Friday, April 11, 2014

Barbara Ehrenreich a Mystic?

This is from Ehrenreich's interview with Terry Gross on April 8, 2014:

"I was just staring at the woods ... [when] something happened. It's like a layer peeled off the world, the layer that contains all the meanings, the words, the language, the associations we have. Yeah, I was looking at trees, but I no longer could say I knew exactly what a tree was, with all the knowledge and experience that goes into our notion of a tree. . . .

"What if there is a world underneath what we perceive? We're usually in a world of shared "reality." You and I agree on what we see if we're together, we have similar explanations for it, and so on. To leave that behind and just see things without any of those human attributions, well, that's very, very strange, but I wanted to know more. ... I couldn't tell anybody. I had enough sense to think that this would be seen as crazy."

I suspect a lot of people reading this have had awakenings -- and if you have, you know that this was one.  This is the world with language stripped away -- the world of "That Which Is."

Most people know Ehrenreich as a lifelong socialist and social activist.  Her new book, Living with a Wild God, is a real departure for her.  She kept the mystical experiences of her teenage years secret for more than half a century!

Ehrenreich is just a bit older than I am -- culturally we are contemporaries. I didn't have any teenage mystical experiences, but I know that if I had, I would have kept them a secret.  The 1950s and early 1960s were not a time to tell people things like this.  You would be thought crazy, or you would simply be dismissed.  I'm not sure which would be worse.  When the most important thing in your life happens to you and you can't find anyone who can validate it, you must keep it secret.  You must keep it secret or it will be destroyed by those who cannot understand what it is to know what is actually real.

I feel sad that Ehrenreich didn't have the support that people can find now when they have these types of encounters.  If you listen to the whole interview, you'll see that she hasn't gotten to the bottom of it at all.  She doesn't know yet that this is just the tip of the iceberg -- that without language as a barrier, we do not actually exist separately.  If things had been different when she was young, she could be fully enlightened now.  Think of that, and think of how important it is for us to nurture these spontaneous realizations in those we know.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Eternal versus Everlasting

A magazine I subscribe to has a children's page and a couple of sentences read like this:  "Imagine you found a river that flowed with waters of eternal life. Anything you put by the river would last forever." 

Like many who were raised Protestant, I learned the following Biblical passage as a child:  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)  That's the King James version.  In more modern translations, "everlasting" is replaced by "eternal."

Conflating "everlasting" and "eternal" can cause confusion.  "Everlasting" is within time -- it's just time stretched out as far as it will go.  But "eternal" is beyond time -- outside the boundaries of time.

When we are talking about life, this has important ramifications.  The phrase "everlasting life" indicates that we don't die.  And of course, this is a common understanding of what being "saved by Jesus" implies. You go to heaven and keep on living forever.  But "eternal" is something else.  "Eternal" is a whole other dimension of consciousness, not a "place" where things last forever but where there is no time.

And so my issue with these lines in the magazine I was reading was that it could cause children to misunderstand what spiritual awakening actually is -- to imagine that it means one is going to live forever when really the Biblical text points to something else.

And then, suddenly I remembered something I had realized:  This form doesn't die. How can that be?  More and more, as I sink into this possibility, which I realized without understanding, I get the sense that the forms that we usually think of as ourselves aren't really us, that the real "me" is what creates the forms and that actually doesn't die. And so, if this is so, any dichotomy between "eternal" and "everlasting" perhaps also doesn't exist at all! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Different Kinds of Love?

I've heard it said that there are different kinds of love:  romantic love, love of family members, love of friends, and love of all of humanity.  But is there, at bottom, a difference between these types of love?

It is true that they feel different. And people who are "spiritual" especially like to differentiate the last kind from the other, seemingly more limiting, types.  All-encompassing love, Buddha's love -- that is what we all want to experience, is it not?

