• May 27, 2019

    I attended a concert in which two splendidly trained musicians played cello concerti by Beethoven and Grieg. It was enlightening to experience the difference in the compositions.

    The Beethoven communicated extraordinary order. What do I mean by order? There was a delightful balance between the two instruments, a dialogue in which one unfolded and revealed the other, coherence in the melody lines, evolution of the theme and reprise where it was needed. The concerto unveiled the intimate connection between order and beauty. In classical Indian philosophy, this is sattva (goodness, constructiveness, harmony).

    By order I do not mean the squared off, static nature of modern office buildings but rather the dynamic balancing and rebalancing of the elements which characterize living systems and real creative endeavour. Beauty requires order but not all order is beautiful.

    The Grieg composition was emotional and incoherent. Ideas were begun and abandoned without development. The two instruments were at odds with each other. The pace was feverish and every line seemed to end in higher volume. In Sanskrit, it would be categorized as tamas (darkness, destructive, chaotic).

    Perhaps this is a commentary on the possible range of the human condition?

    Do I give too much importance to emotion, by which I tend to mean passion? This rarely amounts to feeling; more often it reflects an intensity of sensation. The ‘higher emotions’ of clarity, order and beauty are perhaps too subtle to attract and hold my attention yet these are the ones most open to possible discovery and transformation. To apprehend these qualities, I must have order in myself. For this, certain music may be helpful.

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  • August 1, 2016

    In our ‘modern’ society, nothing is more reviled than indifference. To be indifferent means you are without feeling, callous and uncaring, lacking in human sensibilities, probably empty-headed, tired and bored, to say nothing of boring. Imagine having no opinions, no preferences. Death would surely be an improvement.

    Such a broad consensus from the sleeping world should immediately alert you to the possibility that reality has once more been turned on its head. Indifference is a place of great potential, especially for our work but also for much ordinary accomplishment. Indifference has power.

    First, let’s consider what indifference is not. It is not dislike nor distaste, not lethargy or some other veiled negative or rejecting state. Indifference is to see no difference between one thing and another and not to prefer one thing over another. Indifference is not rejecting, but nor is it accepting. Perhaps we could say it is a special form of equanimity without the experience of pleasure usually associated with that state.

    What makes indifference useful? It offers clarity and objectivity. It is free from compulsion and fixation. It has no emotional attachment. This allows for something new and surprising to arise.

    From the work perspective, indifference offers the possibility of acting from real will. Most of our actions originate in emotion. Motive and emotion amount to the same thing for most of us.

    Emotion is a movement of sensitive energy in the nervous system with physical and biochemical components. Emotion is triggered by an external stimulus—perhaps a sensation, a word spoken, an association of one thing with another, which then proceeds habitually in terms of breath, posture, gesture, pulse as well as the thought-tapes that sustain and colour the emotion. Subsequent behaviour is predictable. This is not the action of will; rather it is precisely mechanical in nature, no matter how pleasant or productive it might be. Indifference is freedom from this loop, which allows for the possible action of will.

    Because indifference is without resistance or conflict, it can move quickly and forcefully in unexpected directions. It can also sit in the same spot for a long time, requiring the patience to wait for whispers from unknown places. In these periods between, like the Horse Latitudes, you may be severely tested. Perhaps you will panic into depression or senseless behaviour. The Sufis call this a Kemal state and it can be dangerous.

    In my understanding, the Kemal state is both a blessing and a test that begins to manifest when you have seen enough of yourself and the world. It is not an end state, nor is it something to be sought, but rather a point of possible transition to something new.

    How can indifference be separated from boredom or lethargy?

    True indifference is alert and questioning. The one who is indifferent wishes to proceed but not from dead habits.

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  • August 22, 2015

    This school makes a distinction between emotion and feeling. Understanding this distinction is critical to our work.

    Humans are perceiving beings. Perception acts through three capacities or channels—thought, sensation and feeling. Each generates and displays information. Each is ‘read’ by perception.

    Emotion consists of sensation and associated thinking. Consider anger. Is it not a sensation? Does it not have a definite signature of muscular contractions and biomechanical reactions such as a shift in breathing and palpable changes in energy states for specific parts of the body? Is there not a perceivable and scientifically measurable set of chemical markers? The conclusion is clearly that anger is a body state which charges and discharges the human physical apparatus. Thinking is also involved. The physical dimension of anger has an associated set of habitual thought patterns that either have the effect of maintaining and amplifying the physical agitations of the state or attempting to suppress them.

    Feeling is not a body state. The perception of feeling is not a sensation and it does not charge and discharge the body as an emotion does. Feelings are frequencies that connect to qualities of being such as being steadfast, loyal, loving, courageous or generous. There are hundreds of these qualities (some of which are identified by Sufis as the wazaif), each of which has a very specific ‘vibration’ or frequency which can be perceived and experienced. The frequency is the quality itself. The sensations of touching a hard, smooth surface tell you that there is an object that has the characteristics which give rise to these sensations.  The feeling of love is love itself. Feelings appear to originate outside ourselves, certainly outside the body.

