Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cloud of Unknowing

Cloud of Unknowing

I have less and less to say.

This is because of acknowledging the brutal fact about knowing. Which is to say, about NOT knowing.

Self inquiry leads to the perception of one’s identity as a moving target, sometimes here and other times there, sometimes seeming more reliable and trustworthy, other times less so or not at all.

“I” watch this in amazement and consternation, often feeling that existence itself is a pretty mean trick of the universe.

Did I ever ask to be the subject of such a cosmic joke, to be at once so ill defined and incompetent, yet also responsible for everything that happens?

Eventually one has to simply say those hardest of words:

“I don’t know.”

This immediately produces the judgment of ignorance and stupidity. Maybe the person to whom the admission is addressed is kind or courteous enough not to suggest this (though not always).

Regardless, one feels it must be true, for in falling past the conjectural mind it becomes altogether manifest that we know absolutely nothing. Not so much as how to take the next step or digest lunch, to say nothing of determining who is worthy to be elected to public office.

That ancient text, “The Cloud of Unknowing,” describes the path toward God as coming to see, with infinite pain, that no human knowledge is capable of bringing one into the presence of the divine.

“So oft, he goeth nigh mad for sorrow. Insomuch, the he weepeth and waileth, striveth, curseth, and banneth; and shortly to say, him thinketh that he beareth so heavy a burden of himself that he careth never what betides him, so that God were pleased.”

So there it is.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

In Your Dreams

In Your Dreams

I wander in the city with time on my hands, wondering what will happen. By chance I stumble into a Hindu temple as festivities are beginning. A grand ballroom is decorated with paper flowers of every hue over a large canopy at the front of the room. I sit down among the others and prepare to be amazed.

Hundreds of people, women in saris, men in dark suits, chant melodically as a man and woman beneath the colorful canopy light incense before low tables of fruit. They bow to the left and to the right while an officiating personage ties their wrists together with a red thread.

I realize I have become part of someone’s wedding ceremony, the only indigenous person present, and dressed in jeans. Yet no one seems concerned about this. Upon the wall is a photo of the temple guru, cheerful and benevolent though naked to the waist but for a bright red bindi.

Here is a dream in the making - a dream within the dream! The wedding, with all it portends. The grand beginning, so myth and fairytale worthy! It is a relief to know I can walk out of their dream at any time.

Walking out of my own dream is a completely different story, however. The connections, meanings, duties, obligations, lists (things completed, things still to do), the grand accomplishments, the abysmal failures, the grieving, the hoping, the longing, the regretting, the variegated emotions with all their ceaselessly shifting convictions, addictions and restrictions.

It plays so well, that dream, so completely, penetrating into the psyche, searching out every possible route into the heart of madness. One feels devoured by it, overpowered by its chaotic, nonsensical plot turns.

“Look, look! Listen and feel!” it cries. “All this! All this and more! Here is your life, all that there is and all that there isn’t! Let your senses run riot with it, forsake your mind and submit to the drama of dreaming!”

And yet the spirit breathes gently with the wind and speaks with a voice so quiet that the boisterous world cannot drown it out. One touch from this spirit and wordless weeping begins, sorrow for a lost love remembered from the eons.

And so I forsake the temple merriment before food is served, lest a speech be requested from the strange stranger who hangs around when he can’t understand a word.

My steps continue toward the swollen river upon which natives recreate. I find a quiet spot on a floating boat dock irradiated by the presence of mostly naked bodies (these without the offsetting benefit of a bindi) that are soaking up sun and suds on the Willamette. Canadian geese swim inches from my dangling hand, apparently curious.

The spirit calls again and I feel a cavern forming around my heart. It quivers with ache, like a zombie that yearns to awaken into normal life at last.

“Let go,” the spirit says. “Just let go.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dawn River

Dawn River

I stood on one bank of a wide river in the predawn darkness. The flowing waters made deep gurgling sounds in the night, conveying their ceaseless energy, the torrential power moving unseen beneath a seemingly calm surface.

