Tuesday, January 29, 2008

01/27/08, Sermon

We want to be alive on our terms, yet, we do not dictate the terms. Coming to terms with the terms is the primary task of life in the world. The great spiritual work is putting our self, our spirit, our psyche, into accord with the realities that limit and determine our existence.

The world is not the way we would like for it to be. The world is not the way we would draw it up. No one thinks things are just fine as they are. “Life isn’t fair.” How many of us would design a world in which “life isn’t fair”? The Old Testament is replete with descriptions of the dream world, the land of promise. It’s a land flowing with milk and honey. It’s a place where the lion lies down with the lamb, and the bear eats straw like the ox. It’s a place where spears are beaten into pruning hooks, and swords are melted into plow-shares. It’s a place where people live out their lives to a ripe old age in peace, and justice prevails. Where they build homes and live in them, plant vineyards and enjoy their produce. But, this place is not that place. And, we have to square ourselves up to that ever-present fact.

This place is not the place we want it to be. How can we live here, hating it? How can we sing the Lord‘s song in THIS land? How can we live here, longing for what we cannot have? The task that is before us in every generation, every age, is that of taking up the work of spiritual practice to put us into accord with the unacceptable realities. And, this work is the point of demarcation between good religion and bad.

Bad religion tells us that if we just do this in this way, that will happen and we will like it—that if we make God happy, God will put the unacceptable realities into accord with us, with our wishes, dreams and desires. Bad religion tells us that we can have what we want and live happily protected in an invisible shield God, or the Universe, places around us as a favor to us for living the right way. God will set us high on a rock, you know, and we will be immune to all of the pitfalls, and disasters, and disappointments that befall the heathens and non-believers.

What we have to believe and how we have to act is different with each bad religion, but each bad religion promises prosperity and wealth and happiness (That land flowing with milk and honey, you know), if we identify ourselves with its precepts, and become true believers and faithful doers. It may be the Law of Attraction, or the Ten Commandments, or the Prayer of Jabez, or the atoning death and resurrection of God’s Only Son Jesus Christ Our Lord, but if we believe, if we really believe, and live lives commensurate with our beliefs, the heavens will open and the goodies will be delivered to our door. Give to the god and the god will give to us. Getting what we want is just a matter of knowing the right hoops to jump through. The story is different with good religion.

Good religion knows it isn’t about getting what we want. This, too, is part of the Biblical record. Moses doesn’t get to the Promised Land. The Suffering Servant hands himself over to those who ridicule him and pull out his beard—yet, upon him is the chastisement that is ours to bear, and his are our healing, one might say awakening, wounds. The prophets are beaten and stoned, and Jesus, in his blamelessness and purity, is condemned and crucified, and tells us that if we would be his disciples we have to give up everything, take up our cross, and follow him. Good things do not necessarily accrue to those who are good and do good. And good things cannot be our goal. We aren’t in it for what we get out of it.

We are here to do what is ours to do, to live the life that is ours to live, to align ourselves with the integrity of our own lives, to do what truly needs to be done. We cannot do that with an eye out for what is in it for us. We cannot do that thinking of our advantage, and advancing our interest, and caring about what we receive for our efforts. The great spiritual work is to live as those who have nothing to lose with everything on the line.

It is not about getting what we want, it is about not wanting. It is about not letting what we have or don’t have get in the way of living the lives that are ours to live, of doing what is ours to do, of doing what needs to be done in the moment of our living, regardless of the implications for us, our interest, our lives. But, wait a minute.

Who are we kidding? Self-preservation is the Law of the Jungle. Taking care of Number One is what got us where we are today. We can’t just lay aside millions of years of evolutionary tradition and pretend that someone else’s interest is more important than our own. We ARE in this for what we can get out of it! Why else would we put up with what we put up with? And here we find the spiritual turning point of our lives, of existence. This is exactly the crux of the matter. What will we care about?

