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Creating a Spiritual Culture

Creating a Spiritual Culture in Your Time and Place: a New Indigenousness  1/31/2019

I’ve personally been in a difficult crossroads of life, trying to integrate spiritual life into the local time and place.  My experience, for my whole life after the age of 16, has been to have no felt sense of belonging here in this world.  There has been no felt sense of ‘home.’ 

Recently, I’ve come upon the work of two authors, Stephen Jenkinson and Martin Prechtel, who write about this particular problem from an indigenous perspective: Jenkinson exposure to First Nations tribal teachings in Canada; Prechtel having grown up with a Pueblo Indian mother and a Swiss-German father, and then having lived in a 10,000 year-old intact, indigenous, Mayan culture in Guatemala on Lake Atitlan before foreign-funded civil war, and missionaries, destroyed that culture in the 1980s.

Human spirituality was generally practiced as part of every day life, had a history of stories to go along with the spiritual practices, and was integrated and woven into every part of daily living: the food, the clothing, the vocabulary (often three different words for each object, and differing according to whether they were used by men or women, so six words actually) feasting and fasting, etc.  The language has no word “to be” and no isolation of past, present and future.  In place of the verb “to be” were the verbs “to carry” and “to belong.” 

People had a living knowledge of the history of every object in their homes: who made it, where the materials came from, how the maker learned to do the process of making the object, etc.  Similarly, in Mayan Guatemala, they knew the stories of the origins of their villages and cultures, and of their interactions with Holy in Nature or the Divine in Nature, and the stories of the lives of the people in their families and villages.  This helped them to feel as if they were at home, and belonged.

The Mayan view, according to Prechtel, is that we can offer two special things to the Divine that plants and most other animals can’t: the gift of beautiful language, and the gift of the beauty created with our heads, hands and hearts.  I’m beginning to figure out how to start doing this as part of my own spiritual and life-affirming practice, and as a way of expressing gratitude towards the Divine.  It’s not an easy process and there’s no readily available, real instruction in how to do it.

I find today’s spirituality to be, unfortunately, as atomistic, separate, individualistic and isolated as our general culture is.  Somehow, people like me (and perhaps you) who have fled from their traditional ancestral nations, and then once in the U.S., have fled from their traditional religions and spiritualities, have felt orphaned, isolated and alone.

Past spiritual communities that I tried to participate in were often ‘top heavy’ with some religious leader or spiritual figure trying to make themselves the focus: trying to be worshipped as a ‘guru’ or to run everyone’s lives.  The results were less than stellar and often horrifying.  As a result, the spiritual practices I adopted were those I could do on my own.

One reason that I offer small groups and teach meditation at Unity Barn is to begin to create a more dynamic, and democratic sense of spiritual community.  After all, here we are practicing meditation among a group of people, in a particular time and place.  I’ve requested that people introduce themselves, and I do my best to remember names and talk to people after meditation, because spirituality has not ordinarily been practiced solely in isolation.  It’s practiced in isolation at times but, also needs the richness brought by individual personalities and vibrational fields coming together, communicating and mixing.

I continue to be hopeful, and hold out the intention, that we can create our own indigenous spirituality in this time and place: 2019, and at the Unity Barn in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.  I hope you will consider breaking the isolation of the general culture by getting to know your neighbors, and the spiritual isolation of the culture, by getting to know those in this time and place who’ve gathered to practice meditation together.

Now, any questions?

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Some Thoughts on the Nature of the Soul

12/26/2018

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to summarize what I’ve learned about what the human soul is.  One of my sources is the Mandukya Upanishad and the individual sentence “Ayam Atman Brahman” which is translated as “This individual consciousness is (the same as) the Divine Consciousness.”

Those who are familiar with their nature as Awareness Itself, know that in looking for the boundaries of Awareness, they find no sense of spatial boundaries and no sense of age or aging in Awareness.  In other words, the Awareness is experienced as eternal and infinite, which are two attributes that those in Western religions attribute to God.  So, the Awareness which is the deepest part of each of us has the same attributes as God and is God.

What, then, makes this an individual consciousness or a particular soul?  My experience tells me that it is the reality that this Awareness has taken on the very particular limits of one body and one mind.  It is only able to register the three-dimensional physical reality through one set of sensory organs: one set of eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and nerve endings.  It is only listening to one set of thoughts, those within my own specific bodymind.  It is only aware of one set of emotional responses on a continuing basis: my own.  It is only aware of producing the speech of this mouth, and the actions of this body.

