It’s a mixed bag. Which is to say, “It’s all one.” Which is to say, “We live on the boundary between yin and yang.” Which is to say, “We live with that which is true and with that which is also true.” Which is to say, “Harmony is chaos zoomed in or zoomed out.” Which is to say, “Chaos and harmony are the same thing seen differently.”
We have the idea that spirituality is the great end of chaos, the great dissipation of opposition, the great merging of opposites, the great blending of opposing positions, so that all flows together, oil and water, into one wonderfully, endless, OOMMMMMmmmmm…. And everything is squared up and falls into place, and everyone is so glad to be together at last, one heart, one mind, one single idea of how to stack the dishes and how to fold the towels. It is so time we rethink perfection.
Everything is one, not in agreement and identity and concord and concurrence. Everything is one in being, in existence, in relationship with and connection to everything else. Nothing exists apart, in and of itself alone. Everything appears to be separate, so it is easy to think in terms of one, and two, and three, and four, and not just One. But. Where does the fish stop and the ocean start? Clearly the fish is not the ocean, and the ocean is not the fish. And, just as clearly, fish and ocean are one.
Oneness is not sameness. Fish and ocean are not the same, and they are one. Separation is not separateness, and harmony is not accord or common consent. And spirituality is not the effortless path to the merger of mind and purpose.
Mind? Did someone say, “Mind”? One of the most interesting and intriguing, to my way of thinking, ideas to come along in some time is the Santiago Theory of Cognition. According to this theory, mind and cognition, knowing, are not things separate and apart from each other and other things, but processes by which living things engage their environment. There is no actual separation between us, or any living thing, and our environment. Where do we stop and where does our environment start? We don’t exist external to the world, or the world external to us. We “bring forth the world” we live in by deciding what to notice and respond to and what to ignore. We choose what disturbs us, what requires our attention, what deserves our time. We decide what is valuable (and what is threatening). We live trapped in our own esthetic.
This is too weird! Did someone just say, “We live trapped in our own esthetic”? We are trapped in our own esthetic, in our own way of sensing beauty, in our own idea of what is beautiful. What is beautiful is what we say is beautiful. The work of photography (Which, wouldn’t you know it, right here in the middle of a discourse about the oneness of things, is also the work of being alive) is the work of expanding, extending, deepening, broadening, enlarging our esthetic—opening ourselves to the beauty beyond our idea of beauty. Waking up to the beauty that is everywhere. Waking up! The whole spiritual enterprise is about waking up and becoming aware of worlds beyond our world.
We live as servants of our own esthetic, our own way of sensing beauty, even as we open ourselves to “more than meets the eye,” that is, to more than the eye, our eye, can see because it doesn’t “catch our eye,” because it doesn’t rank on our eye’s scale of beauty. We have to consciously look beyond what seems to us to be beautiful in order to see what else is there, in order to see the beauty that is invisible to us because we haven’t learned to see it as beautiful—or learned to see it at all!
We cannot live well—we cannot be alive—and be dismissive. We cannot dismiss opera, or blue grass, or improvisational jazz because it doesn’t match our idea of beautiful music, because it doesn’t seem to us to be “real music.” We have to learn to listen for what other people are hearing—we have to learn to trust other tastes than our own when it comes to ascribing value, and worth, and beauty. Ours are not the only ears, the only eyes. We have to learn to hear and see with the ears and eyes of other people. As with the blind men and the elephant, we have to stand apart from our own experience and engage the experience of one another in order to broaden and deepen our ability to apprehend the truth of life, and be alive. Closed or open is the fundamental determinant of LIFE.
Here’s one of the interesting things about mind being a process by which we engage our environment. At a certain point in the development of consciousness, of awareness, we determine what constitutes our environment by deciding what to attend and what to ignore. Our environment can consist of nothing more than the experience of the experience inside of our own minds. We can close ourselves off from the world of normal, apparent (to everyone else) reality, and live “in our own world,” in the world of our own mind. Our mind can become so fascinated by itself, so locked into itself, so insulated against all possible disturbances, that it closes itself off from the intrusion of outside experience and encapsulates itself in a world of its own making, safe but crazy, “inside our own esthetic.”
