This Month's Contents: Crossing the Bridge by Tess Hughes | A Vision of Home for TAT by Shawn Nevins | Poem excerpt: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver | I Wasn't Joking: You Really Can't Sit Too Much by Tom Stine | Silence by Bernadette Roberts | Video: Happy Little Clouds, Bob Ross Remixed | Quotes | Reader Commentary |
I've just returned from the TAT April Intensive weekend, and my heart is bursting with gratitude. What a rare, unique and amazing opportunity to not only be in the presence of those who have found Truth (Bob Fergeson, Shawn Nevins, Mike Conners, Art Ticknor....), but to eat, walk, laugh and meditate with them. To be able to ask questions until there are no more questions to ask. And all in the very good company of serious fellow seekers and dear friends. These opportunities have been life-altering for me, and I beg forgiveness if I have taken them for granted for even a single moment.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
There are two phases to spiritual maturation. The first is what I call the psychological phase. It involves working on the psychological self. This means dealing with issues from childhood, self esteem, finding a way to make a living, dealing with relationship issues and so on. It is what we normally deal with in therapy. It's what Richard Rose referred to as “getting your house in order.” The aim of this phase is to become a mature human being. The characteristics of a mature adult include; being grounded in the reality of daily life, equanimity, emotional stability, disciplined, open minded, discerning, commonsensical, detached, self-reliant, having a realistic self concept, courageous, realistic as opposed to idealistic, compassionate, tolerant and so on.
I recently came across an anecdote on the internet which told of an old Jesuit priest who retired at around age seventy five. Someone asked him what he had learned from having heard confessions every week for over fifty years and his reply was, “There are no mature people around.”
Physical maturity is not the same thing as psychological maturity, although they are often equated and one of the main differences between them is that physical maturation happens automatically, given enough food, but psychological maturity requires that the person become involved in facilitating their own maturation. It's a question of taking responsibility for one's self and every aspect of one's life. It's about growing beyond a victim mentality. This requires a reflective attitude, a consideration of how to manage one's life in the world and the acceptance of responsibility for self. There is no doubt but that aging – under the guise of the school of hard knocks - assists psychological maturation but they are not directly linked. I have met people well in their eighties who still have immature aspects to them and I have met a few as young as their mid-twenties who were very mature. Knowing that psychological maturity is both possible and desirable encourages one to do what is necessary to facilitate it.
The second phase is what I call the spiritual phase and it's not that the two phases are clearly separated but rather that deeper questions arise out of psychological reflection. The bigger picture begins to emerge. Questions about the nature of reality or life or death start to surface or to be taken seriously for the first time. In the first phase your aim was to build a strong ego, to become a fully functioning person in the world but in this phase you start to wonder what is the point of it all. Ramana Maharshi's way of summing up this deep questioning is with the question; “Who am I?” We could paraphrase it as; What's it all about? What is my true nature? What is death? What dies? Do I die? And if not, then what?
This line of investigation is sometimes referred to as de-constructing the ego and it means looking for the underlying assumptions and expectations and beliefs that inform our daily experience. Some are forced into this deeper questioning as a result of a trauma in their lives and sometimes that is in the form of some kind of spiritual awakening, maybe coming across a book that addresses such questions. No matter how it happens, the person finds themselves questioning and wondering about the nature of life. At this point one has become a seeker, a seeker of truth and the spiritual phase has opened up for them. I have read that in the Sufi tradition they pray specifically in gratitude for this opening having been revealed to them. What I really want to write about is the link between the two phases, about how I made the changeover from the psychological to the spiritual investigation. It came from something I read about St. Teresa of Avila, who as well as being recognised as an enlightened one was a spiritual director for most of her life. She said that, based on her experience as a spiritual director, she saw that the first obstacle to progress on the spiritual path was in making this transition from psychological to spiritual. The phrase I read that she is supposed to have used is “going beyond the ego”.
