Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Evolution of Consciousness

Every creature on the planet is an emanation from the one and only source of all life and cause of the universe. In us the divine element may not yet be nearly so prominent as in the case of holy ones, but still it is a question only of degree. In a great man or woman the divine or super-human element manifests itself oftener, more clearly and to better purpose than in the case of a comparatively less developed individual. That is why people speak sometimes of the evolution of souls. Some souls are developed more than others on a higher plane…and it is possible for us to hear more often the note of divinity than in the case of other people not so fortunate or so far advanced in evolution of consciousness.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Robert Discovers Bhakti love in India

When I traveled in India I had a good friend, Amba Shankar, who often went with me wherever I needed to go. He fended off beggars, paid the necessary bribes, purchased tickets, translated, made sure I had clean food and suitable water, he got me into and out of all the things that confront one in India just to survive. He made life possible for me, and I could not have prospered there without him. He was always with me with one notable exception. That exception was, in all places, in Calcutta, undoubtedly one of the most painful cities in the world for a foreigner.

It is not for nothing that the original form of the name for this city was Kali-cut. This was anglicized into Calcutta. Kaii-cut means the city of Kali, the goddess of horror, destruction and terror. She is dreadful, with eighteen arms, conceived out of the nightmare of Vishnu when he was once in a drunken stupor.

Calcutta is terribly over-crowded and the worst that one hears of India is most certainly true there. I was left in a hotel while my friend went off to complete business that he had to accomplish. He promised to be back in three days. I had traveled to India enough times it seemed logical that I could manage for myself. But three days in Calcutta broke something in me: nerve and fiber can only take so much of mothers thrusting their dead babies in my arms or children with amputations poking me in the ribs, or stepping over corpses in the street. I was strong at the time, but in a short while I began to go to pieces. My being was not strong enough to take the impact of so much darkness and suffering.

I had intelligence enough to lock myself in a hotel room, thinking I could stay anywhere for three days by entertaining myself and not going out. But the walls were very thin and it sounded as if someone was dying on one side of me while someone else was quarreling in the room on the other side. With the thin walls I finally decided I had to get out, particularly after a night in which there was a political rally with loud speakers and megaphones blasting noise in the street below and robbing me of any sleep. Fate conspired to break something in me.

The one thing I wanted and knew would help would be to find a sympathetic soul to talk to. Talk is a healing balm for someone is such a desperate situation, but I knew no one in Calcutta. There was seemingly no place to go. I was in a poor section of town.

Eventually I ventured out and wandered into a park, where it occurred to me that India had already taught me what to do in a case such as this. Go up to someone and ask if they will be the incarnation of God for you. That is what this custom is for. I brightened at the thought of this, though I am ordinarily far too shy to go up to a stranger. Desperation gives one courage. I went through the park looking about, chose carefully and settled my gaze upon a middle-aged Indian man sitting on a bench who had a kind look on his face. He was dressed entirely in traditional Indian clothing and bore a great dignity about him.

I went up, and with the courage of fear and panic, asked if he spoke English. He responded in the affirmative.

My second question in this new found relationship: “Would you be the incarnation of god for me?”

He looked up at me very seriously, nodded, and said, “Yes.”

He knew. So I poured out a twenty minute flood of talk about who I was, where I came from, what had happened to me and all that I had been through, what I felt and needed, the desperation that was going through me. After this outpouring before an empathic listener I began to heal and somehow pull myself back together. My strength and courage came back, I gained perspective. Eventually my sense of dignity and courtesy returned. After a long stretch in which he said nothing I drew breath and apologized for talking so much.

“Please tell me, who are you?”

He gave me an unpronounceable Indian name.

“But who are you,” I asked.

With a dignity I will never forget he replied, “I am a Catholic priest.”