Everything hinges on our caring about living the life that is ours to live. “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to accomplish his work.” “Thy will, not mine, be done.” We have to understand “the one who sent me,” and “his work,” and “Thy will,” to be the life that is ours to live—the integrity of our own life—which exists beyond the life we have in mind for ourselves, the life we want, and desire, and dream of. If we sacrifice, or hand over, or ignore, that life—the life that is truly our life to live—for the sake of the glass beads and silver mirrors the world offers to us in the name of life, we will enter the Wasteland and die the death of the living dead.

But, if we remain true to ourselves, our calling, and sacrifice everything, hand over everything, and take up the cross of living the life with our name on it, no matter what, we will enter the Land of Promise, and know the joy of the good and faithful servants, which is exactly the joy of having done what is theirs to do. In this comes to pass Jesus’ words that those who seek to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives in the service of their calling will find them. In being true to ourselves we have to lay self interest aside, for the sake of being true to ourselves and doing what is ours to do in the moment of our living.

Who do you know who lives like that? Who puts self-interest aside in the service of the needs of the moment? The right kind of parents do it with their children, at least until their children are out and on their own. Employees sometimes do it for the sake of their business. We stumble across examples from time to time, of people who lay aside self-interest in the service of the needs of the moment. Firefighters enter burning buildings to save lives. Soldiers risk their lives to help their comrades. It happens, here and there, in spurts and splashes. But it is not a way of life. It is an exception, not the rule.

The rule is that we are ruled by our interests. And, that is also the rub. We set our interests aside occasionally, but then, we pick them back up. “When it is my turn? What’s in this for me? What am I getting out of all this? Why am I doing this? What’s the payoff? When do we start having fun?” The questions underscore the fact that our motivation for living is what we get out of being alive. We don’t do anything for nothing very long.

Yet, nothing is the heart of the matter. We have to have nothing to lose with everything on the line. If we are going to believe in anything, we need to believe in nothing—not as the absence of everything, but as the eternal and infinite power to create and transform, heal, restore, redeem and make whole. Nothing is the origin of all that is. How can we believe in anything if we don’t believe in nothing?

What do we have to gain? Nothing! What do we have to lose? Nothing! What are we good for? Nothing! What are we getting out of it? Nothing! Upon what does the quality of our lives depend? Nothing! This is the realization of Jesus during his temptations in the wilderness, and it is the realization of the Buddha under the Bo Tree.

We are here, with this life to live, as only we can live it, and everything rides on our doing it for nothing. We are here in this moment, with what needs to happen here and now, and everything rides on our doing what needs to be done the way it needs to be done as only we can perceive it and do it. We aren’t here to do what someone else says needs doing, what society, or the culture, or our parents, or the church says needs doing. We are here to do what we perceive to truly need doing in the moment of our living, to respond to the need that we see arising out of the situation in which we find ourselves. What needs to happen now? What is the next step here? Our task is to answer those questions for ourselves out of the integrity of our own being, and to do it for nothing, as an expression of who we are in the world—“Thy will, not mine, be done!”—not caring whether we receive anything from the world for being who we are and doing what is ours to do.

Monday, January 21, 2008

01/20/08, Sermon

The Messiah is a White Rabbit. The Messiah always comes as a White Rabbit. We miss the arrival by looking for the wrong thing, by discounting, dismissing, the Rabbit Hole and waiting, instead, for the heavens to be torn apart and the angelic chorus to announce the obvious. The Way is not obvious. We never know what is going to lead to life, or where life is to be found. What we think we know about the truth keeps us from knowing the truth.

Our place is not to wait for deliverance, for rescue, for salvation by the Messiah (the Prince of Peace, mind you) leading the armed legions of God into a cataclysmic battle with the forces of Satan for control of the earth. Our place is to simply watch for the White Rabbit, hoping to catch a glimpse out of the corner of our eye. To wait for the chance encounter, the misstep, the blunder that will transform our lives and open us to the life that is our life to live.

We have to entertain our urges, inclinations, nudges and notions, invite them in, sit with them for a while to see if there might be something to them. When I drive by scenes at 35 or 60 miles an hour, sometimes something catches my eye, an arrangement of fences and hillsides and flowers, perhaps, or a barn and a cow, and I have to turn around and drive back to check it out. Most of my “check outs” result in “No,” and I resume my journey, but there have been a number of “yes’s” that are among my favorite photos. “All that glimmers is not gold,” goes the old saying, but gold does glimmer, and we have to look closely to know whether the glimmering thing is, or isn’t, what we seek.

