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!