Sunday, January 25, 2009

01/25/09, There is nothing in it for us. I knew you weren't going to like that.

I’m not here to tell you how to get what you want from God while you are alive, and how to get to heaven when you die. This is not the church of your experience. I like to make that clear up front, so if you stumbled in here hoping for the formula for pleasing God and being rewarded for your effort, you can leave in time to get to one of the places where that hope might be realized. We have a different agenda here. Here, we are about waking up and doing what is ours to do whether we want to or not, whether it pays off handsomely or not, every day for the rest of our lives.

How’s that for drudgery and boredom? Where can you beat that for complete absence of curb ap-peal? There better be some fine selling point here, or this will be the last time I’m likely to see any of you. Why would any of us sign up for this kind of undertaking unless there is something really good in it for us? Here’s the bad news. There is nothing in it for us beyond living the life that is our life to life.

Everything but this comes with a selling point, with what’s in it for us, with what we are going to get out of it. Heaven, you know. Fame, fortune and glory. Not this. All we get out of living the life we are called to live is living the life we are called to live. Why would we do it? Only one reason. We know that’s where the life is to be found. How do we know that? By having looked everywhere else for it.

We have to be at the end of our rope. We have to have tried the lights and action of Gay Paree, or some reasonable facsimile thereof. We have to know the emptiness of all that purports to be life, before we have what it takes to sign on for life with what is life. If you aren’t here because you know you have to be here, I’m not going to have anything to say to you to keep you here. But, if you are looking for life and are willing to do what it takes to be alive, because you know that’s the experience that life is all about, I hope I have something to say that you can hear.

It starts with this. Here is the formula for being increasingly awake, aware, and alive: Curiosity, Clarity, Courage, Commitment. We have to be curious about life, clear about how things are and what needs to be done about it—about what is important. We have to have the courage to act upon what we know. And we have commit ourselves to action, to doing what needs to be done. That’s it. The action will produce a shift in how things are, and we will have to repeat the process, ad infinitum, until we die, and maybe beyond. That’s the plan for the rest of your life.

The kink in the process is our propensity for denial. James Hollis says the primary form of pathology is denial. Everything that is wrong about the world, and life, and our lives is grounded in, and flows from, denial. From pretending that things are not what they are. From pretending that we are not pretending. From fooling ourselves. From shooting ourselves in the foot. From telling ourselves what we want to hear.

There is a second reason for slipping over into denial, for telling ourselves we don’t really need to live the life we are called to live. The first reason, as above, is that it isn’t attractive. The distractions and diversions of Gay Paree, etc., are more delightful. So we run through the gamut of the world’s fine attractions and find them to be as empty as they are. The second reason for not living the life that is ours to live is that it’s nothing short of terrifying to do so. Fear keeps us out of that ring. We long for the safety and stability of the comfortable and familiar. We long for mother’s reassuring presence.

Who wouldn’t? The Mother protects all the children, and whether our real, actual, mothers did a good job at that is not the question. We all yearn to be protected, to be taken care of, throughout our lives. And growing up is the hardest thing to do. Spiritual formation and development are just terms for the maturation of the soul, spirit, self. The spiritual journey, task, path, quest is to grow up and be who we are, to live the life we are called to live. But, we are stuck between what we do want (desire) and what we don’t want (fear). And, the question is, do we have what it takes to boldly do what must be done—again and again for the rest of our lives?

We are as miserable as we are because we will not square up with how it is with us, and let it be, because it is. We will not see, and hear, and understand. We will not be clear about how things are and what needs to be done about it. The old prophet was not the first, or the last, to observe our propensity to say, “Do not tell us what is right! Speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about (the way things are and what needs to be done about it)!” (cf. Isaiah 30:9-11).

