The Terror of Impermanence- Swimme, Tolle
In essence both Swimme and Tolle want us to recognize our attachment and identification with form (read permanence) is false. To be free, and thus kind, compassionate and creative within the moment requires us to honor the voices of creation, the cosmology of loss, the pathology of permanence replaced by embracing the songs of creation itself.
Embracing the terror of loss permits us to become a part of the disappearing Universe. This embracing penetrates the Ego and begins the dissolution of the Self. The idea that we are all food (impermanent) is both liberating and dissatisfying. Denying our mortality is a delusion and yet acceptance of impermanence can lead to depression. The Ego does not want to be considered food, for anyone or anything.
At a deep emotional level it is difficult, very difficult, to let go of the pain of assaults from those we trusted, from those who do not care, from misfortune of every kind. Although time and the forgetting that comes with time lessens these pains would it not be better to feel them and then be able to let them go in days instead of a lifetime?
Letting go is only difficult because we see ourselves as something or someone separate from everything and everyone else. It is not the injury but the loss. Loss of a part of us that we believed and trusted in as the way it should be. To accept loss it is helpful to feel the connection and the impermanence of all that is. Then and only then can we feel the wrongness of it all in a different light. Change, injuries and loss are part of it all as we are. It is our separateness, our belief we are an object to be injured, instead of a part of it all - alert, conscious, aware, connected. "Our denial is we are not participants in everything we do and experience. Thus we are always exposed, isolated, and a potential victim. To become a part of everything ends this perception and this exposure".
The Initial Idea
Self Esteem is when we accomplished something, winning, building, creating, fixing. It is and does help us to view ourselves as worthy and capable . Self Love is when we realize we are enough, we are ok, we are worthy, we take care of ourselves, we do not lie to ourselves, we accept the truth whether from ourselves or others. Comparisons place us above or below or even with others. Self Esteem often makes comparisons, Self Love does not. Self Esteem guides us to respect others. Self Love guides us to unconditionally love others.
The key to relationships is the ability to love unconditionally. That means letting go of judgements, labels, ownership or possession. It means seeing and telling the truth of yourself and others. It means you are enough, they are enough. It means a loving consciousness of your feelings, needs and actions. It means your bottled up, ignored, and demanding self image survival needs and emotions do not run the show. Loving Consciousness exists when awareness and honesty meet the past expressed in fear or anger with acceptance, patience, and self love.
But how do we get there? Many, many people have found a way. Many, many people try to guide us on our journey to self love and a loving consciousness. They do this by trying to reach out with a new language, different metaphors, different ways of expressing their belief in the higher hopes for humanity.
We all know that there is something seriously wrong with our societies, with our families, with our relationships. Yet we continue to march on even though we have no real clue as to how to change the path of personal and global destruction (at least dysfunction) we are on. Most teachers say there are no shortcuts. Organizations, religions, nations can be altered, changed, even patched up, but the real work always comes back to the individual. I agree, our future rests with the individual. What are the steps that each and everyone of us must take if we are to create real change. The kind of change that can bring a loving consciousness to each of us as we teach, care for and share our lives on this planet.
First we learn that the mind is filled with noise. This noise clamors for our attention, distracts us, fills us with history, guides us in our actions and summons emotions to the surface that may have nothing to do with this moment. It is this prior history that clouds our vision. We do not see our self image standing on its hind legs waving the red flag. We do not notice what just triggered us to respond in hurt, anger or fear.
Our relationships hinge on two elements of our makeup. When we first get a sense of "I" it is the beginning formation of our self image. This begins the separation between the "I" and everyone and everything else. What follows is our mysterious path to reconnect, to find approval, love, and self worth. This path is filled with self deception. We do not always recognize what it is we are feeling, we do not acknowledge our right to have these feelings and thus our expression of the feelings is often distorted and inappropriate. Yet conscious truth telling to ourselves and others is exactly what we should be doing.
Eckhart wants us first to understand the idea of a "Now" and how the Mind deals with the present by invoking the "Past or the Future". The mind is identified with this past or future in the form of an Ego or Self Image. All of your life experiences have made you what you are today - confident or not, angry or afraid, lost or entrenched in a belief system (the list is endless). This Self Image becomes over time all that you are and at no time does it want to alter or change what made you what you are. In fact this image of self is protected, defended and supported under all conditions and in all situations. The "Now" (this moment or experience in the present) is interpreted and dealt with through your past. Your past has an accumulation of emotions (Eckhart calls it the Pain Body) that the mind (as a self image) drags into the present to deal with the present. This is unconscious behavior which hardly ever results in a true interpretation of what is really going on at this moment. When two or more pain bodies interact the result is never peaceful. I cannot do justice to "The Power of Now" in this short space so I recommend reading it to understand fully what this transformative process is and how significant the personal change can be for you Health, Well Being and Happiness.
