• January 10, 2019

    I have said many times that the real enemy of work on self and the greater Work is self-importance. Perhaps this statement needs further elaboration?

    What is self-importance? Is it the strutting, boastful ego attempting to impose its will on others? Or is it much deeper and more pervasive than that?

    Is self-importance also the ongoing concern about self, anxiety over what happens to me, to my plans, my wants, my accomplishments, my happiness? Can I live without the worry that I could be doing so much better?

    Is an exaggerated sense of guilt about what I have done or not done also evidence of self-importance? Yes, I need to make efforts to keep my word and to respect the needs of others, not only for the sake of others but also for the sake of my own conscience. When my conscience is clear, my capacity for work is much greater. But despite my best efforts, I will fail to meet my own standards and I will certainly fail to satisfy the wants of others. Do I become excessively concerned about, and bound to, the judgments I make about myself? Do I assume that my life and the lives of others rotate around my shortcomings? Is holding onto my guilt also evidence of my self-importance?

    When do I accept my imperfections, when do I accept forgiveness, when do I agree to feel compassion for myself and for all the other sentient beings who are doing the best they can in a world that does not favour or support our best intentions? Does my ongoing judgment of myself stem from a sense of self-importance?

    If I am not important, if I am not precious to myself and others, perhaps there can be room for the importance of relating to a universal being. Perhaps by realizing my unimportance, I am more able to find and express the gesture that is right for this moment. Can I then trust the work to guide me?

    Of course, if you take this view as a blank cheque to do what you want without guilt, you have missed the point…which is that what I do from a sense of self-importance takes me away from the work.

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  • June 13, 2018

    One of the most powerful myths of our time is the myth of limitless potential. It seems that every commencement speech, every news story about young people, has this cliché…anything is possible, you can be anyone or anything you want, there is nothing impossible for those who hold on to their dream and strive to achieve it. In my view, there is no better foundation for sleep than this one.

    The class of child-like billionaires spawned by the technology revolution in places like Silicon Valley are planning and investing for a day when death will be no more, when science prolongs their life indefinitely and they will emigrate to Mars. They do not need to deal with the consequences of their actions, they just move on into a more wonderful future. The result is that they remain encased in their own self-importance, unable to penetrate the realm of feeling.

    It is my struggle with my limitations that enables me to observe self and achieve some measure of self-mastery. My failures enable me to feel compassion. My death, which every day grows closer, invokes sobriety and also, paradoxically, the qualities of passion and impersonal joy.

    The moth is attracted to the flame. The light is blinding. The flame is deadly. But where else can the moth experience such wild intensity. The moment of dancing its death is the summation of its life. So may it be for me.

    Searching for the limitless is complete nonsense. And it is very damaging, a fantasy that blocks our engagement with reality and the possibility of being human. Potential is never now. Something without limit never arrives. It’s a way to avoid the facts of our existence.

    This work leads not to the celebration of limitless possibilities but to the discovery of what is…the Terror of the Situation…and, with that, a possible awakening of conscience and compassion…qualities that are found in failure, suffering and the loss of illusion. Do you still hope that things will work out for you in the end, a comfortable conclusion, a Hollywood ending? If so, you still haven’t got the message. And despite the poor prospects, I am asked to do my best anyway, just for its own sake.

    Can I recognize that the limitations written into life have been imposed by the universe on itself? This world is not some cruel joke played on us. In this work, God is not thought of as some separate being untouched by the pain of His creation. Nor is the universe a dead material thing. As Mr. G noted, He has entered His world, crucified Himself in His own creation, become a full participant in the details, limited by the laws He has used to form this world*. There truly is no escape. Since we cannot get out, we must go farther in, accepting the flame, not seeking to avoid it.

    Last week, another person I know died from cancer. For years, he avoided his fate, convinced everything would be ok and his life would continue. At the very end, he discarded this view and in an act of great courage, he faced the end. This was a gift that may benefit others.

