Sunday, December 30, 2007

12/31/07, Sermon

Live with limitation, that’s my best advice. Not that you have any real choice in the matter. That’s one of the lessons of photography and life. Photography is about living with limitation. Photographers, like the rest of us, are limited by ten thousand things. They wake up, like the rest of us, and take what the day gives them. They do not, any more than the rest of us, dial up their days. They are, like the rest of us, always where they are, when they are, how they are, who they are, what they are, why they are. Nothing they can do about it.

If they go somewhere else, then they are where they are there. See? Wherever we are, we are there and not somewhere else. We are limited by our place and time, and all the other things that define and restrict us. We can only do what we can with what we have to work with. Other photographers have better opportunities, better choices. That can’t be helped. If we had only been here last week, or could only be here next week! But, here we are, today. This is it for now. What are we going to do?

Always the question, what are we going to do? Now what? That is the question that opens us to the moment and the moment to us. What are we going to do now? What is the next step, the step that is waiting to be taken now? The question awakens us to the choices we have, to the opportunities that exist in this moment, to the decisions that are to be made here and now. What here? What now? What next?

We cannot do a lot of things, but what CAN we do? And, of all that we can do, what are we going to do? What’s the next step? Here’s what Carl Jung has to say about that: “Be simple and always take the next step. You needn’t see it in advance, but you can look back at it afterwards. There is no ‘how’ of life, one just does it… It seems, however to be terribly difficult for you not to be complicated and to do what is simple and closest to hand… So climb down from the mountain and follow your nose. That is your way” (Quoted in The Tao of Jung, by David Rosen, p. xx).

Here we are. Aqui Estamos. Now, what are we going to do? No more complaining. No more whining. No more moaning about this old life and these old choices and wishing things were better. Here it is. This is it. What are we going to do, now? What is the next step? What is to be done, NOW?

What is our life asking of us? Where is our life taking us? What is trying to be born in us and through us? How do we know? Certainly not by thinking about it. We do not think our way to a life worth living. We do not think our way to the Grail. We live our way there.

We think knowing is a function of cognition, of thinking. We are all enamored by thinking and think it’s the only form of knowing. We live under the curse of “I think, therefore I am.” But, that pronouncement merely means, “I think, therefore I think I am.” We know more than we think we know. For example, we know our heart’s true love when we see her, or him, And, we know it isn’t the person standing next to her, or him. And she, he, might not have any of the qualities we think are important before the encounter. And, we can’t think that up, or out. It’s just there.

Folks who stand for us as witnesses of events we aren’t privy to say that particles, whatever they are, know what is going on with other particles instantaneously over vast distances. And, other folks, who also know what they are talking about, say bacteria communicate instantly (or close enough) with other bacteria all over the world, so that when you hit them with a vaccine, they figure out a way around it and pass the word just like that, and the vaccine stops working. And, the animals knew the tsunami was coming and made for high ground, while the human beings were thinking what a nice day it was. Thinking is not the only form of knowing. We need to know how to know what cannot be thought, or simply trust that we do.

We can’t be thinking about what to do here and now to make then and there what we want it to be. We have to be opening ourselves to what we know needs to be done here and now, never mind then and there. What needs doing now? What is the next step in this moment?
This present state of affairs is not going to last, that does not make the present moment expendable, or meaningless. That makes it precious. We cannot throw the moment away in an “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!” frenzy, or in a “Woe are we, we are all going to die!” gloom. We can only live the moment as well as the moment can be lived without having to have something to show for it, without having to have a future that establishes the value of our investment, of our effort, over time. Life is not an investment! Life is life! It is to be lived, enjoyed, loved, shared, honored. We live to do right by the life we are living. What does it mean “to do right by the life we are living”? We live to figure that out.

