That was seriously going to constitute the entirety of this review, and it probably should. But a few more words might contextualize those fHoly shit.
That was seriously going to constitute the entirety of this review, and it probably should. But a few more words might contextualize those first two. A 29-year old ship designer, builder, and sailor is in the Atlantic by himself in a sailboat of his own construction when WHAM something hits the boat, waking him up with just enough time to inflate a liferaft and climb on board with some tools and meager supplies before the boat sinks.
He is adrift, on the Atlantic, for 76 days. Two and a half months. In a raft that is merely a collection of inflated rubber tubes held together by glue and rated to last 40 days. He distills his freshwater daily, using makeshift equipment. He catches and prepares his own food, using makeshift equipment. He lives in a structure barely larger than my bathtub, and survives on less fresh water than would fill that tub even once.
And he survives.
This book was a literal "could not put down" for me. Not only could Steven Callahan pull off a miracle in terms of surviving alone at sea for so long, but he pulls off a second accomplishment in being such a clear, lucid, and compelling writer who apparently kept some pretty good notes in his log on that raft. ...more
We must surrender our hopes and expectations, as well as our fears, and march directly into disappointment, work with disappointment, go into it, and
We must surrender our hopes and expectations, as well as our fears, and march directly into disappointment, work with disappointment, go into it, and make it our way of life, which is a very hard thing to do. Disappointment is a good sign of basic intelligence. It cannot be compared to anything else: it is so sharp, precise, obvious, and direct. If we can open, then we suddenly begin to see that our expectations are irrelevant compared with the reality of the situations we are facing. This automatically brings a feeling of diasppointment.
Disappointment is the best chariot to use on the path of the dharma. It does not confirm the existence of our ego and its dreams. (29)
The Buddha... was not a religious fanatic, attempting to act in accordance with some high ideal. He just dealt with people simply, openly, and very wisely. His wisdom came from transcendental common sense. His teaching was sound and open.
The problem seems to be that people worry about a conflict between the religious and the profane. They find it very difficult to reconcile so-called higher consciousness with practical affairs. but the categories of higher and lower, religious and profane, do not really seem relevant a basically sane approach to life. (56)
We have so many different defense mechanisms fashioned out of the knowledge we have received, the reading we have done, the experiences we have undergone, the dreams we have dreamed. But finally we being to question what spirituality means really. Is is simply a matter of attempting to be religious, pious, and good? Or is it trying to know more than other people, trying to learn more about the significance of life? What does it really mean, spirituality? (65)
Eventually we must give up trying to be something special. (68)
If one searches for any kind of bliss or joy, the realization of one's imagination and dream, then, equally, one is going to suffer failure and depression. This is the whole point: a fear of separation, the hope of attaining union, these are not just manifestations of of or the actions of ego or self-deception, as if ego were somehow a real thing which performed certain actions. Ego is the fear of losing openness, the fear of losing the egoless state. This is the meaning of self-deception, in this case—these are the ongoing action of the dream of ego, the self-perpetuatng, self-maintaining structure which is self-deception. (80–1)
The problem is that we tend to seek an easy and painless answer. but this kind of solution does not apply to the spiritual path, which many of us should ot have begun at all. One we commit ourselves to the spiritual path, it is very painful and we are in for it. We have committed ourselves to the pain of exposing ourselves, to taking off our clothes, our skin, nerves, heart, brain, until we are exposed to the universe. Nothing will be left. It will be terrible, excruciating, but that its the way it is. (93–4)
Q. Is it absolutely necessary that the spiritual friend be a living human being?
A. Yes. Any other "being" with whom you might think yourself communicating would be imaginary.
Q. Would the teachings of Christ in themselves be a spiritual friend?
A. I would not say so. That is an imaginary situation. It is the same with any teachings; they do not have to be the teachings of Christ necessarily. The problem is that we can interpret them ourselves. that is the whole point: written teachings are always open to the interpretation of ego. (101–2)
The spiritual friend might accentuate our pain in certain circumstances. That is part of the physician-patient relationship. The idea is not to regard the spiritual path as something very luxurious and pleasurable but to see it as just facing the facts of life. (103–4)
The best and most correct way of presenting the idea of compassion is in terms of clarity, clarity which contains fundamental warmth. At this stage, your meditation practice is the act of trusting in yourself. As your practice becomes more prominent in daily life activities, you begin to trust yourself and have a compassionate attitude. Compassion in this sense is not feeling sorry for someone. It is basic warmth. As much space and clarity as there is, there is that much warmth as well, some delightful feeling of positive things happening in yourself constantly. Whatever you are doing, it is not regarded as a mechanical drag in terms of self-conscious meditation, but meditation is a delightful and spontaneous thing to do. It is the continual at of making friends with yourself. (113)
Compassion automatically invites you to relate with people, because you no longer regard people as a drain on your energy. They recharge your energy, because in the process of relating to them, you acknowledge your wealth, your richness. So, if you have difficult tasks to perform, such as dealing with people or life situations, you do not feel as if you are running out of resources. Each time you are faced with a difficult task it presents itself as a delightful opportunity to demonstrate your richness, your wealth. there is no feeling of poverty at all in this approach to life. (115–6)
[M]any people make the mistake of thinking that, since ego is the root of suffering, the goal of spirituality must be to conquer and destroy ego. They struggle to eliminate ego's heavy hand but, as we discovered earlier, that struggle is merely another expression of ego. We go around and around, trying to improve ourselves through struggle, until we realize that the ambition to improve ourselves is itself the problem. Insights come only when there are gaps in our struggle, only when we strop trying to rid ourselves of thought, when we cease siding with pious, good thoughts against bad, impure thought, only when we allow ourselves simply to see the nature of thought. (180)
Provides a good general account of the teachings of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, covering the core Buddhist themes of impermanence, karma (actions and conseProvides a good general account of the teachings of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, covering the core Buddhist themes of impermanence, karma (actions and consequences), the precious human life, the important of diligence, and the wheel of death and rebirth. After opening with these fundamental "Hinayana" themes, Tai Situpa reviews the essential Mahayana teachings on compassion and the Bodhisattva path and concludes with Atisha's Seven Points of Mind Training.
