Want to wake up? Look at your contradictions. Don’t think you have any contradictions? Look at your conflicts. Don’t have any conflicts? You are so far into denial “You can’t,” in the worlds of Col. Nathan P. Jessup, “handle the truth.” Don’t even think about waking up. It would fry your world.
Want to wake up? Who are the people you admire the most? What do you admire about them? Where do you see evidence of those things at work in your own life? How does that square with what else you see at work in your life? With what else you think is important? Do you begin to smell a contradiction? A conflict?
The essence of being human is that we want what we have no business having. We what things that are mutually exclusive. In order to have “this” we have to give up “that.” Conflict. Contradiction. We live in a state of perpetual conflict, within and without. How well we handle that is how spiritual we are, how mature we are, how awake and integrated we are.
How do we deal with disagreement? How do we decide what to do as a family, as a group of friends, as a church? How do we determine what’s “best for all”? Who do you trust with your own best interest? When your interest and theirs clash, how do you work it out?
Who are you always taking care of? Doing it their way? Walking on egg shells so as not to ruffle feathers or rock boats? Because it’s easier than dealing with them being upset and angry? That’s one way to resolve conflict. But, it creates conflict within you to walk around with your hat off, bowing. How do you handle THAT conflict?
All of the spiritual qualities come into play at the point of recognizing and managing our conflicts and our contradictions. Only the spiritually mature (actually the two words describe the same thing) can live together over time without war. And even they cannot live very close together. We have to allow room for differences. We have to have the space required to follow our own interests and live our own lives.
In the old days, in Israel, the people would come together under the Judges to deal with a particular threat to the people. Once the threat was dispensed with, the people scattered to do, as the Bible says, “what was right in their eyes.” That’s as ideal a political framework as has ever been implemented. But, there was no Social Security and no garbage collection, so it wasn’t perfect. Nothing ever is.
I asked you about your heroes, here are mine: Give me Tevya, and Zorba, and Atticus Finch, and Amelia Earhart, and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Annie Sullivan, and Winston Churchill, and Will Rogers, and Nelson Mandella for people real and fictional who exhibit for me the way I think it ought to be done. I don’t think you can do it better than these people did it. With the Christ and the Buddha in the group, we have all we need to understand what is asked of all of us. But then, it is no secret what the deal is. Eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand. That’s all there is, ever has been, ever will be. Once you open yourself to the full truth of your experience, the way is plain.
What does it take to be alive? What does life require? How must we live to be—and to enable others to be—fully, deeply, joyously alive within the legitimate limits and restrictions of our lives? Our answers will not be the same across the board, around the table. Context and circumstances shape our responses, allow some, prohibit others. But, foundational to a rich, full, life in all times and places are awareness and compassion. Those are the two qualities which allow us to develop the eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand, which allow us to find the way to life, and be alive.
Is there a time and a place the Buddha cannot be the Buddha? A time and a place the Christ cannot be the Christ? Is there a context, are there circumstances, in which the Buddha and the Christ cannot be alive? Cannot be aware? Cannot be compassionate? And we think we have to wait until we get to the beach or the mountains? What is limiting our awareness? Reducing our compassion? Being aware and compassionate means being aware of, and having compassion for, this moment right now. We cannot be alive in some other moment. Life begins here, now. What is limiting our awareness here and now? What is consuming our attention? Reducing our compassion? Restricting our ability to be awake, aware, and alive? What are we going to do about that?
I recommend a spiritual practice. A spiritual practice can take any form. I walk. Spend time with rocking chairs, write, read, photograph the world, engage people in conversation. Each of these activities is essential to the others. I could not be one-dimensional and be open, and be alive. Our practice brings us to life.
A spiritual practice is a way of seeing, a way of opening ourselves to our experience of life, a way of extending ourselves to our experience, receiving our experience, taking in what our experience has to offer. Our practice enables us to perceive the gift tucked into each moment.
Through our practice, we develop eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. We engage the world with compassion. We grant the benefit of the doubt. We grasp the difference between willing what can be willed and willing what cannot be willed. We take what the moment offers and bring our best to bear on it, transforming base metal into purest gold through the Philosopher’s Stone of perspective.
Or not. Sometimes, evil persists. Sometimes, evil is overwhelming. And, I understand evil as personal and corporate ambition, drive, desire, aspiration, which is strong enough to over-ride all other considerations. Evil thinks nothing of using all means necessary to achieve its ends. There are times when good can only get out of evil’s way, until its energy subsides and its momentum fades. Giving evil nothing to attack dissipates its force and speeds the time of its turning.
At the same time, however, resistance to evil is essential and on-going. What form does our resistance take? How does good conduct itself in opposition to evil? Nothing has quite the potential for transformation as compassionate, attentive presence. Just being a compassionate witness changes the world. Living in the world as witnesses of the world to the world restructures the world. When we force the world to take itself into account, a fundamental shift takes place in the way things are done.
We cannot live consciously in the same way we live unconsciously. The more conscious we become, the better off everyone will be. Good exists to wake evil up. The more aware we are, the more truthful we are, the more we are in tune with what is important, and the entire world benefits. And so, the importance of being a part of a community that allows us, forces us, requires us to see ourselves, hear ourselves, be aware of ourselves, here and now.
Waking up starts with seeing what is before us in the moment of our living. Too often, we look past what is with us, what is before us, because we are looking for something else. Our ideas and our expectations, our wishes and wants and desires and aspirations get in our way. The Observer interferes with what is observed. The only thing standing between us and the realization of the truth of our present experience is US!
Thus, the need to stand aside, to give way, to “disappear.” How do we “disappear” ourselves? How do we “forget” our own mind in order to see with innocent eyes, with fresh eyes, with new eyes, with beginner’s eyes, as though for the first time? We are back to the importance of a spiritual practice.
A spiritual practice provides us with the distance required to see ourselves seeing. A spiritual practice is a mirror which shows us the truth of who we are and how it is with us. There is no substitute for seeing, hearing, and understanding. Once we get that down, we have everything we need for the transformation of the world.
That transformation is not a matter of effecting a political solution. There is no political solution. There is no ideal social scheme. No one way things ought to be. No way of structuring society for the optimal good of all concerned. It’s a mess all the way around. What is good for me is bad for you, and so there is war, and poverty, and wealth and the solution is not political, but spiritual. The solution comes with eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand. Nothing can match the power of transformation of compassionate, attentive presence. That is what we have to work to develop if we would save the world.
But a word of warning: Compassionate, attentive presence is as emotionally exhaustive and physically draining as performing major surgery or being an air-traffic controller. Once we begin seeing, and hearing, and understanding, we always see, and hear, and understand. We cannot cut it on and off as the mood strikes us. We cannot take a day off and not-see. Even when we are on vacation we see. And, when we really get it down, we can’t even take a nap and get away from the truth of who we are and how it is with us. We go to sleep and see ourselves reflected in our dreaming. But, what are we going to do? Not-see?
Look around you. the world is in the mess it is in because it is being run by people who do not see, or hear, or understand. They keep trying to find and force a political solution, but they do not listen to what they are hearing, or see what they look at, and they do not understand the redemptive power of compassionate conversation. They play a game with each other of not-seeing, not-hearing, not-knowing, not-caring. It is our place to live with them as witnesses of their own lack of awareness, to mirror their unconsciousness, to wake them up and transform the world. And, we cannot do that if we are asleep ourselves!