The cosmos is teaching us

Todd Stern: “The science is clear, the threat is real, the facts on the ground are outstripping the worst-case scenarios. The cost of inaction or inadequate action [on climate change] are unacceptable”

In a vast cosmos, beyond any currently calculable size, is a small – comparatively microscopic – universe, within which rests planet Earth. Earth, teeming with billions of beings, all with different wants, aims, needs, ambitions. Including me.

No daily concern, not even Earth’s environmental crisis, troubles the cosmos a great deal. Perhaps the ‘dark matter’ that scientists are talking about today is love, because a benevolence, a joy, and an intimate interconnectedness seems to be what we feel – the One reflecting on itself in the made reality.

We might learn to live with the cosmos and its way this time, on our Earth, or we may take several more reincarnations to do so, or we might fail in the task. It seems to be the nature of the lesson to be learned. We are all still infants grappling, and pushing against what we don’t understand. In some way, at some level, it matters little if we push so hard, make so much tension between our chosen way of living and sustainable ways of living that the eco system breaks down completely for a few thousand years. The building blocks will perpetuate, and the lesson of the cosmos waits for another day.

But we might, just might, live to tell the tale. And if we do, will we carry with us the lesson? Will we have learned once and for all that working with the cosmos – living sustainably – is far more rewarding and beneficial?

We are on a journey of immense self-discovery as a species. We are only just beginning to emerge out of our animalistic origins in a cognitive sense. In other words, we are only just beginning to learn that ego, which developed for a reason at a certain stage in our evolution, and allowed us to fight off foes and compelled us to put our own survival first, is something that we nolonger have much call for.

We are not only atomised egotic self-constructs threatened with extinction and panic-stricken with limited technological options to save ourselves. We are that plus something else. When we return to the One in meditation, the sensation of the entire cosmos in its beauty throughout time is ours to share. It is there. It has a way it wants us to learn. And the lessons will keep for another day. Billions of human beings. I am just one. Who knows when we will all master the natural way of which Lao Tsu, Buddha, Christ, and others spoke of?

In the mean time, how will I respond? When I can see what the One can see; that it is all a lesson, that the cosmos is the One reflecting on itself, that the lesson on Earth will keep for another day, that a day will come when the lesson has been learned and mastered by all, that Eden, heaven, Nirvana, will be a lived reality again, I do not have fear or panic.

Not immersed in fear or panic, what will my contribution be to the human story while this scenario is unfolding? I have chosen the Mahayana (Zen) path of Buddhism. I am on a journey to bring healing to myself and go deeper into that ancient wisdom. As I do so, I sometimes have the great (but not unique) privilege of noticing how that process within me brings peace and healing to those around me too.

This is living with the seeing of the One, while in the marketplace of the pained world of today. Fear and panic do not help in dealing with the situation. Negativity does not help. Such responses are just as bad as the denial about climate change that I see in others and get frustrated about. To be effective in these times, with eyes wide open on the situation, requires me to have both great peace in knowing that ours is one small part of a great cosmic lesson, and from that peace, clarity about right action.

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Mental suffering is an illusion

Mental suffering is an illusion.
It is a creation of our own egotic minds, and we create it for ourselves because suffering and pain, in the absence of strong positive emotions, are required to help our egotic minds feel alive. Our ego needs a sense of continuity. There always has to be a next chapter in the book. Without a next chapter, the ego’s sense of a perpetuating inner self feels threatened.

The only way out of mental suffering and pain, is to let go of suffering and pain. Suffering and pain will not help me today to resolve whatever matters are the focus of my suffering and pain. Instead of letting these emotions and thoughts get in the way, it is better to let them go, so that I can think more clearly about the challenges I am faced with, and deal with challenges as and when they arise – not before, and not afterwards.

If someone else expresses mental suffering and pain, I am invited to respond with a stifling, smothering love. A love that wants to eradicate the source of the challenge on that person’s behalf, and ‘make it all better’. But it could be that this response says more about my own needs than it does about the compassion I have. A greater compassion would perhaps be one that recognises the suffering and pain, shared by all human beings, and hopes that the other can be free of it one day.