But in my experience, the only difference between the more limited kinds of love and all-encompassing love (which includes love of self), is that the object drops away.  It's the same energy of life, but we don't need to focus on someone or something anymore:  we don't need anything outside ourselves to feel whole but rather we realize that we are ourselves the embodiment of love, that we are created as love, and that everything else is as well.  Love isn't so much something that we do as something that we realize we are and always have been.  And since everyone and everything else is also experienced that way, we can't help loving all else as we love ourselves.

Elizabeth Gilbert in EAT, PRAY, LOVE describes hugging trees in India when she had her awakening.  I had exactly the same experience:  anything and everything was embraced by my passion, but for some reason trees were especially lovable!  Maybe awakening makes tree-huggers out of us all!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Elizabeth Gilbert's awakening: why did no one notice?

I'd heard a lot about EAT, PRAY, LOVE when I started to read it, but, since it was a best seller, I figured it couldn't be very deep and stayed away.  Am I a literary snob, or what?  Anyway, I was wrong. 

On pages 98-100 (paperback edition) Gilbert has an awakening. I couldn't help wondering why, in all I'd heard about this book, I never heard this. I mean, I haven't yet gone with her to Bali, where she finds true love, so I don't know what happens in the end, but an awakening seems pretty important -- certainly more important than romantic love. 

So I've been wondering why this seems to be the most under-reported awakening ever, despite the fact that the book itself is one of the most read books ever.  And what I've concluded is that if you haven't known what she describes, you don't know that it changes everything -- and I do mean everything.

A few years after my 1980 awakening, I wrote a paper about it and what led up to it.  Fortunately, I had my journal entry of that day for help. When I now read over what I wrote in 1986, I still think I captured it as well as a wordless non-event can be captured in language. But I noticed again and again that when I shared this paper with people who hadn't been awakened, they would read right over the critical part and think the story was about something else!  The first time this happened, I was dumbfounded, but now I'm used to it and even use the paper as a kind of test to see where people are spiritually.  (I gave it to my second teacher, Adyashanti, when I first met him, and he passed the test with flying colors!)

So what I'm saying here is that we all rely on our own experience to interpret what we read, and especially to find meaning.  Gilbert, basing her discussion on yogic philosophy, calls the awakened state (not really a state, but she refers to it that way) a "fourth level" of consciousness," beyond waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep.  My first teacher called it a fifth dimension.  Either way, it's not only beyond the realm of our ordinary experience, but more, beyond the way we ordinarily experience life because, in that moment, subject and object are annihilated. And so, when we come back to talk about it, we are talking in metaphors, because language assumes subject-object relationships. Still, Gilbert does a good job of describing it -- better than I did -- and it's too bad more people didn't notice.

It's said that they took most of the enlightenment section out of the film so that they could show more of Julia Roberts at the beach.  Imagine my surprise.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Relative Bliss

I've been thinking about bliss -- how it arises and how it makes you want to go back and repeat an experience in which it arose.

The most blissful thing that happens in a lifetime is when the mind lets go and one moves into a deeper place.  In that place, there is a feeling of expansion -- often it is as though the "me" disappears entirely; other times, it seems as though one merges with others.  However it is perceived, when the ordinary, thought-orientation returns, there is a flattening out of feeling and a desire to re-experience the event that seemed to cause the bliss.

From one perspective, as many teachers have pointed out, such a happening is not really an experience at all, because "experience" is what the mind creates after the fact, the story it tells about what happened.  And there has to be a "me" having the experience, so when the "me" disappears, technically speaking, there is no experience, just pure Being.

Like most people, I've wanted to re-"experience" that bliss, but found that it wasn't really possible.  In fact, dropping the self became less and less spectacular, and less blissful.  So, I've been thinking about how this all works.

It must be that emotional categories, such as "bliss," work relative to what else has happened to one previously.  So the very first time the self drops away, there is this accompanying ecstasy which, it is assumed, will always arise in that circumstance. So we start to chase the circumstance.  (I say "we" because I've heard many people say this -- it's not just my experience.)  But each time the self drops, the mind expands and it never quite goes back to the same contraction it was in initially, so the next time, there is less of a contrast.  And each time less of a contrast.  One still notices when there is that shift, but the shift becomes much more subtle.

