Brian Wilcox. 'Zinnia'
We invent ourselves that we might know who we are and what we are to be. But the consistency we seek in these inventions can't be maintained against the fabulous inconsistency of actuality. Sensing this, we clutch at cherished constants ever more urgently. The builder of the house of ego can never rest, for he is ever at work to control outcome and limit alternatives. His structure makes its appeal to our longing for the familiar and the safe, but in the end, he delivers only diminishment. I am weary of maintenance.
*Lin Jensen. Bad Dog!: A Memoir of Love, Beauty, and Redemption in Dark Places.
* * *
The following Buddhist tale highlights how the self-will is used by Life to transform the egoic delusion into luminous clarity, intimacy with Life, and that fatigue in the seeking is key to this being opened to the Light.
The teacher shares how simple is this awakening spiritually. He keeps saying, "Let go. Just let go!" The disciple keeps trying. The teacher keeps encouraging to no effect. Finally, he tells the disciple to get a sack, fill it with dirt, put it on his back, and climb the nearby mountain.
The disciple does as his teacher instructs, though many times he longs to drop the bag, his back aching and exhaustion overwhelming him. At the top, he collapses, the bag falls to his side, and so debilitated he is no obstruction veils his consciousness from the beauty all around him. He gazes in wonderment, feeling the glory all about and above, even the Earth's aliveness upon which his wearied body rests.
After a time, he rushes back down the mountain to tell his teacher what has happened. On informing the teacher, the latter replies, smiling, "I know, I know, you now see what before you were too strong to see."
* * *
Returning to, "I am weary of maintenance," I was gladdened in visiting the "Ah-ha!" of first reading it. Why the relief? Why would I feel joy in the acknowledgment of failure to arrange my life - as though I could still have or want a my life ~ in one little, neat package, all safe and sound - supposedly? Why the festive feeling at such failure, the celebrating of loss of my independence and self-determination, my pursuit of happiness?
* * *
Exhaustion ... lit., "being drained out."
When beginning a spiritual path to live consciously, I had no idea how central to it is exhaustion. The "i" has self-propelling force, which is called in Christian teachings "flesh." "Flesh" is a metaphor for the lower energies, or egocentricity, not the body. Christianity, seen in the New Testament, opposes "spirit" with "flesh." We see this in Galatians 5.17 (NLV) -
For the flesh (Greek, sarx) sets its desire against the Ruach (Spirit, or spirit; Greek, pneuma), but the Ruach sets its desire against the flesh - for these are in opposition to one another, so that you cannot do what you want.
A question, then, arises from the last phrase: "so that you cannot do what you want." What is this "you" neither "flesh" nor "Spirit" and seemingly caught between these two conflicting wills, or energies? If this "you" wants to live rightly, it likely refers to the True Self, or soul, what Hindus call the Atman - the Self in all.
The "you" is the bridge between ego and Spirit. You truly want to live in accord with Life, in union with others, and in love with the Supreme.
* * *
Still, "flesh" is of Spirit, while grounded in the instinctual body. The body is not evil, bad, sinful, immoral, or unnatural; body, at every level of matter, is the Beloved's house. However, the body becomes conditioned by survival instinct, attachment to pleasure and aversion to pain, felt-separation, and a wish to be accepted by others as being more valuable than living truthfully. The body-self loses awareness of itself-in-God. Life in the body gets cut off from its connection with its Source, entering a state of forgetfulness -, but the universal soul, the sheath within which the body exists, retains its communion with cosmic Spirit.
One way of portraying this process of "flesh" and "Spirit" is through the images canal, reservoir, and swamp. Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart -
The dominant trend of a person's life may take on the characteristics of a canal, reservoir or swamp. ... There are some lives that seem ever to be channels, canals through which things flow. They are connecting links between other people, movements, purposes. They make the network by which all kinds of communications are possible. They seem to be adept at relating needs to sources of help, friendlessness to friendliness.
Or are you a reservoir? Are you a resource which may be drawn upon in times of others' needs and your own as well? Have you developed a method for keeping your inlet and your outlet in good working order so that the cup which you give is never empty? As a reservoir, you are a trustee of all the gifts God has shared with you. You know they are not your own.