We don’t live to make the future what we wish the present were. We live to make the present as good as it can be without spoiling the chances of a good present in future generations (after Fritjof Capra), and, we understand that it all hangs in the balance, and everything can be lost in an instant (when the Yellowstone caldera goes, for instance). Catastrophes have always wiped out life as it was being lived, and life has always started over. The tide is going to wash away our sand castle. That cannot diminish our joy in building sand castles. Live for the joy without ruining the chances for joy of future generations. And, don’t be thinking you have to have forever to make life worth living now. The moment is precious. Adore it. Live it.

The idea is to live now with the limitations present in the moment. Don’t think we have to have all the limits removed before we can live and breathe in the wonder of endless possibilities and infinite choices. That’s a dream world which keeps us from doing what can be done with this here, this now. Life is always grounded in a particular time and place. Time and place are always limited, restricted, conditioned. We live in a certain context, within certain circumstances. Here is where we are, now is when we are, what are we going to do about it? What is the next step? We have to come down off the mountain of wishful thinking and follow our nose, our knowing, into the next thing, feeling our way along, not knowing (with our heads) where we are going, or how it will all work out, but trusting ourselves to what our nose knows.

The answers we seek begin to stir in the stillness of not-knowing (with our heads). They take root in the fertility of expectant waiting. They grow in the nurturing atmosphere of wonder and delight. How long since we played with an idea? Since we laughed at the very idea of us doing THAT—and did it? How long since we settled into the dull routine of being ourselves, without any consideration of who else, or how different, we might be?

Abraham, you remember, left his father’s house and took off to a far country. Moses did the same. Jesus was a rebel without a place to call home from the start. No one who has known God has played it safe, stayed in the driveway, did the same old things in the same old ways—in the way they’ve always been done and, therefore, ought to be done—until they died. God trashes the same old same old. To know God is to try new things and risk ourselves in the service of the unheard of and unknown. No woman or man of God settled for the blah, blah, blah talk of their ancestors. Every woman or man of God spoke of new things, danced a new dance, launched out in a new direction, and everyone said they were crazy, touched in the head, over the edge.

But that’s where God lives. Over the edge. Outside the camp. Way-Out there. The heart of creation is free falling into the endless emptiness, calling us to follow our noses into taking the next step, over the edge, to jump in and enjoy the ride. That means creating an inner and outer stillness in which we can be engaged by our imagination, which is another term for the voice of God. Oh, surely not, you protest. Surely not! Well, you can’t tell them apart, imagination and the voice of God. It’s all the same to you. So, if you think something is “just your imagination,” go with it as though it is the voice of God. You could do a lot worse, mainly by ignoring what imagination is calling you to do.

Oh, but, terrible things could happen! WILL happen! Life is no lark! This is no waltz on rose petals in the soft moonlight. This is LIFE that we are talking about! Being ALIVE! You think it’s all sweetness and light? Being alive will break your heart! And, if you think that’s bad, try being dead!

Every great adventure is an ordeal. We may not survive—aspects of us, perhaps the things we have grown most attached to about us, say our favorite perceptions and perspectives, most certainly will NOT survive, which makes being alive a lot like dying. It will push us to the limit, and beyond. Being alive asks hard things of us, terrible things, wonderful, joyful, delightful things. And, we would be crazy to say no to any great adventure that comes along, that our imagination cooks up, that the voice of God suggests we go and do, that our noses sniff out and offer as the next step, the one to be taken here and now.

Monday, December 17, 2007

12/16/07, Sermon

Life is a terrible experience. We get by on the strength of our wit, courage, resiliency and luck. We have the happy fantasy of “rainbows, roses, and white picket fences,” but the reality is that “living will take the life right out of you.” Now, what are we going to do about that? Take it right back! How do we take it right back? By understanding that being alive is not accidental or automatic. It is deliberate. It is conscious. It is the work of our lives to be alive. To be alive within the framework of life as it is.

We think living is about arranging our circumstances to suit ourselves. “This is really living,” we say, when we have things like we want them. We think the work of our lives is getting and keeping things like we want them. So, we wrestle our lives into accord with our ideas for them, for how life ought to be. But the beast will not be charmed.