    * “In the beginning, I alone was. I had nothing but Myself with which to make the world; out of Myself the world was made.”  E.J. Gold, The Man on the Cross.

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  • February 27, 2018

    I find that compassion makes it easier to accept the world as it is.

    Perhaps I could suggest that you need to go deeper? There is nothing comfortable about compassion. The suffering in compassion has no limit and no corrective. This is why it is so powerful. There is no avoidance of the facts, no effort to change or improve the situation. Compassion is a deep penetration of the precise nature of the situation with all of its pain and hopelessness. And then it flowers in an exquisite play of love and sorrow.

    Isn’t compassion similar to forgiveness?

    Forgiveness is part of another stream, another remarkable avenue of human consciousness. Forgiveness does not stand alone. First there is the sensation of guilt or remorse, then confession, then contrition, then forgiveness, perhaps followed by expiation.

    Forgiveness is most often embedded in a process of correction. It is earned by agreeing to make a change, offering a sacrifice or recompense. It is focused on self…my misstep or yours. It offers the chance to begin again, anew. This is an extraordinary process of transformation. The challenge is not to become isolated in the self, its guilt and its need to unburden itself.

    I can see how the process of forgiveness unfolds. I do not see how compassion is possible.

    When self-importance and self-isolation are temporarily suspended, compassion enters naturally. Probably for most of us, it first arises from a deep connection to the suffering of another. In time, it becomes compassion for self. For some, it is a gift that flows from genuine prayer. There is no rejection in compassion, nothing to be changed. It is the deepest embrace of the way things are.

    You seem to suggest that there is no such thing as compassionate action.

    When compassion moves towards action, it becomes mercy. These are two different states, two different qualities. It is easier to be merciful. Mercy only requires pity in which I do not suffer with you. In zikr, the invocation begins: Bismillah ir-Rachman ir-Rahim. We begin in the name of the most Compassionate and Merciful.  He is Compassionate as well as Merciful. It is very sobering to realize that He also suffers.

    Compassion Prayer

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  • February 13, 2016

    In your opinion, what is the most difficult obstacle on the spiritual path?

    I think it may be vanity. But this is not obvious at first because it is surprisingly subtle and most of its manifestations seem like such small matters, not worthy of our attention.

    I was surprised to find that the experts do not agree with me. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists 41 ‘grave’ sins which it considers to be mortal. Vanity is not one of them. By the way, to sin means ‘to miss the mark’. This contains a useful understanding. It suggests that a sin is not so much the action itself but rather its aim.

    What’s the significance of vanity?

    Vanity turns virtue into vice. I love the elegance and precision of a good Swiss watch. There is no obstacle in this. I love owning the Swiss watch because it makes me feel special, it enhances my self-esteem? That’s an obstacle on the path.

    Essentially, the greatest enemy of any spiritual path is always self-importance. Vanity is using something — anything — to enhance self-importance. That something can be the quality of generosity, beauty of movement, precision of speech, the perfect earrings, a new friend. Any good thing, good in itself, is spoiled when it is appropriated by the self.

    Consider doing a vanity audit. What are the things that make you feel good about yourself? Perhaps they are innocent gestures of delight. Perhaps they are subtle marks of distinction that set you apart. The sensation of them tells the tale. That little thrill of enhanced self-importance will advise you without fail.

    If you are able to perform this audit impartially, you may come to see how almost all human behavior can be explained in terms of vanity.

    Vanity can spoil any other thing. Dressing modestly may be vain. Dressing extravagantly may not. Unlike many other so-called sins, vanity is defined not by the action but by your inner relationship to it. That’s what makes it so subtle yet pernicious, pervasive yet unobserved.

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  • January 10, 2016

    You say we should deepen our love. How are we to do that?

    I think perhaps you did not quite hear what I said. What I said, or meant to say, was ‘may our love be deepened’. This is a prayer, a request for something that I cannot bring about for myself. Love is not something I can generate or command.

