Sunday, May 12, 2013

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

The world question

"We cannot know what life is unless we know what love is."

—Emmanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom

"In moments like this, in front of death, and being free from the known, we can enter the unknown, the complete stillness where there is no deterioration. Perhaps such moments are the only time in which we can find out what life is and what love is.

And without that love, we will never find the truth."

—Jeanne de Salzmann

 It's in the small hours of the morning, as the birds awaken, that I go deep in myself and search for this kernel of love that has formed me. It isn't separate from life; it is life, and, as Swedenborg says, we are receivers of life. This action a receiving life is already born from love; even the worst human being, at the very lowest possible level, is a receiver of this life that has been born of love. 

If something goes wrong with it, that is not the fault of life or of love.

My paradox arises in trying to understand how things that appear to be unloving can come out of love. That's the world-question, isn't it? 

But I can understand this vexing philosophical issue directly this through my own life and my own manifestation, where I believe I am loving — in whatever way I understand that — and then discover that it isn't true. 

Even one moment of self-awareness will reveal this, and such revelations are available all day long, every day.

There is talk of loving-kindness in Buddhism, but loving-kindness must be organic; in order for me to have any understanding, I must go to the root of it and sense it within Being, before it is expressed. If there is no connection to this expression within Being before the outward expression, no love can be present.

The way that unloving things arise from love is because of a lack of awareness. If there is no relationship between the expression of love within Being, and outward life, love remains passive and inactive at the core of Being, and is unable to touch life. The capacity is only mediated by an awareness and conscious effort. But the conscious effort isn't an outwardly directed one, which seeks to manipulate or repair outward life; the conscious effort begins in sensing the seed of divinity within me. 

This is why Jeanne de Salzmann phrases what she says above so exactly.

Our inner work is a call to understand that we are receivers of life, and to know that this begins with love. To sense this intimately is a sacred task; a duty we have to ourselves, to others, and to the Lord.

 These are my thoughts this morning.

May your soul be filled with light.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Majority of Cowards- on the Killings at Sandy Hook

There is no poetry in these moments.

It is in times like these, on days like these, that the objective facts of the terrifying conditions we all live in are brought home. 

In 1964, when I was nine years old, my parents took me to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. I wandered through halls filled with the most awful photographs of starving, emaciated Jews, piles of corpses, in a daze of horror. I walked past the mounds covering thousands of bodies. When I left the memorial, I realized that this planet was nothing like the peaceful place it appeared to be.

 The incident was life-changing. I have never been able to see the conditions on the planet as anything other than terrifying since then. We are in a desperate place that takes desperate measures.

Earth itself could be a paradise, relatively speaking. But we have created our own hell, and we live in it, each of us. When awful events like the events of yesterday in Connecticut take place, we are stunned, aghast, horrified — one could just list adjectives paragraph after paragraph, and that is indeed what we seem to do in our efforts to rationalize the events. But these events aren't rational, and will always defy our attempts to rationalize them. They confront us with our own fears, our own inner violence, the responsibility each one of us bears for the terror that we create in human society. That terror begins in each one of us; and it's not so easy to expunge.

 I don't think we see that the guns would not be there if we were not how we are. They represent what we are; they symbolize what we are. War, torture, brutality; claiming high principles, we deny them all, yet they belong to us. My moment in Belsen was a moment, I now see, where I looked into the mirror of our inhumanity. 

It reminds me of what Krishnamurti once said: war begins in each of us.

 Yet look at how our media, our politicians, all immediately begin to outsource the blame. Everything is a mop-up operation; and what we are always mopping up is the blood. No one ever gets there in time to keep it from being shed. There are too many men with enough courage to kill one another, and not enough men with the courage to stop the violence.

 This is going on all over the planet. Today, hundreds of people will be killed in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, El Salvador, Mexico, the Congo... yes, America... and all the other places... everywhere... where men decide that they should destroy one another. It is always, they protest in the loudest possible voice, necessary.

