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The TAT Forum: a spiritual magazine of essays, poems and humor.

TAT Forum
December 2002

Essays, poems, opinions and humor on seeking
and finding answers to your deepest life-questions

 

This month's contents:

The Path (part 2) by Richard Rose | Actionless Awareness by Gary Harmon | A Jesus for Our Time by Douglas Harding | Emotion v. Sensation by Rob Chatburn | Taking a Break by Shawn Nevins | Poems by Shawn Nevins | True Intimacy by Bob Cergol | The Listening Attention by Bob Fergeson | Humor | Reader Commentary

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The Path (part 2)
by Richard Rose

(~ Continued from the November 2002 TAT Forum)

Regardless, this business of "becoming" was never given to the lay people among the Christian nations. Only the concept of blind belief, following and doing what you're told. But when you get into the lives of people who did rebel—and they were prominent people in the Christian history, like St. John of the Cross—he rebelled, and went into himself and found things out.

It's possible many others did too. Christ himself is supposed to have spent forty days up on the mountain somewhere meditating. So possibly a good many of them did. St. Theresa is supposed to have found a revelation from going into herself and finding her God.

Of course she labeled it and named it. The Asiatic doesn't name it; the students of Zen don't find any name in it. As soon as you name it, you're postulating, and that's the danger. You're postulating something, you're imagining it, you're creating it.

A lot of people have realized this, either consciously or subconsciously. A lot of young people have realized this by reading books by Alan Watts or something of that sort. They give up on the idea of finding or having any security in just blind belief. And consequently they turn to some of these movements which imply that there's a change possible or that a teacher can "zap" a student, the student will be changed, their eyes will be opened, etc. The sound currents, and so on.

I went through a lot of these yogic concepts. Kirpal Singh, which was the Radha Soami sect—they believe in listening to the sound currents. I think that the Guru Maharaj movement is also connected with the sound currents. And various physical phenomena, incidentally.

Although when you get to thinking about it, you'll find that the mind and the physical body have little relation—that a noise in the ear or straining your eyes to see a certain point out ahead of you has no significance in the Essence of Man. A little thinking will tell you that. Although it may put you in the mood, a contemplative mood, by which the mind may eventually do something—but it seems like a long way around.

But so will prayer. You get down and you pray every day, and that prayer will be a reminder. I used to say, "When you pray and hear yourself, if you can hear yourself, you can answer and acquire." Because everything's inside. And you have to summon that which is inside to answer the external plea, and you satisfy your own prayers. In other words, you become.

With this knowledge, in that we have had a lot of movements hinting at the ability to change people, hinting that there's going to be a miraculous change with the application of a certain mantra and a little bit of money and perhaps a little bit of devotion—once again humanity seems to be approaching closer to this idea of movements that promise a change of being—but moving equally distant from it by virtue of being destroyed by the gimmick or game or the money involved in it.

In other words the teacher too often is interested in carrying a healthy bank account back to India more so than he is in bringing information to people.

So we go through a new process now of sorting. And you can't sort if you don't have an intuition. This is the reason that what I'm saying right now some of you may reject just one sentence after another—"I don't like what that guy's saying"—and somebody sitting next to you may be saying, "Hey, that rings a bell." Well why do these two different people have these two different opinions? I maintain it's different layers or levels of intuition.

We are dealing with an abstract thing, and if you do a little thinking on it you'll realize that this is not mathematics, where you take your slide rule out and add pluses and minuses and come up with my veracity or anybody else's veracity. There's only one gauge for my veracity, and that's the little meter within your head called intuition. And this has to function very rapidly.

It has to take in a tremendous number of factors, mainly words, gestures, books you've read, comparisons from other data that's in your computer. And you have to come up very quickly with an answer, or you might get zapped. Or you might get angry, if your verdict goes the other way.

It's impossible to go beyond this step—it's impossible for people, even though they realize they have to become—it's impossible for them to go beyond that unless they have an intuition that is developed. Because they'll reject things that their appetites reject and embrace things their appetites embrace. And consequently we have fallen victim in this country to a lot of garbage. And it's purely and simply that.