It's a lot like an orgasm, in that sense.  The very first time -- wow -- could anything ever be so good?  Has anyone ever experienced anything like this in the history of the planet?  But by the hundredth time?  Well, all in all, you're glad it happened; hopefully you're glad you shared it with someone you love -- but it's not life-changing.

So whatever the source of the bliss, I think it works like that.  Bliss is relative to what we've experienced so far.  It's the difference the mind notices between the ordinary state of existence and the extraordinary.  And the more often what was extraordinary happens, the less extraordinary -- and therefore the less blissful -- it seems.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

No-self and terror

Singer, in her book about cults referenced in my previous post, describes problems some people have after doing meditation for long periods -- both long periods every day and over years.  One man writes, "'Suddenly I became one with the air conditioner.  I just dissolved, and it seemed that when the air conditioner started up it just took me out of my body.  There wasn't any me on the bed -- I was "at one" with the motor sounds.  It was unspeakable terror.  I had dissolved and melded with a motor sound.'" Cults in Our Midst by Margaret Thaler Singer (1995 edition), pp. 144-145.

"Unspeakable terror"?  I remember how it was for me when I first started to notice that the objects I used to think of as outside myself weren't really outside at all.  There was a mystery to it, a curiosity, but certainly no terror.  It was what I had sought, in fact, back in those old days when I did Zen in Japan and read all of those marvelous stories about people who had become one with trees and birds and such.  (No climate control in Zen temples in Japan, so becoming one with an air conditioner wasn't likely!)

So why was this man terrified?  I think this has to do with preparation. Many of the techniques that were used in a monastic setting in Asia came to America with the idea that they could apply to anyone (especially if they could be taught for a good price).  When they work, the ego begins to dissolve -- the ego being, as I think of it, just an arbitrary thought wall separating oneself from the outer world.  And I would guess that if someone were not prepared for this to happen, he would imagine he was going crazy.

So can there be too much meditation?  I am hardly qualified to speak about this since I don't meditate, but my guess is that yes, for some people, there can be too much of at least some kinds of meditation.  The ego does help us navigate the world and it can't be bullied into submission.  If it feels that it is going to be annihilated, it will rebel by manifesting various symptoms, including terror.  In the end, in my experience at least, the ego doesn't have to be annihilated -- it just becomes seen as provisional, not absolute.  But one doesn't know that it will work out that way in the beginning, and for some people, that could be terrifying.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cults vs. True Spirituality

When I was young, I lived in a Buddhist temple in Japan that was an offshoot of a major sect.  It is only recently that I've let myself know how cultish it was.  (I thought I was too smart for cults!)  Now I've been reading about cults.  The book I'm reading now, Cults in Our Midst, by Margaret Thaler Singer, is a classic on the subject.  Singer describes how various groups use a variety of tools to give people an out-of-this-world experience and then frame it according to the doctrine of the cult, e.g., "God has spoken to you," or "You are now a blessed one." 

Sometimes I still go to see Adyashanti, the teacher who transformed my life in the last decade.  And sometimes as I'm standing in line, or sitting in silence waiting for him to come in, I glance around and wonder how the gathering would look to an outsider.  Would we all look like a bunch of cultists?  Certainly, for me, I've experienced being "out-of-this-world" many times sitting there in front of Adya.  In fact, pretty much every time I see him.  I see golden light emanating from everything.  The whole visual appearance of the room changes and I go somewhere very deep I can't describe.  I have no idea how many others experience this.

I suspect Singer would say that this is a hypnotic trance induced by the teacher. But I know the teacher himself isn't at all interested in the accompanying "bells and whistles."  The ultimate truth is beyond physical manifestation, beyond bodily changes -- beyond, beyond -- to the place where you and I and all manifestation is one.  And there is not necessarily a sign that this is realized.