The lie we live is the belief that the "I" in us that needs to surmount all obstacles to our survival of self can only succeed through being better than, stronger than, more powerful than all others and all other life. Everything becomes "the other" which is separate in all respects to our identity or our "self".
Most religions interpret this belief and its resulting behavior as "Sin". "William Johnston in his "Arise my Love..." and Merton in his "Seeds of Contemplation" reflect on the illusion of the "false Self", the idea that "....human effort alone will not .... fix the chaotic world in which we live". To them this worship of our selves, where we are the ultimate reality and all else is here to serve us, is the great lie, the illusion that makes us sinners.
Most do not believe that we can fix this problem by ourselves, mostly because we do not recognize it as a problem. But most of all the belief is that only a direct (spiritual) union with God will allow us to be free of the prison that we are encased in. The one that we actually believe is all we are, our personal identity (our status, our relative value, our power, our need).
What we will be exploring is a different perspective. Not one that ignores or eliminates our creator, but one that integrates all that we are (warts included) with all that we can be. This is the Holistic Human where the DNA of our physical self merges with the DNA of our spiritual self and we become whole human beings (contributed as a metaphor by a lady at a Merton class I attended, which everyone liked and enjoyed).
The reality is we are our DNA, but the reality is also our life experiences activate or deactivate specific Genes. When we are born we inherit our parents Genes that may come with alterations, not all of which are necessarily good for us. We also inherit our spiritual DNA from our creator. Like the adopted child that yearns to know of his/her biological parents, we all yearn to know of our creator.
However, a few things get in the way. Our individual identities. Our self images. Our Social cultures. Our religious cultures. Our community roles and identities. When we combine these with our collective need to survive (as we see ourselves) conflict is the natural outcome and so is all of the ills that we perpetuate, on ourselves, on other life, on our planet.
So some of the spiritual guides tell us nothing can be done by us alone, surrender to God is the only path to salvation. Others tell us that If we give up the illusion, the lie, than all that is left is our spiritual DNA. That spiritual DNA cannot do other than to guide us back to God.
Meanwhile the scientists and theorists are marching on, giving us day by day year by year new insights into what we actually are (biologically) and what the Cosmos really looks like beyond our immediate senses. Some of these insights and discoveries have caused me to arrive at a different and maybe, just maybe, a more interesting and beneficial perspective.
An Introduction to our Biology (From a layman point of view)
We did not create ourselves. We consist of some of the basic elements (atoms) as a mixture of organized and cooperating organic molecules. These organic molecules form cells that reproduce. The instructions for this reproduction are in our DNA which itself consists of chains of molecular structures organized into some sort of code or alphabet. Our biological development depends on thousands of Genes turning on and often back off until a fully functional human being is formed. This is not a simple process as it also includes a communication process that goes way beyond the manufacture of proteins. Cells that are in the beginning without an identity migrate to where they belong and at the same time form an identity of their own. They become differentiated into skin, bones, and all of the other organs which make us up.
The developmental process does not stop at birth. While new organs do not develop, ongoing modification and repair continue throughout our lifetime. In effect for each span of time and for each life experience genes are activated to respond to those life experiences. We have the opportunity to become fully holistic human beings. That is the good news, the not so good news is that the process is sometimes flawed and not all things work as planned.
One of the most important things to remember as we continue with this exploration is that so far we have had nothing to do with the process. We did not design it, we did not create it, we did not set up the conditions in the Universe that made us possible. It is also a good idea to remember that we may still be (as a life form) in the developmental process. As far as the universe is concerned we may be just an opportunity. It may be our choice, not just to survive but to continue with this experiment as it was meant to be in the beginning....a Divine opportunity for us all.
Our biology gives us some unique abilities. While other life can and does respond to their life experiences in new ways we can problem solve outside of our experience, we communicate using complex symbols, we can imagine something that does not exist and we can create tools that extend our basic senses, including our thinking. So one might ask if we have all of these capabilities, why are we creating a survival problem for our species and all other species as well.
For one we do not act collectively. We are individuals struggling to preserve what we think we are as individuals. We cannot agree on the self inflicted dangers we face because not all of us sense the threat. Those that do fall prey to the poisoning of our environment are isolated. So the global threat is not appreciated. In part this is because of our amazing ability to logically defend an insane act to protect our own self interests.
Who do we turn to when disaster overwhelms us? How do we regulate our consumption mentality so that the products created for us do no harm? How do we prevent harm to our ECO Systems that in turn harms us and all life that depends on them? How do we protect our children?
These questions and a thousand others, in theory, should guide us to reflect differently on our behavior. In some cases this is happening, but the paradox of our systems is such that the self interests of our human counterparts can effectively defend themselves against any attack, even when they are aware of the danger their actions expose us to.