‘Being free’ of suffering and pain is not the same thing as eradicating one particular focal point of suffering and pain. It is being free of the need to feel suffering and pain.

The more I do not take up the invitation of others to ‘make it all better’ for them, the greater compassion I will have for others. They will be able to go deeper into their suffering and pain, and may get closer to the point when the illusory nature of mental pain and suffering is laid bare for them.

Mental suffering and pain is not the same thing as mental injury or illness. The latter describe a form of physical suffering, while the former describes a mental construct over which the individual has complete control. (See the post: There is no healing process)

Further reading: Eckhart Tolle – A New Earth

There is a ‘natural way’ of being.

There is a ‘natural way’ of being, and we need only look to key figures in our major world religious scriptures to find it being described.

Jesus spoke of ‘the way, the truth, and the life’, saying both ‘I am the way’ (John 14:6), and also, ‘you are the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14).

What was this ‘Way’ of which he spoke?

Lao Tzu spoke of the ‘natural way’. The translation of the ‘Tao’ is literally ‘The Way’.

What did he mean? Was it the same thing?

Buddha said, ‘the way is not in the sky, the way is in the heart’.

Was he talking about the same thing as well?

Many have commented on this before – both in books, groups, and blogs. It is not a unique idea, nor a unique discovery of my own.

It is as if there is a common discovery – a jewel – at the heart of all our major world religions that has become obfuscated over millenia by war, power play, and other pursuits of egotic madness in our monarchies, our institutions, our governance, our technology, our use of resources. Our greatest human achievements to date, in terms of discovering and unlocking our human and spiritual potential, have been at threat from being lost in the sands of time due to this same madness. Lost in the madness due to the very causes that this jewel of wisdom warns against.

I have just started reading ‘The Great Transformation’ by Karen Armstrong, and can already recommend it. She explains in the introduction how critical it is that human culture rediscovers this shared heritage – what she calls the spiritual achievements of the Axial age – if we are to survive the global challenges we now face. To her, the achievements of the Axial age have been our greatest so far, and all that has fallen in between can be viewed as an un-learning, or a backward step to those achievements. I would rather point readers to this book than attempt to expand on my point any further today.

Related post on this blog:
The natural way is formless

Pain body choices

Each day presents a new challenge. As I recover from a long period of poor health, features of my character and habits bubble back to the surface. However, ‘recovered’ to me does not mean ‘just the same as before’. To make that equation would be to miss the great opportunity this has been to grow as a person.

So each day, and in increasing depth due to meditation practice, I am reminded of old behaviours that do not rest comfortably with who I am now, today. The strongest of these at the moment is attention seeking through stroke deprivation.

In psychology there is this concept of a ‘stroke’. We are socialised into what is a standard quotient of strokes for us as individuals when we grow up. There are positive and negative strokes. Positive strokes have a greater effect. But a stroke is a stroke at the end of the day.

If deprived of strokes, it is quite common to go on an emotional rampage and look for strokes – either positive or negative, it doesn’t matter – from others.

I am stroke deprived at the moment. My partner suffers from SAD and is emotionally absent. And in addition I am taking some intentional time away from some family members, thus depriving myself of strokes there. Strong emotions have been surfacing as a result. Attention seeking ones. ‘Why doesn’t anyone want to do what I want to do’. ‘Why won’t you spend time with me’. And even actions: getting up ridiculously early this morning with the intention of going in to work three hours early just to show the household that I am not getting the attention that I want.

Tolle coins a useful phrase: the ‘pain body‘. The body of pain which has a sense of time about it – mostly stuck in the past – and which we all carry around with us to a greater or larger extent, into the present moment and present day.

We can choose to feed this pain body, which needs more and more negativity from others in order to ‘feel alive’, or we can choose to starve it, coming back into ourselves, weakening its hold on us, and leading us to realise that our pain bodies are not who we are: they are simply a body of negative emotions possessing and controlling us.

So this morning, instead of stomping out of the house early to show that all is not well, to show that I am hurting and not getting what I want, I have had 20 minutes of tranquillity meditation, and a blog entry to write.

