• August 6, 2019

    There are very few sacred spaces left on this earth, it seems to me. What is a sacred space? It’s a place where the veils of ordinary existence are thinner and it is more possible to engage and penetrate the subtle worlds of feeling and meaning which are so easily hidden by worldly engagement. The ancients built temples for this purpose, to create or shelter such valuable places where real prayer and invocation could occur.

    Perhaps you are aware of such a place. The question then is can you enter it? Can I pass through the doorway? Special efforts are required.

    This is why our zikr often begins with questions. Can I be here? Can I sense my body? Can I sense my breath? Can I relinquish my connection to the past, to the future, to any other place or time, or any relationship, other than to the zikr chamber and the circle of friends within it? If my attention remains intentionally or unintentionally on other times, places and people, I will not be able to pass through the narrow entrance.

    The way itself is very broad but the entranceway cannot accommodate any baggage. He who is within demands our full attention and presence.

    My entry is by way of humility, submission and apology for having forgotten. These are the secret keys that open the heart and show me where to step, even though I have broken my vows a thousand times.

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  • May 21, 2019

    Zikr is a journey. To remember myself and then to be remembered by my origin, I must be able to move from one place to another. You could say it is a journey within myself but this suggests it is subjective, psychological. In fact, the journey is through invisible spaces which are nonetheless experiential in sensation, thought and feeling.

    I begin in my personal space. What is this space? I am at its center and it is arranged around me, contracted around the impressions of the day, my concerns and my aims which are held by my attention in the form that I recognize as me. I am a form which organizes the limitless into something small.

    I sense that I am sitting. I sense that I am breathing. I hear the sound of my voice. The sound becomes more resonant with repetition. I enter the present, which is no longer a personal space.

    I hear the group, not only my own voice. I become synchronous with the group. We breathe together. Now the group becomes the sounding, a blending of many. There is joy and pleasure in this participation which no longer requires my assertion. My breath becomes more subtle.

    The words alter the group and its location in space. How is this possible? Perhaps it is like the tuning of an antenna. The journey enters a new place where there are sensations and feelings I do not know in my personal space. It is as if I look around and see that I am in a different country, far from where I began. But the differences are subtle, not available to ordinary perception.

    I fall more deeply into the zikr. It becomes my request to enter His space, where we may have our meeting. In His sovereign space, I am at the edges, seeking admittance. He is the center. My passport is submission, as much as can be managed. What remains is something resembling an aspect of Him.

    As Ibn Arabi asks: “Where were you and where was I when we had our meeting?” The journey is towards a meeting. His charity is great for He does not insist that the meeting take place on His terms. We go as far as we can go. The further we go, the more of Him. “I saw you at some distance,” He says, “and I came running to meet you on the way.”

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  • April 29, 2019

    My unconscious, involuntary attention holds me in time and space. This mechanism makes it possible for me to continue in my ordinary life. As an analogy, this form of attention is like a laser reading the data implanted in a DVD. My life is displayed in a predictable form…even if the events seem to surprise me, my reactions do not.

    When Ouspensky and others talk about eternal recurrence, this is what I think is meant.

    There are two clear signs that involuntary attention is operating. Time is sequential, one moment flowing into another without a stop. And space is dead, just something to be filled up with things but otherwise empty, a negative.

    Can it be otherwise?

    Can there be stillness? I find that there cannot be stillness if I try to stop the flow of time. The river continues to flow and I am swept along in it. To be still requires that I access another dimension of time. What makes this possible? Voluntary attention. Why? Because its nature is not in passing time…its nature is immediate and therefore timeless.

    Can there be spaciousness? Voluntary attention is spaciousness. I enter attention-space where what was empty is alive and full of ‘substance’, not of a physical nature but real nonetheless.

    There is probably nothing more important than reclaiming voluntary attention and then allowing it to perform according to its laws, without interference. This is a moment-to-moment undertaking requiring that ‘I’ participate with subtle skill, not as the subject-center who sees, but as the one who is seen and responds.

    When I try to voluntarize my attention, I find that I cannot control it.

    To voluntarize is not to control. The secret is to participate in attention, like a dance partner. The secret of the secret is that attention is not yours, it’s a gift from the universe, a quality of space itself. When I think of it as mine, I reduce it to myself.