Organizations have power. A lone individual, not so much. Religious, political, social and corporate organizations have the opportunity to do no harm but many do. How does the individual protect themselves against the onslaught of corporate greed and harmful corporate culture? How does the individual defend themselves against a murderous dictator? Individually they don't. Collectively they have a chance. But collective behavior, no matter the lofty goals, is the level of consciousness of its leaders. So we are in a classic catch 22. No matter what we do or think as a species we are always defending ourselves against ourselves. The old saying we are our own worst enemy is not only true, but alarmingly true.
Does religion help us here, has it helped in the past, is religion the way through these paradoxes of self destructive behavior? In one sense the faith of religious cultures (belief systems) comforts us when we are ill or injured, when disaster strikes our lives, and when we die. We turn to God (in whatever form we believe God to be) to save us from ourselves and save us in death. This is not a bad thing, it is a good thing, but over the centuries has any religion solved our intrinsic problem? I believe the answer is no. And if you can let that "no" hover in space for just a bit, we could explore just what we are and what we might do to change everything. I believe our creator would find our efforts worthy.
You see God created us, we did not create ourselves. And while we are growing up as a species there appears to be a flaw in the design. But is there really a flaw or do we just not see the big picture? Are we in effect blind to our own potential, not our potential 5,000 years from now, but our potential right here, right now? My belief is we are. That this blindness can be overcome, I also believe.
A look at the Basics of Being Human
Imagine for a minute a human that had no physical flaws, everything worked as designed. This individual had loving parents, was raised in a secure and safe environment, had access to many different experiences (sports, physical training, a modern education, play time, responsible time, and taught the ability to make decisions in its own best interest while maintaining compassion and respect for others. How would this individual experience his or her life?
Well, it depends on what happens. We all know there is no safety net and yet the conditions under which this individual grew up were about as optimum as possible given our current consciousness. But stuff does happen, our systems fail us, our needs overwhelm our judgement, and the basic level of our global consciousness is somewhere between compassion and total self interest. Since we are a thinking species each of us is smart enough to logically or emotionally defend our every act, no matter what results that act creates. This individual might be overcome by the tragedy of our existence, or, might be entirely focused on the uplifting spirit of compassion that so many exhibit.
Each time this individual experiences life, a choice is made. These choices multiply and multiply over a span of time until this individuals fundamental self image is created. Our choices are sometimes complex and filled with paradox. Do I save the baby only to watch the mother die before my eyes. Do I drill for natural gas to keep people safe and warm in harsh winters or do I weigh the poisons contaminating the fresh water beneath the surface. Do I create new grains to feed the world while ignoring the slow elimination of biodiversity. Do I kill to save a child, do I kill to eliminate a human poison from harming others, do I sacrifice a thousand to save a million, do I defend my right to carry weapons even though I know others carry them to kill for their own self interest. These are all difficult decisions, filled with complexity and overshadowed by the knowledge that no matter what we choose to do some bad things are going to happen. If we spread this decision process across our entire species, millions/billions, it is no wonder we are a spastic, confused and difficult species.
So, does anything point to a way out or a way in? Are the theologians right when they pronounce that the human cannot extricate themselves from this swamp of complexity and confusion by themselves. Is self interest the only way, in effect survival of the fittest, even against our own species? Or is surrender to our God the only way, trusting that we will be guided into a better life both here on earth and when we die? Who do we follow? What do we follow?
So far nothing protects us against those that would lead us into a better world. Religious leaders defend their faith even to the point of harming others, political leaders defend their own systems even to the point of harming others, economic leaders defend their policies and practices even though harm is a guaranteed by product of consumption. Dictatorships do not work, Pure socialism does not work, Communism does not work, Democracy and Capitalism, in my opinion the best of the four, has lots of warts and flaws.
All systems fail. And while we can defend democracy and capitalism as the best of the worst, we see democracy eroding before our very eyes. Why? Undisciplined self interest. This is the complete failure of our species to recognize where we always go wrong and why our systems always fail. No this is not Doomsday, but even the most positive individual cannot ignore the tragic elements of our lives. Even those that completely surrender to their God have to live with our Species dysfunction. What is the elephant in the room? Why do we insist on stealing from the future to satisfy our needs in the present? Why rape our environment so that a few can live comfortably? What is it we are missing?
Original sin was created to help us to deal with these paradoxes. If we are basically sinful our only choice is to give up and surrender to a higher authority. Actually nothing else relieves the pain of our mistakes and our death so effectively. Once believed fully with complete surrender those individuals are free to continue, in freedom. This is the carrot of Enlightenment (all religions), to exist in this world without guilt, to function in complete freedom, to exercise our true potential without undo harm to others.
You see unregulated DNA has ruled the experience of life since the beginning. This is what our Creator gave us. This is what we are made of. The miracle of the creation of life is incredibly complex, awesome in its fundamentals, joyful in its execution, filled with potential, and yet it is the elephant in the room. The very tools given us to exist are the same tools we use to die.