Apparently, each time we starve these emotions, their grip on us weakens. This is important for me. My pain body includes suicidal tendencies. I am faced with a choice, and the choice is a stark one. I can either keep giving in to the pain, letting it control me, going back to the dark places of the soul. Or I can slay my demons, cast out the pain, and each day get closer to a greater, wholesome, more fulfilling existence.

My pain body invites me to think that there is little point in living sometimes. ‘What’s the use’. Before there can be any other point to it, there first has to be simply the point of starving the pain out, the pain which leads me to think that way.

Life is a precious gift. In the Buddhist sense, to have incarnated as a sentient human being is a very rare gift. Who knows when or if it may come around again. There is only one opportunity to reach Nirvana; grab it while you can.

Om

There is no need
There is no time
There is no space
There is no permanence
There are no desires
There is no sin
There is no body beautiful
There is no best IQ
There is nothing to possess
There are no comfort zones
There is no security
There is nothing to fear
There are no friends or foes
There is no unwhole.

There is compassion
There is omnipresence
There is omnipotence
There is am
There is equanimity
There is clarity
There is wisdom
There is unfathomable inheritance
There is patience
There is selflessness
There is endless love
There is inner joy
There is whole.

The only thing coming in the way of perfection is ignorance

If we believe that physical reality, this world, and our bodies and desires, are fallen or bad, then we want to keep escaping the world and escaping our desires and bodies.

This is pain and illusion. It is not possible to do either. It is also the wrong direction to take. Rather than leading us closer to heaven, it leads to hell. Heaven is knowing that all of nature, and our own nature, is always already perfect. The only thing coming in the way of experiencing this perfection is ignorance of this fact.

Nontheism: it’s not that there is no God

If we all have a mental place, a place in our minds, representing ‘others’, that is probably because it helps us to interact with other beings. When it comes to thinking of God, wanting to interact with God, it is all too easy to use that same mental place.

This is what James Alison, a Catholic theologian, means when he says that God is always the “other beyond the other”.

In other words, God is always beyond the mental place we have for God. Always beyond our own projections. God does not function like another human being, does not make decisions like we would, does not have needs and wants like we do, cannot be persuaded, cajoled, bargained with, or emotionally manipulated, as we once did with our parents.

What is not revealed to us of God cannot ever be known.

To have a mental place for the unknowable is dangerous. It is a void into which we fill our own psychological projections. A self-made image of God returns. And when faith and trust are given to that self-made image, a false religion has emerged.

In time, this false religion will fail anyone who believes in it. And this is because it is a belief (belief being the reserve of things we cannot know for certain) in a God that is more like a projected version of ourselves than it is an experience of divinity in a boundless, undefined, unlimited, empirical praxis.

Or in other words, we may be able to convince ourselves that we can strike a deal with God, have some kind of economy of favours going on, or demonstrate what we think is a spotless faith (which in reality is nothing more than manipulative behaviour), but it is all in vain. God does not function that way, and functioning that way ourselves does not lead to an experience of divinity. Quite the reverse, in fact. It obstructs the path.

The God that I once believed in only led to pain and suffering. I did not realise it at the time, but this is because the God I once believed in was – almost completely – a self-made image that I had a relationship with. I wanted God to be so real for me, that I ended up inventing one to have a relationship with. This God would never let anything bad happen to me; never let me come to any harm. And that was a return on my faithfulness.

Harm came in a big way. It was only a matter of time before it did. As a result, I thought I had lost my faith. I had indeed. Faith and belief went out of the window. The God I believed in disappeared too.

Eventually I came to realise that this faith, this belief, and this created God, were all blocks to a greater understanding. Once removed, that greater understanding was free to emerge on an experiential level.

Theism is a belief in an external god. All I can now know of God is that which is revealed to me; which feels like very very little and absolutely all of it, both at the same time. It is revealed to me because divinity is a part of me and of all beings. It is the source. It is the “one life force in the ever-present now” (Tolle). It is the source of all wisdom. Being all wisdom, when I experience it, it feels like having all wisdom myself. But of course that is to make a dualistic distinction between myself and divinity when there is only One. This is why it feels like very little and all of it both at the same time.