Here's how “going beyond the ego” happened for me. I made an investigation into where my self esteem or self-definition or ego comes from, and that included what I'd have labeled positive and negative traits. I made a list of the traits by which I identified myself. They included such qualities as: material success; academic achievement, looks, musical talent, social skills and so on. On doing this I looked to see how I had arrived at my assessment of myself in each of these traits. I found they all came from how I interpreted what others had judged me to be. If teachers had judged me above average at Maths then I accepted this as so. If my friends thought me to be funny or defensive, then I accepted that. If my mother said I was strong willed then I accepted that. In other words, my self definition, in all cases, came from outside of myself. It came from the world. Admittedly, I doctored it a bit to suit myself but I had to admit that all the ingredients of my self esteem had come from outside of me. Despite how many times I had read statements about ego being a false self-identity, it was not until I actually sat down and made a list of every quality I could think of about myself that the full weight of seeing that I had taken my self-definition from the world around me hit me. I also became aware of how attached I was to the more positive definitions. In other words I could see how identified I was with certain selected attributes that had been given me. Seeing my attachment and the precariousness of the origin of these definitions in the same moment was the opening into the bigger picture. Who/what am I really, beyond what the world has defined me as?
Having received the clue from St. Teresa of Avila that there is another way to define/view myself, I began to look for it. I must admit that at that time I didn't have a clue what she was talking about but since I knew that her teachings were well respected I decided to give her ideas a go, on the basis that any teaching that has stood the test of time and is a recognised spiritual path, was worthy of my attention and effort.
It was around this time that I remembered that as a child my mother used to say that she considered all her children to be gifts from God. New born calves and shoes and Christmas dinner were also gifts from God! I began to consider or allow for the possibility that perhaps there was some truth to this and that my true nature came not from what I seem to be in the world but from my divine origin. One day I was looking at some jewellery—a ring, a bracelet and a brooch—when I realised that their value came from the fact they are all made of gold. Many objects – same origin. Somehow, this incident opened up my mind to a more immanent or contemplative mode. If I am of divine origin, then what else is also of divine origin? What other objects are golden and are there any objects, (objects here includes living creatures) which are not golden? Is there is anything that is not golden? What would it mean to be divine in origin? The willingness to entertain this thought of the divinity of everything was I'd say a major turning point in my spiritual seeking. The implications of it gradually led to a profound effect on how I viewed and experienced my reality at the time.
Some time later, I began to investigate the idea of will. Many of the great teachers had written something along the lines of “Not my will but thine be done.” I began to wonder: What is the difference between my will and Thy will? I came to see that everything that happened automatically was Thy will and things I tried to make happen were my will. For the most part, there was no conflict, but when there was, I was unhappy and this is how I discovered the difference between my will and Thy Will. When things were going well (for me), the two wills were in alignment but when things were not going well for me I could see that it was the result of a conflict between my and Thy will. In Vedanta they have a teaching which is expressed as “You are not the doer.” This is another way of stating the my versus Thy will teaching. It means that we act all the time but that we are not in control of the results of our actions. It is the teaching of surrendering to what is, not what you think it is or would like it to be. Surrendering the personal will in favour of Thy Will is the essence of de-constructing the ego.
These two factors—accepting myself as a “child of God” and realizing the source of conflict and unhappiness associated with my will/Thy will—were what led to the changeover from looking at life from a psychological point of view to looking at it from a spiritual point of view. These are different paradigms, which paradoxically co-exist. Making this shift in thinking is truly the beginning of the spiritual phase. I have been asked if I realised that I had made this shift at the time and the answer is no. It was not a sudden realisation. It was more a going back and forth between the two sets of ideas, trying them out, forgetting about them and then reconsidering them in anew in light of something that came up. I'd say I spent six months to a year crossing back and forth on this bridge between the two paradigms. The spiritual path is not an intellectual understanding of these ideas. It must become a lived reality in every aspect of your daily life. Living the shift from psychological to spiritual understanding is the start of the transformation that you bring about in yourself as you progress to spiritual maturity. I have written this article to highlight the difference between the two phases because I have come across several people who, having heard about enlightenment or Self-realisation, want to by-pass the psychological phase and go straight for the big achievement. Enlightenment is not an achievement. It is an inner transformation from false identification with ego to identification with your True Nature. It is a shift that involves a full acceptance of the hardships of life before you can go beyond them and return home to your-Self.
