World in Chaos or World Awake?

We are, once again, living in chaotic times. Each generation seems to endure it’s own brand of chaos, with new issues arising but old patterns of violence and despair recurring over and over in our so-called “civilized” societies. Those who have spiritual inclinations, and those who simply wish to love, visualize a world without this strife and suffering, and imagine that if all would wake up we would be a kinder world, with all people thriving. Perhaps this was the way Jesus hoped things would go when he advised us to love our neighbor as our self, or Moses when he offered ten commandments that would greatly improve human conduct on the planet. (I have often wondeIMG_1375red how we can ignore the simple dictum ‘thou shalt not kill!’.)

Despite the efforts of many teachers, guides and compassionate leaders to suggest models for human compassion and cooperation, our patterns of human interaction continue to generate violence, hatred and insanity. For others they produce anxiety, depression, and despair. In some they are met with courage, caring and a renewal of the desire to contribute something hopeful and positive to our societies. In many others there is escape from these patterns through economic, sexual or family preoccupation or many other social distractions. As far as I can tell, these have always been human patterns on this planet and most minds are entangled in the energies they produce.

There is a growing sub-culture of people seeking answers through  what is clearly an inward journey – an exploration of their own conditioning and a seeking for a calm center or a sense of connection with “god” or “Truth,” or the primal source deep within. When within this depth of self-exploration the primary and universal consciousness awakens itself, and it is clearly revealed and experienced how you are entangled in thoughts, emotions and beliefs not true but only generationally conditioned, then “awakening” occurs, and there is the possibility of becoming “free” of yourself, and ending  suffering. We each have a potential to “awaken” beyond the boundaries of the personal self and into a new perception of our universal connectedness, but very few access this realization consciously in their lifetime.

The search to awaken may emerge in the psyche as a way to end suffering, or the divisive thoughts of the mind that cannot understand the terrible things humans do to one another. It can be triggered by a trauma or by simply wondering why there is so much struggle in many lives. It feels very personal at first. For myself, it came when I recognized that I felt a hole inside related not only to my mother’s sudden death when I was a kid, but also because my faith in God had died along with her. I wanted to know what was True about life. Did something called god even exist?

Usually it is personal pain that propels us to ask these questions. But I have met people who simply fell into the vastness of pure consciousness for a short time due to a shock, injury or deep despair, and when they emerged they felt driven to understand more. Many who are drawn to the peace offered through meditation and self-inquiry go deeper, and find consciousness stirring itself into revelations that surprise them. There are many doorways into the transformation of perspective about who we are.

This searching for Truth is not the personal escape you may imagine it to be. When successful it cracks open the destructive collective patterns that trouble our world. There is a collective consciousness that allows the darkness on our planet to flourish – or we might say a collective un-consciousness. Each of us that can awaken ourselves to the universal collective field hold a potential for healing a small facet of it, bringing light in some degree into the whole. It makes clear the possibility of love and compassion to overrule hate, first within ourself and then in the greater collective. No authentic spiritual guide or teacher is in this work to further their own lives – they are driven to bring more light into the collective. They may not know how to do this effectively – they are ordinary beings after all – only awake – so they give pointers from their own experience to encourage awakening in those who are available to it. They may teach from heart or intuition or a process they have found transformative in their own lives.

It is unfortunate that in some systems the way to encourage Self realization is to discount the attractions of human relations with the world. This approach has a place in helping you to recognize the inner world may have something more fulfilling, lasting and joyful to offer. It helps you to release the addiction to form so that you can directly know the ecstatic essence prior to forms. But once that is felt then awakening will optimally be brought back through the heart and into the lived experience. Great poets. musicians and artists sometimes radiate this. Brilliant inventions may be birthed from this insight. Mental confusion, violence and suffering can be transformed into understanding and compassion, along with a profound appreciation of the beauty and the miracles of the ordinary life.