As with all encounters with spiritual teachings (or, honestly, new knowledge of any kind), there are subtleties in the particularities and specifics of the presentation—the use of language, perhaps, or imagery—as well as the unique circumstances in the present life of the reader, such that the teachings speak immediately to the reader, as if composed for that person, in that moment. In this case, it was Tai Situpa's description of the practice of tonglen; when I learned how to do it at Naropa, it made no sense to me (in large part due to who and when I was), but in this book, in three paragraphs, the how of it is rendered plain and even obvious, such that tonglen has now begun to infect my daily sitting practice like some sort of dharmic mycelium.
The main body of relative Bodhicitta pratice in Mind Training is the tog.len, or taking-and-sending meditation. Tong means to send and len means to take (Tib.) The starting point of this taking-and-sending utilizes those things with which we have the strongest emotional links in this life. These are then extended until the practice embraces all sentient beings.
The person who is closest to us in this life is our mother and we visualize her standing before us. As we exhale we feel that all our happiness and all our causes of happiness go to her, totally. She really receives them. When we inhale we really think that we are taking all of her suffering and the causes of her future suffering. We work like this until we feel that we can give her all our happiness and that we are perfectly willing to take her suffering; then we go a little deeper. The happiness that we now offer her is every happiness we will encounter until we reach the Great Liberation—the state which transcends happiness and suffering. Every aspect of her suffering, down to the very root—the ego—we take to ourselves.
Once we feel ready to give our mother everything, we extend the practice to others who are important to us... Then we extend it to those friends and acquaintances who are not so important to us but about whom we feel good. Then we extend it to strangers, then to enemies, and then to those enemies we really detest. After that we apply it to all being. We apply the practice to the easiest person first and then gradually extend it to the most difficult. Then when we say or pray, "I want to benefit others," it means much more than just a shove of help. It means wanting to benefit them just as a medicine does when they are sick; just as a road does, helping them to go where they want whether it is rain or shine; just as food brings them nourishment; just as a bridge helps them cross a river and so on. There is nothing we are not prepared to do to help them, and just like medicine, the road, the food and the bridge, we expect nothing in return for our help. (73)
Definitely re-reading this (inshallah). There's no telling what may be made clear next time. ...more
When the Hubble Telescope photos like the one below began hitting the newsstands, I remember thinking, "These are the first true icons of the 21st cenWhen the Hubble Telescope photos like the one below began hitting the newsstands, I remember thinking, "These are the first true icons of the 21st century."
I think mathematical cosmologist and evangelist of wonder and mystery Brian Swimme would agree, and this book, like its predecessor The Universe Is a Green Dragon, sets out to explain just what relevance these new icons, and their theoretical counterparts in relativity and quantum theory, have for our worldviews and ways of being-in-the-world.
Interestingly enough, when I made my second attempt to complete a month-long retreat in the winter of 1995 in Colorado, and bolted in terror after only three days, one of the most shattering experiences for me was seeing our galaxy face-to-face for the first time. At night, in the crystal-clear Red Feather Lakes, CO, sky, was a sight I had never seen in the hazy and light-polluted Central Illinois skies. The image above barely does it justice. It made me feel even more isolated, remote, and tiny than three days and nights of silent meditation had done. Yet perhaps if I had been reading this stuff at the time, or was with the right "storytellers," it could have been a different, more successful sort of initiation and retreat. Alas, we didn't realize just how closely watching one's mind and gazing on/from the Milky Way were connected.
The ancient astronomers, the first cosmologists, and the shamanic storytellers often told their stories at night. The concerns of the day, however important they might seem in the sunlight, usually amount to nothing more than unwelcome distractions in the night when the great story is told in the glow from the fire's embers and Moon's journey through the branched shadows of the trees. It is in the peace that the night brings that something immense can stir in the depths of the listener, things not suspected during the day. Or if suspected briefly, then so quickly forgotten as some daytime urgency forces out the haunting music. Late, very late, after the Sun is gone—such is the time for the great surprises deep in the listener's soul. Such is the time to ponder the mysteries of one's existence. For what was invisible as we dashed about from one errand to another suddenly stands out, magically present, no longer willing to be ignored. (67–8)
He stridently denies the role of any drugs (presumably, e.g., psychedelics, entheogens, etc.) in the development of his cosmological sensitivities. This doesn't keep Swimme from coming across as a puckish prankster who likes to blow minds by reminding the reader about just how intimately the processes he describes literally constitute us all:
We are inside a cosmic process; even our thoughts about this process are simply yet another interesting current of micro-events taking place inside the great macro-event of the fifteen-billion-year development. (86)
When children learn of the universe's birth, they ask, "What was before?" These minds of ours, emerging fifteen billion years after the great flaring forth, these minds of ours—woven tapestries of the same primal particles emerging in the beginning—these minds of ours insist upon knowing what is at their own base. We wish to know the nature of the reality from which we arose, for then we will know our own deepest nature. (103–4)
I appreciate very much that Swimme takes pains to not be a fuzzy-headed New Age writer. His clarity of thinking when it comes to the role, limitations, and unique strengths of the scientific method is evident:
We need continually to distinguish the scientific enterprise from earlier forms of inquiry in order to avoid the two most common errors: insisting that scientific understanding is altogether divorced from other kinds of knowing, or claiming that in essence there is no difference between the modern scientific and the other forms of knowledge. Each mode is primordial; each is qualitatively distinct from the others. Science is an investigation of the universe rooted in empirically verifiable physical dtail and is complementary to our earlier and more intuitive investigations of reality. The aim is not to eliminate one way of knowing in favor of another; the aim in an ultimate sense is an integral understanding of the universe grounded in both the scientific empirical detail and in our primordial visions of the cosmos. (76–7)
I also love the poetic language of Swimme's apophatic "experimental theology." I particularly appreciate the resonance between "all-nourishing abyss" and the Buddhist concept of pratitya-samutpada, "interbeing," which both imply reality's process of arising-being-dissolving:
I use "all-nourishing abyss" as a way of pointing to [the] mystery at the base of being. One advantage of this designation is its dual emphasis: the universe's generative potentiality is indicated with the phrase "all-nourishing," but the universe's power of infinite absorption is indicated with "abyss."
