• March 24, 2018

    There are times when it is correct to feel pride in what one has been given, knowing that you have been asked to bear a burden for the benefit of others. The blessing is in bearing the burden with pride, not born down or broken by the obligation. This is not self-pride but nobility, a quality of great beauty both denigrated and forgotten in our time.

    And there are times when the correct posture is one of submission.

    What is meant by correct? Please, no rules. Correct is that which meets the current need without deviation. It is the discernment of deviation that matters. Deviation is always about serving one’s own interests first.

    When is submission called for? Personal failure certainly comes to mind. When something I worked for and expected fails to happen, I can panic and imagine all the dire consequences. Or when I fear that something important depends entirely upon me.  There is another, deeper challenge…when the heart is unresponsive and unfeeling, seemingly isolated and frozen.

    Submission is a wonderful response, a correct response to these problems. The reality is that I cannot myself be correct without the feeling of being corrected, that I cannot decide myself without the feeling of being guided, that my aims and purposes must be surrendered in order to be redeemed. This is not easy. My first thought is usually that I can fix the problem myself, whatever it is. To submit is to relinquish, to give over, and that rarely occurs without suffering.

    How can I then submit? In my experience, the process begins with an act of letting go, a full body sensation of releasing tension. It then moves to a posture, inner and outer, of lowering myself, bowing head and heart. In imagination and in fact, I yield the center…where I do not belong…and acknowledge higher powers. This posture invokes humility and that saves me from myself, at least for a time.

    Humility is not defeat, not humiliation. In fact, it has an immediate inner complementary feeling of being raised up. We bow and we are raised. This complementarity is not from my intention. It is like a teeter-totter, all part of one movement, of which my part is to humble myself and submit.

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  • December 21, 2017

    The Sufis have an expression: “To be in the world but not of it.” What does this mean?

    This sounds simple but it’s a complex question. First, you need to know who you are, what you are capable of.

    There are actually a handful of people who do not need to be in the world and who have real work to do because they are not in the world. This is the way of the renunciate and it is a very hard way. If you are one of those, then this Sufi expression is not for you.

    The Buddha comes to mind. He renounced his family and his life as a prince to take up a spiritual path of discovery. Do not imagine that you have this nature and that you would like to retreat from the world because you find it to be difficult and harsh. If the path of renunciation is yours, you will not be able to do anything else. Otherwise, here you are, in the life you have. You will have to make the best of it. You must learn to use your life, beginning with the simple fact that it already has exactly what you need for your evolution.

    Now, what is the difference between being in the world and being of the world? I am haunted by a saying of Rabia, an early Sufi saint: “I am eating the bread of this world, and doing the work of that world.” There is a world of bread and there is a world of meaning.

    Concessions are required to live in this world. You must obtain the wherewithal to support yourself, to eat and clothe yourself. Can you do this while minimizing the hurt to yourself and others? Observe that everything has consequences. At the same time, can you find meaning for your life that does not depend on worldly approval?

    The question you must face is ‘who do I serve’? Do I serve the ambitions and desires of the world around me? Do I act from the need to play a role that satisfies my sense of self-importance? Or have I uncovered other reasons to be here?

    To be in the world but not of it is a continual exercise of discernment. I must know, factually, not theoretically, what offends my conscience in real time and I must learn to avoid it.

    If you have accepted that you have obligations to family, to friends, you must find a way to meet them. Concessions are required, effort is needed, to obtain what is necessary and do what you have agreed to do.

    But you must also take great care not to assume unnecessary obligations. Do not agree to things that offend your conscience or waste your time and energy. Do not accept burdens that are not yours to bear. Know objectively through observation of self what your motives are.

    Conscience is an action of the heart that is also expressed in the body, as sensation. Its enemy is rationalization, whether adopting rules that do not apply to you (but you think maybe they should) or justifications that are meant to over-ride the signals of conscience so you can do what you want. The more you practice acting according to conscience, the clearer conscience becomes.

    Conscience is unique to each individual. What is allowed to some may not be allowed to you. Better to follow conscience, make mistakes and learn from them than to follow the rules and conventions of others.

    If you offend your conscience, you will surely know afterward.

    Learning in real time to act according to conscience is what it means to live in the world but not of it. You could say it is ‘listening’ to the heart. Of course, this is not listening with the ears but rather it’s a quality of attention that quietly attends to the feelings and sensations of the heart. If you follow the inclinations of the heart, the world will lose its power to determine the meaning of your life, as it did for Rabia.

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  • June 19, 2017

    The world appears to be moving towards greater disorder, socially, politically and economically. This is observable within one’s own lifetime. It is always suspect to try to make judgments about times and places we have not ourselves inhabited. But if you leave aside your assumptions and preferences and consider your experience and that of your friends and family, it is not difficult to see the growing disorder of our lives.

    I do not wish to present you with a critique of our current situation. Rather, I wish for you to consider what is required for you to navigate it.

    First, consider the possibility that the reasons we come up with to explain the problems we see around us are likely to be entirely wrong. Typically, we confuse symptoms and causes. When I get up to cross the room and close the window because I am uncomfortable, did I assess my state, recognize that I am cold, notice the open window, connect that with my discomfort, decide to get up and cross the room and then close the window? Or did I find myself getting up and crossing the room and then ‘decide’ to close the window?