To the east, a mountain range loomed black and immense against a gradually lightening sky. It was a massive symbol of both limits and freedom: an obstacle to those daunted by fear but a victory to those daring to scale heights.

Suddenly the sun crested the distant peaks and the river before me burst into light. In one moment the formerly black, serpentine course seemed electrified with illumination. Every variation in its surface, every tiny cascade and ripple caught the sun’s radiance.

I had been intended to witness this spectacle of transformation. I had been brought intentionally into that moment where fire and water met, where light and matter intersected and became mutually more.

Someone was watching me watching.

“You will speak of it,” that Someone was letting me know, wordlessly.

“You will illuminate the illumination through your own heart.”

“Why will I?” I asked.

“Because the river - everywhere - longs to awaken and glow.”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Prayer Lines

Prayer Lines

A group of Indians came to my church. They were strange people - quiet and mysterious. It was as though they were there, and yet not quite.

They stood in the back without making a sound, and dispersed as soon as the service was over.

Afterward I passed one of them outside in the evening air.

“Next time you will pray with us,” he said.

“Where?” I asked.

“In the high mountains.”

Then he showed me how his people gather with those from many faiths who worship God. And how they combine all the prayers together into vast energetic bands that circle the earth in living lines of longitude and latitude.

My vision opened upon the cities and country-sides. Those bands of prayer were like pulsing arteries, throbbing vines of life force crisscrossing the globe, present yet unseen.

One of their women approached us. The man said she was a seer.

She looked at me intently.

“After you have prayed with us, you can be healed,” she said simply.

Then, like a gust of quiet wind, they were gone.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009



An impression comes to me – maybe it seems to be an inspired thought or wondrous feeling of comprehension. Maybe it is an experience I feel proud or amazed about.

And then what comes next? The urge to express it.

I want to share this energetic state, transfer it to another person. The energy of self-discovery has a somewhat irritating quality to it, like sticking one’s finger in a light socket. It is exhilarating but also uncomfortable and I want to get it out of my system.

There may also be a desire for further processing, for someone to mirror the whole thing back and contribute understanding.

Understanding and - oh yes- appreciation, approbation and approval. An affirmation that my life and what goes on in it is OK. “You had a clever thought, your feelings are so deep, what you did was great!”

And so this impression, feeling or experience gets expressed and the other person is watched closely for responses and reactions.

If the mirror does not reflect the expected image, if the anticipated appreciation and enthusiasm does not return, suffering results.

My feelings are very likely to shift polarity. What was hopeful excitement one minute becomes disappointment the next.

I have watched this pattern over and over. Seen it drain away the inner benefit of those initial impressions, feelings or experiences.

And I have begun to understand there is a better way to work with this process: containment.

“Containment” does not mean to stifle or suppress, but rather to honor and preserve within. It is a boundary-building practice, a means of clarifying which energies belong to me and which belong to other people.

Though it is common to speak of “boundaries” today, the discussion is usually limited to defining accepted physical behaviors. The more important boundaries are energetic, and these are not set by conceptual definitions but rather by conscious awareness.

How many thoughts and feelings are generated from within and not merely picked up from someone else? There is a qualitative difference between one's own focused energies and the passive regurgitation of shared circumstantial energies. And this distinction becomes more noticeable when containment is an active practice.

The containment of inner processes is uncomfortable because it pushes at the boundaries of awareness. It is an expansive discipline that produces more inner spaciousness, more definition of the individual soul as distinct and present.

Gradually, integration occurs regarding those inspirations, feelings and experiences. They become wholly possessed, not requiring external validation or approval.

Then they can be expressed freely and clearly, yet without vulnerability or self-diminishment.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Smiling Heart

The Smiling Heart

I walked along a river thinking of those I love dearly, whose lives mean so much to me.

There is history between us, years in common, things mutually understood and appreciated.

I love them because they mean so much to me.