So, we have to look into the things we think might be the thing for us. We have to try them on, go with them for a walk around the block, make a test run, take a chance, find out. We have to find out. Discover for ourselves what is “Yes,” and what is “No.” No one else can tell us that. We can’t tell by thinking about it. We have to take a bite to know.

We pile all our urges, inclinations, nudges and notions on the table, and wait for one or two to emerge from the pile. The one or two with the most life about them, the most power to attract. The one or two that won’t go away, that keep coming back, popping up, saying, “Come, follow me.” And, we go follow them. But, it isn’t that easy. It isn’t just a matter of running after the latest thing we have to have, or do, joining this circus, throwing away this spouse for that one, embracing sweat lodges and vision quests until we find the life that we have in mind for ourselves, the one that is just perfect, the one we are sure is out there somewhere. This is the thing about White Rabbits, we can’t be looking for them. They have to surprise us, and step unbeckoned into our lives.

And, in following them, we have to balance, integrate, the needs of inner and outer. We have to feed our bodies and feed our souls. We have to do what we love and pay the bills. This is what makes it so hard, and it is not the only thing. There are two rules. Rule number one is Don’t Do What You Are Told! This means don’t follow orders. Don’t obey rules. Don’t allow society, our your parents, or the church, to lay out the black foot prints which you step carefully into and call that being alive. Say “No!” to all those would direct, and orchestrate, and choreograph your life, and take the risks involved with finding your own way, listening to your own heart, following your own path, living your own life, and doing what you know you must do out of the spontaneity of your being aligned with the integrity of your life in the moment of your living. This is the first rule. And, the first rule is complicated by the fact that we LIVE in this society! And we have to live on society’s terms. And do what we are told. See, told you it was going to be hard.

The second rule is this: Don’t be imprudent! Don’t be stupid! This means, don’t think you can get by with doing whatever you feel like doing. Don’t think you can ignore the feelings and interests of others. Don’t think other people are here to serve you, and dote on you, and fluff your pillows and bring you peeled grapes in silver bowls. This is your LIFE we are talking about. You cannot play fast and loose with your LIFE! It MATTERS what you do, and how, and when, and where, and with whom you do it. Brittney Spears and all the little starlit divas are wonderful examples of how not to live your life, of how to waste your life, of how to throw life away.

There are two points of entry to the Wasteland, to the land of the living dead. One is by following orders and doing what you are told, and never having a single though of your own, and never following an urge, or an impulse, or a notion, and never looking up when the White Rabbit comes your way, and never lifting your eyes from the service of what you are supposed to do to catch a glimpse of what truly must be done, and you miss it, what is yours to do, what is life itself for you, what is your life.

The other point of entry to the Wasteland is always doing what you feel like doing, when you feel like doing it, for as long as you feel like doing it, and then doing the next thing you feel like doing, and never doing anything past the point of fun, never following any path into the drudgery and boredom of the same old same old, always looking for the glitz and glamour and pizzazz of the latest fad, the newest gimmick, the hottest and best place to be, and never feeling anything you don’t want to feel or being anywhere you don’t want to be.

At this point of entry, we go running off in all directions at once: “Oh, there’s a pretty thing, no, there’s one, no, there it is over there!” We are always better off somewhere else. Where are we going to be, is the question. We would always have more fun doing something else. What are we going to do, is the question. We don’t want to make any choices that will limit our choices. We want an endless list of infinite possibilities, with no limits, no boundaries, no consequences, no conditions, and certainly no responsibilities and duties.

Yet, we must not wait for validation, for confirmation, for someone to tell us what to do. We have to act on the compelling notion, against all odds. Step into the unknown, follow the White Rabbit, with no idea of where you are going, or what you are doing, or caring what your chances are. Don’t do what you are told, and, don’t act imprudently. That’s the split that will heal your soul, restore your life, and align you with the integrity of your being. What does it take to pay the bills? Do it! What does it take to follow the White Rabbit? Do it! Live in the dichotomy that brings you to life—that brings life to life!