I tend to talk in very certain terms these days about my experiences. Like on this blog, for example. But all I can now be certain of is my experiences rather than articles of faith or belief. And that is where the certainty starts and stops. Beyond that, there is nothing I can ‘know for sure’ in terms of good science, intellectual positioning, or modernist or theological discourse.

Another way of putting this is that the source of all life has a life of its own. It is possible to talk in certain terms of an experience of the source of all life, and at the same time know that this is where certainty must end. Beyond the certainty of that basic experience, the only thing I can be sure of is that this energy, this One, this divinity, is a living thing. Unpredictable, untethered, beyond words, beyond time and space, beyond our dimensions.

But that basic experience of ‘something’ is all I need. When I am at one with the One, wisdom begins to penetrate my understanding of my own life position, my actions, my words. To call this ‘God’ is to begin to limit that experience.

And this is what marks out a nontheist from an atheist.

There is no healing process

There is no such thing as a healing ‘process’.

There is whole, or not whole.

When I am calm, centred, and have that natural sense of deep inner peace and stillness that every being can feel, that is wholeness. All of my pain, all of my problems, are vanished. There is no further to go. No retreat, no course, no therapy program could take me to this point of wholeness any better.

This does not mean that to have found some kind of spiritual experiential awakening means to have become a whole person. There might not be a healing process, but there is a process of integration.

Integrating that awesome peace into every area of life and every relationship is a craft that I have only just started on.

Why does the distinction matter? Surely there is not much in it. Healing process / integration process. Same thing?

Not the same. I have been to too many religious retreats and programs where the implication is that healing or personal wholeness from all previous damage is just one more step away – always just over the horizon.

If you look at it like a healing process, you may never know what healing feels like. All that it invites is for you to feel more and more sorrow for yourself.

Better to experience being a whole person first-hand – even if only for a few moments each day – and allow that light, joy, energy in through the window of your body and your mind, relationships, and all aspects of life, a little more each day.

This is upside-down to the way the world thinks. It is not in the interests of people who run churches or healing programs to teach that wholeness is already there, ready and waiting, for you to discover; that it starts with stopping processing; that our life journeys start best with discovering that we are divine amazing creatures already, and end with integrating that discovery into who we are and how we live. That is too much like being a graduate before you have studied the course. So how will the teacher get his pay?

A greedy teacher may be preventing you from discovering the truth for yourself.

Brother Ash Tree

One day during meditation, I looked out a window to an ash tree. I felt my own life energy reaching out to the tree. At first I felt nothing reciprocating. Then after a short while I felt being pushed away. Shoved off.

However, being curious, I reached out again more gently than the first time. Brother ash tree explained: leave me be. I am sleeping.

Of course. It was early February. He had no leaves, and hardly any catkins or shoots. Conserving energy. Dormant. Waiting.

On one other occasion, during late summer, the visit was much more fruitful. I was taken up into the core of the tree like a speeding bullet – a particle of water going right up from the roots into the uppermost branches.

From this experience, I have learned that when people say that everything that has life shares the same life force with you, they are speaking a great truth. Everything that has life is able to communicate with you. You just need to try it.

And ask permission first.

Self-worth

It really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me or says of me. The only thing that matters is what I think of myself, and that depends on what I know of myself. And what I know of myself depends on surrendering my ego.

The ego – the part of the mind which depends on adversaries in order to feel alive – needs preoccupations, drama. It will never help me to be free.

My ego looks for a day that will never come; the tomorrow when I have made peace with all my adversaries; when everyone loves me and sings my praises; when I have proven to everyone that I am worthy to be first, or respected, or treated with justice always.

My inner self knows that day will never come. Or, put another way, that day of final lasting peace is today. I already have as much respect, justice, fairness, as I’m ever going to get from others. So now is the time to issue respect to myself by bringing justice and fairness to myself.

Self-respect or self-worth, built on the experiential knowledge of my own awesome potential, purity, spiritual worth, is the biggest weapon against my own demons and their mirrored force in others.