Then my heart spoke, in its gentle but irresistible way.

“That is natural and good,” it said. “Of course you love those who mean so much to you.”

“But let us learn to love more, beyond the natural and good. Let us love those who until now have meant nothing, who also have nothing to offer in return for that love.”

And then I felt its pain in longing to give, yearning to extend past the boundaries of our world of private affections.

“Lead me,” I said gratefully to my heart. “Be my guide and my guru.”

And my heart smiled.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Climbing into Communication

Climbing Into Communication

I envy people who interact easily with others, who can express themselves casually and fluently, being comfortable in dialogue.

For me silence is often the preferred state, and my presence, or perceived absence thereof, can make others uncomfortable.

But I am not resting on this character state as the unchangeable “ME” that must not be altered. Though it is definitely a warp in the fabric, I am willing to suffer modification. In fact I yearn for this.

So (for instance) I keep coming back to this blog even when I would rather abandon it altogether. To make another effort to wrest something out of the inner unknown and to give back to life my little reflection of the glory of this moment.

To find another hand-hold, if only a millimeter higher, in the seemingly endless and agonizing climb from ego to reality.

There are lots of pauses for tears along that climb, and slippery palms that lose their grip.

It seems a very lonely path, but I don’t want to make that worse by being a bad friend. Too many people have loved me and made their own sacrifices.

So the silence needs to be broken, again and again.

And the search for gentle and kind words to give away proceeds

even when the demon points out the fool that I am.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Raft

The Raft

I saw a raft floating down a river. Upon it stood a family – a man, a woman, some small children and a grandfather. They seemed to be from India, having dark skins and sari clothing.

The grandfather wore nothing but a white loin cloth. They were all thin, but he was emaciated.

Strangest of all, the grandfather sat perched on a branch of a short tree that protruded from the middle of the raft, looking like some scrawny chicken.

The tree was bushy but leafless, as though quite dead.

It was a picture of destitution, rife with symbolism.

And an unspoken question:

“Will you help them?”

I wanted to help – very much. But how?

The answer came as a movement of feeling awareness.

“Release them. Let them go.”

So I did.

And . . . they floated away.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Folding Chairs

Folding Chairs

There was a long line of wooden folding chairs in the way, directly where I wanted to walk as far as the eye could see.

One by one I had to push them aside – a tedious prospect.

This was my minimalist dream – only the salient elements appeared.

Where I was going and why the chairs presented this obstacle were irrelevant considerations.

The only issue, the whole point of the exercise was this:

What are you going to do about it?

So, after grumbling a bit and shoving two or three chairs aside, I felt an impulse to

Stop believing in the problem.

Bong! Like magic, the chairs were GONE!

Whoa! A life message coming my way!

Something meant to be carried into wakefulness.

To make sure I got it, the lesson was repeated several more times in slightly altered dream scenarios.

Always there was some difficulty that vanished -

as soon as I stopped believing in it.

Not a bad trick!

A very useful bit of conjuring.

Stop believing in the problem.

. . . and the Count Down continues.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Path of Unknowing

Path of Unknowing

Beneath the façade lies a cloud of fear. A subtle cloud, usually – more like a barely perceptible mist. Mostly it is unrecognized and pushed out of awareness by the intensity of being in this life.

But sometimes, in the quiet of morning, looking around at the four walls of a dim room, there it is. The cloud, the mist, clinging and unpleasant.

You recognize it by its feeling – a sense of nausea. Sartre wrote about it, that Nausea.

It is the fear that hides under everything you think you know about yourself and life - the fear that none of it is true! That you are completely mistaken, absolutely lost, and existing in a delusional fantasy.

Of course only the very brave or reckless would ever want to face such stuff. Far better to keep that fear stuffed down out of sight and mind; to smother it with the incessant business of everyday doing.

But I have a bit of reckless streak, so watched the nausea floating. Attention distilled it from mist and it coiled like a clammy cold pool in the stomach.