 Perhaps it's only when children die in a catastrophe of this kind that we begin to see the reality of it all; that it is never "necessary."

 And what is actually necessary never happens.

 Leadership on this issue isn't there; we have a majority of cowards. And the killing goes on. We act as though we are horrified; but look, in America, at how comfortable we are with it.  This is what we don't see. As a society, we condone this kind of killing. If we didn't, our gun laws would be different... our movies would be different... our politics would be different. Our television and our media would be different. But they are all of the same texture; and that texture is as coarse and appalling as the behaviors and events we, in our hubris, collectively claim to disown.

Nothing will happen after this; laws won't be changed. And I will have to write a similar column the next time, because the date is somewhere out there on the calendar already.

We just don't know what day.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

a wish for the good

 Last night, I went to the Blue Rock School to see a shaman from Ecuador by the name of Don Alberto Taxo. He's quite different than what we expect from ourselves; much simpler, from a culture with a more essential approach to life. Nonetheless, an educated man, who clearly understood modern life as well as the next person. At the same time, his culture has preserved a sound connection to nature, which is something we lack.

The room was filled with well-meaning, New Age seekers, all rapt with attention as Don Alberto expounded the simple virtues of a relationship with nature, the need for things to be less tense and complicated; a personal empowerment to let go of our obsessions, fears, and pessimism, so that something new can enter.

His teaching is, in the end, probably not too far off some of the material we are more familiar with from modern Western spiritual practices; but the language is different, a heartfelt, less complicated message that extols the virtues of relationship with the planet, not in the political or sentimental terms that our intellectual society gives us, but instead a call to something more direct—more practical and organic.

Skeptics, cynics, and modern medicine will undoubtedly discount what the Don Albertos of the world say; yet have they offered us anything better? It seems not. Modernism, what one might call non-traditional culture, cultivates exploitative relationships rather than cooperative ones. We exploit nature; we exploit one another. I recall one wag who said "in capitalism, man exploits man; in socialism, it's the opposite."

We forget the emotive value of our relationship with simple things like water, the forest; a soft voice singing and a thumb beating gently on a drum. There's a numbness in us, born of sensory overload, a surfeit of data, and the compulsion to shovel everything we can into our mouths, our ears, and our eyes, for fear that we might miss something.

Don Alberto's approach is, perhaps, too simple for most "developed" folks; we don't come from the mountains in Ecuador, and we're not surrounded by nature. Most of us live in the suburbs or cities, and our contact with nature is minimal at best. But his reminders are vitally important. As Edward O. Wilson has pointed out, our organisms originally evolved specifically for taking in impressions of the natural world. Starving ourselves of these impressions, he argues, actually creates psychological deficits which we are unaware of.

 Those of us with a slightly less biological, more spiritual tilt might put it in other, more personal terms: only if we fulfill this duty to ourselves and the planet can we help grow a whole Being. Things have become unbalanced; and in our characteristic sense and manner of approaching the world, we create environmental movements, causes, grand gestures to push things back in the right direction. We forget the very small gestures that can be made within ourselves, in the places where real change actually might occur; as Don Alberto advised us, touching the petals of a flower. Or drinking a glass of water much more slowly, to appreciate its qualities. No extravagant claims; just a request that we place our attention where it belongs. Right here, right now.

Perhaps we have become too modern to believe in the apparent naïveté of a sacred quality in water itself; of the idea that a feather can be used to brush away negative thoughts. But if so, I think we've lost more than we imagine. A sense of the magical is needed in life, and once it's exterminated, what is left? Each one of these gestures and ideas touches an unknown that lies beyond the reach of our ordinary senses; each one of them inspires a part of us that has a wish for the good.

This is certainly the central message Don Alberto brought; we do have a wish for the good in ourselves, and we can cultivate it. We can exhale the things in our lives that create negativity, and  make room to receive something new; something different.

