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.