There are some simple yardsticks that can be applied. And if you get into enough books on it you'll find these yardsticks exist in the literature. Down through the ages it's always been written or said that money does not make truth, and you can't buy truth with money. And everybody's trying. Everybody's trying to put a little money ahead in the bank and say, "Well, I'll get what I want. If I want zapped, I'll give the guy a thousand dollars or so. If I want the Truth—why, I'll go over there and...."

I remember reading Kapleau's book [The Three Pillars of Zen, by Philip Kapleau]. He said, "Well, when I got to be fifty years of age, I decided to get zapped. So we caught an airplane for Japan and we decided to stay over there until we got it—it was that simple." Well, it isn't that simple. Because he's not going to go to Japan at the age of fifty and get Enlightened. He might get zapped, but he won't get Enlightened at the age of fifty—unless he has spent his whole life straining in that direction. That's my belief. And number two, he's not going to get it just by paying off money.

This is the thing that we have to look for, the development of intuition within ourselves, as you go down the path. So that you know which to pick. Because how many years in your life do you have? I spent seven years in yoga, from age 21 to 28. And one of the high points or features of this yoga was "OM." That was my mantra. It doesn't cost a thing—and its just as powerful and just as valuable as ANGH or INGH or BANG or BONG. It will take you to the same place. It'll give you quiescence, it quiets the mind, and you can get it out of any book of yoga.

But I went into this for seven years, thinking, pleading for that magical door to open. I followed all the rules: vegetarian diet, non-indulgence in alcohol, sex, tea, coffee. They said it, and I did it. Because I was going whole hog. At the end of seven years—nothing happened. I was twenty-eight years of age and a lot of life had passed by, and the only thing that happened was my hair was falling out.

So I came to the conclusion that there was something wrong with my judgment of a system. I had peace of mind. Peace of mind doesn't lead to greater and greater peace of mind, to greater and greater bliss, where all at once you blow through the top of your head and you're in some previously-idealized heaven. It was only at the age of twenty-eight that I started to fight, and when I started to fight tooth and nail is when things started to happen. Not by sitting on my haunches chanting to myself.

Consequently, I'm hoping to save [you] time. I'm afraid I know there are people who are going down the same road—they're going to be addicted for eight or ten years to some movement or another—without the knowledge that basically no movement is really necessary. All that's necessary is that you look inside yourself honestly and sincerely.

And of course I say it's good to associate with people who are doing the same thing. In that respect, it's like Alcoholics Anonymous. When the brain gets fuzzy or when you forget or you get fatigued or you drift out and get drunk or something—somebody says, "Hey, maybe you'd better come back and do some thinking; you're getting too far from the center."

So in this respect—this is one of the Laws of Three that Christ spoke about: the Way, the Truth, and the Life—the "Life" is the association with people on the same spiritual direction. Buddha called it the "Sangha." They're pretty much the same. The Way is basically the discipline. The way can be a Christian discipline, or it can be a Buddhistic discipline, or it can be a self-invented, self-created discipline, whatever you promise yourself to do.

And the Truth, of course—it goes back to this thing of everybody desires. Everybody wants it, so live it. Don't lie to yourself. When I say don't lie to yourself, don't let your stomach dictate what your head does. Don't let your gonads dictate what your head does. That's only part of you. And when you do that, you're lying to yourself. You're splitting your energy, you're making of yourself more or less a vegetating being rather than a searching, sentient being.

~ Continued in the January 2003 TAT Forum

© 1976 Richard Rose. All Rights Reserved.


Actionless Awareness
by Gary Harmon

Much is said about non-action and surrendering. What could be called 'actionlessness' appears at face value as a nonsensical statement. This refers to doing nothing as a method of doing something. Seeing the actual truth of this can return one to the original state of awareness.

When you say, "I perform action," it is not Awareness that performs any action. It is the eyes that see, the nose that smells, the thoughts that move in the mind, all in Awareness, in consciousness. Action is of the nature of movement. All actions stand in I-ness, Awareness, the consciousness that is aware of time and space. The planets, the air, the inhabitants, all move only in Awareness. Space itself is in Awareness, the so called "NOW" is in Awareness, so Awareness must be all-encompassing and omnipresent. Where can it move? Where is a stopping or a starting, let alone a now? Awareness, the so called 'I,' is motionless, spaceless, and timeless. It is that which is always present, in which even time continuously moves, or at least gives the impression that it does. Awareness is thus timeless. You are that Awareness in which all things exist, but which itself is liberated from time and space.