Executive Editor's note: The following article was published originally in our Spring 2013 issue of the TAT News, an in-house newsletter of the TAT Foundation. When Heather sent me this month's issue, I thought, "We should share this 'vision' of Shawn's."
I left Raleigh, NC in the fall of 1993 and moved to Richard Rose’s farm near Wheeling, WV. I was twenty-three. For $50 a month, Rose let me live in the Emblem Lodge—a bunkhouse with a wood stove, a couple of light bulbs, and gaps in the floorboards through which you could see daylight. His admonition I most remember is, “Get yourself a book and spend some time alone in one of the cabins. If you run into any trouble come see me.” I spent three years there, working just enough to pay my few bills, spending hours a day looking for the source of thought, studying Ramana Maharshi, Paul Brunton, and Nisargadatta; talking with other seekers, and visiting Mr. Rose. I didn’t find any ultimate answers while there, but the experience left me with a feeling and hunger for the profound that I couldn’t escape, and solidified a path that did lead to an answer some years later.
TAT lost its home on Rose’s farm in 2011. While we found admirable places to meet four times a year since then, I feel a rootless quality to our new situation: somewhat like holding a family reunion at the Marriott. We could provide a greater service. Rose’s farm was a sanctuary for many years, and a crucible. He once told me it was like the desert—where you go to meet God. With that in mind, I propose the following vision:
Thus we lay the groundwork for ourselves and others; creating once again “a spot on earth upon which to meet. A homing ground....” I know it is full of impracticalities and vagaries; likewise full of possibilities and unimagined realities.
If you are swept up by the possibility, then let us know. If you have ideas, let us know. Mike Gegenheimer [TAT's current president] recently talked with Allegheny Electric Power about the possibility of a land donation. Andrée Weimer [a TAT member from France] has fanned the ember by sending numerous property listings. Others have indicated a willingness to donate money.
As Richard Rose said when speaking of building his farm into a spiritual ashram, “The job is upon us, and it is worthwhile.”
And now the task is upon us.
I’ll end with a quote from the book, The Answer to How is Yes:
“For anything that matters, the timing is never quite right, the resources are always a little short, and the people who affect the outcome are always ambivalent.”
Truly, the answer to how? is Yes!
~ Contact .
....I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
~ Mary Oliver, The Summer Day, from New and Selected Poems, 1992 © Beacon Press, Boston, MA
In my experience, the one thing I could probably do more of is sit. Even though I sit quite a bit, there really doesn't seem to be a limit to how much I could sit other than the obvious practical limits of eating and sleeping. Sitting is a cure for whatever seems to ail me. Not that anything has ever been wrong, but it has been via sitting that I've seen that to be true.
The simple inescapable conclusion of the spiritual journey is that the overwhelming majority of the people who experienced awakening sat. A lot. A whole lot. Some did the obsessive kind of sitting known as meditation, paying attention to various states of mind, various problems and false dilemmas. But they at least put in some seat time, and that will, in the end, make a lot of difference.
Again, you don't need to sit and do anything. You just need to sit. Give up the obsessive human need to do something all the time and just be still. Let Silence teach you as you sit.
If you must do something while you sit, then keep it simple. Do simple inquiry: "Who is wanting to do something right now?" Then shut-up and listen for the answer. Asking questions is a nice way to stop the mental machinery for a moment as long as you truly wish to know the answer. The answer is always the Silence that follows the question, and in time, you will discover that to be the truth.
So brew some tea, head to your favorite chair and sit. Or head to your favorite coffee house, get a cappuccino, find a nice place to sit, and sit. Yes, you can sit and listen to Silence at Starbucks. Or a library. Or a park. Or Grand Central Station.
Just sit. Be still. Enjoy.
Through past experience I had become familiar with many different types and levels of silence. There is a silence within, a silence that descends from without; a silence that stills existence and a silence that engulfs the entire universe. There is a silence of the self and its faculties of will, thought, memory, and emotions. There is a silence in which there is nothing, a silence in which there is something; and finally, there is the silence of no-self and the silence of God. If there was any path on which I could chart my contemplative experiences, it would be this ever-expanding and deepening path of silence.
from The Experience of No-Self
The best solution to any problem is to realize that you have never been any part of that "problem" to begin with.
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