The universe emerges out of all-nourishing abyss not only fifteen billion years ago but in every moment. Each instant protons and antiprotons are flashing out of, and are as suddenly absorbed back into, all-nourishing abyss. All-nourishing abyss then is not a thing, nor a collection of things, not even, strictly speaking, a physical place, but rather a power that gives birth and that absorbs existence at a thing's annihilation. (100)
The Great Work now, as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth
The Great Work now, as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner. This historical change is something more than the transition from the classical Roman period to the medieval period, or from the medieval period to modern times. Such a transition has no historical parallel since the geobiological transition that took place 67 million years ago when the period of the dinosaurs was terminated and a new biological age begun. So now we awaken to a period of extensive disarray in the biological structure and functioning of the planet. (3)
To appreciate the numinous aspect of the universe as this is communicated in this story we need to understand that we ourselves activate one of the deepest dimensions of the universe. We can recognize in ourselves our special intellectual, emotional, and imaginative capacities. That these capacities have existed as dimensions of the universe from its beginning is clear since the universe is ever integral with itself in all its manifestations throughout its vast extension in space and throughout the sequence of its transformations in times. The human is neither an addendum nor an intrusion into the universe. We are quintessentially integral with the universe. (31–2)
To understand the human role in the functioning of the Earth we need to appreciate the spontaneities found in every form of existence in the natural world, spontaneities that we associate with the wild—that which is uncontrolled by human dominance. We misconceive our role if we consider that our historical mission is to "civilize" or "domesticate" the planet, as though wildness is something destructive rather than the ultimate creative modality of any form of earthly being. We are not here to control. We are here to become integral with the larger Earth community. The community itself and each of its members has ultimately a wild component, a creative spontaneity that is its deepest reality, its most profound mystery. (48)
The universe carries in itself the norm of authenticity of every spiritual as well as every physical activity within it. The spiritual and the physical are two dimensions of the single reality that is the universe itself. There is an ultimate wildness in all this, for this universe, as existence itself, is a terrifying as well as a benign mode of being. If it grants us amazing powers over much of its functioning we must always remember that any arrogance on our part will ultimately be called to account. The beginning of wisdom in any human activity is a certain reverence before the primordial mystery of existence, for the world about us is a fearsome mode of being. We do not judge the universe. The universe is even now judging us. This judgment we experience in what we refer to as the "wild." We recognize this presence when we are alone in the forest, especially in the dark of night, or when we are at sea in a small craft out of sight of land and for a moment lose our sense of direction. The wild is experienced in the earthquakes that shake the continents in such violence, so too in the hurricanes that rise up out of the Caribbean Sea and sweep over the land. (49–50)
Because such deterioration results from a rejection of the inherent limitations of human existence and from an effort to alter the natural functioning of the planet in favor of a humanly constructed wonderworld, resistance to this destructive process must turn its efforts toward living creatively within the organic functioning of the natural world. Earth as a biospiritual planet must become for us the basic referent in identifying our own future. (59)
One of the must essential roles of the ecologist is to create the language in which a true sense of reality, of value, and of progress can be communicated to our society. This need for rectification of language in relation to reality was recognized early by the Chinese as the first task of any acceptable guidance for the society (Analects XXII: 11). Just now, a rectification is needed in the term progress. There is a sense in which progress is needed in relieving humans from some of the age-old afflictions that humans have borne. Yet this sense of progress is being used as an excuse for imposing awesome destruction on the planet for the purpose of monetary profit, even when the consequences involve new types of human psychic and physical misery. (63)
Education and religion, especially, should awaken in the young an awareness of the world in which they live, how it functions, how the human fits into the larger community of life, the role that the human fulfills in the great story of the universe, and the historical sequence of developments that have shaped our physical and cultural landscape. Along with this awareness of the past and present, education and religion should communicate some guidance concerning the future. (71)
The transformation of human life indicated in this transition from the Cenozoic to the Ecozoic Era affects our sense of reality and values at such a profound level that it an be compared only to the great classical religious movements of the past. It affects our perceptions of the origin and meaning of existence itself. It might possibly be considered as a metareligious movement since it involves not simply a single segment of the human community but the entire human community. Even beyond the human order, the entire geobiological order of the planet is involved. (84–5)
The tendency is to insist that ecologically oriented persons will accept the existing situation with some slight modifications. The system itself must continue in the existing pattern of its functioning. The alternative, the radical transformations suggested by the ecologists—organic farming, community-supported agriculture, solar-hydrogen energy system, redesign of our cities, elimination of the automobile in its present form, restoration of local village economies, education for a post-petroleum way of life, and a jurisprudence that recognizes the rights of natural modes of being—all these are too unsettling. Even though such books as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring are proving to be valid statements of the future that awaits us, they are still considered as too extreme to be accepted. (109–10)
As we reflect on this imposition of immense global corporations trying to take over the responsibility of "feeding the world," we can only wonder at the reduction of the peoples of Earth to a condition of being nurse-maided by some few corporate enterprises. We might conclude that Mother Monsanto with her sterile seeds wishes to take over the role of Mother Nature herself. The people of the world need the assistance of each other, but only such assistance that enables them to fulfill their own responsibility for doing the essential things themselves. Village peoples everywhere, indeed all of us, need assistance within the pattern of our own inventive genius, not being reduced to a franchise of some distant corporation. (135)