We may never have a world without some chaos and a percentage of wounded or misguided people striking out at others. But the hope for me is that awakening generates greater wisdom and an evolution of  a new perspective within humanity, so that we understand that we are One interdependent species, and it is to our benefit to accept and support our common human needs. Awakening is not for you alone – it is for all of us.

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The Sacred in “The Shack”

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A lovely aspect of the film “The Shack”, which I saw yesterday, is that God is portrayed in several images – none of them traditional. This film, based on a best-selling Christian book,  offers as well a universal message that divine love is unconditional just like our love for our children, and that the tragedies of life are not “allowed” and cannot be prevented by God, but are part of the experience of living as humans.

This is a film about how we can heal. Presented through a Christian lens, it may not appeal to those who follow eastern practices, but essentially the message of Buddhism, Vedanta and the Perennial Philosophy is the same, as expressed in the teachings about suffering found in Buddhism, and in the challenges and questions Arjuna (representing every man) faces in the “Bhagavadgita”, the most universal scripture in India. It is a message about facing darkness and healing the broken heart through love, forgiveness, wisdom and trust. Christians encourage faith to accomplish this, but more than faith there must be a deep internal turning and releasing in order for healing to happen. Eastern teachings are more focused on this internal path, and view God more as a primary source of the energy and consciousness of life rather than a physical form. The images are only transitional objects defining aspects of this One Source, because our minds more easily relate to Source in the form of a human body, and cannot mentally grasp the wholeness and radiance of the First Cause. It is too much bigger than mind.

Some Christians are really afraid of this internal turning. One woman condemned me recently as offering teachings of the devil. I don’t know why, but I guess she came to this conclusion by watching an interview I did recently on Conscioustv about living with kundalini energy. Such a perspective distorts a person’s ability to find joy and contentment in life, because it denies our own direct connection with the sacred.

It is sad when people are brought up believing that anything arising within them is evil, and unloved by their God. The darkness among humans is often something passed down generationally by people who have experienced extreme neglect and pain, and pass this unconsciously along to their own children. Violence begets violence. Prejudice is taught. Self-loathing is taught. Hatred of those who are different is taught. We as a culture do very little to prevent these teachings as much of our entertainment is focused on violence and prejudiced images of those who are different. Parents are stressed to provide a living, often unsupported and occasionally harshly reactive with young impressionable children. Children in poverty often lack enough food to eat and time with their over-worked parents. Fear is promoted as a way of marketing goods, religion and politics.  Evil emerges from the cracks in a culture – the unwillingness or inability to recognize what is needed for love and self-acceptance, and compassion for our fellow humans, to thrive.

Unfortunately some churches do not preach the universal sacredness and connection to God that is in all humans. Some governments are managed by people more attracted to power and personal gain than the emotional and physical health of their communities. This places a huge burden on an individual family system to model inclusiveness and compassion, while also meeting basic human needs.

If there is an original sin it must be this human tendency to care only for our own gain and neglect the needs of others. If there is a hell it is likely the lives of some in our societies who are caught in war and other unspeakable pain.

The true gift of Christianity when rightly used has nothing to do with walking on water or going to heaven or recruiting more Christians. In the teachings attributed to Jesus it is  finding the kingdom of God within – the simple connection we each have with wisdom and love and others of our species that can only be found by facing and eventually releasing our personal dramas and traumas, demands, disappointments, anger and grief. It happens when we let go into ourselves and discover our True Nature. Then we may experience forgiveness for the way things are and discover the freedom of seeing the joy and possibility of creation. Then we can find each in our own way how we can express the sacred that has been latent within us.

 

 

Finding Our Light in Darkness

The majority of people in this country are concerned, even despairing, about where the nation is going, because of the election through the electoral college of a minority-chosen president who is impuspiritual-awakeninglsive and appears to stand against many of our better values. We don’t know what he will do – but we fear what he says. Fear and anger is arising on both sides. The anger of fear and the anger of defensiveness.