Therefore, Action takes place in Awareness, which is action-less. This is one's factual nature. How is that for a 180-degree statement? One who appreciates oneself as action-less does not take oneself to be an actor, in spite of the apparent acting. One recognizes that the mind, sense organs, arms, legs and various other body parts perform their respective tasks and that we are all the one Awareness that is aware of its own awareness. In the divine presence all activities take place, but there is no performing of any action.

The 'I' that is Awareness is action-less, and life from here is eternally tranquil and free from all limitations. Being Aware of the true Self is all that remains in deep, dreamless sleep. The Self is like the ocean that floats upon and swims through itself, for you are both the ocean and all things that swim in it—the no-thingness and the Allness that becomes obviously the same, which is realized as You.


A Jesus for Our Time
by Douglas Harding

The lost Gospel according to Thomas, discovered "by accident" in an Egyptian cave in 1945, couldn't have appeared at a more opportune moment in history, or with a message that speaks more directly to our condition and needs. In this early apocryphal Christian text, the living voice of Jesus comes down to us directly, bypassing all that men have been saying about him and doing in his name. It comes across distinctly, high above the confused roar of two millennia of Christendom, so-called. It's as if he himself had planted this beneficent time bomb in the cave at Nag Hammadi, carefully setting the fuse to delay its explosion till the world would be ready for the impact. It's as if, so tragically far ahead of his own time, he knew when significant numbers of quite ordinary men and women (as distinct from highly specialized and disciplined saints and sages and seers) would at last be capable of catching up with his vision of the Light, his experience of what he calls the Kingdom.

I can't do better than begin by citing a number of the typical sayings, or logia, from this Gospel:

  • Let him who seeks not cease till he finds. And when he finds he will be astonished, and when he is astonished he will marvel, and will be king over all.
  • You examine the face of heaven and earth, but you don't know what's where you are. And you ignore the present moment.
  • The old man will not hesitate to ask the infant of seven days about the place of life, and he will live.
  • The heavens will fold and the earth before your eyes, but he who lives from the One will experience neither death nor fear.
  • Many stand before the door, but it is the Alone who enters the bridechamber.
  • I am the Light which is over everything. I am the All. From me the All has gone forth, and to me the All has returned. Split the wood and I am there. Lift the stone and you will find me.
  • He who knows everything except himself, lacks everything.
  • We come from the Light, from the place where the Light comes into existence through itself alone.
  • I stood in the middle of the world and I appeared to them in the flesh. I found them all drunk. I found none that were thirsty. And my soul was troubled for the children of men, for they are blind in their hearts, and they do not see that they came empty into the world.
  • There is a Light in the Light-man and it lights up the whole world.

This fifth Gospel, or God-spell, is very different from the four canonical Gospels. It is a collection of the sayings or logia of Jesus, some of which echo his sayings in the other gospels, and some of which are unique to Thomas. It contains no miracles or tall stories, no walkings on the water; no raisings from the dead, no immaculate conceptions or ascensions into heaven or descents into hell: nothing at all to strain our credulity. Certainly it's a later compilation than the canonical four. Nevertheless some scholars believe it may draw on earlier sources than they do, and therefore offers us what might be called a de-mythologized Jesus. Be that as it may, the question before us now is the value and truth of these sayings, no matter how authentic they are historically, how far they are the words of Jesus, or of his followers and interpreters.

The Gospel begins with a warning, a challenge, and a huge promise. The warning is that these sayings of Jesus aren't just for reading. There's work to do on them. Their significance doesn't lie on their surface, their secret has to be dug into and exposed. The challenge is to persist in this work till the secret meaning is secret no longer, but obvious. And the reward for making this discovery is nothing less than eternal life and kingship.

Thus encouraged let's get down to work at once. If we are in earnest about it we are at once faced with some practical questions about how to proceed—questions of where, and how, and what. Exactly where are we to look for this good news, this treasure of treasures of treasures? Exactly how shall we seek it, in what spirit shall we address this most promising of searches? By what marks shall we recognize it when we have found it?

Happily our Gospel itself answers these procedural questions for us. It hands us a great bunch of keys for unlocking the treasury.