    Can you clearly distinguish between sensations and feelings? There is an emotion that we call love and there is a feeling that is love. One is a body state and one is not. This is not a judgement which prefers one to another. Both are highly informative and valuable channels of perception. But if you do not discern feeling separately, it may easily be overwhelmed by sensation, in the same way that the stars are not seen when the sun is in the sky. This analogy does not mean that feelings are weaker; in many ways they are not. But sensing tends to eclipse feeling because sensing uses a less refined and more available energy.

    What capacity discerns feeling? The Sufis call this the heart and they consider it an organ of perception. But this is not a physical organ. What is it? Perhaps we can say it is an organization of higher energies which seems to have a ‘home’ in the center of the chest. But as you have more experience of the multitude of feelings that exist, you may notice that some of them seemingly have a location corresponding to other places in the body which appear to correlate to the chakras of the yogic tradition.

    Conscious experience includes and blends the three forms of perception. A thought, fully sensed, perhaps including an inner or outer posture, suggests (invokes) a feeling which is the essence of the other two. A feeling generates the corresponding sensation, physical posture and mental state. A sensation, carefully attended to, is a doorway to feeling and thought. When feeling is active, sensation is purged of emotion; there is no thinking loop and no charge/discharge. The energy of sensation is drawn up and in. When the dimension of feeling is absent, we easily revert to emotion and the higher, more conscious energies are drawn down and out. The human physical apparatus is a transformer of energies up or down, always feeding ‘something-or-other” with its productions.

    Ancient traditions emphasize the importance of awakening the heart. For this purpose, we have sensation, thought and attention. Sensation provides energy. Thought invokes direction. Attention is the catalyst. It’s all in the human design.

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  • August 17, 2015

    I notice how encumbered I am by my beliefs. I believe certain things and I don’t believe others and both seem to be permanently fixed. I cannot believe in an unseen world. Can this rigidity be shifted so I can believe?

    What you are describing is the sickness of our time. What you are describing is a lack of faith which is not the same as belief.

    To inquire into this matter we must be careful to make distinctions. I wish first to explore the differences between knowing and believing.

    I know that the sun will rise tomorrow. This is based on personal experience, the experience of many others, and verification over thousands of years. It is explained by a theory of celestial mechanics which is also based on verifiable observation…we understand why the sun will appear to rise tomorrow.

    The resurrection of the dead is in another category. I can believe in this but I cannot know it.  I have no experience of it, neither do others, there is no historical record of it and there is no verifiable theory to support it. My belief is likely based on religious authority or some sort of intuition.

    Inquiring into belief, I find that it is a marriage of thought and emotional preference. My belief consists of thinking what I want to think about something or someone.  It is supported by an emotional need.

    Not believing something requires an equal amount of careful consideration. Is my non-belief a refusal to believe something because there is no evidence, or because I want to reject it?

    The issue here is emotion in its dual forms of clinging and averting.  If I do not know that something is true, I can test it to see if there is evidence for it. Or I can decide to believe it or disbelieve it.  My motive for doing so is observable in myself.  Most likely, I believe because I cling to something I like and I disbelieve because I reject something I do not like. These emotions are facts which can be determined by observation. They are not immutable because they are based in emotion.

    One of the primary functions of believing or disbelieving is to reduce uncertainty, which is unsettling and anxiety-producing.

    Observing these mechanisms is fundamentally important because I continually adopt beliefs and disbeliefs that then block my capacity to know. We commonly use the expression that ‘seeing is believing’ but the converse is far more true…believing is seeing. I precondition perception by what I want to see and then delight in confirmation, which provides a false sense of certainty. To open my experience to the unknown, I must first unwind the beliefs that block perception.  “The undesirable must be relinquished before the desirable can be attained.”

    One of the strongest beliefs is what constitutes evidence. Thinking based on sensation is believed and has become completely dominant despite its home in the transitory world. Feeling is not considered evidence. Aesthetic experience, the perception of beauty, the feeling of truth…these are not taken as evidence of perception. They are thought to be subjective and ephemeral and therefore they are disbelieved. But in the world of feeling, there can be just as much certainty based on evidence as there is in the physical world where I know the sun will rise tomorrow. The evidence is the feeling.

    Humans have three capacities for the play of perception—thinking, sensing and feeling—but we habitually rely on only the first two. Feeling is the perceptive capacity that opens the second dimension of time, the dimension that is all-certainty, unchanging by its very nature.

    If you rely on belief, you cannot have faith. Faith is perception of the heart, perception by feeling. It has no emotional needs, no subjective preferences motivated by clinging or averting, no history, no development, only uncovering.

    Faith is not blind. Faith is knowing, but not the knowing of the mind. It cannot be overturned by reason because it is not rooted in the mind. Faith comprehends the shape and texture of truth before it reaches the mind. What does faith apprehend? It knows relatedness, it knows with certainty that all things communicate and cohere. It knows that life has meaning. Faith is the feeling of being held and sustained. It is the cognition of being embedded in something immeasurably large and compassionate.

    Faith serves the unseen world, the world of the Absolute. He who is lost is found by way of faith.

    Rumi writes that each of us must dig out the foundations of the self and discover underneath two veins, one of ruby and one of gold. Faith is one of these veins. All beings have faith but it must be freed from the beliefs that cover it. We do not need to produce faith from our own efforts, rather we need to expose its counterfeit, the beliefs which stand in its place.

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