Squaring up to our lives, to what our lives have been and what they are and what they might be—to where we have been and what has happened and what we have done and what has been done to us—and saying something on the order of, “Okay, now what?” and looking for the next step, the next best step, and taking it, is my idea of what the idea is, of what we are here to do, of what I’m here to help you with (you have to admit that was quite a sentence). We are here to wake up, to discover and take up the business of living the life we are called to live.

Waking up is not an intellectual, rational, process. We do not wake up by listening to a lecture, reading a book, having it explained to us, and placing our feet in the black footprints all the way to enlightenment. No one can tell us how to find our life and live it. That is our work all the way. That is the Grail search—for the life that is ours to live—and the trail of the White Rabbit. The nature of this work is imaginative, intuitive, to the core.

The path to our heart winds through our imagination. “Path” and “heart” are figments of our imagination. Our imagination carries us to where we need to be. This is why our spiritual practice has to be supplemented with a creative practice. Sitting, or walking, for instance, can create an openness to experience, but then, we have to have something to stir the imagination so that we might experience our experience in a different way than we normally do. It is not enough to be quiet and receptive. We have to learn to see with the eye of imagination in order to apprehend what we cannot begin to comprehend.

While no one can wake us up, we need assistance with waking up, paying attention, seeing, hearing, understanding, coming to terms with how things are and knowing what the next step is. We cannot do this alone. We cannot wake ourselves up. And, we cannot do it in the next five minutes, or at a time and place that is convenient for us. It takes discipline and dedication to the task, a spiritual and a creative practice, and a community of the right kind of people to have a chance.

Given that, the process is simple: Wake up. Pay attention. See. Hear. Understand. Then, take the next step, and repeat from the beginning. That’s the formula for the rest of your life. Wake up! See what is important! Do what needs to be done! Offer what you have to give! This is not hard. What’s hard is com-ing to terms with the fact that this is not how we want things to be, it is not how we wish things were, it is not what we have in mind.

We cannot be made to grow up before our time, but we can postpone growing up indefinitely. We can delay growing up in the service of the next great promise of deliverance, or in submission to the next great fear of the unknown, the uncertain. In order to be alive, to take up the life that we are called to live, we have to stare down the beast (of fear) and the apparition (of delight), and boldly go where few have ventured.

Living the life we are called to live is no romp through spring meadows to “fame, fortune and glory,” and the life of our dreams. What we get is what we get. The way things are is the way things are. After the work is done, and the next step is taken, and the effort is made, and the dust settles, what we have is what we have. And, the next step is waiting to be taken. But, we are not stepping toward the realization of our dreams for ourselves and having it all line up the way it is supposed to be. We are living the life we are called to live, and the boon from that life does not accrue to our account. The boon is for the whole. The good of a person’s life is measured by the good that person’s life brings to life in other lives, in the degree to which the world is a better place because of the life she, he, lived. But she, he, may have precious little to show for the effort she, he, made. And, we think, “It isn’t supposed to be this way!”

There is no “spozed to,” no “supposed to be.” No static Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, with no problems of any kind, ever. That’s the happy fantasy of the infantile ego eager to trade life for being mothered and call that Really Living. Being alive asks more of us.

Being alive brings with it the realization that there is no steady-state. We cannot arrange to have things as we want them to be, as we wish they were, and if we could, we would change our minds and want things to be some other way instead. There is no strategy for having it made, for living happily ever after. So, we do what we can imagine doing with what we have to work with and let that be that. It’s already changing, and before long, we’ll have to live with that. So, we are always adapting, adjusting, accepting. The work does not stop: Curiosity, Clarity, Courage, Commitment to action. World without end. Amen.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

01/18/09--The Failure of God.

The God problem can be thought of as the-way-to-think-about-God-problem. The problem is that we know what we are supposed to think about God, but we cannot think about God the way God has always been thought of, yet, we don’t know how else to think about God. It seems to us that our only recourse is to ditch the whole idea of God and make our way alone.