Eckhart brings the idea of a Watcher, an Observer that Witnesses the processes of the Mind. By noticing our thoughts and the emotions associated with them we shed a bright light on our unconscious mind game and by this alone a level of consciousness is created. Unconscious behavior (we don't realize what we have done until it is too late) cannot survive under the bright light of awareness as the observer notices or witnesses what we are doing (thoughts, emotions, actions).
The easiest path to this observer is through "Stillness", a focus on our breathing, our heartbeat, the energy within the body or the tension of our muscles. When we do have this "Watcher" hanging around, noticing things, judgement of the goings on in our mind and body is not part of the process. Part of letting go means allowing the "Observer" to witness without judgements or commentary. As soon as the Commentary begins the mind (self image, Pain Body) tries to shove the "Observer" out of the way and continue with its mischief behavior. Over time, a short period in the scheme of things, the Observer becomes the norm in our daily life and the past or future no longer dominates our interpretation of the moment. The Pain Body is powerful and takes no prisoners. Eckhart does a wonderful job showing us the pain body and its impact on our relationship to the present moment (The Now).
Thomas Merton's Contemplative Prayer in The New Seeds of Contemplation is the "fertile soil in which the insight into our true self in God takes root and grows". .... "We see the presence of God in all that is". This path (contemplative prayer) takes us through the false self to a deep communion with God. This is an experience not a thought construct. The parallel to other teachers is the concept of thought and the self image (or external self) as an impediment to communion, to life itself, to God (as you see God), to each other. Merton calls it the false self. The self that separates everything into objects that reenforce the egos identity, are used to support that identity, which in turn prevents the communion experience. Even the mind is an object to be possessed, not something I am but something I own. This ego-consciousness relegates everything to a possession that is used by the EGO OR FALSE SELF to enhance and protect its own survival. The self that we grew up with is the very self that prevents further spiritual growth. It is devious, sometime subtle, and always determined to ensure its own survival (the identification to what it perceives as who it is). Descartes famous "I think therefore I am" is the classic thought construct that defines us as thought. This is our ego consciousness giving us the identity of mind.
Merton wants us to find that place within where we are in God and God is within us, no separation, no identification, no spiritual labeling that brings the ego consciousness out of its slumber as we designate ourselves spiritual beings.
Eckhart wants us to transform from an ego-consciousness species that is identified with and trapped by our attachment to the past or the future to a non ego-consciousness. Live in the world but be not defined by the world. Love unconditionally. Live with an intense presence in the Now, not yesterday not tomorrow but Now.
Vanzant uses the metaphor of a house with a basement, a first floor, a second floor, a third floor and an attic. The basement is where you act from a pure survival position, the attic is where you exist in a state of unconditional love. Her quote from a Course in Miracles says it all "I am entitled to miracles because I am as God created me to be". "You are a miracle and for that matter so is everyone else". In the attic you will share, be the example, teach, and love unconditionally. you will respond to life experiences, you will not be defined by them. The attic of life's house is the consciousness with which children live, totally trusting, totally free, totally accepting of self and others.
I am currently attending a workshop on Thomas Merton. It is interesting to hear such a diverse response to Merton's language on Contemplative prayer and the contemplative experience. I attempted to provide my own version of what I have heard so far. So for a reference point sometime in the future here is what I believe about the Contemplative Experience at this time.
"Contemplation , the silence and solitude of prayer, leads us to the contemplative experience. Like the "no self" of Buddism and Eckhart and many others the "I" that we are attached to and is us in our minds and hearts is left behind. We are no longer attached to our past (that defined us and made us who we are today). Our identification with all of the external elements of our lives (status, skills, intelligence, things, needs, image, roles) no longer exists as something we are but only what we do.
No thought construct can be the experience of emptiness and union with the essence of the God of the Universe, the creator of all that has emerged to this moment. All life, all of it. The pure awareness of your connection (union) with all of creation. You no longer exist as a separate "I" and not even as a "noself" but as a part of the center of creation with no boundaries, no limits. You still function in the world but you do so with a completely different consciousness. You now travel unencumbered by an attachment to who you are in the world of men and women. The "I" that concerns itself with a "self Image" and is ruled by the emotions of the past, that is defined by comparisons and relative status or power, that makes decisions of the moment based on fears of the future or the emotions from the past, that needs rather than shares, is gone. The human spirit that replaces this "self" honors life, responds to the moment as it is, stays connected, and becomes a teacher. Life goes on, but it goes on in a completely different way. It is no longer a "Path To" but a "Path Of". The experience of living and dying is completely changed, all of your relationships will experience a different you and if this is not enough, both you and the world will experience life in a much more profound way.