We are into a new historical situation. The forces that we are concerned with have control not simply over the human component of the planet but over the planet itself, considered as an assemblage of natural resources available to whatever human establishment proves itself capable of possession and exploitation. The intellectual, cultural, and moral conditions sanctioning this process have already been worked out. The truly remarkable aspect of all this is that what is happening is not being done in violation of anything in Western cultural commitments, but in fulfillment of those commitments as they are now understood. Thus any critique or quest for betterment cannot be supported simply on the claim that the present situation is in violation of Western cultural or moral commitments. Our Western culture long ago abandoned its integral relation with the planet on which we live. (146–7)
We might describe the challenge before us by the following sentence. The historical mission of our times is to reinvent the human—at the species level, with critical reflection, within the community of life-systems, in a time-developmental context, by means of story and shared dream experience. (159)
We need to reinvent the human at the species level because the issues we are concerned with seem to be beyond the competence of our present cultural traditions, either individually or collectively. What is needed is something beyond existing traditions to bring us back to the most fundamental aspects of the human: giving shape to ourselves. The human is at a cultural impasse. In our efforts to reduce the other-than-human components of the planet to subservience to our Western cultural expression, we have brought the entire set of life-system of the planet, including the human, to an extremely dangerous situation. Radical new cultural forms are needed. These new cultural forms would place the human within the dynamics of the planet rather than place the planet within the dynamics of the human. (160)
From this we can appreciate the directing and energizing role played by the story of the universe. This story that we know through empirical observation of the world is our most valuable resource in establishing a viable mode of being for the human species as well as for all those stupendous life-systems whereby the Earth achieves its grandeur, its fertility, and its capacity for endless self-renewal. (163)
[The] myth of progress supplanted the earlier myths of personal presences manifested throughout the natural world. At this same time we lost the world of meaning in an evolutionary world governed by chance without direction or higher significance, a world of emergent process that would eventually come to be spoken of as the work of a "blind watchmaker," as in Richard Dawkins's book The Blind Watchmaker. Yet a different interpretation of the data of evolution is available. We need merely understand that the evolutionary process is neither random nor determined but creative. It follows the general pattern of all creativity. While there is no way of fully understanding the origin moment of the universe we can appreciate the direction of evolution in its larger arc of development as moving from lesser to great complexity in structure and from lesser to greater modes of consciousness. We can also understand the governing principles of evolution in terms of its three movements toward differentiation, inner spontaneity, and comprehensive bonding. (169)
Each of the symbols we have mentioned has a new richness of interpretation. The journey symbol is no longer simply the journey from the circumference to the center within the context of the mandala where the divine, the human, and the cosmos become present to each other. The journey must now be understood also as the great journey that the universe has made from its primordial flaring forth until the present. This journey is carried out through a new mode of presence of these three to one another. (172)
In these opening years of the twenty-first century, as the human community experiences a rather difficult situation in its relation with the natural world, we might reflect that a fourfold wisdom is available to guide us into the future: the wisdom of indigenous peoples, the wisdom of women, the wisdom of the classical traditions, and the wisdom of science. We need to consider these wisdom traditions in tersm of their distinctive functioning, in the historical periods of their florescence, and in their common support for the emerging age when humans will be a mutually enhancing presence on the Earth.... (176)
Indigenous wisdom is distinguished by its intimacy with and participation in the functioning of the natural world.... (177)
The wisdom of women is to join the knowing of the body to that of mind, the join soul to spirit, intuition to reasoning, feeling consciousness to intellectual analysis, intimacy to detachment, subjective presence to objective distance.... (180)
The wisdom of the classical traditions [i.e., religions] is based on revelatory experiences of a spiritual realm both transcendent to and imminent [sic] in the visible world about us and in the capacity of humans to participate in that world to achieve the fullness of their own mode of being.... (185)
The wisdom of science, as this exists in the Western world at the beginning of the twenty-first century, lies in its discovery that the universe has come into being by a sequence of evolutionary transformations over an immense period of time.... We might say that the universe, in the phenomenal order, is self-emergent, self-sustaining, and self-fulfilling. The universe is the only self-referential mode of being in the phenomenal world. Every other being is universe-referent in itself and in its every activity.... (189–90)
It becomes increasingly evident that in our present situation no one of these traditions is sufficient. We need all of the traditions. Each has its owne distinctive achievements, limitations, distortions, its own special contribution toward an integral wisdom tradition that seems to be taking shape in the emerging twenty-first century. (194)
We are now experiencing a moment of significance far beyond what any of us can imagine. What can be said is that the foundations of a new historical period, the Ecozoic Era, have been established in every realm of human affairs. The mythic vision has been set into place. The distorted dream of an industrial technological paradise is being replaced by the more viable dream of a mutually enhancing human presence within an ever-renewing organic-based Earth community. The dream drives the action. In a larger cultural context the dream becomes the myth that both guides and drives the action. (201)
I found this book more powerful than Dr. Baker's previous book, Navigating the Coming Chaos, although that might be a function of the intervening yeI found this book more powerful than Dr. Baker's previous book, Navigating the Coming Chaos, although that might be a function of the intervening year-plus of business-as-usual in the face of worsening predicaments(i.e., maybe I need to read what Baker has to say more than I did last year) instead of an objective assessment of the merits of both books.
The first half of this book comprises a series of essays that Baker initially wrote for the blog of the late Michael Ruppert, and while it reveals the piece work nature of those essays, their content remains a valuable assessment of our current situation as a species and of the role that the world's wisdom traditions have to play in helping us endure and perhaps even flourish.