First take the question of where the saving truth, the secret of secrets, is to be found. The answer leaves no room for doubt. The kingdom—the place of Life, of Knowledge, of Rest—isn't above or beyond or beneath. It is within. It is right where I am at this present moment, nearer to me than myself, than anything else. It is the Home I never really left, the focus and midpoint of what is at once my world and the world, forever here and never there. Which can only mean that all books—including of course the one you are now reading, and indeed the Gospel of Thomas itself—are literally beside the point by some 12 inches. Out there, they are of no value except as pointers to their Reader, to the one who is zero inches from himself or herself. In effect, Jesus insists that you turn your attention round 180 degrees and simultaneously look at what you are looking out of and what you are looking at. It's as simple as that, and as easy as winking, if only we will cease pretending it's complicated and difficult and reserved for very special people. Whoever you are and just as you are, it is here, and here alone, that you will find the Pearl, the buried Treasure, the Deathless, the Kingship that is your very own. Here at the Center, you are the key, you are the secret of these sayings of Jesus.

The second question that our Gospel poses is how we are to go about looking for the Treasure. In what manner and what spirit shall we undertake this great work that is really so effortless, if we are to succeed? Again, our text is quite definite. We must come to this adventure with inspired naiveté, in the direct and accepting spirit of a child, even of an infant. The Kingdom is invisible to grown-ups, as such. We have to be unprejudiced and attentive enough to set aside what we think we know and start looking all over again, as if we had never looked before, and trusting what we find. In this investigation our learning, our belief systems, our religious formulae, our common sense (so-called), our tangled web of opinions—all these are so many layers of a cataract blinding us to what is quite obvious to the clear eye of the young child. In other words, what we have to do is set up shop trading concepts for precepts, and make our fortune.

The third question asks what exactly it is that we are seeking. How shall we recognize this Kingdom when we come to its frontier? How shall we be sure it's our Homeland? What is the climate, the distinctive topography, or this Promised Land? By what signs shall we know that we have unearthed the real secret of Thomas, not just some notion we have of it? Well, the clues—metaphors and similes and straight descriptions—scattered throughout our text are plentiful, varied, homely, telling, and often beautiful. This Dear Country of ours, our native Land, is a place of paradox and profound mystery, yet its air is clearer than broad daylight, and broader than the widest sky. According to Thomas it is empty yet full of the All. Empty for filling with whatever happens to be on offer, we might say. It is where the opposites—inside and outside, up and down, male and female (to name but a few)—come together and are one and the same. Here is the One not born of woman, whom no eye sees or ear hears or hand touches. Here is the Being of all beings, that remains when all beings pass away. Here is the Stillness in which all moves are made. Here is the Light within the Light-man that lights up the whole world. Thus speaks the Jesus for our time.

And now you and I know precisely where to look, and precisely how to look, and precisely what we are looking for, there's only one thing left to do—and that's to LOOK. You look for your Self, I look for my Self, as if for the very first time. Yes, please do so at this very moment, without putting this book down. Dare to look at the very spot you occupy and see whether it is in fact occupied—stuffed full of anatomy—or, as Jesus says, empty. Empty, just now, for these printed words. Why not stop being eccentric and out on a limb—to say nothing of out to lunch? Why not be where you alone are and where you are Alone, the sole discoverer of and the sole expert on and the sole resident in this Place of places? The solitary Columbus of this Ever-new-World—the Kingdom Within, your kingdom?

Jesus had a rough passage. It was no joke to be so ahead of his time and place. How can we make amends? I remember a couple of lines of a hymn we used to sing as small children:

What can we do for Jesus' sake,
Who is so high and good and great?

Well, there's one thing we adults can do right away, so that his labor and agony shall not be in vain, and that is—not to believe this teaching of his in Thomas, but to test it, sincerely verifying (and falsifying) the scriptures by our experience instead of our experience by the scriptures. For instance, he tells us:

If those who guide you say to you
      "Lo, the Kingdom is in heaven,"
      Then the birds of heaven will get there before you.
If they say to you
      "It is in the sea,"
      Then the fish will get there before you.
But the Kingdom is within you.

Dear Reader, if not for the love of Jesus then out of respect for him, or out of interest in what he alleges you really are, or at least out of a blend of courtesy and curiosity, look and see if he knows what he's talking about. Put his words to the test by carrying out the following simple experiment. Just reading my words is worse than useless.

