. It just is.
. . . truth is constant, and implies a state where vacillations are impossible . . . happiness in changing form that shifts with time and place is an illusion that has no meaning (T-21.VII.10:5, 13:1).
A little over a year ago I had an insight about giving attention, which subsequently and profoundly transformed my practice which, in turn and time, changed my experience of self and other. About six months after that insight, in the midst of its burgeoning effects, I began to have a sneaking suspicion that it was time to stop being so desperately and frantically consumptive, especially with respect to spiritual and philosophical texts. The time for learning was over; the time for application was now.
I beheld the clarity of Tara Singh.
The only Truth is “What Is.”
Only in Truth duality ends.
In thought, concept, dogma, belief systems, there is always conflict.
If you cannot harness the energy of a Truth, then you only know the words.
(Gifts from the Retreat 16-17)
I became determined to harness Truth: and I am here to tell you: Truth is like a horse that misses us and secretly wants to come home. It will not resist our harness. It draws vividly near even as we become aware of our desire that it drawn near. How lovely! How accommodating!
Because slowly – slowly but certainly – I began to get angry. Deeply angry. At first I didn’t understand it; perhaps it was just a prolonged mood? But then I began to see that what had once delighted me – the chickadees, the black bears, the tracks of the moose, games within language, the fall of the light just so – did not any longer. Or rather, I saw through the loveliness, saw through the delight. The loveliness of these objects was not compromised, but their meaning certainly was.
What do I mean by that? I mean that I was finally seeing the content behind the form: and the content was nothing but all the junk I projected: thoughts and memories and ideas and stories and landscapes and images and sounds and themes and this and that and holy Christ what an ugly tangled mess it made. Every time my heart leaped and my voice rose in song, this enormous ruinous welter of the projected self, of the self-made self, presented itself, and I fell silent. The chickadees and cardinals, the black bears and moose, the birch trees and fire ponds, the moon and the stars, collections of poetry and black-and-white photographs of my grandmothers when they were young . . . all of it was hostage to the ego, tortured by the ego into a desperate attempt to keep itself going.
In other words, what I had called joy was a lie with a singular goal: perpetuation of the separate self, regardless of the resultant tides of guilt and sorrow caused thereby.
If you seek to separate out certain aspects of the totality and look to them to meet your imagined needs, you are attempting to use separation to save you. How then could guilt not enter? For separation is the source of guilt, and to appeal to it for salvation is to believe you are alone . . . to experience yourself as alone is to deny the Oneness of the Father and His Son, and thus to attack reality (T-15.V.2:3-7).
I was angry because I did not want to see the truth of what I was doing, because to see the truth of it, was to know that one had to give it up. And how could I do that? How do you jettison a lifetime of specialness? How could a chickadee be just another bird? How could my writing about A Course in Miracles be just more blather? And so forth.
Please do not rush to tell me that I am wrong here. Or that it will all be okay. Please do not prattle about how special relationships are translated into holy relationships and so forth (T-15.V.8:1). I have read that, too. I have prattled thusly. I am saying something else here, or trying to. I am saying that we must meet experience where it is, which meeting requires rigorous honesty, and that to call this meeting unpleasant may be to understate the case dramatically.
I am saying that when we at last perceive the illusory nature of the world, that some of us must go through a period of anger and regret and bitterness. I am sure there are those who skip lightly through this stage and struggle with others, but I am not one of them. It hurt, and the hurt did not instantly or readily dissolve. And, because it hurt and kept on hurting, resistance entered.
Resistance takes many forms, one of which – for me the most cunning and resilient of which – is an interest in its many forms. I just love to study my apparent failures under the guise of getting better someday. Yet as soon as we are focused on form, we are distracted from Truth. Not permanently but presently, which is entirely sufficient unto the ego’s needs.