We certainly cannot think about God the way orthodox Christianity has always thought about God: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible hid from our eyes, Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, Almighty, victorious, thy Great Name we praise!” The God we have been told is God is Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omni-present, Omni-everything, Almighty, All Powerful, All-everything, ruling over nature and history, setting the stars in the heavens and the planets on their course, causing nations to rise and fall, arranging and ordering the events of our lives over the generations and throughout the ages, down to the touchdowns we score and the parking spaces we find. Praise God! Amen!

This view of God comes to the forefront in the miracle stories in the Bible. The stories of Jesus calming storms, exorcising demons, curing the blind, the sick, the deaf and the lame, feeding the five thousand and raising the dead all stand as proof that his authority comes directly from God. God has placed the divine seal of approval on Jesus, and everyone should therefore, listen to him. However, these signs of the power of God working through Jesus actually point to the Achilles’ heel of God.

All of the reports of God’s almighty power expose the truth of God’s weakness, fragility, impotence and vulnerability. In spite of the mighty displays of signs and wonders, nothing changes. For all of the stories of the absolute control of the Absolute through the scope of the Bible, there are other stories there of God’s failure and abject inability to have things go God’s way. The power of God is trumped, again and again, by the greater power of the people’s disbelief and lack of faith and refusal to cooperate with God—to the everlasting chagrin of God.

It is an easy thing to recount the places in the Bible where the power and authority of God are negated by the power of the people to not see, not hear, not understand, and not care about God. Adam and Eve are sent out of Eden because God cannot secure their faithful alignment with the design of creation. The world is destroyed with a flood because God cannot win the hearts of the people. Israel is abandoned to Babylon for the same reason. It appears that God can only threaten people with death and destruction if they do not “turn and obey,” or promise them rewards and pleasures if they do.

Jesus can raise the biologically dead, but cannot raise the spiritually dead. He can restore sight to the physically blind, hearing to the physically deaf, but he cannot do anything with those who are spiritually blind and deaf. Jesus can exorcise evil spirits and demons, but he cannot exorcise the spirit of disbelief, the demon of faithless living. Examples abound: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…” “A prophet is without honor in his own country.” The story of the rich young man.
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” “Where is your faith?” Jesus stands at the door and knocks. The coup de grace comes with the realization that if God cannot forgive our refusal, our failure, to believe in Jesus and sends us to hell in punishment for our sin, then the power of sin is greater than the power of God. Hell represents the complete failure of God. And we cannot avoid the conclusion that, for all the pomp and show and beating of the drums, God is powerless, helpless, fragile, vulnerable, and dependent upon the protection, cooperation and compassion of human intermediaries—like a baby in a manger, a man on a cross.

The idea that we are in this together with God—the idea that God is in this together with us—in an interdependent, mutually beneficial relationship, for better or worse, from this time forth and forevermore, to death and beyond, is much more in-keeping with our best guess about the structure of the inner world than the idea of God as a spiritual being apart—The “Wholly Other”—who tries to get us to be as God wants us to be or else, as Revelation and other portions of the Bible depict spiritual reality. God as the “still, small voice,” as the “impulse to good,” as the creative muse, as the ever-present possibility of grace that must be birthed, and nurtured, and brought forth into being through our way with ourselves, each other, and the world is much more akin to our experience of God than God as the master and commander of the universe, the wheeler and dealer of all that is, the Lord of nature and history and the ruler of nations and individual lives.

Thinking of God as an idea, an urge, an impulse that can be nipped in the bud—as an endless supply of direction, and comfort, and encouragement that can be disrupted and lost in our anxiety and fear of the unknown—as a constant presence calling forth the best we have to offer—as the silent source of all those wonderful old values that have always served as the heart of all that is human—suggests that God is the weakest force in the universe. And, the most persistent.

We keep putting God aside looking for God. Ignoring God, waiting on God. Dismissing God because God is not the God we have in mind. And God will not go away. God keeps cycling back around, saying, “Can you hear me now?” God’s dwelling place is with the people. Not because the lichens wouldn’t be better company, but because the people have the capacity to know God, to love God, to be at-one with God. The people and God are one, or will be once the people let their ideas of God go, and allow themselves to be shocked and amazed, disappointed, astonished, confounded, and change their thinking about God.