Of all the people in India I could have pulled off the streets of Calcutta to be the incarnation of God for me I had chosen a priest to pour out my soul to. I was speechless for the first time. Speechlessness is looked upon well in India. It is a sign of wisdom. I just stood there with my mouth open. Presently he bowed and then walked off with a dignified stride that I will never forget. I will never forget that man and that day and I doubt if he will ever forget me.

For once in my life I asked someone to be the incarnation of god for me, and he complied. This is Bhakti yoga in action. It’s not just a theory or something that you do early in the morning as a ritual. It is something to set your roots into, to nourish and strengthen you. I wish I could go to someone here in the West and ask for that kind of profound relationship but it is not something that is understood generally.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gardeners of the Heart

My friend, Roland, is a master gardener. He recently learned that his home above Boulder was completely destroyed in a forest fire. He writes:

"Life is change. We do not really know what is around the next corner yet we act as though each day will be a mirror image of the last. Then the landscape totally shifts. On Thursday Sept. 9 we had final confirmation that our house and gardens in the mountains above Boulder were destroyed by the 4 Mile Canyon fire. After a few days of holding our breath, we knew the worst. It is ironic that in August I described the evolution of my garden. The linked spaces reflected the effort and love of 15 years of gardening; it had a special energy and natural somewhat untidy beauty. But gardens are ephemeral: they last only as long as nature decides. The plumes of burning pine trees reached 200 feet in the air. The temperatures were enough to melt steel and sterilize soil life to a depth of 18 inches. Nothing survives...My garden travels with me - images and designs formed in my imagination. Next week, we move into a rental house in Boulder with a small garden. Gardeners are naturally generous and giving. Already, I have offers of plants and extra space. The outpouring of love and support has been far beyond anything I could ever expect."

After a brief period of shock, despair, and grieving, Roland showed amazing resilience, throwing himself back into life. He has always displayed amour fati that inspires me. Life IS change. Nature really does heal all with time and a little help.

In moments of crisis I must remind myself: Can I accept life WHOLE? Not pursuing wholeness as another ego project of getting more or doing more but embracing the whole experience of life?

Can we say "yes" and continue to participate in life even when all around us things seem to be burning up or falling apart? This requires a sort of binocular vision, seeing all the tensions, oppositions, losses, through ordinary consciousness, but at the same time cultivating a garden that travels with us, a garden of the heart.

Monday, August 30, 2010

To Become Humanized

Almost all of our myths, or at least our interpretation of them, is that you should destroy the instinct and march off heroically to rescue what is lost. In multiple stories in the West, in movies as well as fairy tales and ancient myths, we are informed that the hero must heroically fight a dragon or a witch or an evil usurper to death and with his foot on its neck then and only then will he redeem himself and rescue the fair maiden.

The Ramayana, a wonderful story from the East, says that it is only by your instincts, by your monkey nature, that you will restore the unity of the world, the wholeness that you once knew but lost.

I think the biggest joke every played upon me, a divine joke, is that I first traveled to India many years ago to be spiritualized. I had read of India and the East for decades, looked longingly at photographs long before I had the courage to buy a ticket and travel there. I presumed I would find the appropriate teachings, or a tradition, or a yogi of some kind, and sit and meditate until I found my enlightenment. Increasingly Westerners project such salvation upon a journey to a foreign land. But that is not what happened to me. Instead, I went to India and became humanized – which is what I should have sought in the first place. I did not find lofty yogic heights, I did not find esoteric wisdom. I found my monkey nature, by doing ordinary things, by listening to my instincts, by learning to accept what happens.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sacrifice: To Make Sacred

I have been gripped all day by the thought of SACRIFICE. I grew sick of the word early in my life and it was enough to drive me out of the common jargon of most churches. But when I learned that the word meant TO MAKE SACRED, I got another perspective on it. I slowly saw that it was an adequate description of the meaning of a human life. To make the evolution of an experience to the level of the sacred -- well, who needs more definition or explanation? It makes the only sense I have ever found of this enigmatic thing we call LIFE.