Are you a swamp? Are you always reaching for more and more, hoarding whatever comes your way as your special belongings? If so, do you wonder why you are friendless, why the things you touch seem ever to decay? A swamp is a place where living things often sicken and die. The water in a swamp has no outlet.
The "flesh" is life-turned into itself, protecting itself and what it claims to own, and hoarding its psychic and material energies. The "i" draws all things to itself, even other persons, for its keeping and consumption. The "i" is ever in need, never feeling enough is enough, as in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, where the hungry ghosts consume and consume, yet never feel satisfied.
* * *
The system of consumer society and individual pursuit of happiness, integral to the American so-called dream, supports this egoic initiative of selves exploiting selves: selves consuming selves. Corporations, then, easily become mammoth selves - massive hungry ghosts -, eating the people. The self left to itself ends up being consumed by itself, fed by its self-created karmic monster to itself. The massive hungry ghosts will, also, be eaten by their karma, as will carnivorous politicians who use the public office meant to serve the good of the people for their power, prestige, and prosperity.
In contrast, the encounter with living Presence, rather than ideology or tradition, opens the self, not to feed on itself, but as a sacrament of Love, which means an offering of self for "food" to the other.
Our neighbor, our friends, religious ceremonies, and the beauty of the world do not fall to the level of unrealities after the soul has had direct contact with God. On the contrary, it is only then that these things become real. Previously they were half dreams. Previously they had no reality.
*Simone Weil. Love in the Void: Where God Finds Us.
While Weil's language may be extreme, it is not as much so after one faces the Real. All the lesser lights, however bright, become not brighter but dimmer when exposed to the Sun's Light.
* * *
Hence, salvation, or awakening, comes to the self from outside the self, the self opened to Life as benevolence channel to the outside and inner worlds. Spirit consummates the marriage between "flesh" and "spirit." Love is the medium of consummation, the power to bring the "flesh" into blissful rest in the Beloved.
The Jews and Christians wisely employed the word "redemption" for this liberation of the person from outside the person. "Redemption" referred to a free citizen paying the price to set free a slave: all great wisdom paths, theistic or not, teach the truth of redemption. Ironically, however, the "flesh" is so convinced of its freedom that it resists the redemption Love offers it.
A deplorable condition is to have dulled oneself, by attraction to falsehood, to one's estrangement from Life, so that one no longer feels the lack as lack. Hence, one exists as with a callous shrouding the heart. So, in resistance to Spirit, to struggle against the fatigue too long can usher in a state comparable to a spiritual coma.
The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.
* * *
Rarely, if ever, does the self arrive at a sudden, freely-offered release, which requires its surrender, without a long battle to retain the delusion of its self-determination, its self-freedom. Hence, exhaustion plays a crucial role in weakening the self-will, breaking down the mind. Rather than seeing the self-will collapse suddenly, a better image is the Sun's Light slowly melting the fog of egoic delusion.
Often, the ego's last ploy to keep its life hidden within itself is to don the attire of religion, spirituality, or God. Righteousness becomes the ego's clothing, like a brilliant banner draped over a heap of rancid dung. Yet, here righteousness is co-opted, and the truth is the ego still clothed with itself, guarding itself from the flow of Life through a self-sense of right versus wrong, I against others, rather than being in Love beyond the dualities of we or them - "we" for the self with the collective self of a group. Of course, this applies in politics, and politics and religion often co-opt each other for shared ends of control, exploitation, power, and deceit.
A chief means of this illusional righteous escape from Truth is through doctrine. Doctrine, most oft associated with religion, in a larger sense refers to any system of thought with precepts assumed true. So, those who unquestionably adhere to the ideology are the righteous, the normal, the intelligent, the good, on the right side, the chosen, and so forth. Consequently, the dynamic of this egoic escape in mentality remains the same in diverse settings, religious and otherwise, from fundamentalist to liberal.
Regarding this dogmatism in religion, Weil links it with the salvation of the ego arising from outside the ego.