In embracing God’s helplessness and vulnerability and becoming God’s protectors, God’s equals, God’s friends, and allowing God to be Wholly Other than we want God to be, we make an astounding discovery. The inner world is more than a match for the outer world. In casting our lot with the ineffable, the numinous, the voice, the urge, which, like Yossarian’s friend Orr, keeps coming back, and keeps whispering, keeps enticing us to leave behind the familiar routines and the comfortable surroundings of home, of our neighborhood, of how we have always done things, and thought about things, and believed things to be, and step without a map into the unknown wilderness, trusting that we will find a way, following a white rabbit, of all things, looking for the Holy Grail, when, Boom! as John Madden would say, we find that we have all that we need to deal with whatever comes our way.

Joseph Campbell would say, “It took the Cyclops to bring out the hero in Ulysses.” But, the hero was there all along, hoping to meet a Cyclops. Hoping Ulysses would be heroic before he needed to be a hero, and leave home, and trust himself, and more than himself, in the service of something he couldn’t begin to name. Here is the wonder, the miracle, the magic! In allowing God to be just as weak and impotent as God is—in allowing God to be nothing more than a white rabbit or a quiet whisper in the night—in trusting ourselves for no reason to the wisdom of the inner world, we find ourselves on an adventure that no one could imagine or believe. And, discover the invincibility and unassailability and Omnipotence of God, and meet God as the “ever-present help in time of trouble,” and become those who can “do all things through (the one) who strengthens us.” It’s all quite ironic, paradoxical, and contradictory, but true to the resilient nature of the Psyche.

Once we embrace God in God’s helplessness and take on the task of being God’s nurturers, on being the Mother of God, the mid-wives, the deliverer’s of God, so to speak, the door is open to making connection with images of the Psyche suggested by depth psychology. And, our work becomes that of integrating, aligning, the inner world with the outer world. This is the spiritual task, journey, path, quest: to bring forth what is within and express it in appropriate ways within the context and circumstances of our lives—to live increasingly in one world, not two—to bring the two worlds together, and live with integrity and authenticity as we express the truth of the inner world within the context and circumstances of life in the outer world.

This is not just idealistic, new age touchy feely sweetness and light fluff. This is Barack Obama taking the oath of office on Tuesday because for centuries there has been an intolerable disconnect between the inner world’s demand for harmony, and truth, and right living and peace and the outer world’s worship of the status quo and its disinclination to change the power structure or make uncomfortable those whose comfort restricted the lives of the masses. Truth will stand up. The inner world will not be denied. It will be exhibited in all levels of historical time. This is the essence of the Promised Land—inner becoming outer! And, we are its agency. We are truth’s envoys. We are the servants of the inner world’s urge toward integrity and authenticity. We are mid-wives birthing the truth of God into the world.

The Ancient Ones didn’t see God any clearer than the rest of us. They weren’t closer to God just because they lived a long time ago. God did not do things differently in those days. They could only see of God what their view of the world allowed them to see of God. We all fit God into our structure of reality, into how we understand things to be. We don’t get the benefit of knowing God as God is, but understand God as we are able.

The Ancient Ones could not see God through the lens of depth psychology. They could only see God through the lens of nature and history, and ascribed to God the qualities of power and control they imagined God to have. Our view of history suggests neither power nor control. We understand the forces of nature to follow their own “laws,” with no overseer to intervene or rearrange. And we know there is no rescue coming in the nick of time, and that we have to pay careful attention to all aspects of every situation, and bring the best we have to bear upon every moment, because we are God’s deliverers and what we do or fail to do impacts life for generations to come.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

01/11/09--If we want to wake up, we only have to look in the mirror!