Living the right kind of life has nothing to do with obeying the Ten Commandments and walking the straight and narrow as the straight and narrow is generally conceived. We have always thought of the Straight and Narrow in terms of moral rectitude, purity of thought and deed, goodness of motive and action, keeping the commandments and the codes of conduct that everyone knows to be right, being always a shinning example and a Straight Arrow. It’s time to re-think the concept.

The Straight and Narrow exists as the path on the boundary between yin and yang, between excess and destitution, between submission to authority and whimsical imprudence, where a misstep can be the end of us, or our golden beginning. The Straight and Narrow is the fine balance, the thin line, between the opposites, the contraries, which have to be honored and held in “creative tension” with each other. We have to pay the bills AND we have to do what brings us alive. Doing what pays the bills doesn’t often do that, so we have to find room in our lives for that which does. We have to do what we want to do even when we don’t want to do it. We have to be hard or soft as the situation requires. We have to be clear and unequivocal about the importance of the right kind of ambivalence. The list goes on.

Life is found, and lived, between the hands: On the one hand, this. On the other hand, that. And, we have to decide anew in each moment what to do here and now, with no manual to follow and no policies to protect us. What does life require? We wait for the answer to arise within the situation that requires an answer. We make a decision, and in deciding, we walk the straight and narrow line between opposites, between contraries, and take our chances.

The Straight and Narrow has nothing to do with moral goodness. It has to do entirely with living on the boundary between yin and yang—with walking the ever so thin line between blind obedience and reckless imprudence. Living the life that is ours to live requires us to know what needs to be done and do it. How do we know? We know out of our own authority, out of our own spontaneity of being in the moment of our living. No one can tell us and we can’t just do what we feel like doing—we can’t just run from what needs to be done because we don’t want to do it, or because we aspire to greater and more worthy things. We cannot live obediently or imprudently. That is the anguish of the Straight and Narrow.

And, what if we are wrong about what needs doing, as we often will be? Well, then we do what needs doing in that moment. Get it? If so, you’ve got it. That’s absolutely all there is to it. You are the wizard, the Buddha, the Christ. Go live the life that is yours to live by doing what needs to be done in the moment of your living, out of your own authority, out of your own spontaneity of being which arises from the context and circumstances of the moment of your living. Are we going to say yes or no to the life that is our life to live? Are we going to say yes or no to the adventure that has our name on it? When it doesn’t seem like much of an adventure? When it just asks us to do the ordinary things of life? With nothing in it about shinning armor, or magic rings, or evil wizards out to destroy the world? Are we going to follow the White Rabbit, or not?

Sometimes, the thing that needs to be done now makes no sense now. Sometimes, the thing that needs to be done now is to practice throwing rocks with our sling, with no thought of Goliath in mind. Practice, preparation, is playing with stones and tiny targets, just because that’s what needs to be done, though no one would think so. This makes knowing what needs to be done a matter of great discernment. It takes a wise eye to see what needs to be done, and a courageous heart to do it, particularly when no one else might agree about the importance of the thing and doing it. And, it brings into bold relief the burden of the Way of Life (which is the way of living the life that is our life to live).

The Ordeal is whatever stands between us and the life that is ours to live, whatever we have to go through to live the life that is ours to live. It could be dragons and trolls and Darth Vader and Flesh Eaters. It could be people laughing at us for slinging stones at tiny targets. And it could be our own ideas of the life we want to live. There is one exit from the Wasteland, from the land of the living dead, to the Land of Promise, the land of milk and honey, the land of the life that is truly our life to live. At the threshold between death and life we have to hand over the life we have in mind. And step into the utterly unknown.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

01/13/08, Sermon

Articulate the agony! Consciously, willingly, submit to the ordeal! Bear the pain! That’s the path to life, and living, and being alive! It’s certainly the path to wisdom: “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” -- Aeschylus

We cannot be alive without embracing the fullness of life. We have to open ourselves to the whole thing, feeling what can be felt, touching what can be touched, seeing what can be seen, hearing what can be heard, tasting what can be tasted, so that we might know what can be known—so that we might live the life that is ours to live!

