Be Thankful!

It strikes me that Thanksgiving is most spiritual American holiday. Christmas has largely become the holiday of merchandise, and Easter is too, to a lesser extent. All Saint’s Eve—once the day of remembering all the heroes of the Christian faith—has become almost totally lost in Halloween.

Holidays like Pentecost and Ascension just aren’t celebrated much, except for a few words in the churches that note them (which is quite a far cry from all).

Amid the gorging and the football, there’s also something more subtle and wonderful thriving in Thanksgiving—calling people together to share time with each other and focus, for at least a few minutes, on everything that’s right, instead of everything that’s wrong.

Thanksgiving is not specifically Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist. It belongs to everyone. Thanksgiving’s only theme is gratitude, which is at the root of all true worship.

If you have loved ones, be thankful!
If you have food, be thankful!
If you are alive, be thankful!

What am I?

A friend of mine at work passed out a questionnaire she wrote for a class about language, race, and “social class.” Needless to say, I had fun with it.

One really good part was the question “Does your language reflect your race?”
I wrote: What’s my race? Caucasian? Anglo-German? Human? I don’t know if my language reflects my race, but it does reflect *me.* In the course of a day I might use mostly Standard American English (with a few Ebonic phrases) a few words Spanish or German words, and if the subject warrants, a dash of Sanskrit. What race is that?

Then, it asked me to identify my “social class.” I was genuinely confused. I had hoped notions of “social class” sank with the Titanic, but here I was, being asked to identify my “class.” What the hell does that mean? Is it where I am, socially? Oh, well…
I wrote: “… working middle-income techno-geek nerd-mystic living alone in Ghent.”

My friend ended up putting me into a more conventional category before handing her survey results to her professor!

Now granted, I do like to mess with people when it comes to the assumptions that are usually unquestioned, but identifications are part of, (a big part of) the sickness of the world. We abbreviate reality with concepts, and then further abbreviate them with categories. We identify ourselves with certain groups, and then feel that we are separate from and superior or inferior to those who are not of those groups. We identify ourselves with our past experiences, with our past emotions, with our churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques. We identify ourselves with “races,” nations, sports teams, “social classes” and tribes. Gradually, the maze of labels becomes more “real” to us than the simple reality itself. We even fight, kill, and die for the identifications which have taken over our minds.

After reality is forgotten, it’s essential to recover the truth. I am here. I seem to looking out through eyes, and living in a body with a beating heart, and breathing air. Things that have happened are not me, they merely form a story. Those I love are simply those I love. Many things define my life, but nothing defines me. No label can capture the reality. I am. What am I? In the words of the immortal Popeye, "I yam what I yam." Or as Rumi put it:

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim,

not Hindu, Buddhist, sufi, or zen.

Not any religion or cultural system.

I am not from the East or the West,

not out of the ocean or up from the ground,

not natural or ethereal, not composed of elements at all.

I do not exist, am not an entity in this world or the next,

did not descend from Adam and Eve or any origin story.

My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless.

Neither body or soul.

I belong to the Beloved, have seen the two worlds as one,

and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only

that breath-breathing human being.

The Essential Rumi

The Kingdom and the Empire redux

A few years ago, I posted a page on this site contrasting the Kingdom that Jesus preached with the Empire(s) that man builds. The Empire is about power, control, influence and thought. The Kingdom is about love. Even in most religious environments, the Empire is more more prominent than the Kingdom. Emperor Theodosius even went so far as to name Jesus the head of the Byzantine Empire, forgetting that Yeshua said,

"The kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, ‘Here it is, ‘ or There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you." —Luke 17:20-21

Yep, the words are inspiring, but if I’m really honest with myself, I’ve got to admit, I would like it to be outside of me. I’d like my leaders and teachers to bring it about. But only I can reveal it where I am. It’s not a matter of getting the right guy into office, but getting my "self " out of office. This is the real point of Christianity, to get self out of the way, so the Light of God, which is already here, can shine.