And, we can form ourselves into groups that think exactly like we do. Or, is it that we think exactly like everyone else does? Where do we stop and they start? Where does the fish stop and the ocean start? Fish or ocean? Individual or group? You can take the person out of the Deep South, but you can’t take the Deep South out of the person.
And, we are back to last week’s discourse about “we don’t get to choose our choices.” We don’t get to pick our perspective, our point of view. We live trapped in our own esthetic. Our ideas of how things are and ought to be are our ideas of how things are and ought to be. We don’t go shopping for them in the ready to wear section of Belk’s or Macy’s. “Oh, this is pretty. ‘The Universe is on our side.’ I think I’ll try this on and see how it fits! It’s so sheik, and everybody is wearing it these days.”
Look. It’s like this: We aren’t going to stop doing what we are doing and start doing something else instead. We aren’t going to stop seeing how we see and start seeing some way else instead. We aren’t going to stop thinking the way we think and start thinking some way else instead.
Bring in George Bush and John McCain and Sara Palin. Give them the floor. Let them say everything they can think to say. We’ll leave thinking, and seeing, and doing the way we did before we came. Or, send us to George, and John, and Sara, and give us the floor and let us say everything we can think to say. When it’s over, nothing changes.
Nothing changes until our backs are against the wall, and nothing we do is working, and the foundations have crumbled, and we have to make our way in a new world. This is to say that nothing changes until something changes. The place of women in Islam isn’t going to change until something changes. The place of Gays in the Presbyterian Church (USA) isn’t going to change until something changes. But, what is going to change?
And, don’t think the problem is the church. What needs to be changed about us? How different do we need to be? In what ways are our lives not working? What do we need to do to be better aligned with our ideas of how things ought to be? How do our ideas of how things ought to be need to change to be better aligned with how things truly ought to be? We all could answer these questions more easily about one another than we can answer them about ourselves. I can easily see how you need to change. I think I’m just fine exactly as I am.
The things we would like to change about our lives are the external things, the conditions and circumstances, the context, within which we live. We would like for our lives to be different, but we don’t want to change. We want things and people to change in relation to us, but we like ourselves just as we are. However, being alive is about changing the way we live. It is about changing from being closed to being open.
What stands between us and life, between us and the joy of being alive? What interferes with our relishing the experience of Being? The wonder of existence? Whence the drudgery, the boredom, the gloom? We are not born depressed, dour, down, dejected, mournful, sad. When does the light go out of our eyes? When does fear and dread creep in? What can we do to maintain the light? To retain the joy? This is called waking up, and it is the hardest thing to do. It requires seeing things as they are and move beyond our own esthetic, to expand the ways in which we engage our environment.
When we wake up, we wake up in our lives just as they are, and work with what we have at our disposal to make them what they can be. And, a lot of that work is coming to terms with what they are and what they can be. A good bit of being satisfied with our lives is making our peace with how things are with us.
Eyes that see are just eyes that see what they see. Ears that hear are ears that hear what they hear. Hearts that understand are hearts that understand what they understand. To see what we see, hear what we hear, understand what we understand we have to see our seeing, hear our hearing, and understand our understanding. We have to take it all in, and know what we know in a way that includes the all-ness of our knowing.
We can’t think about our thinking and think the same things we have always thought, and live the same ways we have always lived. The more openly and creatively and critically we engage our thinking, the more differently we will think, and live. You threaten us to the core when you ask us to think openly, creatively, and critically about our thinking. We’ll have to have your hide for that. If you think about it, I’m sure you will understand. And, therein lies the key to being alive in the time left for living. Amen! Can I have an Amen here? Someone? Anyone?