Point up to the sky now and perhaps birds flying. Or, if you are indoors, point up to the ceiling, and observe that your finger is pointing at something or other, and certainly not at the emptiness which is the Kingdom. Next, point outwards to those hills and trees and houses, or at the wall and door and furniture on the opposite side of the room, and notice that you are pointing at a collection of distant objects. Next, point at the ground or the floor. And then, slowly and with great attention, at your feet, then your lap, then your trunk, and note how in every case this thing you call your finger is indicating another thing, and there's a distance between them. And certainly, once more, the Kingdom is neither a thing nor distant from anything: on the contrary, it's all-inclusive. Finally, point to your "face." Now what, on present evidence, is that finger pointing at?

Is it pointing at a smallish, opaque, colored, textured, moving, complex, clearly outlined thing? Or, at an Emptiness which, though packed with all classes of things and qualities, is in a class by itself, is quite unique? Look for yourself! Isn't it immense, transparent, colorless and textureless, still, simple, plain in both senses—and keenly aware of itself as all this? Going by what's given, dropping imagination, importing into the situation nothing foreign to it, are you not at this moment Capacity or Space for the whole scene, from sky to Earth, from Earth to feet, from feet to neckline—Aware Space for it all to happen in? I'm in no position to tell you what it's like being you at this moment. Only you can say. Please go on looking at what that finger is pointing at, and make up your mind on this essential subject—which is yourself as Subject—once and for all.

Surely the good news is true,,, and the Kingdom is indeed within you.

In another Logion of our Gospel, Jesus sadly complains that humans are drunk, are so blind drunk that they can't see their Emptiness. You and I, at least, have sobered up enough now to notice that we don't live inside small, tightly packed boxes, peeking out of the dark and sticky interior through two tiny holes at a distant world. No, we are out, out and about, up and away. Clearly we see how wide open we are, openness itself, at large, huge, extending right up to and embracing the Sun and stars. How refreshing, how liberating it is to be a small lit-up thing no longer; but instead the Light that lights all the things in the world. And this shining Immensity that you really are—how could this be born of any earthly mother; or (for that matter) be born at all? Is this the sort of thing that any funeral director could handle, or that requires his services? You who consider such questions are their answer: You know, you see, you are the secret of the Gospel of Thomas. Baffling you and me with no fairy tales, going easy on religious controversy and pious propaganda, it demands that we take nothing on trust. But try it out, and at once it makes perfect sense. It lays bare our splendor; and shows us how to live.

Running counter to the resurgence of fundamentalism (what a misnomer!) and superstition of every kind, a great simplification is going on. It is a movement away from the outward forms of religion—from their magical observances, their dogmas as incredible as they are ingenious (but still cruelly divisive), from massive ecclesiastical machinery creaking and stalling—a movement, away from all this obfuscation, towards the beatific vision that lurks at the core of the great religious traditions, towards the simple, patient, strongly beating heart of them all. Here is a transparently honest and antisectarian spirituality founded on direct experience instead of dogma and hearsay.

I suggest that it's no accident that the cave in Nag Hammadi held onto its treasure for some seventeen hundred years, and only gave it up when men and women had—in sufficient numbers to change history—become skeptical and sober enough to crack its secret code, revealing what is, after all, perfectly obvious. In any case, thanks partly to the Jesus of Thomas, it's becoming more and more difficult to deny that we are the very opposite of the little, opaque, unluminous perishers we appear to be.

The cat is out of the bag. The saving truth is the most open of secrets. The Kingdom has come, and the people are beginning to notice it.

~ Reprinted by permission, from Look for Yourself by Douglas E. Harding. See The Headless Way web site for more information on Douglas Harding and his teaching.


Emotion versus Sensation
by Rob Chatburn

The words feeling, emotion, and sensation are often used synonymously in everyday conversation. This reflects the vagueness of everyday consciousness and the confusion that leads to unhappiness. The essence of intelligence is the ability to make appropriate distinctions. If you will look closely, you will see that emotions and sensations are special cases of what we can more generally call "feelings."

Feelings are unavoidable. But it is important to cultivate the ability to distinguish between the two kinds of feelings: emotions and sensations. Sensation is the basic interface between consciousness and physical life. It can be purely physical (i.e., of the 5 senses) or purely mental (e.g., the sensation of wonder) or a combination (e.g., the mental and physical sensations of anger). Emotion is a memory of sensation and a projection forward by thought.