I wish I could reference all those who have given their lives to lead us out of the quagmire of our desperation, but I cannot. I can only acknowledge their leadership and attempt to follow in their footsteps. Let go of being right, live with the unknown, acknowledge our biology, accept the Universe and all that it means, and use what our Creator gave us to learn, to go beyond our self images and become the fully aware life forms that is our true destiny. To continue searching is what we do. To stop searching, to cement the Truth, is the worst result our Creator could ever have imagined. But while we are searching we have the responsibility to acknowledge our impact to all other life as well as our own. The final page will never be written, so lets protect and enjoy the page we are on.
A Real Exploration of the Path to Freedom (techniques, stops, new starts, warts and diamonds)
We were having dinner with some friends when the subject of meditation came up. The difficulty most had was the inability to quiet the mind for more than a few seconds. Their mind would empty but their concentration of their breathing would be interrupted by extraneous thoughts. Then they would start all over again and yet the thoughts would keep coming back. A pure, still and quiet mind was an illusive target. Then we talked about sensing our focus of attention rather than using thoughts to focus. For example telling ourselves "Breath in, Breath out, breath in, Breath out" is using thoughts to focus our attention. But using thoughts to focus keeps the mind active. Emptying the mind means letting go of all thoughts. Although the group did not pursue this line of thinking and we did not come to any practical resolution some ideas about stillness and quieting of the mind were talked about. What they are and how they work I decided to add here. But do they really work? Try them and decide for yourself.
Chanting, Mantras, Sounds
Let it first be said, there is no wrong way to silence the mind. Second, if at first you do not succeed, try, try again. We do not get an A+ on our report card for success nor do we get an F for not succeeding. These efforts to find a place of stillness, to relax the mind and body, are for our health and peace of mind. The goal is not to become an expert meditator but to enhance the quality of our lives and all of our relationships. So with this in mind lets talk about sounds.
Music sooths the savage beast and when we really are absorbed by it our mind is so busy enjoying the beats, rhythms and sounds that our thoughts and emotions move out of the way. For example, at this moment, I am listening to loud Peruvian music. This occupies all of the space in my mind that might be filled with distracting thoughts. While I am not meditating I am free to focus on this message. It is not only pleasant but fun.
Repeating phrases, words or sounds over and over also distracts the mind from extraneous thoughts. When the sounds are repeated with a deep resonance the mind seems to resonate with the frequency of the sound. Two that I often use, just because I like how the sound feels inside me is the OHMMMMM and MUAHHHH sounds. I make the sounds deep in my throat and let the vibration flow throughout my body. Done for several minutes the vibration fills every part of me and brings contentment without any further effort on my part. Just for the fun of it get several people rhythmically repeating these two sounds and feel the energy as the sounds completely envelops each of you. It is quite amazing.
There are two approaches for our breathing. One is to close our eyes and repeat out loud, or just in our minds eye, the words Breath in, Breath out, while letting each breath match the length of the sound. "Breath in" is timed to a complete inhale, while "Breath out' is timed to each exhale. This is repeated over and over until you feel each muscle group relax and finally your mind relaxes with you. You will notice that your heartbeat become very prominant in your mind. Soon, you will focus only on the heartbeat, but that is a personal choice. Some people get anxious or even startled when their heartbeat is so present in the mind. At first it can be a bit unnerving. While I am only a novice at this I can smooth out the beats even if I am agitated. I do most of this at night, often when I wake up and want to go back to sleep.
The other approach to breathing is to focus your attention on the actual breathing itself. Concentrate only on the air moving in and out of the lungs. If you want imagine the age of the atoms that you are taking in, billions of years old and tell yourself you are breathing the basic elements of the Universe itself. That is just the amusement part. The real effort to focus is to quiet the mind, so that yesterday, today or tomorrow does not enter the space you are reserving inside to connect to your inner energy.
I often have periods where I spend a great deal of time and energy (specially at night) rewriting my history. Like a novelist making up a story I begin with the facts or reference in my past and then weave a story much more to my liking from there on. Actually from a story writing viewpoint these revisions are pretty good, I actually learn from them. As far as stories go I am able to both entertain myself and right the wrongs or failures of my past. But make no mistake, this is living in the yesterday, not in today (or tonight if I am trying to sleep). So I catch myself in these rewrites of history and then patiently go back to centering myself in the present. Now obviously chanting at three in the morning to come back to the present does not sit well with my wife so I just stick to bringing my awareness away from the story telling and onto my breathing. Soon I go back to sleep and wake up refreshed.
The point of this confession is that we all back track and we would all like to rewrite our past. But the more I bring myself into the present the more I am able to let go and be here now, even if it is only sleeping. A sense of humor and a great deal of gentleness toward these regressions is a good thing. Never, I repeat never, chastise yourself. Just acknowledge what happened and go back to the practice of staying in this moment, the present. You might even want to write these stories down, either for your own amusement or for publication. There is something else that goes on during these focusing moments. I will call it the communication of energy.
Sensing the Energy of the Body
"Moved to "Kensho Satori"