Why do we think there is more to it than seeing, hearing, understanding and re-sponding as needed to “the situation as it arises”? Why do we think there is more to it than offering behavior appropriate to the occasion?

In the church of our experience, people carefully toed the line, every line, all lines, because they were told that if someone saw them stepping over a line, by drinking alcohol, say, he or she might get the wrong idea and be led astray and not know that they were only drinking a little alcohol very infrequently, and take it as proof that it is okay for him, or her, to drink a lot of alcohol all of the time and be lost for all eternity, which would not bode well for us, the source of his, or her, temptation and fall. What the church of our ex-perience didn’t tell us is that wrong ideas might appear anywhere, at any time, and there is no way we can live such a narrowly defined and tightly structured life—that we can live so by the book—that no one will never get the wrong idea about us.

Wrong ideas are the easiest things to have and the hardest things to keep from hav-ing, certainly the hardest things to keep others from having about us. We have to trust all of us, ourselves, one another, and every other person on the planet, to wake up even though we are covered over by, and immersed in, our wrong ideas, with them dangling from our clothing and swinging from our appendages and birthing their children in our pockets and in their nests fashioned in our hair. We have to wake up in the midst of our wrong ideas.

We have to be able to wake up anywhere, even in the grip of wrong ideas. We do that by thinking about our thinking. “What are we thinking?” We have to ask ourselves that about everything we think. “What makes us think that?” “Why do we think what we think and not something else instead?” And, when we come upon someone who thinks dif-ferently than we do we have to examine what makes it easy for them to think the way they think and what makes it easy for us to think the way we think. And, we have to see every experience as an opportunity, an invitation, really, to think about our thinking and wonder about our ideas—to develop eyes that see, ears that hear, hearts that understand.

We have to see our experience as saying more about us than about the world of our experience. The world is a mirror reflecting our ideas and values and perceptions and per-spective back to us. The rule is simple: Look in the mirror! What mirror? All the mirrors! Every single thing that happens and our response to it. Everything is a mirror, reflecting us back to ourselves. We wake up by seeing ourselves everywhere we look, in everything we see.

It is as though we are living the dream, and have to interpret the dream in the act of dreaming it, in the moment of living it. Messages from the dream world are difficult to de-cipher and more difficult to remember. We have to be particularly attuned to the experi-ence of the dream to have a chance. The same thing goes for our lived experience. We really have to be particularly attuned to every experience. Our waking life is as alive and as likely to show us ourselves as our sleeping life, but we sleep through it, unseeing, un-knowing. So, we have to pay attention to everything to have a chance. What are our lives saying to us, about us? We can never take anything for granted, look past anything. The in-visible world is always breaking into, and through, the physical world to those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts that understand.

In order to catch the invisible world in the act of breaking into the physical world of normal, apparent reality, we have to be awake to the truth of our own experience, to what is happening, and how we are responding to what is happening, and what we wish were happening instead. We have to observe ourselves in the act of living our lives, just as we would observe ourselves in the act of being a part of a dream experience. What do we understand about ourselves when we see ourselves responding as we do to our lives as we do?

What is being asked of us? What is being offered to us? In order to respond freely to the circumstances of our lives in receiving what is being offered and in offering what we have to give, we have to live out of a quiet center. A quiet center is essential for seeing, hearing, understanding and responding to “the situation as it arises” with behavior that is appropriate to the occasion. Listening for what needs to be said, for what needs to be done, is different from thinking we know what needs to be said and done. The purpose of “peace and serenity” is to live well in—to deal well with—the press of life. How to quieten the center is the question. Spiritual practice is the answer. We have to have a practice that connects us with the center and distances “the world,” that separates us just enough from “the world” to provide perspective and “working room.”