More important, at least to me, is the book's second section, a collection of 52 weekly "meditations" on death, suffering, and transformation that draws on a diverse set of sources to provide unflinching yet compassionate commentary on the growing challenges we face individually and collectively. (A photocopy of these meditations now resides in my "transition/collapse" binder, next to the gardening books.) ...more
When I first encountered this book on the Waldenbooks new age shelf, I thought that Vedanta was a person, as in "the Gospel according to Matthew," etcWhen I first encountered this book on the Waldenbooks new age shelf, I thought that Vedanta was a person, as in "the Gospel according to Matthew," etc. (This was in 1989 or 1990, when I was high school senior in Decatur, IL; I discovered this book at the same time as the Bhagavad Gita, which at the time was mainly noteworthy because it rhymed with "pita," itself another "foreign" item intruding on my culturally impoverished youth. Sad but true.)
In the subsequent two-plus decades, I spent a lot of time and energy attempting to answer my dad's perennial question, "What do you believe?" I knew I didn't accept my family's fundamentalist Lutheran take on Christianity (and hadn't since the fateful day I brought home that book on human evolution from the public library, only to be told that science was a lie when it contradicted stories in the Bible). I also knew that atheism, at least as I understood and experienced it, was not for me—it seemed too easy an out for me to say, "Oh to hell with the Jesus thing." And so in college I studied science (specifically biology and anthropology) alongside religion, trying to figure it all out. Then I got a Master's degree studying Buddhism and contemplative aspects of other religious traditions, including the Christianity in which I had been reared. I gradually arrived at a (loosely held) worldview in which I affirmed the relevance of Jesus to my own life, just not on terms my parents would, or do, understand. That worldview is one in which Jesus is a yidam, Tibetan for "tutelary deity," a concept akin to the Hindu notion of the iṣṭa-devatā.
So what does all of this rambling have to do with the book in question? Well, after having this book on my shelf for twenty years, and finally getting around to reading it, I found that my current worldview was more or less spelled out in these 126 pages. Perhaps I need not have taken the trip I took if only I had read it way back when, but then, of course, if I had read it 20 years ago, I wouldn't have gotten as much out of it (if anything at all). The decades of searching and pondering were, and are, my path. ...more
In an excerpt from "Brother Lawrence's Way of Life," the Abbé de Beaufort explains how the practices of this simple monk are relevant to all who seekIn an excerpt from "Brother Lawrence's Way of Life," the Abbé de Beaufort explains how the practices of this simple monk are relevant to all who seek a deeper spiritual life:
Although Brother Lawrence spent his life retired from the world in a monastery, there is still no one who cannot take great profit from what is given here concerning his way of life. He teaches people engaged in the world to turn to God, asking for grace as they fulfill their duties, take care of their business affairs, carry on conversations, and even engage in recreation. By his example they will be moved not only to give thanks to Him for His blessings and for the good His grace has allowed them to do, but also to humble themselves before Him for their faults.
This is not a speculative devotion that can be practiced only in monasteries...
From the Second Conversation with Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, September 28, 1666:
In his spiritual sufferings [Brother Lawrence] had not consulted anyone; but with faith as his guide, and his only knowledge being that God was present with him, he was content to live and act for Him, come what may. He was willing to lose himself for the love of God, and in so doing, he found satisfaction.
The multitude of thoughts that crowd in on us spoil everything. Evil begins in our thoughts, so we must be careful to reject them as soon as we become aware that they are not essential to our present duties or to our salvation. Doing this allows us to begin our conversation with God once again. (68)
The notion of being aware of thoughts arising and of "rejecting" those thoughts is central, in one form or another, to Christian contemplative prayer, as well as to forms of Buddhist and Hindu meditation.
Another notion that arises in all these traditions is that of renunciation. In his ninth letter, this one to the Reverend Mother N..., Brother Lawrence exhorts her:
[L]et us generously renounce for the love of God everything that is not Him. He is worthy of infinitely more. Let us think about Him without ceasing and put our whole trust in Him. I have no doubt that we will soon experience the effect of trusting in Him, and that we will experience the abundance of His grace, with which we are capable of everything, and without which we are capable only of sin.
We cannot avoid the dangers and reefs that life holds without the very present help of God. How can we ask for it unless we are with Him? How can we think often about Him except through the holy practices that we must form within ourselves? You will probably tell me that I am always telling you the same thing. That is true! I know no more proper or easier method than this one. And as I practice no other method, I advise it to everyone. (103)
Again, in his twelfth letter, also to Reverend Mother N..., he discusses renunciation, focus of mind, recalling the mind from its wandering, and doing so without worry or trouble. The tone of this practice might be familiar to those who have read Pema Chödrön's works on meditation:
So, after having given myself to God to make amends for my sins, I renounced for His love everything that was not Himself, and I began to live as if there were only He and I in the world. I sometimes considered myself before Him as a poor criminal at the feet of his judge, and at other times I regarded Him in my heart as my Father, as my God. I worshiped Him there as often as I was able, keeping my mind in His holy presense, and recalling it whenever I found it had become distracted from him. I had no trouble with this exercises, which I continued in spite of all the difficulties I found in practicing it, not becoming troubled or worried when I was involuntarily distracted... (110)
[W]e can give no greater witness to God of our faithfulness than by continually renouncing and turning from the created things around us to take pleasure, even for a single moment, in our Creator.
