Archive for the ‘awakening’ Category

Earth Mysteries — 1 of 7 — The Law of Wholeness

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

Updated and edited 22 June 2017; 14 Dec 2017

Readers of this blog know I frequently quote John Michael Greer.  As a writer, blogger, and leader of another Druid order, he challenges me to dig deeper into my own order and understanding of Druidry, and examine its teachings more critically, as well as ponder the implications of his cultural criticism.  While his popular blog The Archdruid Report deals primarily with the consequences of Peak Oil, and offers productive strategies for thriving in the coming hard century or more of scarcity and turmoil, as we transition to a post-industrial age, most of his other writing centers on his spiritual journey until now.

As a case in point, his most recent book, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth (Weiser, 2012), is a reimagining of The Kybalion*, published anonymously in 1912.  Greer asserts as his book’s underlying principle that “The laws of nature are the laws of spirit; this is one of the great secrets of the Mysteries.” He reworks the seven principles of the earlier book into insightful observations about spiritual ecology, framed as spiritual law.  Here’s the first one, the Law of Wholeness:

“Everything that exists is part of a whole system and depends on the health of the whole system for its own existence.  It thrives only if the whole system thrives, and it cannot harm the whole system without harming itself.”

The American myth of rugged individualism and self-reliance, part of the cultural story we Yanks have told ourselves over the decades, has served its purpose, and possibly run its course:  it may be more of an obstacle now, in an era when we need cooperation and interdependence more than we need stoic endurance.  We’re interconnected, and what I do affects you. One of my teaching colleagues always used to laugh at the idea of non-smoking sections in restaurants.  “It’s like imagining there’s a non-peeing end of the swimming pool,” he’d exclaim.  “A feel-good label doesn’t make it so.” I cannot harm myself without harming the whole system. But anyone buying wholesale into the myth of individualism doesn’t want to hear that.

Rather than seeing the divine as standing outside nature, here’s a way of perceiving the universe as a single immense feedback loop.  Suddenly the Golden Rule isn’t just a good moral guide, but also blindingly obvious common sense.  What you do comes back to you.  What goes around comes around — not because “God punishes me,” or because of “karma” or “sin” or anything other than what goes in, comes out.   Computer programmers know it as GIGO:  garbage in, garbage out.  Maybe it’s time for LILO:  love in, love out.  As long as we see the world as a collection of separate, discrete individuals rather than an interconnected series of networks, we’ll kill, abuse, pollute, steal, etc.  And likewise, as long as we believe that we should be free to do something that “doesn’t hurt anyone else,” we live in illusion.  Everything that each of us does matters to all the rest of us.  We’re interconnected, linked up to each other in astonishing ways that we’re only beginning to discover.

At first this seems to dump all the guilt for why things suck squarely on our shoulders, and a lot of people today are sick of guilt.  Rightly so:  it doesn’t accomplish anything except to poison the heart and to distract us from moving forward.  It’s only useful if it goads us into constructive action and that’s rarer than it should be.  But guilt isn’t the same thing as responsibility.  Accepting responsibility is the death of victimhood.  If I begin to see that everything I do has an effect, a consequence, then my life matters in a way it may never have seemed to matter before.

To put it another way and quote a Wise One, “If nothing we do matters, then the only thing that matters is what we do.”  In the midst of nihilism and cynicism and hopelessness, each word, thought, deed and feeling carries weight, shapes the universe for good or bad, and leaves a trail, a wake, a ripple, that will flow outward from my life now and also after I am gone.  I matter, and so do you, simply by virtue of being alive and here in this place, now.  To not choose to act, or to act foolishly and blindly is to waste a priceless opportunity to contribute to the commonwealth, the res publica, the Republic, this shared world of ours.

Who among us can deny that even small acts of kindness or cruelty committed by others have an effect on us out of all proportion to their apparent scale?  Can we then imagine for a moment that our own acts don’t set in motion a similar set of ripples?  We don’t have to be “big” to matter.  Love has no size.  Any is much.  Blessed be this life, gift to others and ourselves, chance to act, to love, to participate in the Web, to leave ripples at our passing, to vibrate the strands with our existence and choices, to play on life and pluck its melody, note by note.

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Image of Mystery Teachings:  Amazon.com

You can read the Kybalion online and download a PDF of it.

Image:  ripples.