A spiritual practice is something we do without trying. It can be anything we do without trying. Sitting works unless we are trying to sit. Quilting works unless we are try-ing to quilt. Walking works unless we are trying to walk. In my tennis days, hitting balls against a backboard was a spiritual practice because I wasn’t trying to effect a particular outcome. I could lose myself in the rhythm of hitting the ball, distance myself from the noise in my life, and simply be present in the moment without trying to wrestle the mo-ment into submission to my will for the moment. Carrying the quiet over into the rest of our lives, allowing the practice to insulate us from the noise of our lives, is one of the bene-fits of a practice engaged in over time. When life gets loud, we can mentally shift to the backboard and the tennis ball, provide ourselves with listening room, and respond to the moment out of our distance from the moment. We have to separate in order to be con-nected.

The work of spiritual development is the work of maturity and grace. It is the work of growing up, and that is the work of awareness, the work of knowing what’s what, and what’s being asked of us, and what is called for—what constitutes behavior appropriate to the occasion. It is the work of seeing, hearing and understanding, which includes thinking and acting and being. Right seeing, right hearing, right understanding, right doing, right being. And it all hinges on our creating a quiet center from which to perceive and be aware of our lives and what we think needs to happen.

Our hunches guide us, our guesses, our sense of what needs to be, our intuition, our instinct. It’s how we know a bad place is a bad place before we know why we think that, or a good place is a good place. Cognition is felt before it is conscious. We have to know what we know before we know how we know it, or what makes us feel what we feel.

The work is to be as awake as we can be to the present experience of our lives. To wake up, we have to be conscious of our experience, of what is happening and what needs to happen, and what we have to offer to “the situation as it arises. That’s it. Our life’s work is waking up. Nobody can do it for us, or tell us how to do it.

How it ought to be done, how to live, what to do when—we do not know these things by learning the rules, or laws, or formulas, or recipes, or strategies for having it made. No one can tell us these things. We cannot be taught how to live. We learn to live by living with our eyes open to the impact of our experience, and listening beyond words to what is striving to come into being through us in the world. We have to listen into our life experience, as we might listen into a dream experience, in order to see more than meets the eye, and hear what is being said to us by our reactions to our lives.

Life is not handed to us. We have to go in search of it, we have to open ourselves to it, we have to get out of its way and allow it to come forth in us, and through us into the world. We can have our ideas for life which have nothing to do with being alive in the way that only we can be alive. The question is, “Whose side are we on?” Are we “with us,” with our lives, with the life that is trying to come forth in us, in our life, or “against us”? How do we know? The quiet center, the spiritual practice, and awareness, awareness, awareness. When we are aware, what are we aware of? What we need to be aware of is the life that is calling us, the life that is waiting to be born in us—and what is keeping us from hearing and heeding that call.

How do we experience our experience? What do we extrapolate from it, extract, em-phasize, glean? From everything that happens to us, we choose what to pay attention to and what to ignore. We emphasize one thing at the expense of all the others. We choose what disturbs us. We choose what to say about what happens to us. What governs our choices? In the course of living our lives, we adopt a certain posture in relation to the things that happen to us, and in relation to the people we live with. Why that posture and not some other posture instead?

What are the things that are always happening to us? What are we always doing in response to the things that are always happening? What are we always talking ourselves out of, or into? What themes keep running through our lives? What keeps the perspective in place that keeps seeing the same things over and over, that keeps the themes in place, and ignores other, equally valid, possibilities?

We make of it what we will, but what positions us, what makes it easy for us, to make of it what we do? What stimulates our thinking, our living? We have to find what calls us beyond where we have been, away from where we are, and invites us to consider our lives from different points of view. We cannot live as they live in Itta Bena, Mississippi, and in the Vatican, and on Capital Hill—unconscious and unaware. What are the forces and the counter-forces at work in our responding to life as we do? Who can listen to us as we talk about these things? Where do we go to carry out the work of waking up, growing up? Why don’t we mold ourselves into the kind of place this can happen? Is there a better idea of what to do with the rest of our lives?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

01/04/09--We find our way to what is important one bad guess at a time.