In some mysterious way, we can experience an unlimited Awareness and paradoxically experience Awareness limited to this individual bodymind.  This individual soul learns its own lessons from its own mistakes and successes and has to learn to live in a very particular time and place.

This location in a specific: bodymind, time and place, is what seems to make Awareness into individual souls.  It’s also the least developed aspect of any modern spirituality: there seems to be no relationship between most people on a spiritual path and the particular time and place that they live in.  It’s as if spiritually oriented lives can be lived without reference to culture but, if we notice, we long for spiritually based culture in our time and place, and feel bereft without it.  I will write more about this lack of relatedness between modern spiritual practice and culture bound in time and place in the next blogpost.

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Alone or All One

Alone or All One

It occurred to me today that when we human beings speak about feeling or being alone, what we mean is that our ego-minds are isolated within ourselves and they end up chattering to themselves.  No one else hears the contents of our minds, except us, or the rare person who is willing to listen to us for a little while.  Even in this latter case, the person only listens to our minds communicating via external language (talking) for a brief time.  The rest of our waking hours, our minds are alone with their own content.  If we think of ourselves as only an ego or language-generating mind, we are bound to feel alone, walled up within ourselves with this content.

What happens if we allow silence into this picture?  Then the mind feels really, terrifyingly alone, since our individual consciousness is now deaf to the mind’s chatter.

For the spiritually awake, however, the experience of Awareness is that it has no end, either spatially or temporally.  For those who don’t live in the ego-mind as the integration point of human life, there is no felt boundary in space or time.  Awareness goes on forever and is everywhere and, in some way, is also everything.  In this case All is Awareness or All is One, and so there is no “one” to be alone, there is just unending Awareness experiencing Itself in its many forms.

Sitting within the confines of the human ego-mind I am alone.  Sitting within unbounded Awareness, I am part of the One.  Yet, paradoxically, I am both ego-mind and Awareness together; a Mystery.

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Integration after Awakening: Deconstructing So-Called ‘Truths’

Integration After Awakening: Deconstructing so-called ‘Truths.’

Whathammer-sledgehammer-mallet-tool happens to you when it dawns on you that what you are is more than your mind and its ideas of itself?  When you discover the Awareness or Consciousness that you are, how does it change the way you live?

Since thoughts aren’t the interpreters of reality, they will become less important to you.  It could also become more obvious to you that they’re false.  Either they’re false because they’re only verbal representations of Reality, or they’re false because the thought itself is a lie, if examined closely.  Until the moment when you experience that Awareness is what you are, thoughts have been primary in their importance.  They define you, others, the world, and Reality.  Now they become open to testing and challenging.

“The stock market is going to crash today.”  There’s one thought that some might have been thinking just yesterday, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost over 400 points.  With that thought, there will likely have been a jolt of adrenaline and a very unpleasant bodily response.  However, was this thought really true?  No, the market’s going up right now, one day later.

“This coffee is too bitter” is a thought I just had drinking the decaf by my side while writing this post.  Okay but, what does ‘too bitter’ mean?  Isn’t it just a subjective opinion, rather than a truth that I need to defend?  Is the thought something that needs defending? No.

“I’m a nice guy” is another thought, and this time it’s a thought about my supposed fixed ‘self.’  However, it’s not always true, so why would I want to defend the thought when someone challenges it or thinks I’ve treated them badly?  Wouldn’t it be better to consider it just a description of a temporary set of behaviors, rather than the ‘truth’ about ‘me’?

Even the thought ‘human civilizations are only 10,000 years old and before that time, we were all hunter-gatherers’ which has been the basic premise of modern archeology and anthropology has already been proven false by the discovery of relics that date back hundreds of thousands of years.  So, is this academic thought absolutely true? No!

Once you understand that Awareness is the underlying truth of what you are, all other thought-based truths can be deconstructed.  In the end, we give up certainty about nearly everything…and it’s part of the deconstruction and dissolution of our false sense of self and everything else, that is the trajectory of the Enlightenment journey.