Then I understood. The nausea had a very good point.

I HAVE been completely mistaken, absolutely lost and existing in a delusional fantasy.

Because I thought I knew. About myself and life. I thought I knew what was true.

In that moment we were together, the nausea and me, suffering the delusion, comforting each other in our grief.

But also in that moment the doorway appeared.

And beyond the doorway was an unfamiliar path.

Nothing about it could be known.

What a relief to find

The Path of Unknowing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Doorway

The Doorway

There have been times when I thought the skies were the limit – that I was on a roll and anything in the world was possible. It was a large, expansive feeling producing a sense of success and fulfillment.

In those moments, things were “working out,” fame and fortune were coming my way, the big wheel was settling on my number and the lottery seemed in the bag. Excitement and celebration galore!

There have been other times when I felt as trapped as it was possible to get – like a rat in a cage. Hard duties and obligations beyond my strength or capability loomed, darkness filled the air.

The bars of the prison were debts of every kind – emotional and spiritual as well as financial. No release or redemption seemed even possible, and the future presented itself as an inevitable decline into greater and deeper gloom.

I loved the first experience and hated the second, but now I realize they were different faces of the same coin, both being totally conditional on events and circumstances in this world and my reaction to these. To accept one was to buy into the other as well.

The world presents many examples of its extremes – the apparent freedom of wealth contrasts with the apparent bondage of poverty and provokes us to choose sides and make preferences. We want this and don’t want that, and yet both are ultimately the same.

But there is a doorway through which a person can pass. It is not an escape from this world but rather a passage to a truer understanding of it, in which one’s happiness and peace are not conditioned by transient circumstances.

“I am the door,” said Jesus. “By me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).

The pasture by which we are nourished is in the world but not of the world. It is present everywhere, yet unrealized so long as we seek our truth in what is finite and limited.

To be exalted or cast down by external conditions which are constantly in flux is to ascribe to them an undeserved and unmerited authority. This is tantamount to worshiping and submitting to the servant rather than the master.

St. Paul wrote, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Php 4:12).

One can confidently suppose that Paul expressed it this way because this world in which abasement and abundance fluctuated around him . . .

. . . was not where he really lived.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting There

Getting There

I’m sitting at my desk and the inspiration comes to be elsewhere. There is a sense of this other place in my consciousness. For whatever reason it seems better than where I am just now.

But how do I make the transition from here to there? This process is like magic - really high tech tuff. Suddenly the hips swivel, the torso bends, the legs start churning - and we are off.

The body needs no micromanagement. I don’t have to tell the various muscles, nerves, sensors and all what do to. I don’t even have to keep the destination posted.

The mind can (and usually does) wander, get distracted, greet passers-by, etc. It interacts with other folks also moving on autopilot who are no more aware of the minute mechanics of their bodies than I am of mine.

And before long - I ARRIVE, having done not one conscious thing to accomplish the stupendous act of moving - other than entertain the vague impression that being where I now am was preferable.

What an amazing feat! And how cooperative the universe is! A person can be effortlessly picked up and moved to wherever they belive it is possible to go.

In my dreams I even fly, because I am not plagued with the unfortunate notion that this is undoable. But in WAKING dreams it often seems that to accomplish the heart’s desire a grand scheme must be thought through and implemented.

When it comes to moving from here to there in the spirit, one imagines the whole process has to be micromanaged. Prayers, confessions, meditations, mantras, chanting, visualizations – all this and more must be organized and tenaciously applied with brute force of will upon the fabric of one's existence and awareness.

But why should transitioning through the unseen occur differently than through the seen? Should it not be sufficient to perceive the beneficial place to which we aspire, to understand it is possible and permissible to be there rather than where we are, and then let the inner “body” deliver us to this destination according to its intrinsic magical skills?

Having recognized where we want to "be," can't we just release, relax and journey there without further premeditated effort?

