A frustrated monk spoke to his abbot, "I have heard you say that we are always one with God, but I often donít feel one with God." The abbot replied, "Well, I never told you that we will always feel one with God. I said we are always one with God."
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Easter morning, I sit in the small circle of Friends at the Quaker Meeting. In the Quiet, I feel nothing I would earlier in life identified as religious or spiritual or mystical; indeed, nothing Easter-like on this Easter day. Earlier in life, I identified what I meant by "God" with feelings of love, of peace, of calm, of a sense of the Wholly Other. I would sit in the Quiet and feel a basking in the sweetness of Grace, or what I thought was the sweetness of Grace. This I, also, called the presence of God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit. If I did not feel pleasant sensations, I did not identify this with the same Presence. So, "God" was only related to with pleasant, and pleasant and unpleasant were the only two alternatives, no third one or more.
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In our spirituality experiences of sweetness can be cherished. I see them as part of an encouragement to grow, to fidelity to our path. They can be manifestations of Grace. So, we need not shun these good feelings. As we, however, grow, we are likely to grow into less dependence on or wish for such sweet consolation. We learn that such pleasant sensations can as easily distract persons, creating a wish for more, even as the palate can get addicted to sugary, sweet foods. We, then, can experience all feelings as just that, feelings, and feelings are like clouds passing the sky. One can see clouds, accept clouds, but know them as only what they are in relation to the sky, and the sky does not change.
Thankfully, in time we see the duality of pleasant and unpleasant as simplistic, not true to fact. In Quiet, we come to know an experience beyond the duality of pleasant-or-unpleasant, good-or-bad, right-or-wrong.
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One of the three poisons that leads to suffering, taught in all Buddhist sects, is greed, or clinging. This can translate into worship, prayer, meditation, and life in general as a demand for what we could call a good feeling, as opposed to a bad feeling. Not getting the good feeling, this can lead to effort to get it, which may hinder it arising. Also, not receiving this apparently positive feeling can lead to guilt, as one may think he or she must be to blame, start wondering why her or his God refuses to manifest in goodness, or questioning the validity of the path or practice, or both.
Furthermore, the duality of this good-or-bad easily keeps us thinking in terms of the psychological self, rather than the Self, our essence. In spirit we meet a stateless beingness, as the Light is devoid of states of mind or feeling states; Grace is not subject to the opposites of emotions characterizing the psychological self. In spirit, we do not deny feelings, we simply see them differently, we experience them in the light of Light.
For example, if one is in Silence, and anger arises, one realizes anger has no substance to it. Anger is not a sign of a lack of the presence of Grace. Anger is a feeling state. One can see how it passes, as it came, so knows there is nothing substantial about such a feeling. This applies to all so-called negative feelings. This does not mean one is not to address the anger, in some way. If anger keeps arising, one may need to work for changes that will resolve the anger to some degree, if not totally. To think that persons on a devoted path of spiritual transformation will not need assistance in working toward healing of the mind or body is simply not true.
Engaging a spiritual path does not exempt one from being human, so, to an extent, broken as to the psychological self. Yet, how one approaches this healing and sees receiving assistance, will be shaped by the spiritual path one engages, as well as where he or she is in realizing the truth of that path inwardly. In fact, spirituality can be a deceitful bypass from someone honestly facing the psychological aspects within the body that are in need of attention and, possibly, the grace of apparently non-spiritual means of intervention, including medicine and counseling. Hence, not to attach to feelings does not translate as to ignore feelings. Feelings can be important messengers of healing or change that needs to occur. Advice in spiritual circles to "let go" can be unwisely read to mean to refuse to pay attention to or read as an implication that spiritual practice is the cure-all for our emotional suffering. I doubt any spiritual guide would advise someone under his or her guidance to just let go of the pain of a broken leg, rather he or she would advise to take appropriate action for the healing of the leg.
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So, sitting in the circle on Easter, I am unable to try to generate any consoling feeling. I am unable to go to the past. I am unable to go to the future. I am just here. Mind is confused initially by this. I relax. The reminder arises that I have often read of this presence being so totally present, that one is simply, fully present now. So, I simply sit, I breath, I am here, and, yet, this here is not a place. This here appears as a momentless moment. Does this mean no thoughts arise? No. Yet, what arises in this moment dissolves quickly into this one moment.
So, in such a time as I have shared, Grace may be teaching you a higher evolvement of being. Here, you are no longer identified with the duality of pleasant and unpleasant, for once you release your estimation, your judgment for or against, of a feeling, which arises from the past, from memory, you discover freedom from the duality of conflicting emotions. You, then, are not caught by good or caught by bad, neither sticks, both are transitory states of feeling. This is the opening to experience Grace in a new way, a way wherein Grace is known as present in all passing states of the body, for Grace is free of the limitations of the body.
Then, another feeling, or sense, though not an emotion can arise. This feeling is a subtle sense indescribable, no word applies, but two words speak of it: contentment, equanimity. Joy is a third word, yet most persons equate joy with happiness, and this is to see joy as an emotion. Joy is not an emotion. Theists may call the sense God, or another word in reference to a higher being. There are other words that apply to this sense, personal and abstract. How this subtle sense is felt in the body may shift, so, one may feel it at one time as love, later, as calm, and, later, another word may be point to the feeling of this subtle sense. These words apply, as long as we do not attribute to such emotion, for this feeling is not an emotion. If emotion arises in the body as a result of this sense, the emotion is a bodily response to the subtle sense.
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Blessedly, we come to be thankful for the frustration of being bounced between the duality of emotional states. When frustrated enough, we relax, we learn to be with Life, rather than prioritizing feelings. We discover this subtle sense prior to feelings itself is welcoming, is a gift we cherish more than even the best of feelings. We know this subtle sense will never leave us, and, if we move way from it, it is always present for our return. This is the way of Grace, of Love, and for many, of God.
Grace and Peace to All
*Move cursor over pictures for photographer and title.
*(C)Brian K. Wilcox, 2019