It does not rest with the soul to believe in the reality of God if God does not reveal this reality. In trying to do so it either labels something else with the name of God, and that is idolatry, or else its belief in God remains abstract and verbal. Such a belief prevails wherever religious dogma is taken for granted, as is the case with those centuries and countries in which it never enters anyone's head to question it.
Accordingly, as with strength - ego's vigor -, knowledge - egoic reasoning - must be depleted. For what "i" believes is a barrier to Wisdom Itself, which arises not in mere thought and is not of emotion - even "God" melts in the Light of Love.
So, an ancient Indian writing shows the god Shiva chanting 112 ways for his consort, Devi, to open the hidden door of consciousness to Truth: No. 86 reads -
Suppose you are gradually being deprived of strength or of knowledge. At the instant of deprivation, transcend.
*Nyogen Senzaki, Paul Reps, Eds. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings . The Centering, Transcribed by Paul Reps.
* * *
Relatively, the "flesh" and "spirit" conflict being our unnatural status, the "flesh" must be interrupted repeatedly. These interruptions are part of the transformation of these dense energies.
Meditation, as well as other spiritual practices, begins to disrupt ego-energies in the preparatory phase of opening fully to Life. Yet, the egoic-centering has gaps in daily life, as it always did. Few notice these moments for what they are. The ego quickly closes over the opening.
One practice is to relax into the sense of any spiritual quality - love, joy, peace, kindness, compassion - when it arises spontaneously, holding the sense of it within the body, like savoring its taste. A second way is to welcome the quality - love, joy, peace, gratitude, forgiveness - through visualizing a scene in which you have felt it or only by inner contemplation on the quality. An example -
Close the eyes and relax. Then, imagine someone you feel loving affection for and rests in the embodied sense of that love, having dropped the image of the person. When the sensation "love" subsides, return to the image. Continue this back and forth, marinating in the quality of loving affection.
That which is of Spirit becomes a sensation to let the self bathe in. The quality is not of the body, only registered by the body, even as the person you love is a stimulus for love to arise. The body is the medium of intimacy with the quality via sensation, the latter being empirical evidence of the presence of the quality.
* * *
Initially, in meditation practice, one ends a meditation time, and the ego-centering begins pulling all to itself almost immediately. The ego does this, for self-centering is the nature of ego self-alienated from the Self. In ego-centricity, the self thinks it will not exist apart from it being the center. To be the center, it must gravitate all to itself, even the good, the holy, the benevolent - even the Absolute.
The ego is like a photographer who thinks she must take a photograph of a flower, thinking, "I must have that flower for myself." While she fills her house with photographs of flowers, the flowers are free in the fields and hills. Though she tries, she always feels that something is lost on the way home from the fields and hills, and, hence, she cannot stop going out and taking more photographs, hoping to feel in her house of flower photographs what she feels among the fields and hills with the flowers.
Awakening is like that person waking up to realize the photographs are reflections of flowers. The ego, by Grace, can awaken to see the whole world of things as living sacraments of Life, whisperings of the one Word.
Psalm 19.1-4 (NLV) -
The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
* * *
In meditation, as in life outside, one surrenders to Spirit by yielding to the fatigue generated by the back-and-forth between "self" and "Self." The tension leads one so to ache for inner peace that a silent vow emerges to end the battle. Ram Dass provides, in Becoming Nobody, a superb image for this: taking off a shoe too tight for one's foot. After the initial relief, this resolve must remain firm, and the Way will throw up challenges to strengthen the intention to stand facing the Light.
In this inner vow, one is shifting from trying to attain peace to relaxing and allowing peace to be given. One senses a conversion of action into passivity. Efforting decreases. One may enter a time of feeling little or no inclination to spiritual practices. This is to be trusted, and trust will be tested. Indeed, often one is likely not to feel anything productive is happening within or outside herself - her inner life and social life. At this point, she does well to recall Spirit is not first interested in her comfort but in expanding her heart to welcome and enjoy Life.