Emotions cause the mind to move; sensations cause the mind to be still. The trick is to be aware enough in your consciousness to perceive the tendency to move from a sensation to emotion (e.g., moving from the sensation of a slap in the face to an emotion of anger) and cut it off. This is analogous to being aware enough of your footsteps to avoid stepping on a snake.

A moving mind leads to recognition of the world (desire, pleasure, pain, intermittent satisfaction). Consciousness steeped in emotion is blind to God. Consciousness steeped in God has no need of emotion.


Taking a Break
by Shawn Nevins

The worst feedback loop I encountered was that of fatigue and depression. Nothing brought my spiritual search to a standstill faster. If I got tired, I got depressed because I had little physical energy. When depression hit, I got tired. One fed upon the other until I was reduced to a soggy heap which barely got out of bed.

Mr. Rose sometimes spoke of depression as the truest state of mind. When a person was depressed they were close to seeing the reality of the world. I say there are two types of depression. One is a glimpse of reality, while another is more self-induced. The self-induced depression hinges on a lack of faith in our ability to succeed. That lack of faith was always lurking in me, waiting for an opportunity to arise.

Some days I was simply tired and did not want to read, or meditate, or talk to anyone. That was the invitation for the thought that I was weak and unable to attain a spiritual realization. The thought of my failure was depressing, and the downward spiraling chain of failure/depression/weakness began.

Other days, a dark mood would settle on me. Perhaps the gloomy weather or even something I ate caused this. The dark mood generated dark thoughts of failure that quickly depleted my energy.

Sometimes I observed this happening, and the observation gradually dissolved the dark mood. Generally, though, the gathering clouds of hopelessness overwhelmed my powers of observation.

An effective method that I did not utilize enough was that of taking a break. By that, I mean simply putting down the book, getting out of bed, standing up from meditation, and relaxing. Go visit friends, see a movie, go out to dinner, or simply go someplace else. This is when it is good to have a spiritual group of friends who, while they may go out for a beer with you, will not offer the temptation of getting drunk every night.

You created a feedback loop of negativity and you must break that loop. By breaking the loop, there is a chance to gain perspective on the cycle—to see it as other than you. The depression is not you. You may observe that directly, or you may observe by sidestepping the depression.

Taking a break is as necessary as relentless searching. The art of seeking is like the art of boxing. There are feints and sidesteps, all-out brawls, and even intermissions between rounds.


Poems by Shawn Nevins

Tonight,
the voice is that of fire.
The churning smoke betraying the hand
of time, that eternal child, gathering leaves—
leaves of fall, like your love,
burning.
Whether in great roaring or silent withering,
all needing is consumed
leaving ashy form through which spaciousness shines.

*

What is this vast emptiness
that gives me peace?
Across the plain of my mind
is bare space
and I have no will to write
of that which is not.
Only that which Is,
which is not me,
which I Am.

A plain peopled by one.
One who is transparent
to the eye of God.
God's eye that sees all things
and folds into itself,
revealing depths upon depths
expanding into nothingness.

*

"What Remains"

There is no door locked to me,
this mist of union pervading every motion.
An eternal, ever-changing mold.
I am this writer,
these words,
your eyes,
your breath.
Here I am.
Breathe me.

*

I watch my self,
but I am not I,
for I watch you as well.
I feel us within my Self
as seeds in the palm of my hand.

A hand that encompasses all
grabs nothing but air.
Time and memory smear my edges
until blessed dismay takes hold.

All I held passes through me,
then I am held,
then I am air and a holding hand.
Beyond, above, around, within,
between I and not-I
rests the Home of All.

*

When I look for my heart,
I do not find you children of time.
I find ultimate Love
that embraces and consumes the particular.
No feeling of love,
but a black, bottomless sea of essence-Love.
To you, it is a wall of self and death.
To me, an open sky.

*

How can still water roar?
Maybe it is that which emerges from it
intent on becoming.
Thundering waters drown out my very thoughts.
I am in the grips of an Essence flood
that is only a drop of Truth
bursting comprehension.

Let this form stumble a while longer
delivering what water it can.
I am not a whisper.
I am a roar.
Hear me when you are most quiet.

*

I-ness lives forever
in the folds of God's robe,
as we breathe with one breath
the breeze of his eternal dance.