This is not to suggest that you should withdraw inwardly forever. That is not possible. But prudence, the mother of virtues, will guide you. Nonetheless, I maintain that it is a common error among spiritual persons not to withdraw from outward things from time to time to worship God within themselves and to find comfort and pleasure in the peace of His Divine presence for a few moments. (126)
Brother Lawrence, quoted in an excerpt from "Brother Lawrence's Way of Life," by the Abbé de Beaufort, explains that the practice of the presence of God isn't about intellect, emotion, or even mystical illumination, but something simpler and more profound:
"He [God] alone...is capable of making Himself known to us as He is. We search in reasoning and in the sciences, as in a poor copy, what we neglect to see in an excellent Original. God paints His own portrait in the depths of our souls, and yet we do not want to see Him there. We leave Him alone in order to engage in foolish arguments, and we disdain to converse with our King who is always present in us.
"It is not enough...to love God and to know Him only by what books tell us about Him, by what we feel about Him in our souls, by fleeting spiritual illumination. We must make our faith alive and by faith rise above our feelings, to adore God and Jesus Christ in all Their divine perfections, such as They are in Themselves. This way of faith is the spirit of the Church, and it is all we need to arrive at a high degree of perfection." (143)
The book provides many wonderful descriptions of contemplative prayer and of "mixing meditation with real life":
Sometimes a crowd of unruly thoughts would violently shove out his thoughts of God. He would then simply push them gently aside in order to return to his normal conversation with God. finally, his perseverance was rewarded with a continual remembrance of God. His different and varied acts were changed into a simple vision of God, into an illumined love, into an enjoyment without interruption.
"The time of business," he used to say, "is no different from the time of prayer. I possess God as tranquilly in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, where sometimes several people ask me different things at the same time, as if I were on my knees before the Blessed Sacrament." (144-5)
As people turned their interests increasingly to the visible world, the distinction between soul and Spirit became more difficult to maintain and tend
As people turned their interests increasingly to the visible world, the distinction between soul and Spirit became more difficult to maintain and tended to be dropped altogether; man, therefore, was represented as a being compounded of body and soul. With the rise of materialistic Scientism, finally, even the soul disappeared from the description of man—how could it exist when it could be neither weighed nor measured?—except as one of the many strange attributes of complex arrangements of atoms and molecules. Why not accept the so-called"soul"—a bundle of surprising powers—as an epiphenomenon of matter, just as, say, magnetism has been accepted as such? The Universe was no longer seen as a great hierarchic structure or Chain of Being; it was seen simply as an accidental collocation of atoms; and man, traditionally understood as the microcosm reflecting the macrocosm (i.e., the structure of the Universe), was no longer seen as a cosmos, a meaningful though mysterious creation.
If the great Cosmos is seen as nothing but a chaos of particles without purpose or meaning, so man must be seen as nothing but a chaos of particles without purpose or meaning—a sensitive chaos perhaps, capable of suffering pain, anguish, and despair, but a chaos all the same (whether he likes it or not)7mdash;a rather unfortunate cosmic accident of no consequence whatsoever.
This is the picture presented by modern materialistic Scientism, and the only question is: Does it make sense of what we can actually experience? This is a question everybody has to decide for himself. Those who stand in awe and admiration, in wonder and perplexity, contemplating the four great Levels of Being, will not be easily persuaded that there is only more or less—i.e., horizontal extension. They will find it impossible to close their minds to higher or lower—that is to say, vertical scales and even discontinuities. If they then see man as higher than any arrangement, no matter how complex, of inanimate matter, and higher than the animals, no matter how far advanced, they will also see man as "open-ended," not at the highest level but with a potential that might indeed lead to perfection. (37–38)
On the notion of adaequatio or of being adequately receptive to differing levels of significance:
In short, when dealing with something representing a higher grade of significance or Level of Being than inanimate matter, the observer depends not only on the adequateness of his own higher qualities, perhaps "developed" through learning and training; he depends also on the adequateness of his "faith" or, to put it more conventionally, of his fundamental presuppositions and basic assumptions. In this respect he tends to be very much a child of his time and of the civilization in which he has spent his formative years; for the human mind, generally speaking, does not just think: it thinks with ideas, most of which it simply adopts and takes over from its surrounding society.
There is nothing more difficult than to become critically aware of the presuppositions of one's thought. Everything can be seen directly except the eye through which we see. Every thought can be scrutinized directly except the thought by which we scrutinize. A special effort, an effort of self-awareness, is needed: that almost impossible feat of thought recoiling upon itself—almost impossible but not quite. In fact, this is the power that makes man human and also capable of transcending his humanity. It lies in what the Bible calls man's "inward parts." As already mentioned, "inward" corresponds with "higher" and "outward" corresponds with "lower." The senses are a man's most outward instruments; when it is a case of "they, seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not," the fault lies not with the senses but with the inward parts&mdash"for this people's heart is waxed gross"; they fail to "understand with their heart." Only through the "heart" can contact be made with the higher grades of significance and Levels of Being. (44)
The change of man's interest from "the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things" (Thomas Aquinas) to mathematically precise knowledge of lesser things&mdash"there being nothing in the world the knowledge of which would be more desirable or more useful" (Christian Huygens, 1629ndash;1695)—marks a shift from what we might call "science for understanding" to "science for manipulation." The purpose of the former was the enlightenment of the person and his "liberation"; the purpose of the latter is power. "Knowledge itself is power," said Francis Bacon, and Descartes promised men they would become "masters and possessors of nature." In its more sophisticated development, "science for manipulation" tends almost inevitably to advance from the manipulation of nature to that of people.
"Science for understanding" has often been called wisdom, while the name "science" remained reserved for what I call "science for manipulation."...