In doing this, we have to re-think thinking. Thinking about our agony is not experiencing our agony. It is distancing ourselves from in and a way that renders us almost immune to it. I say almost because what isn’t experiences is buried, goes underground, where it rots and ferments and stinks like death itself, and is death and we die because we would avoid the pain of being alive, which is also like dying. We die one way or the other. In living we die, in dying, we live.

What kind of death will we die is the question. Will we summons the courage to face our life head on? Will we look our life in the eye? Will we articulate the agony? Consciously, willingly, submit to the ordeal? Bear the pain? Or, will we look away, run away, hide out, deny, deny, deny? Will we dismiss the pain because it is so much less than other people have to deal with? Will we numb ourselves with steady doses of cultural Novocain and repeat hypnotically, “There is a reason for everything,” “God doesn’t give us more than we can bear,” “Something good comes from something bad,” “Don’t question things we can’t understand”? Will we change the subject and not say what we have lost? Because we are afraid that if we start feeling the agony, experiencing the pain, WE will be lost?

There is nothing like the traumatic encounter with pain, grief, loss and sorrow to blur the line between sanity and insanity. In the sane world there is a process and a routine and a structure for everything. You stop on red and go on green. And there are rules governing everything, keeping it all in place. Our daily life in the sane world is scripted to at “T” and runs right along on schedule: “Good morning. How are you?” “Just fine. How are you?” “Have a good day.” “You, too.” We all know what to say, and when, and how to say it.

Then comes the slammer. The sane world is shattered by that which obeys no rules. The tsunami, the hurricane, the wildfire, the drought, the war, the heart attack, the car wreck, the fall… And life is destroyed for all who survive. And insanity—that is, disturbance, disorientation, upheaval, instability, confusion, and the inability to trust ourselves to our own future, to our own life—reins. Nothing makes sense. The traumatic encounter exposes the shallow banter of the sane world as completely insane. Where is sanity to be found then? Where do we go to be grounded, balanced, stabilized and safe then?

We do not know. We get by by denying that we know what we know, by wishing that “we didn’t know now what we didn’t know then” (Bob Seger). By pretending we don’t know what we know. By looking away. Running away. Hiding out. Denying, denying, denying. Hoping that they will keep making whiskey, and anti-depressants, and our favorite distractions and diversions. What are we afraid of? Not being able to function? We are already not functioning. Ah, but, maybe no one notices. We at least get out of bed and drag ourselves through the day in order to pay the bills. We do that much. And, we are afraid we won’t do any of it if we admit how little sense it makes working to sustain a life that is as shaky, and vulnerable, and unstable, and insubstantial, and insane as life actually is.

When the foundation crumbles, what grounds us? Around what do we coalesce when the traumatic shockwaves destroy our world? What is the heart of our life? What forms the core of our existence? In what do we trust? What is the content of our faith? What enables us to pick ourselves up and go on in the spirit, with the attitude, manner and style, of those who go on with purpose, and hope, and joy, and life? What do we believe in, know to be true, that enables us to live a life we would be proud to live in the aftermath of the complete loss of everything?

Each of us must find our own answers for these questions. Sorry to tell you that, but there is no one answer fits all in the back of the book. What picks you up and gets you going may not cause me to stir. What you tell yourself to bring yourself to life might not rouse me at all. Which is to say that you may think what I am about to say is the stupidest thing that has ever been said in the entire history of things being said.

And, before I say that, I’ll say this: We do not share the same perspective. We do not see things in the same way. We have different points of view. There are ten thousand different Christianities, and always have been. How many sects, and varieties, and versions of all the religions are there? Past counting. And, for all the creeds, and doctrines, and catechisms, there is not one that bridges the gap between us and our lives, between the life we want to live and the life that is forced on us by our culture our circumstances. The creeds can only put us to sleep, and we are always waking up to the emptiness of this creed or that one, and having to find a new creed, a new place to go to church, in order to shut ourselves off from the encroaching truth of the life we are afraid to live, calling us out of the camp, so to speak, out of religion, into the rawness of the first-hand experience of God.