Just about the time we get things right, the Vikings sail into the harbor, the Huns pour over the hill, the stock market crashes, the polar ice caps melt, the doctor says “I want to have a closer look at this spot on your lungs,” and it all goes to hell. Our life is a dance with hell’s angels, and our best hope is soon reduced to a long break between songs.

We cannot count on our circumstances being what we want them to be. Our circumstances are not on our side. If the quality of our lives depends upon the quality of our circumstances, we are, of all people, most to be pitied. Our circumstances, they are a-changing.

This is the one thing we have in common with all people of every epoch since the beginning of people. We cannot count on our circumstances. We do not know what the next minute will bring. That is the deal, and, in response to the deal, we have done one of three things as a species. We have said, “NO!” We have said, “Yes!” Or, we have said, “Battle!”

“NO!” is the great negation. Life is suffering, it’s awful, it isn’t worth living, I won’t have anything to do with it, I am much too good to waste myself on something as wrong as life on its terms. Just read the newspaper. Good-bye, cruel world. And, we walk away to be a bitter recluse or we kill ourselves because we just will not have it. Life ends in death and we hurry up our dying because we just can’t take it.

“YES!” is the great embrace. We take the good and the bad, just as it is, and see perfection in every bite. It’s all cyclical, seasonal, bad is going over into good, good into bad, don’t take it so seriously, in any moment the next moment may be better, so why spend this one moaning about how bad it is, or the next moment may be worse, so why waste the good that is in this one moaning about how bad it is? No matter how bad it gets, the good is always good, enjoy what can be enjoyed and live the life that is yours to live. Life comes from death, so trust yourself to the moment and see what comes next.

“Battle!” is, you might say, a technological innovation. If you don’t like something, change it! Build a dam, or a dike, or a levy. Bulldoze the mountain chain. Erect paradise, complete with central air and heat. Develop! Alter! Transform! Defeat disease, and poverty, and hunger! Eradicate misery and suffering! A chicken in every pot and a pot in every house and a house for every person! Don’t let your circumstances ruin your happiness! Find a way to have what you want! Make the world over to suit yourself!

These are the three fundamental, you might say essential, orientations of the species to the world we wake up in every day. We assume one of these postures in relation to our lives, and our living takes on the tone of our basic presumption about this life we are born into.
Our orientation toward life is one of the most important things about us, and governs, to a large extent, the over-all quality and character of our lives. That being the case, you would think we would think about it, be conscious of it, aware of what we are doing, but not! We say, “NO!” to life, or “Yes!”, or “Battle!” without thinking of it. So, we better think of it, and we better say, “Yes!”

This is so critical, I should say it slowly and loudly for the proper emphasis. But it hurts my throat to speak that loudly, and to go slow softly puts people to sleep. So you’re going to have to pretend that this is coming at you slowly and loudly. Our lives are to life as a river is to its channel.

Our lives constitute our interests, aptitudes, aspirations, desires, concerns, fears, needs and the like. Each of us has our own personal integrity, call it “integrity of being,” just as we have our own finger prints and DNA. And, we have to live out of that integrity and be who we are in relation to the conditions and circumstances of our lives. Life constitutes those conditions and circumstances. We live our lives in relation to life. Our lives are what we are able to negotiate in relation to the conditions and circumstances of our living. Our life’s work is to enter consciously, regularly, continually into that negotiation.

It’s like this: I should have said that to you slowly and loudly, but it would have hurt my throat. See? We have to be true to ourselves within the conditions and circumstances of our lives. That is the spiritual task. We have to come to life, and live as those who are fully alive, within conditions and circumstances that govern our living, and restrict our choices, and limit our possibilities.

The meandering of the river is shaped by the possibilities of its channel. A river can’t go just anywhere, I don’t care how big and mean it is. In fact, the bigger and meaner it is, the more limited are its possibilities. Forcing your way can be very restrictive. Short is long, don’t you know? And soft is hard. And easy is difficult. And we have to work it out, who, and how, we will be, in relation to our possibilities.