When "science for manipulation" is subordinated to wisdom, i.e., "science for understanding," it is a most valuable tool, and no harm can come of it. But it cannot be so subordinated when wisdom disappears because people cease to be interested in its pursuit. This has been the history of Western thought since Descartes. The old science—"wisdom" or "science for understanding"—was directed primarily "towards the sovereign good," i.e., the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, knowledge of which would bring both happiness and salvation. The new science was mainly directed toward material power, a tendency which has meanwhile developed to such lengths that the enhancement of political and economic power is now generally taken as the first purpose of, and main justification for, expenditure on scientific work. The old science looked upon nature as God's handiwork and man's mother; the new science tends to look upon nature as an adversary to be conquered or a resource to be quarried and exploited. (53–4)
The assertion that the endless repetition, silently, of a short sequence of words leads to a spiritual result, signalized, as it were, by physical sensations of spiritual warmth, is so strange to the modern mentality that it tends to be dismissed as mumbo-jumbo. Our pragmatism and respect for facts, of which we are so immensely proud, does not easily induce us to try it. Why not? Because trying it leads to the acquisition of certain insights, certain types of knowledge, which, once we have opened ourselves to them, will not leave us alone; they will present a kind of ultimatum: Either you change or you perish. The modern world likes matters it can trifle with, but the results of a direct approach to the study and development of self-awareness are not to be trifled with. (74)
Inner work, or yoga in its many forms, is not a peculiarity of the East, but the taproot, as it were, of all authentic religions. It has been called "the applied psychology of religion," and it must be said that religion without applied psychology is completely worthless. "Simply to believe a religion to be true, and to give intellectual assent to its creed and dogmatic theology, and not to know it to be true through having tested it by the scientific methods of yoga, results in the blind leading the blind." This statement comes from W.Y. Evans-Wentz, who spent most of his life "editing" sacred writings from Tibet and making them available to the West....
"Applied sciences in the sense understood in yoga" means a science that finds its material for study not in the appearances of other beings but in the inner world of the scientist himself. This inner world, of course, is not worth studying—if it is an impenetrable chaos. While the methods of Western science can be applied by anyone who has learned them, the scientific methods of yoga can be effectively applied only by those prepared first of all to put their own house in order through discipline and systematic inner work.
Self-knowledge is not only the precondition of understanding other people; it is also the precondition of understanding, at least to some extent, the inner life of beings at lower levels: animals and even plants. (89–90)
Our main help in obtaining knowledge in Field 3 [i.e., knowing ourselves as we are known by others] comes from the fact that we are social beings; we live not alone but with others. And these others are a kind of mirror in which we can see ourselves as we actually are, not as we imagine ourselves to be. The best way to obtain the requisite knowledge about ourselves, therefore, is to observe and understand the needs, perplexities, and difficulties of others, putting ourselves in their situation. One day we may get to the point when we can do this so perfectly that we, little "egos" with their own needs, perplexities, and difficulties, do not come into this picture at all. Such total absence of ego would mean total objectivity and total effectiveness. (98)
What we need to grasp at this point—and to inscribe on our map of knowledge—is this: Since physics and the other instructional sciences base themselves only on the dead aspect of nature, they cannot lead to philosophy, if philosophy is to give us guidance on what life is all about....
All the same, it is evident that the instructional sciences, even though they afford no guidance on how to conduct our lives, are shaping our lives through the technologies derived from them. Whether the results are for good or for evil is a question entirely outside their province. In this sense, it is correct to say that these sciences are ethically neutral. It remains true, however, that there is no science without scientists, and that questions of good and evil, even if they lie outside the province of science, cannot be considered to lie outside the province of the scientist. It is no exaggeration today to talk about a crisis of (instructional) science. If it continues to be a juggernaut outside humanistic control, there will be a reaction and revulsion against it, not excluding the possibility of violence. (105–6)
A statement is considered untrue, not because it appears to be incompatible with experience but because it does not serve as a guide in research and has no heuristic value; and, conversely, a theory is considered true, no matter how improbably it may be on general grounds, simply because of its "superior heuristic value."
The task of the descriptive sciences is to describe. The practitioners of these sciences know that the world is full of marvels which make all man's designs, theories, and other productions appear as a child's fumblings. This tends to induce in many of them an attitude of scientific humility....A faithful description, however, must be not only accurate and also graspable by the human minds, and endless accumulations of facts cannot be grasped; so there is an inescapable need for classifications, generalizations, explanations—in other words, for theories which offer some suggestion as to how the facts may "hang together." Such theories can never be "scientifically proved." The more comprehensive a theory in the descriptive sciences, the more is its acceptance an act of faith.
Comprehensive theories in the descriptive sciences can be divided into two groups: those which see intelligence or meaning at work in what they describe and those which see nothing but chance and necessity. It is obvious that neither the former nor the latter can be "seen," i.e., sensually experienced by man: In the Fourth Field of Knowledge there is only observation of movement and other kinds of material change; meaning or purpose, intelligence or chance, freedom or necessity, as well as life, consciousness, and self-awareness cannot be sensually observed. Only "signs" can be found and observed; the observer has to choose the grade of significance he is willing to attribute to them. To interpret them as signs of chance or necessity as as "unscientific" as to interpret them as signs of suprahuman intelligence; the one is as much as an act of faith as the other. This does not mean that all interpretations on the vertical scale, signifying grades of significance of Levels of Being, are equally true or untrue; it means simply that their truth or untruth rests not on scientific proof, but on right judgment, a power of the human mind which transcends mere logic just as the computer programmer's mind transcends the computer. (109–10)
It is the task of science to observe and report on its observations. It is not useful for it to postulate the existence of causative agents, like a Creator, intelligences, or designer, who are outside all possibilities of direct observation. "Let us see how far we can explain phenomena by observable causes" is an eminently sensible and, in fact, very fruitful methodological principle. Evolutionism, however, turns methodology into a faith which excludes, ex hypothesi, the possibility of all higher grades of significance. The whole of nature, which obviously includes manking, is taken as the product of chance and necessity and nothing else; there is neither meaning nor purpose not intelligence in it—"a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing." This is The Faith, and all contradicting observations have to be either ignored or interpreted in such a way that The Faith is upheld....