Sometimes it seems that absolutely no one understands, and when I feel that way, I have to realize that I’ve lost sight of the truth, and have become stuck on appearance. The kingdom is here right now. Despite terrorism and war, gluttony and famine, corporate greed and personal license, God is here, in every soul, waiting for the mask of the cravings, angers, and fears to break, like a butterfly shedding its chrysalis.

This is the work of the kingdom, to know that we are nothing, and in that No-thing, is everything. The only thing. One thing only. Heaven is here. How creatively we hide it! That’s Jedi life in the real world.

Climate Change and International Security

This leaked Pentagon report made the news in the UK, at least. God knows what our own press was talking about at the time, but I don’t remember anyone broadcasting the fact that the Pentagon was warning that climate change is a far greater threat than terrorists, as it may cause nuclear buildups and nuclear war as more nations try to protect their resources. They also warn that Britain’s climate might become "Siberian" by 2020.

When I posted my entry on The Day after Tomorrow, I was shocked to find that prominent scientists were predicting scenarios not that far from the film. Now the Department of Defense is believes the same thing, with an administration that insists global warming is no more real than Santa Claus. God, help us.

Thanks to Derek K. Miller for posting it on his blog.

Freedom from Want

It’s occurred to me how much noise there is in most spiritual websites, spiritual books, and so forth. (And this one is one of the worst!) That’s because most writers, like me, try to use concepts to get beyond the concepts. We blather about this tradition and that tradition, this Scripture and that Scripture, this teacher and that, this experience and that. In addition, this blog is the "online journal" variety, sharing my downs as well as my ups.

But since the little revelation I had Sunday night, I see that the noise itself is the silence, that "samsara is nirvana." It’s hard to describe—I see garbage by the curb, and it seems as beautiful as a painting in a museum, although I still have the urge to pick it up (or wish someone else would!).

I can only laugh at the energy and time I’ve invested in spiritual "seeking." What is there to seek, when God is in everything you are, everything you see, touch, smell, and hear? Why do we seek the return of the Lord, when he said "I am with you always"?

Just renounce wanting, having, needing. Live your life, meet your responsibilities, do what’s appropriate to do, and don’t resent or resist unpleasant things, or crave or try to hold onto the pleasant circumstances. A roller coaster has ups and downs, without them, the ride’s no fun at all. You wanted to go to heaven right? Open your eyes. "There" is here!

Jon, updated

I’ve made a few changes to the site this last week. I’ve jazzed up a couple of the stylesheets, revised and reposted the pages on Biblical Panentheism and Universal Salvation. Also I completely rewrote the review of Waking Life. Its vision of life as a lucid dream was something which I could not get when it first came out. Now, it’s screamingly obvious. When I’m more aware, I see that my existence is very much like a lucid dream. Ordinary life, without awareness, is like a sleep. One who’s begun to realize his true nature, begins to see it as a lucid dream, aware that he is dreaming. It’s an incredible metaphor, actually much better as metaphor than The Matrix.

I also came back to two texts with much greater understanding. The Tao Te Ching was the first Eastern religious text I had ever read. I’ve read it several times, but not in the last five years since I began meditating and exploring the nature of things. In the past, my "mysticism" was philosophical, now it’s much deeper. There’s so much in there that no one can understand deeply until they begin practicing it deeply, and then it opens up.

Also, I revisited The Gospel of Thomas again. I read that more recently, but going back again, since my practice has deepened as a quest to know my being in the Ground of Being, I understand so much more there than I ever did before. The scholars write commentary after commentary, but cannot "get" it, since it’s beyond everyone who’s not practicing.

Come to know what is in front of you, and that which is hidden from you will become clear to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not become manifest. —Thomas 5

That brings me to what really "updated" me tonight. In my last post I was quite discouraged and in a state of "spiritual indigestion." But taking Mark’s advice regarding SI was helpful— very, very helpful. As he suggested, I sat down quietly and renounced knowledge and desire from my heart. (I know nothing, I need nothing, I want absolutely nothing.) Tonight, after sitting in the quiet of that no-thing-ness for a little, something just "popped," and I realized, this is it. This is really it!