In these small ways, in this search to rekindle our wish for the good, we can make a difference that begins at home, right here, right now; not on the scale of nations and governments, but on the scale of our own Being.

Thanks, Don Alberto, for reminding us of that so gently, and with so much love.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Every sensation

Every sensation is a movement of energy, but I don't really understand it that way.

My relationship to my sensation seems personal so much of the time. It belongs to me; it's mine. I take it for granted; my body, my life are so obvious they don't need or perhaps, in my mind, even deserve my consideration. I just use them as I wish.

 I don't stop to consider that every expression of energy is a sacred force. All manifestation emanates from the divine; while I ought to perpetually honor that, instead, I forget everything. I want food. Is there enough money? That woman looks good. And so on. I suppose that these crudely formulated approaches are, in themselves, some low form of honor, but they don't have much respect in them.

When I see something like this daisy, which I took a picture of on the Outer Banks about a week ago, I have a bit more respect. This is a remarkably ordinary flower— they grow all over the place— and yet something is going on there, there is an expression of perfection in this particular plant that strikes me. A vibrancy, a quality of energy — yes, energy, form, color, manifestation — that makes a deeper impression.

Even now, that impression is in me as I relive the experience, and I see how the impression is a kind of food that supports me. It's not bread, or meat, or air; it is some other kind of food, something I generally don't think of as food. Yet it is food; spiritual food. And despite the tendency of spiritual food to be presented to us in magnificent yet overblown venues such as the Sistine Chapel, it's these very small impressions that somehow sink the deepest into me and say the most to me about where I am, and what needs to be respected.

 I see that I'm not present enough to my life. That's the bottom line. And yet I can't change that myself; only an energy from a higher level can effect any real change, and that begins from within. Not from a place where I exercise my own will, but from a place where help arrives.

That's a mystery. It will probably remain forever unexplained; it is where I meet the cloud of unknowing.

Then these sensations, these movements of energy, touch me.

And only then do I know that I am not alone.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Good Reminder

It's close to a year since my sister died. This past weekend, I found myself in North Carolina, working to organize my elderly parent's house in the wake of an accident where my father sprained his ankle. He's now in a wheelchair, and in no shape to keep the grounds for the garage up. It falls to me, as the only remaining child, to do a good deal of work the parents in their 80s can't do anymore.

 I spent most of my life imagining things. I imagined, for the majority of my adult life, a shared responsibility between my sister and myself for my parents; I imagined us organizing things, discussing the past together, attending to the many basic needs our aging parents would have.

Yet none of that can happen now; in the end, despite my fantasies, imagination has no power over the real world.

Every single thing I went through this weekend was a subtle reminder of my sister, and the fact that she's gone. There is no single stunning grief to be found here; instead, there is the overwhelming but subtle sense that everything is lost: lost within time, lost within a series of events that can't be predicted and that no one really understands. I live, as we all do, in a world that churns out an endless series of interpretive mechanisms, all of which ultimately fail.

Why do our interpretations fail? Well, Ibn al 'Arabi would probably tell us that all things are lost in the Lord; he believed that there was an insurmountable separation between man and the Essence of God, which can never be known. It can only be described by negation — we can only know what God is not, and God is always not anything we can think of.  Not anything we can imagine.

The Names of God — one of al Arabi's  major points of discourse — are a very different question; all of manifested reality, including ourselves and all our thoughts, can be known. (or, at least, some parts of it can —al 'Arabi is rightly cautious in warning us that no man can know but a tiny portion of it.) We can only know God indirectly through these Names, however. Anything that can be named in any way; this is what al 'Arabi refers to as the Divinity, that is, our understanding of God, which is always insufficient, and merely an isthmus  that will forever stand between the Essence of God and ourselves.