Evolutionism, purporting to explain all and everything solely and exclusively by natural selection for adaptation and survival, is the most extreme product of the materialistic utilitarianism of the nineteenth century. The inability of twentieth-century thought to rid itself of this imposture is a failure which may well cause the collapse of Western civilization. For it is impossible for any civilization to survive without a faith in meanings and values transcending the utilitarianism of comfort and survival, in other words, without a religious faith. (113–4)
How can opposites cease to be opposites when a "higher force" is present? How is it that liberty and equality cease to be mutually antagonistic and become "reconciled" when brotherhood is present? These are not logical but existential questions. The main concern of existentialism, it has been noted, is that experience has to be admitted as evidence, which implies that without experience there is no evidence. That opposites are transcended when "higher forces"—like love and compassion—intervene is not a matter to be argued in terms of logic; it has to be experienced in one's actual existence...
In the life of societies there is the need for both justice and mercy... Only a higher force can reconcile these opposites: wisdom. The problem cannot be solved, but wisdom can transcend it. Similarly, societies need stability and change, tradition and innovation, public interest and private interest, planning and laissez-faire, order and freedom, growth and decay. Everywhere society's health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of mutually opposed activities or aims. The adoption of a final solution means of kind of death sentence for man's humanity and spells either cruelty or dissolution, generally both. (126–7)
The "inner world," seen as fields of knowledge (Field 1 and Field 2), is the world of freedom; the "outer world" (Field 3 and Field 4) is the world of necessity. All our serious problems of living are suspended, as it were, between these two poles of freedom and necessity. They are divergent problems, not for solving. Our anxiety to solve problems stems from our lack of self-knowledge, which has created the kind of existential anguish of which Kierkegaard is one of the early and most impressive exponents. The same anxiety to solve problems has led to a virtually total concentration of intellectual effort on the study of convergent problems. (134)
It may conceivably be possible to live without churches; but it is not possible to live without religion, that is, without systematic work to keep in contact with, and develop toward, Higher Levels than those of "ordinary life" with all its pleasure or pain, sensation, gratification, refinement or crudity—whatever it may be. The modern experiment to live without religion has failed, and once we have understood this, we know what our "post modern" tasks really are....
The art of living is always to make a good thing out of a bad thing. Only if we know that we have actually descended into infernal regions where nothing awaits us but "the cold death of society and the extinguishing of all civilised relations," can we summon the courage and imagination needed for a "turning around," a metanoia. This then leads to seeing the world in a new light, namely, as a place where the things modern man continuously talks about and always fails to accomplish can actually be done. The generosity of the Earth allows us to feed all mankind; we know enough about ecology to keep the Earth a healthy place; there is enough room on the Earth, and there are enough materials, so that everybody can have adequate shelter; we are quite competent enough to produce sufficient supplies of necessities so that no one need live in misery. Above all, we shall then see that the economic problem is a convergent problem which has been solved already: we know how to provide enough and do not require any violent, inhuman, aggressive technologies to do so. There is no economic problem and, in a sense, there never has been. But there is a moral problem, and moral problems are not convergent, capable of being solved so that future generations can live without effort. No, they are divergent problems, which have to be understood and transcended.
Can we rely on it that a "turning around" will be accomplished by enough people quickly enough to save the modern world? This question is often asked, but no matter what the answer, it will mislead. The answer "Yes" would lead to complacency, the answer "No" to despair. It is desirable to leave these perplexities behind us and get down to work. (130–40)
My one-time PhD advisor, Dr. Steven D. Goodman, posted something about this book/art/exhibit/artist to his Facebook page, and it sounded so intriguingMy one-time PhD advisor, Dr. Steven D. Goodman, posted something about this book/art/exhibit/artist to his Facebook page, and it sounded so intriguing that I immediately requested it from the university library. His description reminded me of my first encounter with balanced stones as a sculptural, performance art form--Bay Area artist Bill Dan's impromptu sculptures in front of the Palace of Fine Arts. George Quasha is all that and more. Axial Stones isn't just about a bunch of balanced rocks; it explores what Quasha calls the principle of axiality, a notion that is nearly impossible to dress in language yet irresistible in its will to self-expression. Poetry, philosophy, dharma, art, come together here precariously, optimally, beautifully like the stones on the book's cover. Deeply challenging from cover to cover, at every level of one's being, the language approaches but never quite comes pretentious, due to the sincerity of the author's intention (and, possibly by imitation, this reader's); as Quasha notes in his metalogue, "I don't mean any of this as a cleverness of thought, but as an inevitably failing attempt to characterize the feel and time of work. ...more
This book is wonderful from so many different angles that it almost boggles my mind (like, wow, man):
—the author's Gen X sensibility and sense of humThis book is wonderful from so many different angles that it almost boggles my mind (like, wow, man):
—the author's Gen X sensibility and sense of humor;
—his lovely illustrations, charts, and diagrams;
—his choice of the "altered states" of consciousness to explore here, most of which the "normal" human being experiences on a regular basis, and without ingesting anything: parasomnias, hypnagogia, slow-wave sleep, "the Watch," REM dreams, lucid dreams, hypnopompia, trances, daydreams, SMR (sensorimotor rhythm), "the Zone," and the "Pure Conscious Event";
—his interdisciplinary literacy, reading in and interviewing with Buddhist monks, neuroscientists, psychologists, dream scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, neurologists, cognitive scientists, mystics, and consciousness researchers;
—his phenomenological approach, his attempts to get into the states of mind he discusses, whether through meditation retreats, exercise, keeping a dream journal, or wearing a lucid dreaming mask to bed; and
—his openness to uncertainty, to a sense of the mystical without indulging in New Age tropes, and to the possibility that mind might be an emergent property of matter via the brain.
Heck, the list of suggested reading alone is worth the price of admission! ...more