Soto Zen calls just-sitting meditation "the first enlightenment." The thing is that simply being in that awareness of Being is what enlightenment is. The abbot of The Cloud of Unknowing and the Book of Privy Counsel pretty much says the same thing, that this is the contemplative work of eternity. It’s so easy to get caught up in seeking the big, explosive, once-and-for-all "capital E" Enlightenment, which is nothing more than neurotic, clinging, desire. My teacher told me to give up wanting enlightenment, and now I think I have. I can see its here.

As Jesus said: Come to know what is in front of you, and that which is hidden from you will become clear to you.

It’s so easy. My heart overflows with gratitude. Thank You, Father.

Destroy the World, Save the Earth

I’ve got to apologize for going so long between posts. Sometimes what I want to share here in this space feels so personal, or so difficult to put into words, that I end up not doing it at all.

Something that’s been on my mind the last couple of weeks is “the world” vs. “the earth.” There’s a big, big difference between the two, and probably the easiest way to distinguish them, is simply by realizing that the world is not real. What do I mean by not “real?” Well, take a look at the earth, for contrast. Look at your friends, spouse, kids, your cat, dog or parakeet—those are real. Look at yourself. Feel your skin, your clothes, your headache or your peace. That is real. They are there. Go outside, see the cars, the grass, the sky, birds, clouds, bushes and asphalt. Real again. Better yet, give yourself a nice, total immmersion experience of reality—go canoeing in a park, or mountain biking, or swimming in the ocean, with a minimum of thinking or conversation. You’ll start to get to know the difference.

What’s not real? Everything that exists only in the mind. Chances are, as soon as you start talking with someone, conversations will turn to things that have no basis in reality. Whether someone or something is “good” or “bad.” Whether something “means” something else or not. The past. That’s right, the past happened, but it is not real. Past sounds like passed for a reason. The future is obviously not real, but we devote inordinate amounts of our thoughts to it.
When you feel stress about the future, you’re feelings are real enough, but their cause is unreal. There’s some profound truth in the trite workplace sign “FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real.”

But there’s a lot more non-reality to become aware of. Our very identities are pieces of the past we esteem and carry on with us into the present. If you ask my name, I’ll say, “Jon.” That’s a real sound, but how does it become a shorthand for me? I could have been named Douglas, Vladimir, or Akhbar. And if I so chose to, I could change it. Ask my nationality, and I’ll say “American.” What I really mean is that I was born in a part of the earth where people had agreed to recognize an organization of people as having some authority over them, and by agreement, this organization was known as the government of the United States of America.

But look at a view of the earth from space, and there are no lines drawn, no square patches colored blue, pink, or yellow, and no names written upon the land. There’s no “United States of America” there, no “Switzerland,” and no “Iraq.” What’s real are the nameless landmasses with their nameless forests, plains and deserts and the nameless oceans, lakes and rivers.

I am not my past, my name, my family, my upbringing, my country, my religion, my ideas, nor my thoughts. Neither are you. Kind of makes you wonder why all the fights about names, families, lifestyles, countries, religions, and ideologies, doesn’t it?

Meditation is an opportunity to begin stripping away the conditioning, the associations, and shared hallucinations that comprise “the world.” What are you, there in the dark, with eyes closed, with no name, no past, no future? What is that? It’s worth getting to know, because that is real. That is you.

What the #$*! Do We Know?

What the Bleep Do We Know?

A Dazzling Introduction to the Frontiers of Physics, Biochemistry, and Consciousness

About 20 years ago, I encountered quantum mechanics in The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, and the Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra. Despite the relative popularity (note the emphasis on “relative”) of such books, the average person in the street has never read a science book that wasn’t assigned to them in high school or college. And those books certainly weren’t using the implications of quantum physics to speculate on the nature of Life, the Universe and Everything!

