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A Personal View
Finding our Core and Living It
Feelings and images arose leading me to the sense that enlightenment in our times is still about evolution. It is about touching that core of potential to find an adaptation to the present circumstances and situation. The present situation is not simply an economic, a political, or a social one. It is also a biologic one. It is also an individual, and a psycho sexual one. It is a matter of finding one’s way in these situations. We need to make use of whatever is at hand. Past approaches do not necessarily fit our need. We are in different times, a different cultural setting. We cannot depend, as some of the great Indian gurus did, on the support of our culture and individuals within that culture. It is not there in our own culture to support us in that way. We are not allowed to go defiantly mad in the same way that India allowed its gurus. Today the total withdrawal that Ramana Maharshi exhibited prior to his own enlightenment, would be rewarded in our culture with hospitalisation and drug therapy. To explore, to have that freedom, we have to find a way of doing it in the here and now without that cultural support. We need to find the people and the situation in which quite powerful psychological experiences can take place. I do not mean by this that we can simply advertise to find such people, or such a situation. I doubt very much that approach would work. Usually, when we are ready to undertake the confrontation with what might be quite extraordinary experiences, the right people and circumstances often present themselves.
Enlightenment had a place in the structure of some other cultures. It doesn’t yet have such a part in the structure of social life, in business life, or in the concept of what maturity means, in the West. It is beginning to, as businesses recognise that individuals must touch that raw potential in order to innovate, in order to reach into the new and the unknown. Part of the experience of enlightenment for many people, is that they feel in contact with something that frees them from old forms, from habitual approaches. They feel in contact with the power to make choices, the power to change. In fact one of the words describing enlightenment is Liberation.
Another part of the experience of enlightenment is that of being at one with the naked core of life, of consciousness. One of the most pronounced features of life is its ability to evolve – its ability to fail and learn from failure, and of course to build on success. To be out of touch with that incredible possibility within us, to be out of touch with that process of life that can meet change and disaster, is to be out of touch with one of the most amazing resources open to human beings. Exposure to the lessons learned from millions of years of adaptation, of change, of survival, is part of a prolonged experience of enlightenment. If we lose that resource, if we fail to use it, we lose something very precious. No wonder past cultures have seen this as the highest goal in human life.
As individuals, and as a society, we must beware of promulgating a way of life that is diseased, or promotes disease. As a society, and as individuals, when we look at the amount of mental and emotional breakdown in our society, the amount of family breakdown, we have to admit we haven’t got it right. Whatever we are doing we are promoting disease at the individual level, at the social level, even the international level.
Is competition the only way of dealing with business and personal affairs? Is it simply about seeing each other as competitors? Surely evolution, life itself, is also about finding a niche, finding ones place in the surrounding life systems? Surely it is also about finding a situation in which one not only takes something, but also gives something back?
East or West?
Looking at the various approaches to enlightenment that we find in the West today, it is obvious that a great deal of emphasis is placed upon looking to the east for methods, for teachers, and for well worn paths to that experience. This is because many cultures of the east recognise that enlightenment is a potential within the growth of an individual. But there are a number of difficulties about this for many people in the West. Most individuals in the West are very pragmatic. As a culture we have torn our own religions apart in search for what is valuable and what is hypocrisy or dogma. For many Westerners, what is offered from eastern sources leads them to believe there are connections with a mystic religion. Or perhaps the Eastern path seems to be some form of escapism practised by eastern ascetics. This is a bit like saying all film stars are addicted to drugs and indiscriminate sex. Of course this is an over generalisation in both cases.
Another difficulty is that in many Oriental countries, the path to Enlightenment was part of a social structure. Whether as an individual aspirant, or as a monk or nun, and the role was well recognised and supported, even by impoverished householders. This is no longer the case in the West, although we have well marked traditions in past ages. But for many of us these traditions cannot be found in modern times. And it must be remembered that in East or West, the aspirant for enlightenment was not sold a weekend course for $1000.
Because some of these approaches require us to adopt a different lifestyle, a different religious outlook, may require us to be dependent upon a particular Guru, or to access the experience only part-time such as in week end courses, these approaches may not suit us. They may not wholly satisfy. We will not be able to live them full-time. How can we when the doorway to enlightenment depends on being near a particular teacher, or attending a special course?
There are Various Ways of Living and Loving
If we are to live in a way that opens us to enlightenment, we may need to admit that our personal and social life is not only deeply destructive, but built on false perceptions of the world. As human beings we have an inbuilt and natural morality and love. We are not fundamentally bad. We do not need to be trained and disciplined to become moral citizens. It is quite the other way around. It is often that we are made ill by the impoverished and perhaps even brutal circumstances surrounding us in childhood. For instance, sex is one of the most fundamental urges that we have as human beings. Despite social pressure attempting to confine the sexual connection towards other person, in actual human relations, people form a web of connections. A man or a woman’s life will often weave in and out of the lives of several other people. They may support and love more than one partner. I see this typified by the story of Daniel, Ve and Sheila. Daniel, who lives in Slough with his Burmese wife Ve, was previously married to Sheila. Sheila and Daniel never managed to produce children, but Ve and Daniel have two young children. Although it was painful for Sheila to lose her husband, she soon made friends with Ve. In fact, because Daniel never manages to be much of a wage earner, and Sheila owns her own productive business, she helps Ve and Daniel financially. Also, Daniel actually loves Sheila, but desperately wanted children, so he is still Sheila’s sexual companion. Sheila is sick with cancer, so Ve and Daniel support and care for her emotionally. In this way they embrace each other’s differences and fulfil their needs.