    In our work, there are four transformative energies that humans can participate in—sensitivity, consciousness, attention and love. Each stands successively above the other. Love is the highest of them, beyond everything that we can manage or control. Love has the power to change us fundamentally, to redeem, even to resurrect. By comparison, all other agents of change are diminished.

    Love is governed by its own laws and answers to no one. Nonetheless, there are certain actions which may help to bring love into us, if we are courageous enough to wish for this.

    Can I remember the feeling of being loved? Perhaps this memory can be quickened by attention, enabling me to call upon love with a similar voice.

    Love is received in the heart, the organ of feeling. An open heart, a broken heart, accommodates love; a hardened, embittered heart does not. The suffering and sacrifice of ordinary life can reliably supply all the heartbreak we need. Can I accept it without resentment or self-pity? Can I patiently clear away the psychic structures, needs and identifications that define me? They take up room that is needed for love.

    Can I reduce my need for other things?

    Can I make myself attractive to love? Love seems to prefer the humble, the simple, the sincere, the unassuming, the undemanding.  Observing self objectively, I may come to these qualities naturally. Knowing self reduces self-importance, which love does not favour.

    Can I learn to care for someone more than myself? You may think that caring comes from love but I think it is often the other way around. Learning to care for another brings you to the doorstep of love. Making another more important than yourself is agonizing but potent magic.

    Consider that you may have access to a feeling that can introduce you to love. Compassion and longing may serve although they lack the risks that accompany love. Some of the ancient heart-gestures that are now all but lost may also bring you to love, such as glorification or adoration. If you somehow have access to these, you are well on the way.

    The greatest love is love of the Absolute. Love of others can be a preparation for this love. But love of the Absolute is also unlike any other love. This love is found through the experience of being loved unconditionally, as only the Absolute can love. It begins with being seen.

    One more word of advice: accept no substitutes. Sentimentality is not love. Affection is not love. Know love by its combination of pleasure and pain, sufficiency and insufficiency, sorrow and joy.

    Related Post:

    Love – Jan 1, 2016

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  • July 3, 2015

    After our inquiry into remorse, I have lost the distinction you made between remorse and guilt. They still seem pretty much the same to me.

    They are closely associated but the mechanism of each is different. Guilt is a sensation that is meant to inform us of wrong action, kind of like a warning on the dash board of your car. Guilt says stop and consider what you are doing. There is no benefit to dwelling on guilt. The correct process for dealing with guilt is recognizing and confessing the wrong, expiation for the transgression and forgiveness if possible, whether of oneself or another. No priest or church is required for this…it is a matter of clearing the slate and starting again. The key is simple sincerity.

    Remorse is also a sensation and it also advises us of being in the wrong. The difference is that remorse contains regret concerning something that cannot be undone. The word comes from the Latin ‘remord’, meaning to bite again. Remorse arises from offenses against my own conscience that are permanent. I have been tried and found wanting. Remorse goes to the very nature of being human, which is to be lacking, unreliable and selfish. Remorse is born of shame and leads to inexpressible sorrow.

    Remorse is for the transgressions that cannot be forgiven but can be understood and taken to heart. Remorse is the burden imposed by my forgetfulness, my heedlessness. Understanding does not lessen the burden but it does begin the process of real self-knowledge. Guilt is for forgiveness. Remorse is for understanding.

    The Sufi prayer ‘istaferallah’ is an expression of remorse. It recognizes that I have betrayed my origin, I have forgotten my lord. Having forgotten, I fail in the deepest sense and my thoughts and actions reflect this.

    Conscience is the mirror that awakens the sensation of remorse. Conscience sees and discerns. Conscience is an action of the heart and has nothing to do with rules. The sensation of remorse reprograms the body and mind in an indelible manner. Its gift is to diminish self-importance and open the way to compassion. Its further gift is to make us more reliable. Learn what you can from remorse. You can have no better teacher.

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