Self-worth does not mean regarding myself as blameless. But I can be free of the need to ‘own’ blame; torturing myself into second place; letting others inhabit me instead of inhabiting myself.

If blame is levelled at us – how useful is it? Is it helping to diagnose a situation? How much truth is there in it? 10%? 20%? Even 20% is not enough to drop the sense of self-worth and pick up the self-flaggelation whip again.

Neither is 100%.

Jesus does not save

We are so lost and damaged that we refer to the experience of encountering nothing more, or less, than our divine original essence as an encounter with God.

For sure, when in a state of Oneness, deep inner peace, and joy, our natural state – we are reminded of the Oneness and the One. Or, as the Hindu Upanishads call it, ‘reality’.

People are turning to meditation to innoculate against a damaged world. Some may find the light of the world despite that aim. Others because the damage takes them there sooner or later. It’s not that this oneness, discovering your divine essence, is not fantastic. It is the single most important discovery of adult life; the key to living that people talk about sometimes (mainly on billboards). But it is not a miracle.

In other words, the kingdom of heaven is every human being’s birthright, and can be entered into today. It’s amazing. But it’s not a miracle. Why is this important? It’s important because there is so much more to learn and know. The journey begins at the gate of heaven, but it does not end there. Retreat, meditate, withdraw, go deeper, spend time there. Fail, learn, grow. Oneness is not an innoculation, a pill, or a dualism (this life, that life. This time, beyond time). It is not a coping mechanism or a miracle. It is the beginning of a journey – not a destination.

Jesus does not save. It is your own faith that saves you from yourself when you recognise the good news of your own inheritance. Once aware of it, a process of synthesis has to begin; comparing what you have found with how you live; going into transformative and liberating personal growth.

This is a humbling fact. It suggests I have been living in a dream world and have only just started waking up. Humility, prostration of the ego, surrender of the idea of a fixed identity; none of these are popular ideas. But, like the Tao says, if I am afraid of death then I am not living.

We have so much to learn, and such little time to do it in, because human civilization is at such great risk, and because life is short anyway. Self-help is a good goal to have. But it is fast becoming too late for that, especially for our children and their children. Discovering the light will become almost a necessity if you do not want to get caught up in the world’s madness, as well as a requirement if you want human civilization to live on to see another iteration.

Why doesn’t the Christian good news ever feel good to anyone? Because penal substitutionary atonement is not the good news. The church is dying out in Europe because it has forgotten what the good news is. The real good news is still waiting to be discovered by the Christian church. Church structures will continue to die unless people within them start to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven can be lived experience for anyone today. They do not have to wait until tomorrow. They do not have to follow a program, doctrines, dogmas. They do not have to wait to die. They do not have to wait to become whole. It is here on this Earth, even in this time, this lifetime.

We get with the healing program that has already begun, or we turn the gardens of our souls into toxic wastelands.

That’s just the way it goes

The Way knows its own way.
Life encourages life into being.
Life knows itself when it sees it; recognises, and smiles.

When I do something today and it pleases the universe,
My heart leaps, and my body vibrates to the frequency of heaven.
Taking a tool, a book, finding a place, understanding something, or even doing nothing
At the correct time.
All of these can please the universe.

So the universe is like a parent after all.
A parent with a toddler saying a universal, winking, knowing, ‘yes’ when I have got it right.
The absence of this yes is like a slap in the face.
‘Yes. No. Like this.’
This is how the universe instructs.

This is the Way. Blink and you’ll miss it. That’s just the Way it goes.

Pluralism and ecumenism are equally flawed

In pluralism, you have multiverses of truth- every truth is absolutely true at the same time, even if two truths contradict each other.

In ecumenism, you note the contradictions that are there, and do your best to celebrate and cultivate more pain of difference.

The natural Way to live is only describable in negative, apophatic, liminal, conditional, and dynamic terms. So, it is possible to talk confidently about it, like one would talk about something believed absolutely. But belief is what is required for things that cannot be experienced or known. Talking about the natural Way as lived experience is confident talking, but conditional, so never absolute.

Absolute truth is an absurd notion to the natural Way; everything is impermanent, as Buddhists say.

