• November 1, 2016

    You have said that the fourth way is not just another system of self-development, that it is a way of preparing for real service. What service? And service to what or whom?

    This is an important question but not an easy one to answer. One difficulty is that service cannot be defined as a particular type of action, much as we would like it to be. It would be so much easier if we just had a bunch of rules to follow. Real service is known by its quality.

    The usual idea of service is to ‘help other people’. Some might say they want to serve the work, or their religion, or perhaps their favourite deity. To me, these aims are likely to prove very premature. Do you have the integrity to take them on? Do you have the relationship which is implied? It can’t be just an idea, a concept you have adopted for yourself. To be a servant implies intimacy and an understanding of what is required of you. Good servants are not self-appointed, they are chosen on the basis of merit.

    Service is not a way to compensate for your own emptiness. Service is to offer what you have.

    In my view, the first step taken in real service is that you remember. Remember what? The call is to remember yourself, who you really are, your being and not your personality. Can you learn to be who you were before time began, as the Sufis say?

    Your being is a gift; the Universe has granted to you a measure of its qualities. They have become hidden under a basket. Your experience of life, its impact on you, has disguised your inheritance and it must be found again. The first step in service is to uncover and honour your gifts. You must learn to serve your true nature.

    The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 makes this point. The one who hides the wealth he has been given and does not use it is exiled. The faithful servant is the one who has recognized and used the talents he has been granted. Rumi says that on Resurrection day, you will be asked: “Be plain and clear. I have given you such gifts. What did you do with them?”

    Your service is to be, and to give thanks for who you are. This, to me, is what the universe is asking of you. Having accepted who you are, you have something to give and you have the capacity to serve.

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  • September 3, 2016

    What is prayer?

    Prayer is communication. It is a movement towards communion. It is a celebration of relationship with being.

    Is prayer always about God?

    It is a relationship with something higher and greater than oneself. God means many different things to different people. As the relationship unfolds and evolves, its form and meaning will change. It is a process of discovery, if you allow it. The name does not matter very much.

    Perhaps it begins with an idea or a picture. In time, in my experience, what you pray to becomes who you pray to.

    How do you pray? Is there a method?

    How do you develop a friendship? Does it not require your care and attention? Does it not summon your presence into the present? Prayer asks you to bring all that you can. Are you able to bring your thinking, sensing and feeling to the encounter? Perhaps not at first but with practice and the guidance that comes within the prayer experience, you may be able to bring all that you have. There is no formula. You must begin where you are, as who you are. No pretences. But as a general rule, humility is always a good place to start.

    What about praying for things you need or others need?

    You are developing a relationship. What do you want from it?

    Are you sure that you know what is needed?

    Asking implies humility and a willingness to accept help. Often, friends like to be asked to help. However, praying for things may bring worldly cares into a place where you are able to be without them and experience a different reality. Find out for yourself.

    What is the difference between prayer and contemplation?

    I do not think there’s a practical difference. As it develops, prayer becomes a subtle exchange which in some traditions is referred to as contemplation. The experience is characterized by the feeling of being seen and recognized as your essential being. The Sufis call this mushahada which I like to think of as mutual regarding or mutual observing. At times, the quality of seeing, what is seen and who is seeing may merge and become indistinguishable.

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  • November 14, 2015

    There is a possible flaw inherent in fourth way teaching. The fourth way correctly emphasizes that we are asleep and that we need to awaken to be fully human. The key is impartial observation of self. Why is this important? Because it exposes sleep. It exposes the fact that much of the time we live in a fantasy world of habitual, unresolved fears and desires. In this work, fantasy is the enemy. But the result of this kind of thinking may be a kind of judgment which does not allow the emergence of one of humanity’s greatest talents, imagination.

    The problem begins with a blanket condemnation of sleep. On the one hand, not all the conditioning of sleep is ‘bad’. We can be sensitive to one another without waking up. We can be well mannered and considerate. Furthermore, any of us can have moments of spontaneous wakefulness, when higher qualities are called for and realized, even if sleep is the norm. On the other hand, it is deadly to start assuming that your behavior is not the behavior of sleep or that you are somehow different or special. Can you discern without judging?

    How is imagination different from fantasy?

    Fantasy is self-serving. Imagination is not. Fantasy indulges passively in like/dislike, what we want and do not want. Fantasy is closed off…it begins and ends with sense of self and thought of self. Fantasy is most often about the future or the past but imagination is a present activity. Imagination actively summons the capacities of sensing, thinking and feeling to give birth to something. Imagination is the key to invocation and contemplation. It opens communication and facilitates movement between states of being. It’s an engagement that gives life to what is imagined for its own sake.