    We need to understand the nature of sleep. In a sleep state, whether personal or on a larger scale, we invent the reasons for things, we fantasize about causation but we do not see the governing patterns. Just because I think something as it happens does not establish causation. My reactions of anger, my expressions of delight…are they not most often in progress before I recognize them and ‘intend’ them? This is what we mean by sleep.

    The macro level…the behavior of crowds…surely parallels the behavior of individuals. As individuals, we charge and discharge as we go through the day. Objectively observing self uncovers the fact that much of my experience is simply the ebb and flow of unconscious reactions to my environment. Is this not even more likely at the level of the mass? This is why our social analysis and planning come to nothing.

    War follows peace, poverty follows wealth, fear follows greed, confidence follows insecurity, ebullience follows remorse, as night follows day. Political movements come and go, social norms rise and fall. The process is largely mechanical, independent of what we think, like the tides.

    Does this mean we should dismiss the social and political context we live in? Not at all. Should we see all developments as equally mechanical? Again, not at all. Discernment is needed. Just as my behavior is occasionally motivated by the blessings visited upon me by unseen grace, so too the behavior of others, even the mass. Can I be there to participate? Or will I be caught in my dull, practiced cynicism, assuming I am awake and above it all?

    The political environment I live in, the atmosphere it creates, have immediate consequences for the success of my endeavors. If I am able to observe the surrounding atmosphere objectively, I can perhaps find the way to maintain my sanity and protect what is dear to me, avoiding unnecessary reactions and stepping between the raindrops. At the very least, I can avoid swimming against the tide when no amount of effort will suffice.

    This is a path of sobriety and skill.

    Emotion is extremely contagious, mediated not only by words but also by gestures and even perhaps the very air we breathe. But when an emotion has passed through its human medium, a wave with peak and trough, sobriety can have its turn.

    To be sober, to be objective, does not mean to be free of opinion. It does not mean that all phenomena are the same to you. Some of the developments around me are more dangerous than others. I need to be alert to the shifting tides. To be objective is to set aside my assumptions and prejudices, look at the evidence as objectively as I can and decide where to place my attention. Attention has force. This does not mean choosing sides. The only point of view I belong to is my own.

    The sure sign of a wrong turn is to lose self-awareness. When I no longer challenge the irrational and incongruent quality of my speech and actions, I know I have fallen asleep. Knowing the dangers, I can perhaps find my own path.

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  • December 13, 2015

    Where does work on self take us? If it’s not about self-development, as you suggest, then what is it for?

    This is a most important question. If I can rephrase it a little, I would say that we need to ask: what is our motive to work?

    The great majority of humans only make efforts for their own interests, however they define them. They look out for number one, or perhaps their family, maybe their community. Even when they think they serve the interests of others, there is a definite something in it for them. These people are generally not attracted to the fourth way or any other genuine school unless it is presented as a path of self-development, in which case it is not genuine at all.

    Those who are attracted to this work have no lack of motivation in the beginning. This work has a kind of romantic appeal; it is challenging, the ideas are unusual, and there is a sense of being involved in something special, quite unlike ordinary life. Many of us initially respond to the work idea that the world has order and meaning and that life on earth may have a purpose. However, these motivations are superficial and unreliable and they usually do not last for more than a year or two.

    The romance dies when it becomes clear that this work is about struggle with self. Another motivation may then arise which we might call right action. Doing things in sleep gradually becomes distasteful while the gestures of conscious behaviour provide satisfaction. This does not mean engaging in continuous self-judgment. Rather, it is a quality of discernment that arises after the little voice in the head has stopped pretending to run the show. Discernment is to perceive precisely the quality of things as they are, what Buddhists call prajnaparamitra. It means relinquishing that which is false and loving that which has integrity, for its own sake.

    Work on self is a process, not an end. One possible result is that you may prefer being present when presence is called for, and that you have remorse when you miss the mark. This is a hard path to follow and there are many disappointments but the motivation is to respond to life with being.

    Being present opens you to influences from outside ordinary life. This is where you may begin to feel an attraction to the Work. What does this mean? To be in contact with the Work is to wish to be counted among those who work for the redemption of the earth, as the ancient Zoroastrians said. A focus on self is inevitably corrupting and it falls far short of the task given uniquely to our species on this planet, to care consciously for the gifts we have been given. This message is clear in many ancient texts including the Old Testament.

    This does not mean some sort of super environmentalism that calls for collectivist action or a political response. It is primarily an inner response. If you work for redemption, you will probably not be moved to take sides in the conflicts that arise between humans.

    Those who are able to wake up when faced with the needs of the redemptive Work must first see the reality of their sleep, their identifications, their automaticity and their lack of will. As the habits of sleep are seen and relinquished, it becomes possible to act in quite a different way. It becomes possible to serve. This is the aim of work on self.

    Real service is not a matter of right intentions. It requires ableness to be. It requires being able to hold to a connection with the heavens while standing against the demands and enticements of the ordinary world. Self-importance is the enemy. Reliability is the aim. If you are reliable, you will be given a post. Can you hold the post you are given, no matter the cost?

    Related Posts:

    Persistence – July 18, 2015

    Your Life Is Your Path – March 10, 2015

    Life’s Purpose – March 10, 2015

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