Think of God and God’s will as what is important. It is important to know and to do what is im-portant, ah, but, who is to say? How shall we decide? Is anything more controversial and hotly debated than what is important? People go to war and get divorces over what is important. Churches split. Chil-dren leave home. Friends quit speaking. If anything is true of human beings worldwide it is that we have the wrong ideas of what is important. But, whose idea of what is important shall we adopt instead?

We all think we know what is important, but who knows who knows? How do we know who is right? Shall we take a vote? Majority rule? Or, go with consensus, and allow the whiniest, most narrow-minded “No” block the way of the rest? Who determines what is important? Who gets to say whose idea of God is God and what God’s will is?

We each decide for ourselves. We say. We are the ones. How do we know? We don’t know. We guess our way along. And allow each outcome to become a corrective, a guide, for the next guess. So, that over time, with our eyes open, we know more about what is important than we knew at the start. But, we never know all there is to know, and we can be wrong at any point along the way.

Our lives are an amalgamation of choices and responses to choices. We live in light of something, we live toward something. We choose what is important and serve that with our lives. Over time, some things stand out as being more worthy of our allegiance, our loyalty, our lives, than other things. Time fashions values. Time shapes our estimation of worth. Time shows us what is important. We live toward what has proven to be worthy of us. We are participants in the evolution of the idea of what matters. That idea is refined through the experience of the species over time.

The Code of Hammurabi, the Sermon on the Mount, the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, etc. could not have happened before their time. They are products of our evolving sense of what is good and true. The “Plan” that pulls us forward is our estimation of what has “worked,” and is “working,” to pro-duce that which we are proud of, which fills us, completes us, produces a resounding, “Yes!” within us. As we align ourselves with that, serve that, achieve that, we produce more of what has shown itself to be of value, and the world benefits in ways we perceive to be good, and the “Plan” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Which is to say that there is no Plan. It’s a mess out there. Anything can happen at any time. Noth-ing has to be what it is. And, yet, everything that happens produces in us a sense of “yes” or “no.” Every-thing that happens, and has happened, creates a “wealth of wisdom,” a pool, an ocean, really, of experi-ence, which shows some things to be better than others. Everything that happens shifts us toward certain thoughts, behaviors, outcomes, and values, and away from others. We “figure it out as we go,” and de-velop a sense of direction that is self-correcting and self-validating. We know, as Joseph Campbell says, “when we are on the beam, and when we are off of it.”

“It won’t work.” “This isn’t working.” That’s all we need to know. We find what works by know-ing what doesn’t work. We find the way by knowing what is not the way. If we don’t know whether some-thing will work, we only have to give it a spin, take it around the block a time or two. Everything becomes clear with time, even to those seeped in denial. It is only a matter of time. All it takes is time. Everyone wakes up in due time. If we all lived long enough, we all would be wise.

We learn from living—and the species learns from living over long stretches of time—what living is “all about.” We learn what works, and what does not work. We learn what is good, and what is bad. We learn how to behave. We learn what to value. Living leans us toward living in certain ways, and toward people who live in those ways. The “Plan” that is being worked out in our lives is toward the good of all things. We are learning to live toward the good. And, the “Plan” is simply the realization of what has proven to be important in the experience of the species over time.

Whose idea of God is God? What is God’s will? What is important? The more awake we are, the more we see eye-to-eye about the things that matter. The more we get it. The more we agree about what is to be gotten. There are many paths, but the journey is to the table at the center of the room. And, we get there by walking the path we deem to be important. Doing what we think is important with awareness is the only way to get to what is important. Knowing what is working and what isn’t working leads us to the center. If we want to find the path, we only have to be sensitive to the difference between what works and what doesn’t work.

Our task is to know what is important and to do it. That is the Great Work. Everything else will fall into place around it. Or, as Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all that you need will be yours as well” (or, words to that effect). We cannot live well with our mind on for-tune and glory.