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  • April 20, 2018

    We are trapped in mental structures which influence how we think and perceive. Perhaps in meditation, perhaps in prayer, can I catch an insight into another way of perceiving that comes from a less limited frame of mind?

    Let me try to show you what I mean. This is only a thought experiment but perhaps it will help.

    I identify with the solid bits of the universe. I have a material body and I think of myself as living in a material world (thank you Madonna). What are the consequences of this assumption? Space is empty and solids occupy space. Dimension is a clever way of accommodating things so they do not overlap. So, identifying myself as solid, I treat space as just a physical dimension where I am separate and occupy my own space.

    Separation establishes the need for movement and movement creates duration or time. Time is a clever way of making sure that not everything happens at once.

    Within dimension and time, there are events. The only events that I recognize are in dimension and time. Otherwise, they are not real. When events occur within time, one follows another. I try to decide if the event that comes first causes the event that comes after. I also perceive that events begin and end. Can I see the eternal, the unchanging? Can I see possibilities that do not occupy time and space? Probably not. .

    The consequence of identifying with physical reality is that I may lose access to qualities that are formless. My sensory apparatus links to my brain and displays what I see and sense. Who experiences this neurological data? Is it the brain? Scientists search for the correct brain structure, meanwhile confusing perception and content. There is a quality of perceiving that is independent of what is perceived. Have you noticed this? Have you observed that perceiving is not ‘located’? That it seems to exist in space?

    In a similar way, where is attention? Is it in the brain? Attention intimately connects me to what it attends to even over distance. Does it defy the separation of space?

    Where is the presence of my presence in the present? The state when I am present clearly has a spacious, non-physical quality. Can I find in me a place for the experience of love? Yes, love has physical effects but is it contained in my nervous system? Is it only a sensation?

    How does the universe appear from the perspective of space? Can I identify myself as space? Do I contain infinite possibilities which are no less real than the ones that are expressed out of my ‘emptiness’ into the tiny bit of me that has taken ‘form’? Is there distance, or just ‘more’ of myself? Is there time, or just an eternal present where all the events that ever did, are or will happen(ing) are here and now? Perhaps space is where miracles occur but we only know this when we enter the realm of the miraculous.

    From the perspective of space, the universe of a trillion galaxies spanning trillions of light years may be of no definite ‘size’ whatsoever. Without my conceptions of space and time from the physical world, how would I know?

    According to the current findings of physics, every region of space is awash with different kinds of fields composed of waves of varying lengths. Each wave has energy. When physicists calculate the minimum amount of energy a wave can possess, they find that every cubic centimeter of empty space contains more energy than the total energy of all the matter in the known universe.

    Space is not empty. It is full, a plenum not a vacuum, the ground for the existence of every single thing. The physical universe is not separate from this cosmic sea of energy; it is a ripple on its surface, a comparatively small “pattern of excitation” in the midst of an unimaginably vast ocean. “This excitation pattern is relatively autonomous and gives rise to approximately recurrent, stable and separable projections into a three-dimensional explicate order of manifestation,” states Physicist David Bohm.

    In other words, despite its apparent materiality and enormous size, the physical universe does not exist in and of itself, but is the surface of something far more ineffable, a passing shadow over the face of the deep.

    Have you thought about how it is possible for this world to exist? Oh, we are told the story of the big bang and evolution over billions of years. Really? This may explain a process but it tells us nothing of how anything can be, how there can be a big bang to begin with. Can you hold this question and not fill in the blanks or turn away in boredom because the question is unanswerable? If you can do this, you may receive the electric being-shock that confirms: we do not know our origin or purpose and the fact of our existence is an absolute miracle.

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  • March 19, 2016

    Last week you defined the abstract as a quality or characteristic apart from any specific object or instance. You also asked us to experience the abstract. I have not had any success at this. Can you give us a more practical example to work with?

    I ask you to clean up your work space here at the gallery. You do so. The space becomes more ordered. Perhaps it is not the way I would order it but I recognize that it now has order. Where does this come from? Why are we able to agree that order has increased, even if the specific configuration would be different if any one of us did the ordering? Can you experience this quality of order directly, without reference to a particular?