Virtual Basketball Court

But I found myself very inspired by the fuzziness of the new science. It seemed to me to be showing the undefined edges of Creation, and left me with a conviction that the Universe is held together in God’s imagination. That, along with many other things, helped to start me on my study of Christian mysticism and other traditions. So imagine my delight when I learned What the #$*! Do We Know? (pronounced “What the Bleep Do We Know”) promised an exciting investigation into the cutting edge of science and spirituality. I couldn’t wait to see interviews with people like Drs. Rupert Sheldrake, Freeman Dyson, Amit Goswami and Larry Dossey!

Well, Goswami, physicist and scholar-in-residence for the Institute of Noetic Sciences was among the experts interviewed, and although they were new to me, all the other scientists chosen seemed capable speakers on quantum weirdness. Besides physicists, there are also a number of medical researchers and psychologists interviewed, who bring interesting information on the connection between mind and matter, as well as some “spiritual teachers, mystics, and scholars.” Strangely, What the Bleep didn’t identify any of the speakers until the final credits. (And only then does it become apparent why they made that choice.)

What the Bleep has a striking visual style, with razor-sharp photography, dazzling graphic effects, and it even escapes typical “documentary mode” by creating a small story of a woman encountering new dimensions in the world and herself. At times the style skirts the edge of being a little too hyper, and the directors clearly intend to go for breadth over depth. (If you want to actually learn something about the mind-blowing edges of science, a great place to start is with PBS’s NOVA production,The Elegant Universe.)

The story shows Amanda, a deaf photographer, going through a couple of frustrating days as she has some surreal encounters with quantum physics. In the middle of the film, the discussion shifts briefly from subatomic physics to neurochemistry, while the story takes our heroine into a Polish wedding sequence which is so hilarious, it might have you rolling in the aisles, as I was! More importantly, some the opinions shared may be eye-opening for many viewers who have never considered the inter-connectedness of mind, the universe, and God.

The Flipside: Ramtha will see you now.

The disappointment, (which is acute), came from the aforementioned “spiritual teachers, mystics, and scholars” used. Yeah, it sounds like an impressive lot, but there were only two. One was Miceal (or Micheal) Ledwith, former prominent Catholic theologian, whose retirement from Ireland’s Maynooth College in 1994 has been linked to abuse accusations (see the Irish Times article of June 1 2002). The other, a blonde woman who had more screen time than any other “expert,” was revealed in the closing credits to be—get ready—RAMTHA! Yes, Ramtha, the laughable 35,000-year-old entity with the pseudo-Sanskrit name, channeled by Ms. JZ Knight. No wonder names were withheld till the end!

A picture of Ramtha. Or JZ Knight. Who knows? Who cares?

Both Ledwith and “Ramtha” had little to do except bash conventional religion with vague, emotional mutterings about “the shackles of restrictive doctrine.” I was left wondering why would a group of people go to the trouble of creating an otherwise impressive film about the scientific plausibility of a mystical universe, only to undercut it with sophmoric dismissals and the spoutings of the queen of New Age nuttiness? Perhaps it’s because, as stated on their own FAQ page, all three filmmakers are students of Ramtha! Not only that but it turns out that Ledwith now happens now to be a lecturer for Ramtha, as well, and another expert, chiropractor and writer Joe Dispenza, is also a Ramtha student!

So it ends up being a mixed bag. It is a charming, beautiful, and entertaining introduction to quantum physics, and for thousands it may be the only glimpse they’ve had of mysticism. Overall, it’s well worth seeing, but I just wish this had some actual spiritual substance. It’s a pity. People are starving for the Wild Things of God, and are kept starving. With very rare exceptions, our teachers, preachers, priests, and imams don’t teach our own deep traditions of union with God. Furthermore, half-witted schlock like The Da Vinci Code, The Celestine Prophecy, and Ramtha drowns out the voice of authentic mysticism. Ramtha will see you now. Keep your ego, but bring your checkbook.

Update, January 15, 2005. What is Enlightenment? magazine has a penetrating review of What the Bleep? online. It’s excellent reading.

Here are my thoughts on the WIE review.

Movie stills © 2004 Lord of the Wind Films, LLC.