Life is all we have to work with, our life, our lives. We are the matrix, the medium, the milieu of our own becoming. We bring ourselves forth as a blessing, not to ourselves, but to the world. As we strive to bless ourselves, we curse the world. The March 22, 2003 edition of “The Christian Century,” contained an interview with Bernard McGinn. In that interview he said, “Meister Eckhart and some other 13th-centuary mystics had the notion of living ‘without a why.’ ‘Living without a why’ means that you don’t ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’, or ‘Why am I doing this?’ You just do the good spontaneously, the way that God acts. God doesn’t act because of the why or for any interest of his (sic) own.”

Knowing what is important entails listening to all the voices claiming to know what is important and waiting for what is important to become manifest, made plain. We wait always for the white rabbit to appear. Nothing is more important than knowing what is important, and being right about it. What we think is important can get in the way of what’s important. Everything hinges on our being right when we make the call, but we don’t have to be right. Getting it wrong is a step on the way to getting it right. One thing leads to another. If we go with what we think is important, it will lead us to what is important. We can begin with anything because everything is equidistant from what is important, and everything will lead us there, if we let it, if we walk the path with our eyes open.

When we think we know what is important, we have to live in its service until it becomes apparent that we were wrong. We must not change direction too quickly or stay the course too long. “Pace and tim-ing, kid. Pace and timing.” So, we live toward what is important to us, and see where that takes us. If writ-ing is important, we write. If sailing is important, we sail. Whatever is important to us, we do that thing, those things. And, don’t worry about it. Particularly, don’t worry about anything coming of it. What comes of it will be a clearer idea of what is important, and we work it out over time.

Growing up means working it out. There is the I Want and the I Don’t Want, the I Should and the I shouldn’t, the I Must and the I Must Not, the I Can and the I Can’t, the I Have To and the I Don’t Have To, the I Will and the I Will Not, and we have to work it out. We have to take all the conflicts of interests into account and decide what will actually be done. This is the proper role of Ego in our lives. Ego is the I who listens, evaluates, considers, chooses, decides: “This is what we are going to do now.” Ego deter-mines what is important, and changes its mind with experience and time.

Growing up is about the maturation of the Ego, about the development of wisdom and understand-ing within the Ego. A fully matured Ego would be completely integrated with the Shadow, and would de-cide what to do now—what is important now—after taking everything about the Psyche and the circum-stances of its living into account. That is the spiritual task, journey, path, quest. It is not about abandon-ing, rejecting, jettisoning the Ego and submitting to someone else’s rule over us, doing what some guru tells us to do, obeying someone else’s idea of what is important, following the dictates of some other Ego. It is about growing up, working it out within ourselves, and doing what we would do within the context and circumstances and relationships of our lives, deciding for ourselves what is important and living to see if we are right.

It isn’t the Ego that is the source of our problems, but the infantile Ego, the Ego that hasn’t grown up and does not assume its proper role of arbitrator and negotiator, of seer, and hearer, and understander. The infantile Ego identifies itself with some aspect of the Psyche—the I Want (Freud’s ID, for example, or the I Must (Freud’s Super Ego)—and serves those interests at the expense of all other considerations. That’s a problem. The Ego’s task—the spiritual task—is to grow itself up, to wake itself up, to live the con-tradictions at play within the Psyche and within the circumstances of its, of our, life, to bear the pain and live within the tension of competing interests, to take it all into account and to decide what is important and what we are going to do here and now.

We can wake ourselves up or, if we live long enough, our life will do it for us. We can always opt for dying in denial. It’s certainly easier to be dead than alive. Waking up is waking up to the moment, to “the situation as it arises,” and what needs to be done there, what needs to happen there, what is impor-tant there, and what we have to offer to assist the doing, serve the happening. There is no great realization, no sudden understanding of esoteric secrets, no initiation into the wonders and glories of spiritual reality. There is just seeing what needs to be done and doing it. Just knowing what is important and living in light of it. Very boring. And absolutely essential to the work of being human—to the work of becoming true human beings.