Life requires more than creeds can offer. God exists within us all as the unrecognized potentiality of our lives (just as all monsters and demons that threaten us are our own fears and limitations). Life would deliver us into the hands of God, and God is always calling us beyond ourselves into ourselves, into the life that is waiting for us. Life would hand us over to God. God would hand us over to life. And, we don’t want anything to do with that God. We have to create religion to protect us from that God. We always have to relinquish the God of our religion in order to get to God, to the God who is calling us to wake up and embrace the life that is ours to live (which has nothing in common with the life we want to live, the life we want to be our life). We have to forsake our God—the tame, placid, predictable, civilized God of our ancestors, you might say—in order to place ourselves in the service of God—the God of the wilderness and wild, crazy, notions, who is the real God of our ancestors, and all people.

No one can speak for that God. That God speaks for that God. Do not take anyone’s word for what that God is saying. Do not let anyone tell you what to do in the service of that God, or how you should think about that God, or what you should believe about that God. That God exists as the rawness of your own experience with the truth of your life. And you cannot articulate the meaning of that encounter. You can only talk in poetry and metaphor, and make pictures, and write songs, that hint of the truth.

This means that you have to receive all that I say as you might receive a lump of clay, and mold it with your own understanding, shape it according to your own experience, taking what you need, what you can use, and leaving the rest, the part that you think is the stupidest thing you have ever heard. Don’t worry about that part. That part is not for you. No one can tell you what you are not ready to hear, what you don’t want to hear, what you are not interested in hearing. You can only hear the parts that can be helpful to you at this particular point in your life. Leave the rest for someone else.

That brings us back to the question about solid core of our lives, the grounding center, the heart, the anchoring reality, to that which holds when all else is crumbling and disintegrating and is no more. Here’s what holds for me: YOU. You are the ground of my life, of my being. What do we have but each other? When all else is taken from us, what are we left with but each other? In the prisoner of war camps, Victor Frankl reports that those who survived the experience of the complete loss of everything were those who cared for, and were cared for by, their comrades, their neighbor.

Here’s what I think: There is me and my life, and there is you and your life. I exist, in part, to help you with your life. And, you exist, in part, to help me with my life. In bearing my pain and making a good effort with the issues of the day, I help you with your life, with the life that is yours to live. In bearing your pain and making a good effort with the issues of the day, you help me with my life, with the life that is mine to live.

We help each other live the life that is ours to live right here, right now, in these circumstances, in these conditions, whatever they are. I am with you in your experience of life. You are with me in my experience of life. We cannot close ourselves off from one another. We cannot isolate ourselves, insulate ourselves from the pain of life by having nothing to do with life or with each other. True life, abundant life, real life IS each other. We cannot live cut-off, disconnected, alone.

But, not just any company is life-giving, life-enhancing, life-bearing. It takes the right kind of company for that to happen. Some company is death itself, and we are better off alone than in the presence of some people. So, when I say YOU are what grounds me, I have to issue an immediate disclaimer. The right kind of relationship with you is what grounds me. We have to work to be sources of the right kind of relationship for each other, and all others.

Two things flow from this. The first is, this place cannot be your life. You have to have a life apart from this place. The church cannot be the center and source of your life. The church can only help you with your life, help you live the life that is yours to live, but that life is not this place. This place and these people cannot be a substitute for finding and living your life (We’ll talk about that next week and why finding and living your life is so difficult).