We'll see.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Employers cut another 539,000 jobs from their payrolls in April according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate rose to 8.9% from 8.5%, which is a 25-year high. Since the start of 2008 there have been 5.7 million job losses, bringing the current number of unemployed Americans to 13.7 million.

It is interesting to consider that the present global economic crisis began to manifest when Night Five of the Mayan Calendar Galactic Underworld started, as interpreted by Carl Johan Calleman.

Night Five ran from November 19, 2007 to November 12, 2008, and was characterized (in Calleman’s words) by a:

“deep crisis for global materialistic culture; destructive reaction.”

In his book The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness (published in 2004), Calleman wrote:

“We have reason to expect that Night Five in the Galactic Underworld, essential the Gregorian year 2008, will be very difficult.

"The beginning of the Fifth Night, as with the collapse of the Roman economy in the National Underworld and the Great Depression in the Planetary Underworld, will be a major downturn.

"We can expect that the rule of Tezcatlipoca in the Galactic Underworld will mean a last violent assault by the forces seeking a return to the materialistic values of the Planetary Underworld.”

Those were prescient words, to be sure. No one could disagree that, economically speaking, 2008 has been a hell raiser.

The period we are now in is Day Six of the Galactic Underworld. It goes from November 13, 2008 to November 7, 2009. Calleman’s theme for this period is:

“Renaissance of advanced unifying synthesis.”

“Looking at the Galactic Underworld from the perspective of economics, we can expect that increasingly the Nights will be downturns, while the Days may be times when the 'new economy' is slightly more prosperous.”

It is fascinating to note that, in spite of ongoing dismal reports related to unemployment, bankruptcies, foreclosures, etc, there has been a steady economic upward trend reflected in certain sectors of the stock market – dating from November 2008, the beginning of Day Six.

This surprising rally seems to substantiate Calleman’s indication of a developing new economy.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Not Doing

Not Doing

So much around us is constantly encouraging acquisition. We are prompted to buy and to consume, to improve ourselves, gain skills, further knowledge.

Even virtue is supposed to be “acquired.”

Physically, emotionally, intellectually, sexually and spiritually, we are perpetually pushed into a “getting” mode.

And whenever we don’t seem to be getting any, or getting enough, then by definition something is drastically wrong!

So why is it that the more we seem to have, the emptier it all feels?

The things we are inticed to acquire are forms, whether these be material or immaterial. Unfortunately, we cannot really possess any of them, since they are merely transient entities passing through our experience. None will last - they integrate then disintegrate, like all objects of creation.

Therefore, the attempt to find satisfaction in any of this is doomed to disappointment.

And we know this. Somewhere inside we know that our lives are deeper than what can be seen now.

We know OF eternity because our true home is IN eternity.

So the encouragement we really need is in letting go.

“Practice not doing,” says the Tao Te Ching, “and everything will fall into place.”

The letting go is not of loving people or caring about life, but rather in personal attachment and identification with those things.

Personally, I long for this encouragement and bless anyone who compassionately offers it.

It is difficult letting go of this world and of ourselves.

Our true friends are those brave souls who help us in doing it.

Or should we say . . . not doing it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Puzzle

The Puzzle

Upon my table is a partially completed puzzle depicting Degas’ famous painting “Ecole de Danse.” Over 500 weirdly cut pieces are piled dauntingly to one side, waiting to find their appropriate places in the image.

Undertaking this project has been very educational. It is possible to stare at pieces at length and get no clues about how they could possibly go together. The rational mind exhausts itself attempting to match the seemingly infinite variations of shape and color. Finally one walks away in frustration, convinced that the necessary pieces are simply missing.

Later, approaching the puzzle with fresh and unburdened awareness, the pieces one was contemplating without success earlier turn out to be the very ones which fit easily and perfectly, once a slight modification in orientation is perceived.

Not surprisingly, this exercise generates metaphorical comparisons with the experience of life itself. The sense of being “fragmented” is something that many people feel. There are “pieces missing,” and they can’t get a whole picture of themselves.