The appointments for many agency heads are people who have in the past been against the major practices of those agencies, and in many cases have no experience in the field they will be managing. There is a huge flaw in the federal government that allows people to be elected into leadership with no stated qualifications for office. Among other actions, it would help to promote changes in this model.

This political upheaval (not the first in our difficult history) is an opportunity for the majority to stand up for what we believe. We need to find a positive way to express what the majority want, but include what the “other side” needs. We need to stand for rather than against, because pushing against only strengthens resistance on the other side. We need to show these people we are afraid of that we will value them when they make choices for a healthy community, a clean environment, decent salaries, good education for everyone, or women’s rights. Money is not the problem – values are. Even rich people can love, find creative solutions, appreciate health and nature and enjoy appreciation. We need articles in the press that continually show the advantages of greater wealth and safety in the country that will follow in an educated and fully healthy society and environment.

It is easier to rage against what we fear than it is to promote inspiring change – this is why our politicians rely on fear to get voters to the polls. It is time for the people to promote creative change and mutual support of persons and environments in communities, states, businesses, schools – in time those elected would want to be part of it. Can we find in ourselves that which we want to promote and protect, and speak up creatively. I found in my past that when I was depressed it was because I was not doing what was meaningful to me. I had to act on the desires of my heart to rise above the heaviness of spirit. Eventually I found my way to a deep internal peace. Acceptance is not passivity – it is the beginning of clarity and right action. We need to encourage this evolution in one another.   We can benefit from the will to do what is good and loving for ourselves and others. And so can the country.

The Mother, a great spiritual companion of Aurobindo, believed in the evolutionary potential for transforming human minds into an awakened loving presence. She once said that “When there is a great darkness in someone, you can be assured that underneath it is a great light. “ The state of the world is primarily because we do not recognize what we really are. Today is the time to ignite this light in ourselves and others.

 

 

Emptiness, Spaciousness and Love

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Frances Bennett, a former Trappist monk and now an awakened teacher who blends Christian mysticism, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta in his teachings, put a quote on Facebook that points directly to the potential of spiritual awakening, in any tradition.

“Another way of describing the spacious awareness that is sometimes called ’emptiness’ is to refer to it as ‘unconditional openness…I have taken to calling it that because, this phrase of ‘unconditional openness’ seems to point a bit better to its essence which, for me, is LOVE.”

It happened that on the same day I saw this quote someone contacted me who was concerned about the fact whenever he closed his eyes to meditate he experienced spaciousness, and he was alarmed about this.

Our human mind is used to being busy, to sorting, dividing, judging, maintaining our separate identity and staying within the social constructs with which it has identified. We panic during a spiritual emergence because experiences are arising that do not fit our belief system about what is normal and acceptable in our lives.

Sometimes we panic about energy buzzing and shaking in our body. Sometimes we are struck with unfamiliar moods and rushes of emotion long repressed in our guts and hearts. For a few people a vision or dream arises that seems inexplicable and frightening. For others the feeling of consciousness free of the body, or the moments of consciousness having no boundary, seems evidence of “losing my mind”.

Why do these things arise in a spiritual awakening? Because despite what we have heard in our culture and spiritual traditions, this is what an awakening is. It is not what the mind wants it to be — a perfect bliss and freedom from all the traps of depression and anxiety and feeling inadequate that plague many people in the world. It is not a sweet and easy escape from life. While meditation brings an inner strength and calm, a sense of a center, if spiritual realization is to arise, turmoil will usually come along with it, at least for a while.

To understand our true nature, consciousness must take a journey that reveals all that we are not. For a few rare souls this happens suddenly — consciousness arises or expands rapidly and breaks forth into the vastness of no-self — no personal self — or One Self — the realization there is One consciousness penetrating all existence. This feels like God to many people, and resolves the desire to search further. But inevitably, unless the journey to this moment already covered the territory, there will be a return of body-identification, and movements that reveal all the old conditioning and blocks that cloud this realization and its expression.