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Awareness Is

Awareness Is

The great joke about waking up is that there isn’t actually anyone to wake up and nothing for the mind or ego; and awakening or enlightenment is undefinable in verbal terms.  Awareness awakens to Itself.  Awareness is that which looks AND that which is seen.

Awareness looks out of these eyes at a sofa and pillows, registers mantras on the stereo and a clock ticking and traffic in the background.  The traffic can be heard because the window is open as It registers unseasonably warm temperatures in the northern hemisphere in February: 70F or 21.1C.  Objects are given names by the mind not by Awareness.  Awareness knows itself.

Each person, dog, squirrel, animal, tree, rock is, in Itself, the same Awareness.  Awareness exists in many forms and as the Formless.  Awareness is registering Itself ‘out there’ by every sense that aids in perception.  Awareness is in all form and beyond form: immanent and Transcendent.  It’s everything and You are IT.  Wake up beyond your mind if you can…and as simply as you’re able…it’s indescribably delicious.

Simply Awakesimply awake leopard

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When Awakening Happens

waking upWhen Awakening Happens

When Awakening happens, one realizes the big joke…there is no one to awaken, and there is only a condition of being part of a Mystery.  Words can never describe what the Mystery is.  Try as teachers have through many thousands of years, even the best teacher can only ‘fail better this time than the last’ at describing the indescribable.

What one is, is the Mystery Itself.  No one needs to mediate that for anyone else: no priest or guru needs to be an intermediary between us and the Mystery.  No one can discover it for us, though it may be helpful if they point the way.  Though ‘one’ doesn’t really exist as a discrete “I,” that Truth can only be uncovered by certain basic practices that this one, a seemingly ‘discrete person’ does, until realizing paradoxically that one was never really a discrete person at all.

These practices need no special garb, no beads, no jewelry, no crystals, no singing bowls, no banners, no decorations, no special languages and no actual money.  (Money might be an exception, if one is being helped by a mentor or teacher, and if there is no other way the teacher supports herself or himself.  The Buddha himself carried a ‘begging bowl’ and Jesus told his disciples ‘the workman is worthy of his wages’).  Truthfully, however, all the practices necessary are available in open source literature: meditation, practicing presence, seeing thoughts as inaccurate or untruthful, valuing and speaking truth to oneself and to others.

Make the practices simple and you may uncover the Truth: in your essence you are Simply Awake as The Mystery.

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Awake or Not, You’re Still in a Body

I just finished writing a book and was looking for inspiration to share in a post.  There wasn’t much to be had!  When you or I are uninspired and tired, it’s better to rest.

Remember that Brahman/Emptiness/The Radiant Darkness/The Mystery, has taken form into, as, and through our bodies.  The body isn’t a perpetual motion machine but, needs rest and care; the mind, likewise.

The particular body-mind that each of us inhabits, has its own unique requirements for balance.  We do better when we pay attention to those.  Because I’m more introvert than extrovert, having three days of social events in a row (while finishing a book) has exhausted me.  I need time alone to recharge, read fiction, and lay around relaxing.  Extroverts and athletes probably wouldn’t need this same amount of time alone and would be better with MORE company and more exercise.

Whatever kind of person you are, take time to find out what your body-mind needs.  In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, Jesus summarizes the commandments (the Western version of yamas and niyamas) and says, ‘love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself.’  If you’re not taking care of and loving yourself, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be much good to others nor a good servant to The Mystery.self-care-cat

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The Core Discovery that Heralds Awakening

Awakening as Sunrise

Once you’ve had enough practice at meditation, staying Present, and seeing through thoughts so that you know that you are NOT thoughts, it’s time to explore what you really are.  If, in meditation, you’ve reached the ability to experience Silence and Stillness, you can ‘sit’ in that awareness for a good length of time.

If you can sit in meditation for a significant time, you can get to the heart of what awakening is about.  As you have begun experiencing your deepest identity as the Mystery or Consciousness or Awareness or Emptiness or Christ Consciousness or Holy Spirit (to name a few of the names various traditions use) see if you can explore the boundaries of that identity.

Does Awareness (to use one name for sake of brevity) have any sense of time at all?  In your inner Being is there any sense of age?  When you look for the spatial boundaries of Awareness can you feel them?  Are there any Boundaries to Awareness?  Is there some felt place where Awareness ends and no longer exists?