That’s the spiritual task. It’s spiritual because we are bringing our invisibility, our latent potentiality, our innermost integrity of being, into physical shape and form. We are birthing ourselves into this world where there is no room for us in the inn. And, wa-la! Just like that, we are at the manger—we are IN the manger! We are Mary the Virgin, birthing the Christ in us, into the conditions and circumstances and possibilities of life in the world.

The problem with all of this is that you have to know what I mean before you can understand what I’m saying. You have to help me help you. I am speaking to you as much through your imagination as through your ears. If you don’t get it, you must not easily assume that there is nothing to be gotten. Revisit the idea. Sit with it. Play with it. It may yet come to life in you and for you and through you into the world—like the baby born of the virgin.

Think of me as the angel and of yourself as Mary. I’m telling you that you are going to have a baby through a spiritual conception and it will be born in the world and in your life, actually, tangibly, physically, really, and that the baby is you. And the work of birth is the work being you within the possibilities, and conditions, and circumstances of your life.

To live like this is to say, “Yes!” to life just as it is, and to realize that in every condition and situation of life, our task is to find our way to our heart and the Heart of Creation, which is, of course, the same heart, and to live out of our identification with that heart/Heart in the midst of our present life-situation.

We bring life to life in life. This is the birth of the Christ (The Anointed One of God), the birth of what we might call True Life or Our True Self, within the ordinary conditions of life in the world. “He was without form or comeliness.” There was nothing about him that would draw attention to him. His appearance was such that no one would ever notice him. And, yet, in him was the light that was the true life of all people.

That is the mystery of the incarnation. When we bring to life the True Life that is within us, no one notices, nothing changes, everything is just as it was, yet the world is transformed, and the host of heaven joins in a great chorus of Halleluiah, and the shepherds and those who are wise gather at our manger-side to offer their gratitude. Even those who don’t know and don’t see seem to sense that something is going on.

But, it is wrong for us to take any credit, or seek any gain. It’s a Virgin Birth, remember. We don’t have anything much to do with it. We are just along for the ride. Our part is to not get in the way, and to just remain open to the realness of our heart and the Heart of Creation and to the reality of the possibilities and limitations of the conditions and circumstances of our lives. Anything that comes to us, is like that which comes to the ox treading grain. The ox is not elected king or queen, but gets to eat what comes his, or her, way. No big deal. Nothing special. That’s True Life in the real world.

And, it is essential to everything that happens there. “The influence of a vital person vitalizes,” says Joseph Campbell. All of life is enhanced by the authenticity of the life of a True Human Being—the life of a person living in accord with her heart, with his heart, and the Heart of Creation, within the conditions and circumstances of her, of his, life. This the miracle, that we live here and now in ways that incarnate, reveal, disclose, unveil and make plain that which is more than we can say. And, when we do it, people can’t decide if they heard the voice of angles, or only thunder. And, can’t decide if they had seen a child of God or a child of Satan. And, we can’t try to clarify things for anyone because we are too engaged in the work of bringing life to life within life. To talk about what we are doing, or prove what we are doing, is to stop doing it.
So, the need to explain, defend, justify, excuse becomes just another tangle in the web of circumstances we have to work with in being true to ourselves within the conditions of life.

If they don’t believe what they see with their eyes, they won’t believe what they hear with their ears, so we can’t spend too much time with them trying to get them on our side. “Those who are with us are with us, and those who are against us are against us.” And, “there are miles to go before we sleep,” so we can’t wait for everyone to get on board before we leave the station.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

12/09/07, Sermon

I have a favorite coffee cup, and it was lost for six weeks. I’d taken it with me to retrieve something from the closet where we keep our luggage and carousels of old slides, and left it, with two sips of wine—it is also my favorite wine glass—on the shelf, while I carried out my self-appointed task of, what must have been, great urgency. I am sure that if it had been filled with wine, I would have never forgotten it, and this one of the lessons to be learned from this experience. Never retrieve something from somewhere in the house with less than a full cup of wine as a traveling companion.