Sick nasty: On being ill

Urban Dictionary (check it out if you haven’t yet visited it) obliges with this definition of “sick nasty”:  “This word is to be used when no other word can be used to describe the cool factor, greatness, or overwhelming emotion of something. However, the something is neither sick, nor nasty. The combination of the words sick and nasty provide a higher connotation of coolness then even the words tight or wicked can provide. It is kind of ghetto.”

Since I’m going for the literal rather than the metaphoric, I’ll bypass the ghetto, and the slang meanings of “ill,” too, and head straight for “body in misery.”  (It’s worth considering what connection coolness has with physical sickness, because when you’re in it, it’s distinctly not cool at all.)

Food poisoning can leave you half alive, no longer trusting your organs and bones.  My wife and I had been out of state to attend our niece’s high school graduation, and bad food choices dropped me into my own private third level of hell (that’s for the gluttons, which seems appropriate).  I won’t gross you out with gastrointestinal details: enough to say that the aftermath left me with aching joints, residual fever and chills, a nasty headache, and no desire ever to eat again.  To add insult to injury, we’d scheduled medical check-ups back home the next day.  Sometimes you feel rotten enough that a doctor is the last person you want to see.  And on top of that, he insisted it was time I had another digital rectal exam, part of the follow-through since my prostate surgery.  Necessary, maybe, but oh so evil.

OK, enough self-pity.  You get the idea.  This is a blog, after all, that’s supposed to provide plenty of buck (see the 5/18/12 entry).  No time to slack off now.

What illness can offer, besides a physical cleansing and rebalancing (we get sick when something’s out of whack, off kilter, messed up), is clarity, humility and gratitude.  At least that’s what I often get (when the worst of the symptoms have subsided), if I’m lucky.

Clarity first.  Flat on your back, you’ve got time to reflect.  If you’re not unconscious or delirious, reasonably free of pain, and cable is unavailable, you’re thrown back on yourself.  Time to make friends with the body, to coax it back to health if you can.  This marvelous machine of flesh now sits in the garage, lies in drydock, has gone off-line.  Time to adjust the timing belt, scrape off the barnacles, repair the hull, and reboot.  You get all kinds of ideas, some of which might even be useful.  You get to watch your thoughts spin like a Tibetan prayer wheel, only more gooey.  And through and above and below and within it all, you realize there are limits.  You get reacquainted with the fact that you will die.  Your time here is limited.  You can’t have it all, do it all, own it all.  You get your turn, and then it’s the next person’s.  What you do with your life is your gift to yourself.

And yes — I can get didactic and preachy, kinda.  Bear with me.

The humility part is good.  You have to rely on others.  When your body’s in meltdown, somebody else has to bring the drugs and the drinks, or you don’t get them.  You can’t get up without the world playing spin the bottle with your brain, or chills racking you, or legs turning to water.  That backrub to ease the crying vertebrae, the cool washcloth so welcome on hot skin, the light turned off because it hurts your eyes, the curtains drawn for the same reason, the soup that’s the only thing you can keep down — all of these are gifts that either others give you, or you don’t get them.  They’re out of your control.  Your minute-to-minute life is discomfort, interrupted by the kindness of someone caring for you.

Which brings you to gratitude.  You certainly have time for it. If you have to be sick, at least there’s some good that comes of it — later, if not right away.  As you start to feel better, you recall how you took so much for granted.  You resolve to try to do better.  Maybe the first stirrings of belief in immortality begin here, with recovery from illness.  You’re aren’t dying after all.  This too shall pass.  You rise again.  You will live to enjoy life again.

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prayer wheel

“Awake” (the TV series) and Awakening

I’ve been thinking over the last several weeks about the NBC midseason replacement series Awake.  Maybe you’ve seen it or at least heard about it.  (With the continually growing number of networks and choices, it’s become harder to find media experiences to talk about that most of us have in common.  Besides, each of us is busy enough as it is, pursuing our own reality show called Life.)

In its eighth episode as of this post, the drama stars Jason Isaacs as L.A. detective Michael Britten.  The premise is an intriguing one:  after a car accident involving Britten, his wife and son, his reality splits:  on alternating mornings he wakes to one life in which his wife Hannah survived the accident but not his son Rex, and in the other reality to a life in which Rex has survived, but not Hannah.