For most people who long to know God or to know what is true, this search has been a long inner journey, and thus their shadow side, stuck points of view, emotional traumas and contractions gradually appeared to be met and released. Even overwhelming energies of the collective unconscious may arise. This usually happens over months and years before the final moment when consciousness is experienced as free and is realized as the ever present now,or encountered as unconditional love when it opens the heart.

Yes there is bliss in some moments, especially as the heart releases the burden of carrying old pain and resentment, or as energy opens long blocked flows in our bodies. There can also be great moments of insight, glimpses of other lives, or visions of deities (I think of these as transitional objects that stand between our mundane lives and the radiant unboundaried source of life). There may be an emergence of psychic, precognitive or healing possibilities. Many phenomena may arise along this journey as each chakra opens and clears, or latent brain centers in the head begin to come alive. It is easy to get stalled along the way — in the same way an intriguing or particularly challenging part of traveling the world would delay our completion of the journey.

Why would all this happen, only to dump the psyche into “emptiness”, “vastness” or what Bennett has called “unconditional openness”?

Is it to clear us of all illusion of separateness, empty the mind of the need to compare and divide, offer a taste of presence without limit, or discover that what has created us feels like love and has no demand? Is “nothing” the end of the journey? What would be the point of this?

One needs to rest in this unconditional openness and allow it to permeate the cells of the body and fall into the heart so true presence, love and intuitive wisdom can permeate the life. Then it is said you will be free. You will feel your divinity in your center. It may happen that some life circumstance will pull you back into personal identification from time to time, but you will be resting in openness and return to it. The flavor of who you are, and some of the cultural conditioning will remain but these will feel more like the clothes that consciousness is wearing that will someday be discarded. The thoughts and feelings that flow through you will just be part of the landscape of your life, neither to be accepted or rejected.

One of the favorite quotes I have carried throughout my life, long before I knew the fullness of their meaning was from Longchempa. It is a pointer toward Truth. “Since everything is only an illusion, perfect in being what it is, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one might as well burst out laughing!”

Be willing to rest in the vastness, this unconditional openness, and invite it to show you what it will. Be at peace.

Celebrating the Non-Dual Message of Christmas

Perhaps it is time to write a few words about Christmas, and whatever meaning arises from this date for someone who is fairly enmeshed in the non-dual perspective. Could we be unconsciously celebrating our True Nature at Christmas?

As I was raised a Catholic, Christmas had a sacred and magical feeling for me as a young child. I remember staring at the reflections in the globes on the Christmas tree and feeling entranced by the reflections of light. I remember setting up the crèche and feeling very fond of the story it portrayed. I remember sitting in the living room opening gifts, and my grandmother being with us, and excitedly giving her a stocking with little gifts I had chosen for her. I remember a few gifts I received. So many of the memories that stick to us after childhood are heavy and burdensome, but for most of us there are some Christmas treasures in our memory box that are brought to the surface when we repeat the rituals as adults. And yet for many this is also a time of sadness, remembering difficult pieces of our history or missing those who are no longer here to share with us. It can also be stressful as we try to recreate the magic for ourselves and our loved ones.

Some personality types become joyful during the seasons, and others become depressed. Like everything that is part of the human experience there are multiple variations in how it is perceived and interpreted. It may bring out the child within, or the shadows we might wish to keep hidden. However, even if we have outgrown the Christmas magic, perhaps we can find a deeper meaning to brighten and enliven us during this season, a Truth that is about our own true nature.

I have come in recent years to think of the word Christ as a symbol, not a man. This symbol is a recognition of that within each of us that is unconditionally connected to what is primal, sacred and eternal. It represents our consciousness which is a reflection of the One universal awareness shining through all of life. Christ is awareness sparkling through a myriad of expressions, creating forms and moments of experience within the vastness of space. Jesus was called Christ because he demonstrated this Oneness, this connection to the source of all that is sacred. Whether he too was a symbol I cannot say, but the story of his birth and life seems to be a story of bringing together the high and the low, the kings and the shepherds, the blessed and the so-called sinners, even raising those who are dead into life. Perhaps his healing miracles represent the power of trust and love to remove the blindness and deadness within so many humans who need to be revived into a full life.