Thus, if I felt that consumption of spiritual texts was no longer called for, I doubled down on my study of them. Nisargadatta, Martin Buber, Shih-t’ou and so on. If the Holy Spirit said zig, I zagged, and when the Holy Spirit said zag, I zigged. I extended the proverbial middle finger resolutely, unrepentantly. Suck on this, Jesus. Pressed to admit that chickadees were neither lovelier nor holier than grackles or June bugs, I wrote a ten-thousand word treatise on the sacred blessing only chickadees could impart.
And oh how it didn’t work. And oh how I began to depress, to become depressed, my stumbling reduced to a crawl, my crawl reduced to blindly clutching fistfuls of dust. Nothing worked, and the unworkability of it bled slowly through my life – my work, my relationships, my walks, my wordiness. I couldn’t go forward as I was called to go, and going back wasn’t any better. Everywhere I turned I saw the same bleak possibilities, no one of which struck me as palatable, passable, viable. In no metaphorical way, my prison became very clear and very tight. I fell asleep to the clinking of chains and woke to the utter absence of light in which every moment was a recitation of my death sentence.
Now it is important to acknowledge that this condition is in its way a blessing – from the outside looking in it is a blessing – but it cannot possibly be perceived as such from within the experience. A prison is a prison; the willing prisoner and the informed prisoner and the optimistic prisoner are still prisoners.
The spiritual source shines clear in the light;
the branching streams flow on in the dark.
Grasping at things is surely delusion;
according with sameness is still not enlightenment.
It is important to see that the prison is constructed of ideals: thought makes it: it is thought itself. The world isn’t doing anything to us – life is just life, impersonal and neutral, flowing and evolving, unconditioned by the past and unaffected by the future. But our thoughts and perceptions – the workings of our so-called inner life – when unacknowledged, these become the dense web of illusion in which our entanglement becomes the very essence of loss and grief and confusion. It cannot be said enough: we confuse our thoughts about reality for reality. Stop giving thought such primacy – let it be the equivalent of bird songs and waterfalls and eighteen-wheelers a mile or more away – and everything will settle quite nicely.
But of course – again, critically – it doesn’t make a whit of difference to say this. But to finally make contact with the seeming realness of it all – to stop pretending that the prison is a beautiful landscape, or a perfect kiss, or a great poem, or a clear star on the horizon in winter . . . To just see that we are entrapped by thought and haven’t got the first fucking clue how to get out . . . That is something.
In a sense I am saying it is very important to see hell as hell, and to really accept it as such . . . You will know you are there when there is no way out, no possibility of hope, when there is no intellectual comfort whatsoever . . . Don’t resist this but rather embrace it, in the sense of not trying to change it, or pretend it’s anything else. Don’t look for the crack through which the light seeps; just sink into the darkness.
If we do not embrace our hatred of God, then we will not be able to finally know God as Love. There is no way out but through the Hate and Guilt and Fear, all of which is hidden by meaningless dreams of Love, our cheap hymns to health and happiness that are grounded not in experience but wishful thinking.
In the light there is darkness,
but don’t take it as darkness;
In the dark there is light,
but don’t see it as light.
So what happens? Here is what is happened for me, which won’t be what happens for you, because your path is not my path, even though we are walking together, calling to one another in darkness and fog, like hikers on the trail, separated by great distance, but perhaps it will still be helpful.
One morning you wake up and the prison is there: the hopelessness is there: the sentence of death life has laid on your bones chokes and strangles you and you wish only that the end would come, the sooner the better. And you say then from the rotting pit of your heart, from the wretched depths of what you have made of yourself, in a faint whisper no angel would recognize as language: “there must be another way.”
That was how Bill Thetford put it. Shih-t’ou adds:
Hearing the words, understand the meaning;
don’t set up standards of your own.
If you don’t understand the Way right before you,
how will you know the path as you walk?
Progress is not a matter of far or near,
but if you are confused, mountains and rivers block your way.
How simply the veils part when we stop insisting they be veils. How the jail cell dissolves when we make inquiry of the prisoner. How readily the path unfolds before our feet when we stop trying to go anywhere. And how soft your hand is in mine, Beloved, when I no longer beg to hold it.