Yet still, there are things about the Way that are true, and things about the Way that are not true.

It is impossible to make truth absolute. It is also impossible to bring conflicting things together when their differences are perpetuated. Neither of them are healthy ways to live, or healthy understandings as to the nature of truth.

The Way is at the mystical heart of every religion. Know that, and know how to bring together our antagonistic perspectives on the world. Or, know that, and know peace. But at the same time, know that the truth of this beating heart is living truth; it is a wild animal, and cannot be made tame. Form it into a vessel of words, and it slips itself out of the vessel. Put it in a painting, and it will show itself only if it wants to.

If we all knew about the Way, we would not get so confused about the nature of truth.

The kingdom of heaven is…

…the rightful inheritance of every human being. It is the pot of gold on which we all sit without knowing it is there, or that it is what we are sitting on.

This is the same as saying that Nirvana is not dependently arisen. It is the holy already instated state rediscovered for the first time and eternity.

The natural way is formless

The Way – the natural way to live that Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, and others taught about, is not stuck in a permanent form. Teaching others what it is using words and body language one way may work today, but not tomorrow.

The Tao Te Ching is written with apophatic pedagogy for this reason.
You do not need one teacher of the law for this reason.
You do not need a church for this reason.
You do not need religion for this reason.

The natural way can only be pointed at. Then it has to be experienced. Then from the experience comes the storehouse of wisdom.

Brother Ground spirit (First meditation journey)

I had a journey with the spirit of the ground. The ground, of course, wraps the whole earth, but it is not the Earth. It is the layer where life is most abundant. The spirit of the ground showed me its full extent – wrapping the circumference of the Earth: ‘the Earth is a cycle. A circle. Join me!’

I then looked to myself, and realised that I was something of a pillar of pain and form. The spirit’s call was a frequency sending shock waves through the pillar. The pillar turned from stone to water: I melted into the ground – like Amelie.

I could then sense myself joining up with everything that has life. The worms, beetles, roots. Everything walking or resting on the ground; even the sea creatures resting in the sea resting on the ground.

Overwhelmed by the compassion I felt, my pain being carried like this, I did not need to carry a single burden. It was not a sharing of my load – it was complete removal of it. The compassion caused me to weep. There, still me, but weeping into the ground.

‘Tell me’, my brain began to stir, ‘What happens to my pain when it goes?’ such questions our minds want to know. Preoccupation with the details; overthinking our way into madness, missing the light of life.

But the grounding was powerful enough to hold me as I thought this and graced an answer: ‘The pain turns into water, and travels deep down. Then it feeds the living things bringing sustenance to life.’

Towards the end of the journey, it started to rain. It was raining on me and I felt it as though I am the ground spirit. Falling on my horizontal body. Beautiful, relentless, urgent.

Each drop was a small hand plucking out the pain. There I was – still me, but in the ground, with my pain being plucked out by thousands of meticulous hands.

Not until all the pain had been swiftly and meticulously plucked out did I experience the rain as a soothing blessing.

This happened in a dimension beyond words, and the words came later. since then, I have been able to join with brother ground spirit on a regular basis.

Brother ground spirit now reminds me, sometimes daily, that if I surrender my burdens to him, then there is less for us both to carry.

If You See the Buddha on the Road

If you see the Buddha on the road, you must kill him,
If you see the Buddha on the road, you must kill him,
He’s no guide, he’s no god; even blind, he’s no guide dog,
You must kill him.

If you see the Buddha on the road, keep looking,
If you see the Buddha on the road, keep looking,
If it’s him you want to see, you’ll be looking constanty,
Keep looking.

If you see the Buddha on the road, keep walking,
If you see the Buddha on the road, keep walking,
Walk enough, he’ll fall behind, but will that give you peace of mind?
Keep walking.

If you see the Buddha on the road, unlucky,
If you see the Buddha on the road, unlucky,
Means you’ve got more miles to go; yards of fast and years of slow,
Unlucky, man.

(This is a song based on the title of a book ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients’, the soto zen tradition of speaking in riddles, and the great North American slide guitar tradition.)