This simple life of Jesus bringing together the disparate parts of humanity, and offering them messages about returning to life through faith, or trusting that the kingdom of god is within, is a story of unconditional love entering the world. As far as I know images of gods and goddesses before this time never represented love of all, loving one another, loving our neighbor as our self. But if Jesus was Christ – then he was awake to the knowledge that there is only One, and if this is so then the only solution to suffering is love. It is true he demonstrated anger as well, particular to the Pharisees and the moneychangers in the temple (paradoxically, not toward the soldiers or to Caesar who allowed his crucifixion). What are we to think of this?

From a non-dual perspective each being has a role in this dream, but those who misrepresent the nature of Truth, of Love, of our essential connection with one another, are “missing the mark” – a phrase that represents the original meaning of sin. Hypocrisy and exploitation of others misses the mark, particularly in those who engage in a spiritual role.

What this story represents to me is the entering into the species the possibility of loving impersonally – loving just because one can love or one is love, and not for the purpose of gaining anything . (What did Jesus gain from love? He just couldn’t stop himself from helping others.) This unconditional acceptance and love was a radical concept at that time and place – and in fact, few in our modern societies are even open to it today. It was so radical that he was crucified by those who felt threatened by it. He was not offering a Truth that most people were ready to understand.

But because it was Truth the story has endured for over 2000 years, and become a story about remembering those we love, about giving, about drawing family and friends around to praise a birth that happened centuries past (if at all).

This story tells of a life entering the world with a new message about what we are and how we can be. We can be “saved” by remembering who and what we are, and letting go of the suffering caused by limiting beliefs. We are One with Christ, the dynamic presence/love/Truth deep with us. We can use this day to remember Him, but also to remember our profound connection with the One source, to see it in our children, our elders, our families and friends. Men both wise and simple recognized this birth (in the story), people who came to follow these teachings transformed their lives. Along whatever else it represents, it is about being awake in the human world and living aligned with that Truth. It is about seeing through the foibles and limitations of conditioned life and recognizing, on one day a year, that underneath it all is One life beating, One love expressing.

Love and The Theory of Everything

I saw the movie “The Theory of Everything”, about the life of Stephan Hawking, last night. Unlike most Hollywood productions it is full of kindness and inspiration, demonstrating the miracle of love and courage in overcoming grief and limitation.

Adapted from a book written by Stephen’s wife, Jane, it tells the journey from the moment they met at a college mixer, until they parted and moved in different directions many years later. Along the way their strength and devotion is evident, along with a remarkable ability to keep moving forward and defy the threat of death (he was told when first diagnosed at about age 21 that he had only 2 years to live, and is now going strong at age 72). They were blessed with three children, lifelong friendships that offered him a full life, and fortuitous modern inventions that enabled the brilliance of his mind to be a rich contribution to physics and science. But along with his exceptional mind, what shines through this story is the power of love.

Most of us will never be faced with the extreme challenges that his illness brought into their lives. It is lesser losses that knock us into despair and sorrow. Although it is natural to grieve over a loss, there is a moment when spirit may rise above grief, assess what is possible still, and creatively enter the flow with whatever capacity still exists. Life is an opportunity for exploration, engagement, expression and love. We cannot always overcome pain and limitation but we can stand up against psychological suffering and find a way to make a contribution, and in doing so heal our deepest emotional wounds.

This movie shows the power of reaching out, of loving, of creating a meaningful life out of the circumstances we are given. Often those in spiritual practices hope to transcend the challenges of ordinary living, but to be fully awake is to meet these challenges with patience, creativity, and equanimity. When we discover our capacity to move into life in new ways, unimagined possibilities and intuitive wisdom can be generated , and each life is better fulfilled. We discover we are more than we believed ourselves to be, and some good can come out of the crazy inconsistencies in human experience.