True Intimacy
by Bob Cergol

fancy letter I Bob participated as a facilitator in the Self Knowledge Symposium's "Inward Bound" conference in October, which brought together about 250 students and 40 to 50 educators and speakers. The theme of the conference was "Your Cup of Trembling," and it was based on an essay discussing the meaning of the Biblical story of Job. The conference keynote, delivered by August Turak, challenged students to discover their own "cup of trembling" and live "authentic" lives. He suggested that what everyone was looking for, more than anything else, was intimacy and intensity—because that, in his view, is what makes a person feel alive. Following are some of Bob's thoughts on the conference.

The keynote reading from Isaiah, having to do with armies and battles and calamities and how Isaiah didn't find God in the thunderclap or the earthquake or the Tempest, but only afterwards in a still quiet voice, was powerful. In fact it WAS the keynote. The story of the man who got locked in an ice locker and nearly died, thereafter quitting his job, selling his car, breaking up with his girl friend and traveling the country in search of the meaning of existence, was about the recognition of being cut off from this voice and being driven crazy trying to refind it—not about awakening senses deadened by a mundane and inhibited existence.

For me, the most noteworthy words from the keynote were the image of the ever-isolated individual straining to hear that still, quiet voice that was NOT to be found in the intense calamities preceding its appearance—all of which no doubt evoked a sense of being intensely alive. Life so evoked is not that which truly lives. (God was not to be found in the fire or the thunder or the earthquake. Nor is he to be found in the ensuing individualized reaction.) The life evoked from intensity of existence is cut off from the source of that existence. The most real and intense intimacy in life is that which exists between the source of that still quiet voice and the consciousness that hears it. Every other kind of intimacy is only a metaphor or a distant echo of it. The real value in experience is that it may provoke a looking that in turn may lead to this intimacy with what could be called the divine.

I like to say that "experience is binding" and that "intense experience is intensely binding"—pleasurable and painful alike. Observing experience is liberating. We get lost in pleasurable experience. We have an automatic tendency to look at painful experience. The self-diminishment frees us momentarily from the exclusively identity-based point of reference. This looking amounts to a direct asking of "Who and what am I?" but for only a brief interval before the "feeling alive"—albeit through pain—takes over. After that happens, it is back to "identity spinning identity" as we look at it through the consciousness of "ME."

Clear observation requires acceptance (not ego-serving). Since we look away from that which we cannot accept, the interval of opportunity for hearing that inner voice is short. Job spent years blaming God for his pain and only saw God after he accepted that he did not own his life—that it was God's to do with as he wished. His blaming of God was his method of looking away from the question of existence his life was presenting.

From my perspective there is only one "cup of trembling." It is universal, and to drink from it is to accept death. One embraces life in order to accept death and in the process is given the possibility of finding that alone which is alive.

In the Bible story, Job rejected the circumstances he found himself in and interpreted them as unjust punishment. We are all like Job in that we reject life as we find it, or as we find ourselves in it. We would have a life that affirms and magnifies the personal being we take ourselves to be and reject all in life that diminishes and challenges that being. And like Job, we blame God for not making the world perfect according to our selfish standards—by finding life and the world to be "at fault." In this sense, life itself is everyone's "cup of trembling," and the fact of its impermanence is, for us, the ultimate flaw. That fact calls everything into question. That fact, and all in life that challenges our sense of self, throws us back upon ourselves—and presents us the questions: "Who—and what—am I?" and "What is my existence?"

I recall Fleet Maull (a Buddhist Priest who lectured and facilitated at the conference) mentioning a time in prison when the pain was so agonizingly unbearable that he thought he would die, but that he was able to keep it in front of him, and then something amazing happened. "A space formed around that pain," and then the pain somehow moved to the "other side" of that space. (When I heard him say that, it reminded me of the realization during which I had the experience of appearing to myself as "out there" on the "other side" of emptiness.) I believe Fleet did as Job, and his direct looking constituted the acceptance of the most crushing pain imaginable, which led to his "seeing God." The fact that it took so much pain in Fleet's case was incredibly difficult to hear. I FELT it and was overwhelmed by it. Since then it has given me pause to reflect about the debt that I must owe for having paid so much less than he....