The second thing is that these people cannot be your best friends. These people are not chums and buddies and pals. Right relationship is not chummy. Right relationship requires a certain working distance, close but not enmeshed, distant enough to know what needs to be said, and say it. AA members don’t play golf with one another, and go to movies with one another, and hang out with one another. They know that two can go astray as easily as one, and that if we are going to be a counter-weight to the other’s craziness, we have to have at least a see-saw’s length of board between us. It’s tricky, finding the right amount of distance, not too close, not too far away, but that’s the art of right relationship, and the key to being the source of the kind of helping presence that heals and makes well, restores, sustains, and enables us to live the life that is ours to live.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

01/06/08, Sermon

Joseph Campbell says, “Everybody believes in God in a different way, so how many different Gods are there?” Our idea of God is, clearly, not God. Who is to say who God is, and isn’t? Jesus’ idea of God contrasted significantly with the official Jewish standard of his day—and with the official Christian standard of later days (Does anyone think that the church in all its denominational glory is what Jesus had in mind? What do you think Jesus had in mind? What happened, do you think, to his vision?). How do we go about deciding which idea of God will be our idea of God? What makes us think that we are right? Is it important to be right? How do we know?

Here’s what I think: Everything rides on what we think, so we had better think carefully about our thinking. For instance, what does thinking have to do with knowing? I think we can know God in ways that have nothing to do with thinking—in ways that cannot be thought out, reasoned out, explained. Sheldon Kopp puts it nicely: “Some things can be experienced, but not understood. And, some things can be understood, but not explained.” There you are. God is one of those “things.”

We know more than we can say. To paraphrase the Tao te Ching, “Those who know, know they can’t say, and those who think they can say, don’t know.” And, still in the Tao, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” God cannot be said. Even the word “God” confuses the issue. The word “God” comes to us loaded with connotations, and implications, and associations—baggage. We cannot hear the word apart from the conditioning of previous encounters. We do not come to it as blank slates ready and receptive for revelation.

This is not to say that we should avoid the word. To do so leaves its power intact and imbues it with the same kind of aura, in a negative sense, that it has for the blindly religious, in a positive sense. The solution is to use the word with awareness. To look the word in the eye, and know exactly what it “means” to us, and empty it of its negative power by demanding its blessing.

This is an interesting strategy, you’ll have to admit. But, it’s the way to do it. We free ourselves of the curse by demanding the blessing. What is the blessing of the curse? What is the boon hidden away in the gloom, in the anguish, in the agony of the spiritual wasteland where we have languished all these years, under the curse of the church of our experience, waiting for the savior? The boon is the realization that the savior’s blood courses thorough YOUR veins! YOU are the one for whom you wait! The Christ looks back at YOU every time you glance into a mirror! YOU are the Anointed One of God, come to release the Word from its shackles to dogma and doctrine, so that it might roam with abandon through the world, opening eyes that are blind, raising the dead, restoring lost souls, and ushering all people from the Wasteland into the Land of Promise, which is only a perspective shift away, and which is the land of their own awakening, realization, recognition and awareness, the land of their own Right Seeing (and Right Hearing, Right Doing, Right Being). YOU are the blessing you seek, and the way of the awakening, of the salvation, of the world.

And, how do you perform your duty? What is the mechanism by which the blessing is realized in the world, and in your own life? Eyes that see, don’t you know. Ears that hear. A heart that understands. And, what do the eyes see when they see? What do the ears hear when they hear? What does the heart understand when it understands? Just this: The Way of Life that opens before you in each moment—what needs to happen here and now, and how it needs to happen. That’s all. It is never more difficult than this.

Yet, this is not something anyone can tell you. The answer is not in the back of some book. This is something you know on your own, out of the spontaneity of your own being in the moment of your living. This is not something society can help you with. Society can tell you what you should do, but what you must do, what you have to do, what is yours to do, what needs YOU to do it, here and now, in the present moment of your life, only you can know that.

When it comes down to living aligned with the life that is yours to live, so that you and your life are one, and you are your life, and your life is you—when it comes down to your realizing, and exhibiting, and incarnating the integrity of your life, only you can find that way, the way to do that. And, how do you do it? By NOT doing what you are told! By NOT living life the way it is being lived all around you! By deviating from the norm, and looking for the things that catch your eye, and seeing what those things have to teach you.

What are the things that catch your eye? Pay attention. Notice them. They flash by you and are gone. You won’t see them if you don’t remember to look, to watch. You have to be ready for them. They are singing your song. You have to be listening. And, you have to be ready to give them a second thought. When something stops you, stop. Look. Listen.