The other lesson has to do with doing what you can to rectify a situation without doing more than you can. I conducted a number of interviews, carried out two or three full scale searches, and a number of light reconnaissance missions, and sat thinking about the possible whereabouts of the cup for a couple of minutes on several occasions. I knew it was my fault, even though it occurred to me to blame the grandchildren, or a daughter, or one of the sons-in-law, I knew I couldn’t make any of the charges stick. I remembered as much as getting up with the cup and its two sips of wine and considering my options: leave it behind, chug it, refrigerate it, or take it along. I remembered taking it along. And, that was as far as memory would serve.

Well, those things constituted as much as I could do. Beyond them, I would not go, trying to do more than I could do, tearing up each room of the house, say, in the style of those mobster or FBI searches in the movies (Amazing, isn’t it, how the good guys and the bad guys are indistinguishable in the way they go about looking for something? Makes you wonder what one knows that the other doesn’t), or putting all family members on the rack or the water-board (Another amazing similarity between the good guys and the bad guys. What IS it that makes us think WE are good and THEY are bad? Particularly, when they are thinking the same things in reverse. You would think there would, at least, be agreement among the good guys and the bad guys about who was who). At any rate, I didn’t try to do more than was legitimately mine to do. After I did that much, I simply waited, trusting that I would live long enough to see the mystery solved.

My wife found the cup in the closet, with its sticky residue of evaporated wine, when she was bringing out Christmas gear to decorate for the season. I rejoiced and was glad. During the searching operation of the campaign, I looked carefully in places I don’t normally go, like the basement, but the luggage-slides-Christmas closet didn’t make the list. I don’t go there often enough to think of it as a place I don’t normally go. But, I did look on top of the hutch that holds the phone. I thought it was clever of me to think of that even though it wasn’t there. It was in the closet the whole time, it’s contents drying up, waiting to be found—as helpless as I was to hurry up the time.

There are no short-cuts, it seems. We can only wait it out. Making the necessary adjustments, accommodating ourselves to our less than optimal living conditions, acquiescing to the inescapable truth of how it is: “This is the way things are, and this is what you can do about it, and that’s that.”

When we wake up, this is one of the things we wake up to, the “is-ness” of the now, of the here and now, of this moment in which we are living. This moment is the staging area for all the moments following it. In this moment, we set the tone for the rest of our moments. This is the Karmanic influence of the present, in adjusting the drift of the past and moderating the direction of the future.

I avoided a number of possibilities for the future by not yelling at anyone for doing such a poor job in taking care of me. They must know by now that I cannot be trusted, and must be watched, and kept from shooting myself in the foot. What do they mean, leaving me to myself? Even when an event is clearly my fault, I can still find ways of blaming everyone else for letting me do it. And, the fact that I refrained from doing so out loud is to my credit. It also underscores the point that a number of futures are possible in any moment, and that the way we live in the moment creates the path to livable, or unlivable, possibilities.

After we have done what we can do, we wait. We do not try to do more than we can do. We cannot force short-cuts or willfully wrest the world of our choosing into being. Waiting is balancing, it is restoring the harmony between what we want and what we have. This is the work of consciousness, the work of awareness, the work of spiritual practice. It is the work of realizing how our interests impact, mesh with, and are altered or obliterated by the unfolding of circumstances. We may want to play tennis, for example, but when the Yellowstone caldera blows, it’s going to put tennis aside for a while. It is the work of consciousness, awareness, mindfulness, and spiritual practice to put ourselves in accord with the conditions and circumstances of our lives. This is the work of realization, balance and harmonization. It is the work that is required to find the Holy Grail.

Now, the missing coffee/wine cup wasn’t the real Holy Grail. But, then, there is no real Holy Grail. It’s a metaphor, don’t you know, for the heart and soul of life. It’s a metaphor for life itself, and for what has life, and is life, for us. In that, it’s like the manger. And, the work of finding it is the work of Advent.