* * *
Certainly, this being opened more and more, through bliss and suffering, has been the Way for me. In this human body, also, it seems suffering is a principal means to transmute ego's pull to itself into a turning outward to channel Grace to others and, yes, oneself - "oneself" for the self finds in the opening a means to have self-compassion and self-celebration, for now it sees itself as a self-in-God, not a self-in-itself. Before, oddly, the egoic closure in on itself had weakened its capacity to love and cherish itself - withholding from others, God, and Nature was withholding from itself -, for it can only rightly do this in receptivity to Life, to All. That is, in choosing Life, I choose myself; yet, now, the self remains unfurled like a blossom to share its scent with whoever wishes to inhale the Beauty of Life.
* * *
An image returns to me often, one I was introduced to years ago. I find it pragmatic and true to the Way, whatever particular path one takes for spiritual fulfillment.
A person engages spiritual practice, a path for inner peace. She senses progress. She continues her spiritual path over time, feeling she is never quite awakened, that there is more to do, some secret to be discovered. Possibly, she thinks, "If I only try harder." She may explore varied paths and practices, reading books, going from teacher to teacher, even trying drugs that promise a spiritual answer - all this a sincere seeking of resolution to the longing for harmony and fulfillment. She gets temporary phases of relief from the tension, but it soon returns. Finally, she stands at a wall, and the Way seems to stop. The wall will not budge. She screams and beats on the wall. The more she tries to get the wall to bend to her will, the more desperate she becomes, the more she approaches recognition of the hopeless effort. Her previous means of reprieve no longer work. Finally, exhausted, she stops, relaxes, her will is willed-out of itself. In this utter sense of, "I've had it!," a door opens in the wall.
Her energy being expended was the determent and way to the resolving of the inner suffering. The egoic knot is untied, thankfully.
The "i" says, "If only I try harder" or, "If only I do the right thing," or "If only I please God," or, "If only I read this one other book," or, "If I meditate more," or, "If I just become a better person,"... Yet, the end of suffering is not in the "If only ...". The arising of quiet bliss is by and from Grace, which is an inflow of blessing-energy, life-inspiration passing into bodily experience - transcendence, spiritually, does not mean transcending the body, but transcending bodily. Behind the cloudiness of self-effort has always been the Sun of Light.
So, when one sees, "I'm fighting this wall," and there appears no impasse, this signifies the death of the efforting. Yet, the "i-will" remains strong. The willfulness must be exhausted with itself; then, the deeper will and design emerge. Then, what one could not do happens.
See, the "i" is defined in its mind so that it must accomplish its freedom. The idea of something being done for it that it fails to do for itself is a threat to the fantasy of self-determination and self-independence. Here, the self sees surrender as weakness, while surrender is the wisest and possibly the most courageous act for it. And its most redemptive act is to posture itself to be redeemed - to be acted upon - by that outside itself, for its Source is its sole redeemer.
* * *
A limitation of the image of the wall is that we cannot rightly assume there is one wall. Since we are part of Infinity, potentially, there are many walls we come up to, each an invitation to yield again, so for Grace to initiate us into a more profound, broader manifestation of Spirit - for Spirit emerges into the relative realms in progressive degrees.
After a while, we begin noticing sooner when we are at a wall. We learn to yield sooner, to relax into "Yes." The whole process becomes playful, like giving out chuckles and saying, "Oh, here at a wall again, futilely banging it, interesting."
* * *
When exploring exhaustion and spirituality, I wrote the following July 11, 2018 -
I feel, this day, the day of this writing,
the closeness of exhaustion,
like sweat hugging the skin.
I feel like a bucket, drinking glass, cup, cloud
drained and being drained out.
I slowly feel into this, beyond its apparently threatening borders
ignoring the caution 'beware! entering enemy territory'
ignoring the ominous sense 'keep out'
ignoring the promise 'intruders will be prosecuted'
and approach and allow myself to be approached, and see
no signs, no foe, only friend.
I am here, open-hearted, thankful for this nearness.
I have crossed this border many times, you too, and possibly
you too are with me here now:
if so, welcome, thankful to share this blessed space with you.
feel what is asking to be felt together
and receive here the joy of being reminded
Life is for us, not against us,
Grace welcomes us and our vulnerability as the soil
in which It plants the seeds of Its immaculate Love.
Grace leads us here, so we can become more compassionate and caring
for others who find themselves here also.
Here, there is nothing to fear,
we need be nothing or become something,
we can be weak and find that in that weakness
is also strength.