This sort of mutual caring is an active and powerful part of our community. Yet socially it is never acknowledged and supported. This is not a reference to promiscuous sex. It is about the caring and support that is often a part of mature sexual relationship.
This is an old theme of mine that crops up again and again in my exploratioins. There is something in me that is ill at ease not only with the prevailing attempted sexual morality – one-man one woman – and with the promiscuity also – but also in regard to the psychological shapes we have. My underlying feeling here was that we are either squashed into a particular shape because of social pressure to conform, such as in the mentioned area of sex, or else we have a particular structure that is in many ways sick that we do not acknowledge.
We All Fuck Up At Times
Somehow, as a group of people, we have a tendency to call things healthy that are very sick. If we fail to see what is sick as a social group, then at least we can attempt to do it as individuals. We can acknowledge that parts of us are not healthy. We can stand before the core of our own being to be made whole, or to work towards our own wholeness.
I want to say to Kevin that at certain fundamental levels of our being we all fuck up. I fucked up in asking too much of my body. I asked too much of it morally by trying to live a too rigid code of conduct. I asked too much of it physically because of the way I have worked in the past. I asked too much of it because of the experiments I did with fasting and yoga in a frantic search for my own wholeness. I fucked up and I am trying to make amends for that. I am trying to love and heal those fundamental parts, where cells divide to create cell; where the intricate process of nourishment takes place in building organs. That level of me is in need of such a lot of love and care. Every part of our physical structure and well-being is built upon that.
Nowadays, when I see somebody lighting up a cigarette or drinking alcohol, I can’t help feeling inside me, “are you forgetting? Have you forgotten the beautiful and intricate workings of your own body? Have you forgotten what you can see around you, where industrial sites emit smoke and poisons devastating a landscape? Have you forgotten that smoking, drinking, eating dead foods, is like pouring poisonous chemicals into the soil?”
I want to say to young people who are starting out, “look, I am an old timer. I am past my sell-by date, and I am not particularly wise. Nevertheless, I have learned some hard lessons. One of the most wonderful of these is that enlightenment, wholeness, is your right. It isn’t something you have to earn, it’s yours. You don’t have to pay a mortgage to get it. You don’t have to be terribly good, or to conform to some rigorous moral practice. You are an integral part of the universe, of that living consciousness, now! You are loved and you are wanted. When you hear the Core of your being speak to you, it says, “I want you. I love you. I want you in every conceivable way. Don’t hold yourselves back from me.”
When we hear that godhead speak, it says, “I want you in every conceivable way because you are my body. I wanted you as baby, and as a young person. I want you in all your feelings in all that you can be. You are my life. Without you I am nothing because I am you. Therefore how can I am not want you to have everything that I am?”
I want to say about the mystery of love, that we all want to be loved. We confuse this so utterly with a particular person, a particular body, that it causes tremendous pain in many relationships. There is only one life, one being in this entire universe. There is only one love, one ocean of love, and that does not belong to us. We do not possess it. It flows through us. We express it but do not own it. Therefore, when we try to control it, when we try to own it, or hold another person, then we meet pain, loneliness, disillusion. William Blake says, “He who clings to himself a joy/Doth the winged life destroy./He who kisses as it flies/Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”
Everything Works – So Join in the Fun
Work is fundamental to life. Everything works. You wouldn’t exist if the cells in your body didn’t work. If they didn’t contribute their lives, if they didn’t love each other, if they didn’t give themselves wholeheartedly to what they are doing, you wouldn’t have life. That is real love. What are you doing? What are you giving? Is doesn’t matter what it is. Listening to somebody, helping them, sweeping the road, clearing up a mess, unblocking a toilet – whatever it is you are part of this living body of life. Be a proud part of it. Feel your connection with it. Take care with all the little things you do. Then respect yourself as part of the whole. Demand to be respected as well. You are not an unimportant part. The brain will not function without the blood cells, or the heart, or the liver. Neither would society function if the basic workers failed to give their effort and care to what they are doing. Some leaders of industry might act as if they are the centre of the universe, but their effectiveness is based upon the work of thousands of people supporting them. And in turn it might be that the blood cell would have quite a dull existence without the excitement and pleasure provided by the genitals, or the emotions.