Here’s how the work works: We are born into this world, and the world does not cooperate with us and the realization of our wants and desires and interests and needs. We have a problem. The problem is how to get what we need from the world in which we live. How to get our needs met. And, not only our needs, but our aspirations and dreams as well. We can imagine a better world than the world we can live in. There you are. The problem. How do we put ourselves into accord with the circumstances of our lives? That is our life’s task. Negotiating a settlement we can live with—coming to friendly terms with the circumstances of our lives.

And, those circumstances are always changing, developmentally and environmentally. We have to find the way from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood to old age. From dependency to responsibility to dependency. Making transitions all the way, with the biggie being from life to death. And, while we are doing that, the external circumstances of our lives are doing a dance called the Chaotic Swirl. And, we have to find the way to life, to the Holy Grail, to the manger, through all of this. It’s enough to make you forget where you put your coffee cup.
But, I am getting ahead of myself. I think I might need to make a stronger connection between the Grail and the manger for you. It starts with you thinking metaphorically about both. Understanding both the Holy Grail (which came into being at the end of Jesus’ life) and the manger (which was there at the beginning) as being about the same thing: Life. “I came,” said Jesus, “that you might have life and have it abundantly.” John says, “What has come into being in (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Jesus’ life from start to finish was about bringing us to life, here and now. Not after our biological death, but right now. The life and the light is about living properly aligned with God, neighbor, self and circumstances.

The whole point of life is to be alive. What’s the wasteland? It’s a place where people are living inauthentic lives. It’s the place where they are not living their own lives at all. It’s the place where people are living life as life is supposed to be lived according to the codes and norms and rules of their social group—where people are doing what they are supposed to do—where they are doing what they are told to do. Jesus was born into that kind of framework, as we all are, and he said, “What are you people thinking? Wake up, for crying out loud, and live the life you are capable of living!”

The manger and the Grail symbolize the life of the individual that is lived in right relationship with her, with his, circumstances. They are about waking up and living in right relationship with our lives. We don’t run to do that. We wait. We look. We listen. To see and hear what must be done. The season of Advent is a symbol reminding us of the importance of the place of waiting in the spiritual scheme. What are we waiting for? Christmas morning! Not for the gifts and presents that Santa brings to those who have been good little boys and girls, and not for the reenactment of the birth of one little boy who is said to have been especially good. Christmas morning, and the manger, are symbolic of the awakening, the realization, the enlightenment which comes to those who wait in the right way. And what does enlightenment do for us? What do we wake up to? This present moment right now and how we need to live in it in order to do what needs to be done in it. We wake up to what it means to be alive right here, right now.

Being alive in any moment means seeing the moment as a living thing in its own right. All our moments have a life of their own. Our moments are filled with possibilities and opportunities and choices and options, all of which have implications for the way life is lived. We cannot think that the moment is some lifeless rock that we can pick up and throw into the sea if we want to, without any consequences for anyone ever. We cannot think that our moments are ours to do with as we will. This is the spiritual realization.

When you have this realization, it is as though the Grail appears before you, and you have the chance you have been waiting for, even though you didn’t know you were waiting for it, and everything rides on how you respond, on how you live in the moment of your living. The moment can carry you to the Grail Castle, or it can dump you in the wilderness of you own making, depending on the choice you make in the moment, so you better know that you are making a choice. “Whom does the Grail serve?” “Those who serve the Grail!” What does it mean to serve the Grail? Answering that question requires us to dance with our gifts and our circumstances’ needs, between our interests and aspirations and dreams, and our circumstances’ possibilities. For whom does the Grail exist? The answer is “Not you, and not Not you”! We live in relation to our circumstances as a river lives in relation to its channel. Our concern is not for ourselves and our gain and our advantage but for what is needed in the moment. What does it mean to “do right by the moment”? That is what it means to serve the Grail! We do the right thing in this moment right now, not some other moment. We live in this moment, here and now, not in some other time, not in some other place. Life is not to be deferred, yet, we live not by grabbing the gain, but by doing right by the moment of our living.