    Order is a manifestation of the abstract, an expression of an abstract quality. For most human beings of sound mind, it gives rise to a sensation of satisfaction. The impulse to order, or to be honest, or loving, begins in the unseen world—it is a priori as the philosophers once said. We are able to cognize these qualities because they already exist. Exist where? I would say that order exists within the capacity of perceiving. But perhaps more exactly, all the qualities of the abstract exist as the latent possibilities of empty space and they take form through the action of perceiving.

    This formulation seems to suggest that the world around us is an illusion, that what we experience is not real but just a function of our perception.

    Yes and no. What you experience is always real and it is always an illusion. The fish in the fish tank very likely does not know it is in a tank. The experience of the fish is the experience of the fish. But as the owner of the fish, standing outside the tank, you know something about the reality of the fish’s life that the fish does not know. You are able to see a larger context in which it is clear that the fish lives in an illusion. But the fish has real experience nonetheless–its life is not made less because you know its limitations. Moreover, the fish’s life has a specificity of experience that you, outside the tank, cannot really know.

    The universe is much greater than the universe I perceive. I know this by reasoning from the example of the fish tank. Can I learn to perceive more? Or more correctly, can I learn to limit my perceiving less? To me, the answer may be found in the experience of the abstract, the unlimited.

    Rumi refers to the abstract as the Sea, which he also calls the unlimited Treasury of the Unseen. Each of us is given a tray with samples from this Sea. These samples are what we are able to experience in this world but they are only a small portion of what is to be found in unlimited measure in the Treasury. The samples are extraordinarily beautiful but they are limited. Some of us long for the Treasury. As Rumi says, “The longer one stays upon the Sea, the colder one’s heart grows for the tray.”

    The items on the tray do not become less beautiful. They are simply no longer sufficient. Attachment to the specific is lessened by attraction to the Source. That is the power of the abstract.

    Related Posts:

    The Abstract – Mar 14, 2016

    Perception – Sept 5, 2015

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  • March 14, 2016

    Yesterday, you asked us if we could “listen to space, not the sounds within space but space itself”. I had no idea what you were talking about but, oddly enough, when I tried to do it, my state underwent a major shift in a way I can’t describe.

    You encountered the abstract. You had an engagement with the formless.

    What do you mean by abstract?

    The abstract is a quality or characteristic apart from any specific object or instance. In common usage, it refers to a concept or idea, something with no specific physical existence like, say, justice. But I am not asking you to indulge in conceptualism, which is already one of your favourite past-times. I am asking you to experience the abstract, the abstract beyond thought, and it seems that you did, at least for a moment.

    Is it possible to experience something that has no existence in time and space?

    Our most important experiences such as feeling, attention and presence, are formless; they do not exist in the ordinary way. They do not occupy time and space. Our work places considerable emphasis on observation of gesture and the extraordinary power of sensation, experiences which do occur in time and space. Factual experience is a necessary anchor for attention and presence. But transformation also requires engagement with the abstract.

    Our habit is to tie the abstract to a specific. We have feeling but the feeling is associated with something or someone. The specific then takes over through the power of attachment and the abstract is lost. The specific is extraordinarily valuable itself and it can also suggest or invoke the abstract. They are not enemies but they are also not the same. A feeling needs no object, no attachment, no reason to exist; in its essence, it is universal. Even more so, the capacity for feeling does not need a specific feeling; the capacity in itself is an extraordinary reality and to experience it is nameless ecstasy.

    Presence is existence without identity. Existence as what? Find out. Is it the miracle of being? And does it not bring with it a quality of joy and an experience of exactness without any exact thing? This is difficult to grasp and even harder to express in thought. I apologize for being obscure. All I can do is point and suggest that you work with this.

    To listen to space is to direct attention to the formless. Does space have sound? If sound is a physical vibration in time and space, space makes no sound we can hear. If space is not an absence but rather an active medium for presence and attention, perhaps space can be heard. One form of hearing is the attention acting through the ears. Another form of hearing is with attention acting directly but with the same quality or setting as listening with the ears. You may find that the abstract is musical, that it vibrates at another level as the music of the spheres.

    Can you see not only what you see but also see that you are seeing? Can attention attend to itself? These are ways to remove the mesmerizing power of the specific for an engagement with the abstract. They are somersaults into the unknown. The universal is embraced and the personal is overturned.

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