The Listening Attention
by Bob Fergeson

Many years ago while on a canoe trip in the southern swamps, I noticed a phenomenon of will that I have lately come to call 'the listening attention.' In recent years this became apparent once more, and the importance of it as well. Since it first happened involving the simple act of tending a damp campfire, let us examine it under this same scene.

My friends and I were camping by the river and had settled in for the night. We had also taken a small dose of LSD. After some time of taking turns tending the fire, I began to notice a strange phenomenon. I could tell exactly how the fire needed to be tended for the best possible efficiency. I also noticed that my friends were not aware of this and were only able to approach the problem through associations, past experience, etc. For me, the fire's needs were obvious, in the moment, and simple. No theoretical pattern or form learned from the past or an outside source was necessary. While my friends struggled to find the right placement of the logs, different geometric patterns of sticks and twigs, and tricks they had heard from old timers, I knew what needed to be done and simply watched myself doing it. At the time I wrote it off as a product of the drug and an over-active imagination.

Some twenty years later, after a renewed interest in the workings of the mind, I again noticed this phenomenon. I came to see that there were two different wills, or attentions, at work. One of them was the normal, everyday attention or will. This part could only act through an associative process, or trial and error, and could only draw on information in the personal memory. It was also liable to any manifestations of the ego that might be present at the time. This will, as 'me,' would try to force the issue at hand, and thereby burn energy through emotion. If circumstances went against it, it would become angry or despondent. If things went its way, it would take credit. It had no direct connection with the task at hand.

The other attention or will was not personal, had no concern for the ego, and was directly connected to the present. In a way, it had no individuality at all but was simply the observing of the fire, and the remembering of the aim at hand: the best efficient burn or flowing of events. Things could follow their natural pattern, with no interference or wasting of emotional energy. There was no fear of things not conforming to its desire, and no pride if things did.

I've since come across a quote attributed the Roman emperor Hadrian, that he had found freedom though a strenuous practice of aligning his will to that of destiny. This 'unaligned' will, or egoic desire, can be seen to be a no-win situation. Since it has no direct link to the moment's events but is only connected through individual memory or association, it is always playing a game of catch-up, trying to judge events and itself after the fact. The 'freedom' Hadrian speaks of is not egoic and does not come from doing what one wants, of having infinite choice, but rather from aligning oneself with the Divine Will, in which there are no 'choices.'

The connection with this Divine Will is made in silence, hence the name "listening attention." It involves a surrender of one's personal desire, a letting go, which opens to the discovery of what some call a 'higher power.' Goethe remarked that happiness is not in doing what you like, but in liking what you do. This acceptance of an inner guidance does not come easy, but in it a great peace is found.

I remember a story of a modern day Zen teacher and several of his students. The students were attempting to dig a ditch, going about it in the usual way. Soon the teacher was the only one in the ditch, while the perplexed students stood by. The ditch was actually digging itself, leaving the students with a koan of no-mind that hasn't been forgotten by them.

With the discovery of this Divine will, we can also find a door to insight and answers. The purpose of this is surely not just to enable the better burning of campfires or the digging of ditches, or even to the saving of our precious vitality, but to show us an end as well as means. For through this surrender, we can find the path to a higher order of thinking. The way to insight and wisdom lies through this door, and possibly an understanding of who we really are.

In trying to duplicate this experience, find an activity you're used to, that is already a mechanical habit. Walking, driving, and other easy movements can give one the feel. Ouspensky's classic illustration of running down a flight of stairs can show how things do happen without our personal involvement. With practice, this quiet freedom can be seen to permeate everything. The only thing that need be remembered is our aim, to find the voice of silence of that which IS. To those who are still in the spell of mundane life and whose ambition rules the day, this will seem foolish. But to those who believe there is something more real than the smoke of pride and worldly ambition, the trip through the fire of self-surrender will be worth any burning.

~ From the Mystic Missal.


Humor...

Cavalier by Hals

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if we had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
~ Robert Frost


Reader Commentary:

Thank you for another stimulating edition! I shall be happy to finish reading Mr. Rose's remarks on "The Path." ~ John Wienholt

These are great! Keep them coming. I have sifted through many "paths" in an attempt to get it all boiled down to the essence. I find the Richard Rose material sort of cuts through all the crap and nails it right between its teensy weensy beady, yet neurotically voluptuous, eyes. ~ Donna Overall


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