No one is ever so awake in any moment that she, that he, can live as a robot in that moment. Nothing is automatic in being alive in the moment of your living. You cannot memorize some creed or some catechism or some book of confessions and meet the needs of the moment out of what you have stored in your head. Out of what someone else has told you to do. You have to be alive in the moment of your living and live out of your own spontaneity. It has to be you and the moment, not some book and the moment, not someone else and the moment.

Christmas morning is about awakening to the importance of being awake in the moment of your living, awake to the possibilities of the moment, awake to what the moment is asking of you, offering to you, awake to what is unfolding within your own self, awake to what is ready to be born within you, to come to life in you and through you into the world.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

12/02/07, Sermon

We dream of escape and deliverance. It is the human condition. Not this! Not this! Anything would be better than this! But, everything turns into “this,” eventually. Our assets have their liabilities, and the way out of one thing is the way into another. Where are we better off? On the move! And, even that gets old after a while.

Settling down with the way things are means making our peace with our lives, letting “this,” (whatever it is) be well with us, even though it is not, really, and it is a lie to pretend that it is. So we make the lie part of the “this,” and accommodate ourselves to the pretense, as well as to the situation, until enough becomes enough, and we get fed up, and can’t take any more. Then we move on.

Truthfulness demands a “No!” from time to time. Some things are not tolerable. When the waterhole dries up, we’re stupid to accept dehydration and death. Move on! Stop looking for peace at last! Accept unsettledness as the human condition! Be unsettled! Make the endless trade-offs! Do not look for the Land of Promise where everything will be just fine forever! Being happy with the way things are is a grand illusion. There will always be something not to like. Don’t like what is not to be liked! Live with it, change it, or move on!

If only we weren’t so hard to please! If only we could let things be! If only we could just be content with the way things are! Trouble is, we are part of the way things are. We aren’t pleased with our being hard to please. Our dissatisfaction with the way things are is one of the things we cannot let be. And, we can’t fix ourselves without leaving ourselves alone. Enter irony, paradox, and the need for the balance of laughter, and playfulness, and the ease of living softly, with an affinity for untied ends and unknown paths and unpredictable turns and shifts and outcomes—the need of an aliveness to life!

Balance is never rigid. Balance is constant adjustment, compensation, accommodation. It is not a fixed state, but a quality of motion. We experience homeostasis because we are comfortable with the routine movement required to keep things “the same,” but there are perturbations within the range of comfort that are acceptably “normal.” We never drive in an exactly straight line, and riding a bicycle is just a matter of learning to narrow the wobbles to an acceptable range.

We experience distress when we have to move beyond our “comfort zone” to deal with the upheavals and disruptions of life. Maybe things return to the “old normal,” and maybe we adjust to a “new normal,” but, over time, things settle into another comfortable routine until the next round of upsetting circumstances. But, the comfortable routines are not steady states of being, but constant efforts at regulation and control. We run out of coffee, the rain ruins the paper, the dog throws up on the carpet. “It’s always something,” and we are always making adjustments and compensations throughout our day.

The cumulative effect of constant adjustment is exhaustion. So, part of the adjusting cycle has to be shut-down, vacation, holiday. The impact of physical reality can deplete the Psyche and we develop symptoms on the level of Soma, so Nous, or “mind,” has to step in with a plan for restoring harmony among body, mind, and soul, among spiritual, emotional, and physical reality.

There is Psyche, and there is Soma, and there is Nous. Soul, Body, Mind. Mind is more than intellect. More than reason. More than the thinking, calculating, evaluating, deciding side of us. Mind is also the balancing agent. Mind balances Soul and Body. Soul and Body get out of synch like that, in no time. The culture is a constant source of sensory overload. Our physical needs are, shall we say, somewhat more than met. Overindulgence is a hobby with us. We live to be stimulated into collapse. Where does the Psyche go to have its needs met? Body gets all the attention. Soul has to fend for itself. That's where Mind comes in. Balancing the needs of Body and Soul. Our life's work. Being aware of all that we truly need to be fully alive.