Where are the places you don’t go in the course of a week, or a month, just because it never occurs to you to go there? What are the things you don’t do, just because it never occurs to you to do them? Of those places and things, What seems to have an attraction for you, no matter how slight? Check them out. See where that leads.

Set aside some time each day just to be quiet, time when you are not driving, not reading, not listening to music or watching TV. You can be walking if you are not exercising. Exercising puts a spin on walking that trumps its meditative, listening, capacity. When we are exercising, we are thinking about maintaining a certain pace, and completing our route in a certain time, so we can go on to something else. Exercising does not count for walking! When we walk, we just walk (And, when we sit, we just sit). That’s the difference. We aren’t doing anything when we just walk, just sit. How long has it been since you did nothing? Work it into every day! It’s important to not do anything each day, to develop the practice of being quiet and doing nothing.

Nothing has the power to connect us with our lives. Nothing provides us with an inner and outer quietness that is crucial for catching glimpses of what catches our eye and leads us along the curious and round-about route straight to the center of ourselves, to the heart of our own lives. This is something primitive societies have always taken advantage of. In those societies, there was plenty of quiet time for being present with, and open to, the workings of the imagination. Even today, primitive tribes, like the Aborigines in Australia, experience an ongoing interchange with beings of the Dream World, which is a source of guidance and grounding in the living of their lives.

This is not the case in modern society. All of our energy goes into dancing as fast as we can, into dealing with the upheaval and turmoil of daily existence. We live too fast to notice how we are living, or why. And, we are spiritually barren because of it. Our lives do not nurture our spirits, do not nourish our souls, do not flow from our hearts, do not even allow us the time to know that we have spirits, and souls, and hearts. We have to take our lives back from our life.

This is the work of the Grail search in the modern world. It is the work of finding our life, of being alive, in the life that we live. It is the work of finding our way to the life that enables us to be alive in the truest, deepest, sense of the word, that connects us with the integrity of our own life. We do that work by doing nothing, regularly, reliably, one might say, religiously.

Nothing is the origin of life. We move from death to life, from the inert to the vital, by way of consciousness, but it is a special kind of consciousness. It is a kind of not-thinking knowing that athletes talk of as “being in the flow” of the game. It is a state of being that sees what needs to happen and does it without thinking, spontaneously, out of our participation in the moment of our living. We get to the place of being able to live that way by emptying ourselves of our normal motives and interests.

In order to step into our lives, we have to step back from life. We have to step back from family, and friends, and peers, and our social group. What are the things we can’t think? The taboo thoughts? What are the things we cannot say, cannot talk about? The taboo subjects? What are the things we cannot see? The taboo perspectives? The things we cannot do? The taboo acts? If we cannot think them, or say them, or see them, or do them, how do we know what they are? We have to step back a bit from the controlling relationships in order to get a sense of what we aren’t allowed to think, say, see, and do.

And, one of the rules is that we can’t step back. “Don’t leave me! Don’t change! If you love me, you won’t change!” This is powerful stuff. If we grow up in this kind of environment, and many of us do, we will never grow up. So, it takes some kind of traumatic event, a war, perhaps, or sometimes, college, to expel us from the womb-beyond-the-womb, and enable us, force us, to begin the search for our own lives, to begin to think for ourselves. Even then, it is a slow process, because we have to find the way on our own. There is no one to lead us, to show us how to think for ourselves. We come from a place where no one thinks for herself, for himself. Where everyone thinks what they are supposed to think. Where everyone does what they are told. So, it’s a miracle that anyone ever wakes up.

We wake up by asking the impertinent questions. By making the blasphemous statements. By talking and acting like heretics and iconoclasts. If we can do that without cynicism and bitterness—if we can do that with joy, delight, and an easy sense of humor, laughing at ourselves as much as at the structures of death and blindness from which we come—we can play a redemptive role within those structures. By seeing, we open eyes that are blind. By being alive, and aligning ourselves with the integrity of our own lives, we bring the dead to life. May it be so!