* * *
If we engage in spirituality or religion to please 'God,' be more peaceful, help the world, enjoy the sharing with others, anything other than wake up as a priority, all the good we enjoy will serve to sedate us more. Such provides a religionized or spiritualized opiate to deaden us to conscious, alive, and intimate communion with Life.
What we want is to grow beyond visits to inner peace. We want to feel alive, more than merely existing, without feeling a need for pleasure to make us feel alive. We want to find home in the inner sanctuary, as the Taoists speak of the refuge of the Tao - the Way.
So, as we have seen today, self-will is essential to our growing into intimacy with Life. The force of self-will, its innate determination to self-determine, forms a tension with the relaxation of rest in the Haven of Light.
Ironically, the self's will-power works toward disrobing the self of its self-pretense. This happens so the Light can fill the self with Love's delights - so much more to be enjoyed than its former pleasures. Then, the person finds itself joyful in kneeling at the Altar of Light, its loving Life its worship of Everything. The wall of separation is transformed into a unity-of-Love.
* * *
I close today with a series of prose poems upon our theme. They are given for reading and reflection and may say more effectively than the prose above.
I have failed to keep it all safe and sound
- I tried, really tried! -
and some would say my life has been more failure than success.
I say, possibly that is true of everyone, while
some of us are awake enough, courageous enough, in love enough,
to admit that.
Possibly, having kissed the darkness,
I can make love with the light.
Could it be that the conjugal bliss of life, here, now, is
when in intercourse with darkness and light, always, as one grace?
For one moment, just one moment,
is it possible to feel it all, all,
without any attempt to
judge it, flee it, fix it,
simply welcome it as friend -
which is, make love with life-as-a-gift?
failure no more.
we find the courage to be broken open
to be one with everyone and everything and our own selves
and this holy and miraculous gift we call life.
* * *
never leads to
anything such as
rather you eventually find yourself
exhausted with the effort
broken open by the trying to
weakened by the futile searching to get it right
then letting go happens naturally
seeing, knowing, feeling
only what one can receive
as a gift, as a grace
you will have visits to this place many times
until you finally realize this is
never anywhere else but here
or maybe you will never choose to stay
in the amazing Grace place
still life will be happening here
and will welcome you back
again and again
as though you never left -
* * *
"In the efforting to please God, I am farther from God."
This is why Zen Buddhists have a saying,
"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."
Jesus really meant it, saying,
"To find yourself, you must lose yourself."
"To live, you must die."
Maintaining the faith, the path, is not what
the faith, the path, is about.
Maintenance leads from Life, not toward Life.
Maintenance, however, can exhaust the "I," thankfully,
offering the blessing of being broken open so we can
receive the being-broken-open
as a glorious gift, not a devastating disaster.
* * *
when exhausted with our efforts, frustrated, depleted, maybe depressed,
we can invite this as a friend
can feel the
sense of being drained out
can relax into this, knowing there is
no one way we should or should not feel
being spiritual, righteous, holy, enlightened ... is
not a particular feeling or beyond being fully, fallibly human
releasing self-criticism and pushing for a resolution
we relax and welcome the relief of allowing
letting go to happen as naturally as opening and closing the eyelids
we know, we feel, in some way we cannot put into words
we are safe and opening to another grace
by Grace to live more surrendered
so more intimate
with compassion toward everyone, everything, ourselves
* * *
Being exhausted with maintaining my life,
with resisting the call of Life
to venture into unknown vistas,
I surrender, once more, by Love to love,
with a single Love, a tender affection,
and to see the beauty of Life
more truly than ever before;
and I pray to live grateful for It always
and never to forget the sacredness of the gifts along the way.
I find more courage, thankfully, to cease the struggle
to maintain a version of life, and to, thereby,
live life as a grace-filled flow of intimacy
gifted to everyone, to be shared with everyone.
Exhausted, I rest here again,
for new vigor to arise again,
grateful for this repose,
a sheep at ease in the lush pastures of the Good Shepherd,
an adoring lover resting in the arms of the Beloved,
a humbled worshiper, heart content upon the altar of Grace.
* * *
(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020