This insufficient understanding is in me in regards to death. It is here in regard to the progress of daily life. It is everywhere, in fact; although I'm a reasonably intelligent man, and can understand many things, in the face of death, I am forced to recognize my own insufficiency. And I don't think I will ever approach life, or other people, with enough humility if I don't recognize this very deeply, very deeply indeed. So deeply, in fact, that it becomes a force in me that penetrates the bones and emanates from their very marrow.

 The sorrow I feel as I confront these circumstances doesn't seem personal. I sense a question that lies at the root of my existence itself here, yet it can't be described in words. It is mapped in the sensation of the body and the arousal of feeling; in other words, the majority of it is tactile and organic, rather than intellectual. And, really, if I admit it to myself, so much of life is like this. I'm called to invest myself in these tactile and organic qualities, and yet instead, I think about them.

Good, strong thinking is necessary; but if that's all I rely on, it's not enough.

As I grow older, I am increasingly struck with the impression that we are all lost in the wilderness; but not lost in a lonely wilderness, no. There is a lonely wilderness in me, and I am lost in it, but I am lost in the Lord, because the Lord owns even the wilderness I fear.

 Sometimes, along this path, I discover trust. But I need to discover it over and over again, because so much in me rebels.

 Death is a good reminder. It never goes away.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

To Live Inwardly

"For truly, insofar as it is something external that prompts you to act, to that extent your works are dead, and even if it is God who prompts you to act from outside, then such works too are dead. 

If your works are to be living works, then God must spur you to action from within, from your innermost part, if they are really to be alive. For that is where your own life is, and that is the sole place where you are truly alive."

—Meister Eckhart, Sermon 10

Esau was hairy — and Jacob was smooth skinned, like the beautiful Egyptian woman pictured above. Esau lived according to external characteristics and principles; he acted from outside, was a man of personality. 

Jacob, on the other hand, was devoted to inner qualities, a man in touch with his essence. Thus he deserved and earned the birthright that should have been his older brother's. 

The inner is the higher principle, always.

 Our innermost part is much higher than any other part of us. It's difficult, actually, to speak of this with words, and to discuss it publicly, because in fact our innermost part is so much higher that no words can encompass or convey its qualities. Truly, it has an uncorrupted, intact, and eternal nature; it is nothing like we are as we are. Yet there is a thread that can connect us to it.

Action in life can come from this innermost part, but only if the thread is functional. And that in itself is a big change. Even if I've heard of the thread, to have actual contact with it for anything more than a moment is a big thing; and to truly have this contact turn into a source of information, something inwardly formed that is directed outwardly, is very much different than how I usually am, which is to be outwardly formed and attempt through that to live inwardly.

 I think very carefully about this, because I begin to see my entire life is formed through this being outwardly, and attempting through that to live inwardly. The parts of me that are in need of good food for the soul thus go unfed; because they cannot derive their sustenance from the objects, events, circumstances and conditions of outward life, try though I may to arrange it this way.

 This is truly a mystery, because I don't know any other way of being. What else could there be? 

Things are just the way they are, this way, and that's it. Right?

 Only by opening to a new inward quality of a very different kind can I begin to understand this in another way. It's true; there are times when something outward which was created from an inward influence may suddenly touch me; I may see how something was actually inspired by a force from a higher level, or understand how an idea comes from a place much more powerful than my usual intellectual wiseacrering. Yet this isn't quite enough, because to be exposed to things which arose because of such influences is different than coming under the influence itself. And I need to become open, to come under, such influences from within myself in order for any real action to take place.

This is why Meister Eckhart says that God must spur me to action from within. There is a place within the soul, within the living and organic tissue and structure of a man's Being, that can receive material from God; that can receive an energy that will catalyze a transformation of the inner state. Even a very small amount of this can make a big difference in life; and yet it's so rare to encounter even a little of it.

 The old masters knew that constant prayer was necessary. Not just prayer on my knees; prayer in supermarkets, prayer on highways, prayer in the gardens and prayer in the banks. And prayer cannot just be a repetition of prayer in me. 

I need to begin to understand prayer as a living action that arises within each moment of life.