For example, We can restore the psyche by allowing it the freedom to do as it pleases from time to time, to be lazy, to indulge its pleasures, to not be responsible, to not have to “make production,” to create for nothing beyond it’s own joy, to relish beauty, to commune with the spiritual essence of being, to wander aimlessly, to do what it needs to do. We maintain balance by being delightfully unbalanced at various intervals throughout our lives.

To do that, we have to understand the needs of psyche and soma. Our physical needs are fairly obvious: Food, clothing, shelter. Abraham Maslow identified, what he called, a “hierarchy of values,” and holds true across all ages and classes and categories of people. His five values, or needs, are survival, security, prestige, personal relationships, and self-development. I think a case could be made for these same needs existing and being evident in all the so-called “higher” animals. They are not unique to human beings.

What is unique to human beings is the completely crazy, totally irrational, absolutely illogical tendency to throw it all away—to cast Maslow’s hierarchy of needs/values aside—in the service of what Joseph Campbell calls “a mythological zeal.” We go nuts in the grip of a compelling vision. This is what makes us human. We are the vehicles of consciousness breaking into the physical world. Campbell also says that human beings are to consciousness as light bulbs are to light.

You could call it consciousness, or you could call it psychic reality, or you could call it the Spirit of God. It is a spiritual (spiritual meaning not intellectual, not rational, not capable of being explained or understood, or scientifically investigated or explored) passion, or zeal, that seizes us and requires our cooperation and participation, one might say our obedience and faithfulness, at the expense of all other considerations. This is what makes us human.

Of all the species on the planet, we alone are capable of being gripped by a passion, a concern, that lays us bare and strips us of our interest in survival, and security, and prestige, and the like. We alone can “lose our minds,” and “leave everything,” and go off on a journey, a pilgrimage, to the heart of creation, with the heart of creation. We are searching for the heart that beats in synch with our heart, and calls us beyond ourselves— calls us out of our life and out of our dreams for our life into its dream for our life. This is the search Jesus had in mind when he said, “All who seek to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives in the right cause (he said, “for my sake and the gospel’s”), in the service of a cause worthy of them, will find Life (he said, “their lives”).

Here is the flow of the journey. We move from egocentricity, from ego-centered-ness, from the I-Me-My-Mine of childhood to the peer-mask of adolescence and early adulthood (where we disappear into our peers and look just like everyone else with their beige Ford Explorers and there Golden Lab on the back seat and their house made of ticky-tacky on the hillsides of the suburbs, doing we are supposed to do, what is laid out for us to do by our social circle and the culture of which we are apart). From this loss of self to the norms of our recognized social order, we, if we are lucky, move into an “identity crisis,” where we cast off the values and expectations of that order and take up the search for the things that are truly important to us, searching for our passion, our “bliss,” for our heart.

This is “the hero’s journey,” leaving the society to find the blessing of her, of his, own genius, and then returning to the society with a new understanding of what it means to live, and living there out of that understanding, out of that vision, as a mentor and model for others in their own journey to self-development and self-realization. And, in that struggle to be a self in relationship with others, to be true to one’s self within the context and circumstances of culture and society, we take the final step in the process of affinity with consciousness, which is the development of our awareness of that which is beyond us. This is the third handing over of the self.

The first was when we disappeared into our peers, into our social order. The second was when we disappeared into our own hearts and followed the beat of our own drummer, and allowed our own sense of what was important to us to guide us. And this third handing-over is when we disappear into the heart of the universe and consciously identify ourselves with that which is beyond us, outside of us, more than us. “Thou will, not mine, be done!”

Here we follow, not society’s ideas of what is important, and not our own sense of what is important to us, but that which is truly important in its own right because it is essential, and is the way, the truth, and the life. And, when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me,” he is saying what we all say at this point of surrendering ourselves to the truly important, to the Tao, to the “will of God,” not in the moral sense of the Ten Commandments, but in the sense of doing in the moment what needs to be done, the way it needs to be done, when it needs to be done. “I and the Father are one!” and the sage is one with the Tao. There you are, the map of the journey. The rest is up to you.