    I can use all these words to try to draw the lines between them but the differences can be sensed and felt much more easily than spoken, because they are energetically very different states. Imagination is alive and energizing, solar rather than lunar. It is the fertile soil in which possibilities can evolve.

    Is Imagination only in the mind?

    No. It may begin there but if it remains only in the mind, it is only thought. It may begin with an idea, a word or image, but ideas have texture and shape, they can be sensed, giving form and substance to the idea. Some ideas also have feeling behind them and it is feeling that contains the essential meaning. In my view, the sensing and feeling of thought is the work of the creative imagination. It can use previous experience, bring it into the present, engage all our faculties and construct an inner display of meaning.

    Imagination is the key to invocation?

    Ordinary reality is a tight weave of habitual self-sensing and habitual self-talk. Not much comes in. I am isolated and alone. To move out into a larger world, perception must be freed. The identity supported by sensing and thinking must become more plasmic, less fixed. Releasing habitual tensions begins the process. Breathing then changes. Thinking shifts when habitual tensions are released. Perception is enhanced.

    Now you can invoke. What does it mean to invoke? Does it mean to simply repeat some verbal formula? To invoke is to call. You could imagine what it is to call. If you wish to call someone, would you not use the right name? Would you not use a sweet voice? Include a welcoming gesture?  Arouse your heart to attract and greet the one you call? Perhaps you could begin by imagining their presence? How do you know if this preparation is correct? You imagine it and see if it works to connect you to meaning. All of this is using active, creative imagination.

    It can happen at any time. As I become plasmic, I see that the room I am in, the quality of its light, the sound of footsteps echoing on the floor, has an expansive, joyous quality (perceived first, named later). I am moved to speak with a rising tone and an upward gesture of the hand. I see that in response your eyes are dancing. Feeling is communicated, shared.

    In prayer I can perhaps go deeper. Do I know the name of my Lord today? It is not the same every day. Can I listen without interfering? If I listen, He will tell me. On the breath, I repeat it in the heart. I attend to the sensations that arise, the feelings that follow. Each adds knowing and increases intimacy. I attend to nothing else but this experience. It is a mutual regarding, is it not?

    Where does this occur? In the space of the Imaginarium, I would say. Sufis call it hurqalya. It is as real as any place, although differently, and its experiences are as real as any experiences, although not the same. There is sensing, feeling and thought. There is meeting, engagement and relationship. There is knowing and learning. In it, I can be a whale. I can be an eagle on the arm of a King. This is what shamen do.

    Perhaps this will seem entirely subjective to you. But then, can you explain how an invocation can be shared by the work group? And can you replace imagination with more everyday reality and not feel the loss?

    Do not let the concepts of sleep and fantasy be the enemy of imagination.

    Related Posts:

    Invocation – June 10, 2015

    Your Life Is Your Path – Mar 10, 2015


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  • November 6, 2015

    Group invocation last night was such an extraordinary experience. I feel that we were taken to another place. Why is this not the main practice of our work together?

    It is. In fourth way terms, what we are doing Thursday night is Objective Prayer, prayer that serves creation, which Sufis call zikr. This is the purpose and pinnacle of our work together. It also has personal benefit but that is the backwash from our invocation, not the purpose.

    This is an experienced group. We have worked together for a long time. We did not start with Objective Prayer. We started with, and we continue with, work on self—attention,  presence and observation of self. This is the work that makes it possible to invoke without aborting into personal spaces.

    Do you know your state? Can you shift it to the state required for invocation? Can you attend to the unfolding of the invocation without interruption? This is what it means to be housebroken. You do not make a mess on the carpet. If you bring a personal state into zikr, the entire effect is lost. At the very least, you must attain a kind of receptive neutrality.

    All of us need the preliminaries, always. Know where your attention is now. Be able to call it to the needs of the present moment.

    Without the preliminaries, zikr easily turns subjective, even emotional and self-indulgent. This is not a practice for getting high or ecstatic, as some groups like to do. There is ecstasy at times but sobriety is always present, reflecting its purpose.

    What about groups that do not have this prayer form?

    For years I did not have it. The possibility emerged from my researches and work on self. We are not a particularly talented group. Our capacities are not unique. The laws governing Objective Prayer can be discovered, or perhaps I should say remembered. The form itself can vary in accordance with the different traditions which have recognized the importance of it.

    There is always help for those who truly need it.

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