There is the choice to do nothing about this uncomfortable state – to just live with it, sedating and suppressing the perception of being broken, unfinished and incomplete.

Or there is the choice to acknowledge this condition and engage one’s inner puzzle consciously. Sometimes, as in the example above, rational attempts to analyze the pieces and put them where they belong leads to frustration and anguish.

The shapes of our inner self are not perceptible by the mentality in this way. They cannot be manipulated by “understanding” alone. Understanding comes later when the pieces have found their homes and the hidden image begins to emerge.

But there is another metaphor for the puzzle which relates to an individual’s place in the grand picture of all human life and history. We can expect God or the inner voice to tell us what we are to do. What is our “mission” in life, the “purpose” of our existence?

This idea creates a sense of burden or obligation, as though the puzzle can never be completed until we accomplish great things. God gave us undisclosed numbers of “talents” and expects us to fully develop those and pay him back with interest.

But the great puzzle maker Himself created us and knows how we are to fit. We already fit, in fact. We cannot do anything else EXCEPT fit.

All that remains is to appreciate the image that his magnificence is gradually revealing to our gaze.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Movie

The Movie

IMAX is the movie-goers extreme. You go into a huge domed room and sit mere yards away from an awesome curved screen that extends from roof to ceiling. Staring straight ahead, your peripheral vision cannot extend past the screen’s lateral limits.

Sometimes the seats actually move – jerking, rocking, twitching from side to side, all to create the impression that you are “really there.” Really where? Not watching a movie but IN the movie as a participant.

You sit down in the comfortable seats designed to make your body forget where it is, and the lights dim. Sounds emerge from every direction, surrounding you with another cue that what is emerging is no mere representation but reality itself.

Suddenly the entire screen fills with lighted images as far as the eye can see and you suddenly are sucked into a world of illusion as convincing as man’s inventive capacities can make it.

You are diving into the depths of ocean, flying above the clouds, witnessing scenes from across the universe – and it is all totally believable.

Finally the house lights come on again and you are jolted, either with relief or regret, back into ordinary mundane, pedestrian life. Or is it back to another movie experience - camoflauged as ordinary mundane, pedestrian life?

We are persuaded that events we witness are really happening – that what we see, hear and otherwise experience is actuality. It is truth, that with which we should identify, and to which we should react as though completely real.

But is it so? The testimony of wisdom is: this depends on you, the viewer.

The degree of identification with life's grand "movie," of being sucked and suckered in without resistance to its plot, is totally variable according to the awareness of each person.

There are those for whom nothing happening in the phenomenal world has persuasive power. They have seen through it as one sees through the scrim, that transparent cloth upon which theatre images are projected.

Called “evil” in some cultures, “Maya” in others, this world of seeming is convincing in the extreme and most movie goers will never question its ultimate reality.

Until, perhaps, the suffering it produces drives them to such desperation that a tear in the insubstantiality opens, allowing a view beyond it.

It is easy to enjoy the movie when the story is fun and exciting. Who would want to leave the theatre then?

But when it turns ugly, that is when patrons start looking for the exit.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Edge of the Ledge

Edge of the Ledge

She came bustling into the room with an infant in each arm – beautiful children, of crawling age. We were in a tall, old building in the commercial part of the city; only by craning through the glass windows was it possible to see the busy streets below.

She zipped past us without comment and opened one of the windows. Traffic noises wafted in distantly. The building’s façade was of granite and brick, and flat exterior ledges about a foot wide extended beneath and beyond the sill.

She reached through the window frame and set both of her children on the edge of the ledge, calmly and deliberately, then turned to us with a smile as though everything were in perfect order.

We were speechless with astonishment and shock. Well, not totally.

Someone quickly piped up, “Aren’t you worried about them falling?”

She cast a nonchalant glance at the children, who were sitting quietly and playing with their fingers.

“No,” she answered.

“So long as I meditate they will be OK. And anyway, having them there helps me stay focused."