My own experiential answer to these questions is that the Awareness within has no sense of time so it’s Eternal or Immortal.  It has no sense of SPACE or spatial limitations and so it is unending.  Awareness can be felt to transcend time and space; you can know by your own ‘experience’ that this is the Truth.  The Awareness within you and the Awareness ‘outside of’ you is the SAME AWARENESS.  It is the Transcendent Awareness.  In the Mandukya Upanishad of the Hindu tradition the Sanskrit uses the words “Ayam Atman Brahman” to summarize the finding (loosely translated) that “this individual Awareness IS the Divine Awareness” in other words they are one and the same.  Or, for my Buddhist friends “this internal Emptiness is THE EMPTINESS” that the Buddha discovered.

Sitting deeply in meditation, you can feel, sense, and intuit the Truth which is that there is only One Awareness and you are part of it.  So is everything and everyone else.  Also, you’ll find it true that even if you lose touch with the feeling/sensing/intuiting of Awareness (usually due to some physical and emotional stress), it doesn’t go anywhere.  You are Always That Awareness, which is in a mysterious way what is registering your feeling, sensing and intuiting of Itself.  This is The Mystery that We Are.

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Releasing the ‘Me’ into Silence

Silence and StillnessReleasing the ‘Me’ into Silence

One thing that I’ve noticed lately is that although a ‘self’ no longer exists, the ego-mind’s lone remaining trick is to keep the body-mind tied up with MUSIC now, of all things.  Music! with all of its abilities to affect ‘my’  moods. This has been going on for a long time.  I’m sick of it.  The intention has arisen to find the Silence and Stillness underneath the music and make it permanent.  I know It’s there, what else could be aware of the music arising?

Fortunately, long ago I received a gift.  There is something called the ‘unstruck sound’ or ‘anahata nadam’ (unstruck sound in Sanskrit) that is said to be the sound of the Om vibrating the Universe.  Or, in laymen’s vernacular, the sound of God vibrating in/as/through the Universe.  Sometime around my 24th birthday in 1979, I started hearing this sound which, is not really a sound.  (No, it isn’t tinnitus and doesn’t interfere with normal hearing.  It’s like a very high-pitched, electrical, G-sharp note that plays  constantly.)  It was curious and puzzling at first.  Because I was an evangelical Christian at that time, I called it the sound of the Holy Spirit but, told no one about it.  After all, I lived in a cult in those days and only the leaders could pronounce truth.  The rest of us were to be ‘sheep’ and were taught not to use our own discriminating awareness: so that we wouldn’t notice the difference between the Truth and the lies of the leaders!

Somewhere around 2000 when I was 45, I finally read what that funny no-noise sound was in my inner ear.  Yup, ‘unstruck sound’ or ‘anahata nadam.’  The instructions said to use it as a meditation focal point and, said it would be a speedy way to ‘wake up.’  It certainly helped!

Today, I’m realizing that listening to that ‘unstruck sound’ moves me into thoughtless awareness quickly.  I’m also noticing that it pulls me in deeper, the more I listen to it.  Eureka…a way into inner Silence.  Inner Silence is to be commended….all of our pre-existing patterns eventually disintegrate there and we are open vessels for the Mystery to do with, as It will.

How will you find your own way to Inner Silence and lose your ‘me’ too?  I’m guessing you’ll love it when you do.

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It’s Quite Simple, You Know?

simplicity
A friend recently pointed out how very complicated we make ‘waking up.’ He said that if the ego doesn’t have to ‘struggle’ for something, the ego doesn’t think it’s worth anything.
 
I have found this to be true in interacting with my students regarding ‘waking up.’ If I offer free classes or meditations, people take them for granted, don’t commit, and don’t bother to attend. It must be part of the ‘dreamstate’ to have to work ‘hard’ for what’s ‘valuable.’
 
However, ‘waking up’ doesn’t have to be complicated, and doesn’t have to take forever. People don’t have to dress up in costumes, buy crystals and malas, attend expensive retreats, or ask thousands of questions.
 
I’ve found that a few simple practices, repeated diligently, were all that I really needed: meditation (with proper guidance), mindfulness/practicing Presence, and challenging the so-called ‘truthfulness’ of my own thoughts. The rest was unnecessary.
 
Are you making it more complicated than it is? I call my own dharma ‘Simply Awake’ for a reason.