Britten is seeing two different therapists, one in each reality, each attempting to convince him that the current reality is the only “real” one.  Britten experiences some “bleed-through” of both similar and different details and situations from each reality to the other.  This naturally confuses him at times, but also gives him odd clues and insights into criminal cases he is working on, and into family dynamics that previously had too easily slid past him, until the accident forced him to pay more attention to the surviving family member in each alternate reality.

The series concept is a provocative one on several levels.  Who among us hasn’t wondered at least a little how things would be different if (fill in your own blank here)?  But more significant in Britten’s case is the immediate matter of his sanity.   Is this schizophrenia?  Can both of his realities be “real”?  Or is one destined to win out, forcing the detective to abandon what one of his therapists insists is an unhealthy clinging to an illusion that is preventing Britten from healing?  Which reality might prove “false” — one in which his wife Hannah is gradually coming to terms with their son’s death and planning a new life for them both, or the other, in which Britten is slowly learning to be a better father and to connect with the teenage Rex for the first time?  Who could ask a person to choose between these two?

Both realities are internally consistent, and as far as Britten can tell, neither offers any evidence of being “more real.”  Several spiritual traditions describe this consensus reality of ours as a kind of dream.  By itself, however, that’s never been a useful piece of information as far as I can see.  More helpful is guidance about how to live the dream fully and gracefully, and to shift in and out of this dream and other dreams.  Most of us try not to leave a trail of dead bodies or broken lives behind us, and we generally see this as a good and admirable thing — not something we’d worry about if this were “merely a dream.”

I remember going through a period in my twenties of perhaps six months of very violent dreams, featuring me both as victim and perpetrator, but the experience didn’t disturb my waking world.  No one arrested me as a serial killer, and the dream dismemberments, stabbings, shootings, beheadings and so on didn’t disturb my digestion or emotional life.  (They did give me useful material for contemplation and growth, but that’s a separate post.)  The whole time of the dreams I was both actor and disinterested spectator in that curious way dreams can have.  Obviously the quality of realities is different:  waking and dreaming matter as category distinctions.  If they didn’t, most of us would face radically different waking lives as a consequence of what we’ve dreamed!  Unless you’re seriously repressing, you’ve had at least some dreams that would probably garner an X film rating.  And if you don’t remember them, you’re missing out …

So if Britten is truly “awake” in both realities, he doesn’t need to choose, but simply to keep them straight.  If you’ve ever had a lucid dream, however, in which internal consistency and conscious awareness approach, equal or even surpass that of waking reality, the distinctions can become much harder to sustain.  Britten wears different colored wristbands to help him distinguish which reality he’s currently in.  (Curiously, we don’t hear about his dreams.  Perhaps “waking twice” consumes enough energy that he doesn’t need to — or can’t — dream.)

I have no idea how the writers of Awake intend to play this through.  But it seems to me that it would be an enormous and series-destroying mistake ever to call one reality “true” and the other “false.”  For better or worse, Britten logs parallel lives.

For most of us, both dream and waking are normally discontinuous.  Each has its own interval of duration, and each eventually ceases before the other resumes.  Under the influence of extreme fatigue, illness, or psychotropic substances, we can hallucinate and experience a “bleed-through” of dream-like perception into waking reality.  For most of us this is a temporary state of affairs, perhaps useful or insight-producing up to a point, but not something we desire to sustain permanently.  A good night’s sleep, a return to health, or the exit from an altered state of consciousness resets consciousness.  Generally this is a good thing!

Yet when life goes flat, when the “same-old” of our daily experience — which is almost always a symptom of our inattention and soul-sickness — threatens to bore us literally to death, we need those moments of “awake now!” that may arrive with an accident, death in the family, close escape, or other major transition.  Drama is punctuation to life — I don’t seek it habitually (unless I’m a bored teenage girl).  Regular spiritual practice, as I’ve learned from experience (positive and negative, in the doing and in the ignoring), can both defuse the sense of “same old” and deliver us to smaller and less life-upsetting moments of insight, inspiration and — yes — transformation.  We all dream of becoming more, better, greater, wiser, more loving, more fulfilled.  Now is the always and only time to awaken in that dream — to “live twice,” awake both times.*

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NBC series image

*Many of us “get” small bursts of at least the potential for transformation from art and music, or from sheer beauty on the playing field, or in a craft or manual skill.  The Chinese poet Li Po exchanged poems with his contemporary and friend Tu Fu, and on one occasion exclaimed, “Thank you for letting me read your new poems. It was like being alive twice.”

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