Something I saw today, that connects with the previous meeting or consideration of death, was about the process of ageing and the sort of images that can develop with it. I could see in myself during, and after the session, that I often generated a subtle but powerful image of myself as being frail or becoming in some way lifeless. I could see that this image, this deep-seated feeling about myself, pervades and influences my state of health. It certainly influences the way I feel in my everyday life. So I arrived at what I called an open secret for ageing men and women. I want to say to them, your body is going to die. On the way to that, much of the sort of beauty or capability that you had when younger will fade, perhaps even disappear. Breasts will sag, genitals may no longer perform as they once did. If you identify very strongly with your body, then you will probably begin to feel the sense of diminishing, of being frayed at the edges, of being vulnerable. Such feelings undermine the vitality of your personality and your body. They may make you more cautious, less vital. You must recognise and transformed such feelings. Perhaps this is something that expresses how you feel about yourself. If so, acknowledge it, and transform it to something more living.
An image that helps me is one of a deciduous tree. When a beautiful beach tree, or maple tree, approaches the end of the summer, its leaves start to wrinkle and fade. They lose their green and elasticity. But that process is one of life. It is not a failure or an illness on the part of the tree. It is a progressive change the tree goes through. Unless some form of ill health has arisen, our own ageing process is similar to that of the tree. It is one of progressive change toward the end of our season. The life in me is drawing back to its roots, to its source. That is not a sickness. It is a preparation for rebirth, for a new growth. Seeing it as that enables us to make that change, to meet those changes, with a good heart.
As you move towards your source in ageing, you can begin to feel yourself as that formless spirit, beyond any particular gender. You begin to feel yourself as a timeless being, who for a while took form in this body, and perhaps identified with it deeply. But now loosen the links of your identification with your body. Your body is going to fall away. Your beautiful breasts, your hair, your genitals, your arms and legs, are withering and ending. Is that who you are in your essence? Are you something that withers and disappears? If you identify with the form that drops away, then you open yourself to fear, to regret, too cynical despair. But if you find yourself in that timeless being at your roots, the dismay and despair do not haunt you.
What are you if not Formless at Your Core
Who are you? What are you capable of? Nobody else can really tell you that. Another person might support you, point a way, help you, but only you can live your life. Only you can find your way through the complexity of your situation. Only you can discover what your potential is. When we look towards enlightenment as a means of discovering who we are and of finding our potential, sometimes we are tempted to think of it as a one-off solution. It isn’t. Like the rest of life it is part of a continuum. Ramana Maharshi described the beginnings of enlightenment as similar to dropping a bucket down a well. The bucket comes up fall, but gradually we drink it and it is empty. Then we need to drop the bucket down the well again to replenish it and fulfil our thirst. But eventually, we are the water, the ocean, and there is no need to fill the bucket.
Our present culture gives such enormity of choices in terms of personality structure that the often unconscious choices of who we are going to be is difficult. There are different types of heterosexuality, different types of homosexuality, different stances in politics, religion, parenthood, education – wherever we look there is enormous choice. To some extent, we are all things we see around us. We have in us the possibility of being any of the people, any of the personality types, we confront in our environment. Because we see the huge variety of types around us, we have such variety as a choice. This must be terrifying for some people. It must be terrifying to wonder who you really are.
What are you? In confrontation with such choice, the resource of the naked, formless, self, is a huge resource and haven. Nevertheless, there is that cacophony. When we recognise that behind it all is formless silence, it loses its threat.
Some men are very threatened by any signs of femininity within themselves or in other males. Some women are equally threatened by signs of masculinity in themselves, in other women, or in meeting a male. Such threats lose their potency when we recognise how formless our being is.
Styles of Enlightenment
I can see that there are styles of enlightenment too. As already said, the search for wholeness often leads Westerners toward the East. The western practitioner may take on a style of life, such as may feel suggested by a practice such as yoga, or Zen. Such styles may sometimes be completely out of harmony with the person’s underlying psychological structure and cultural environment. The Zen practitioner for instance, may adopt an austere and distant demeanour that has no real connections with their underlying psychological needs and development. In fact, it may be a means of escaping real personal growth, real facing of the underlying issues and pains in the personality.
It is therefore a tonic to see the joy and laughter that many Tibetan lamas exhibit. They look very joyful. There is a lot of laughter and fun in their life. Also, the life of Ramana Maharshi gives us the example of a very ordinary life lived in the midst of extraordinary enlightenment. Ramana went about the ordinary tasks of feeling his animals, preparing food, doing the everyday chores.
So even here we can see the enormity of choices that confront us. Therefore, the certainty that we have to adopt a particular stance or lifestyle in order to become whole is misplaced. the ultra conservative and disciplined Christian or yoga practitioner, probably has as little chance of getting into the foothills of heaven and enlightenment, as the highly promiscuous and ill disciplined partygoer.
Everything has a form of life. So wherever we are in life, it seems wise to be there with some care, some appreciation. Find a relationship with not only the people, but also the things around you. Feel the quality of your house, or your workplace. Like the tree that grows in relationship with the wind and whether, find some way of moving and being in your circumstances that similarly arises out of your finding a way to exist in harmony with your world.