I recall the deaths of people close to me earlier in my life; I had no adequate sense of meaning for myself in the experience and I went away vacant and sorely wounded. Now I have a profoundly deep meaning of such experiences, and, though they still hurt, they do not torture me as meaningless any more.

On the contrary, I know I must experience the loss of everything that seems meaningful now. I am not strong enough to believe this deeply, but there is a deep understanding of it even if I play wailing infant on the surface. I can see I have not learned the basic lesson of life if I can't accept the next SACRIFICE that faces me.

What a strange statement to make!!!!! Man lives to be the vehicle of the great transformation of life from ego-centric to THEOCENTRIC. Yes, but when will I be strong enough actually to live the next such event?

Duality: The Essence of Everyday Consciousness

Spiritual teachings are sometimes interpreted as advising us to let go of material things and lighten our load by reducing attachments, but this is a fundamental misunderstanding. To advance consciousness we need to be weaned, not from the body or material things, but from our allegiance to duality. The very idea that the material world is separate from some other higher existence is itself an error of duality. Reality is not dual, though our current level of awareness perceives it that way.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Renewal and Play

To renew ourselves throughout busy and ever-changing careers and lives requires access to our inner sources of creativity and play. Play may be the simplest thing there is for a child. Children are in a state of perpetual metamorphosis; they have the capacity to move quickly from the fantastic to the everyday and back again, all in a moment. They play as the spirit moves them. As we grow and experience the complexities of life, play becomes a difficult achievement. Yet that same spirit of play is essential in our later years. As one ages one must foster tinkering, discovery, and creative renewal.

We are constantly required to adapt to a changing world, often in ways that we cannot anticipate. Perhaps that is why play is seen among all the higher mammals. A creature that plays is more readily adaptable to changing contexts and conditions. With fewer pre-programmed or instinctive patterns of behavior than other creatures, humans have the greatest capacity and need for play, applying our intelligence and imagination.

Play provides new approaches to problems and introduces new concepts. Even the most serious people have some play in their daily lives, though we may not think of it that way. A most common form of play is ordinary speech. We draw upon structures provided by our culture, vocabulary and grammar, but the sentences we make up with them are entirely our own. Listen to a conversation in a foreign language, or ignore the content of a conversation in English and notice its process: the stops and starts, when the voice goes up and down, the rhythm of taking turns. Every conversation is a creative act.

Any time we are preparing a meal, this too is a form of play. It can be simple and perfunctory or a work of art. It can include wild improvisations, “let’s throw a little pineapple in the chili,” or it can stick to the tried-and-true recipe.

Writing, painting, surgery, debugging a computer program, invention, “playing” the stock market, tuning an engine -- all creative acts, some of them bloody serious -- draw upon our capacity to play. Play pervades every facet of our life and is the force behind rituals, the arts, sports, and civilization itself.

We not only have inborn neurological and linguistic capacities for abstracting information and turning it into symbols, we also quite clearly enjoy playing with information in this manner. Many of the inventions, innovations, and flights of fancy created by humans have no immediate biological value; rather, they are elaborate games we impose upon reality.

When work or life gets bogged down and frustrating it is often because we are taking “the work” and ourselves too seriously. Laughter itself is a mystery. To laugh at oneself and one’s circumstances requires a playful attitude. I have laughed with clients facing the direst of circumstances, including chronic illness and death – when a patient takes the lead and indicates the need for such talk.

Emergence is a scientific term for describing creative play in evolution. Emergence is the surprising capacity for the whole to equal more than the sum of the parts. It appears suddenly and cannot be predicted. It is more poetic than logical, more synchronistic than linear, bringing together seemingly disparate elements to create new synthesis, new meanings. When different parts or aspects of any system are put together in just the right way, something new emerges—a quality or property that could not be predicted from the parts alone.

To reflect more on the power of play, please see the wonderful book, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, written by my friend Stephen Nachmanovitch.