In December of 2004 you wrote:
Isaiah isn't my real name. It's Tommy. I was born a Thomas the III, childhood friends called me Top cat, my old band-mates called me TC, I'm known as "dad" to my son, my associates call me Tom and my wife sometimes calls me every name in the book. When I first thought about designing my presence here on the web I knew I didn't want to use my real name because I wanted to free this "Tommy" to do some writing outside of himself. Not that it really matters to anyone but me- but, I caught a breath of freshness taking on the new identity of "isaiah."
Sometimes I think we become confined by our name and identity. The sound of our name, the letters that spell it out, and the years of baggage we have accumulated can act as a holding cell. We become so accustomed to our character that the world becomes old and stale.
The opposite of this can be true as well. The sound of our name from our lover's lips can make us light as air and take us to the edge of ecstasy and over. There's a sweetness that echoes through the house when I hear my son call out, "Hey dad." We create soothing works of music, art, poetry or craft a fine piece of wood- work which we are then compelled to autograph and hold forever as our very own.
So which is the case? Do names confine us or free us? Do we choose to hold on to old notions about our character and limit the roles we can play or can we find the courage to break free from the ego we have created in order to discover new and exciting- limitless possibilities?
One of my favorite quotes is from the great writer Susan Sontag who died yesterday. It helps me to see beyond myself into the realm of the Divine:
"The only interesting answers are the ones that destroy the question."
What is really in a name anyway?
You ask good questions. To me the interesting questions are the ones that destroy the answers; questions that leave one speechless, questions that the mind cannot get itself around and has it fall silent, questions that short-circuit the logical, linear sequential dominion of rational thought, questions that lead to a silent openness, questions that by their very nature deconstruct our desperate, exclusive allegiance to a mind identified self. The questions that arise from an interest and curiosity in waking up fuel worthwhile discovery and realization. Without that impulse to awakening there would be no path and no fruition. Without the questions and inquiry that lead us into silence, there would be no enlightening at all. Thank you for your courage to inquire.
What is really in a name anyway?
We name things and we think we know them. With names we give things an identity. With names we identify self and other. This is a natural function of our minds and there is nothing wrong in it. However there is an innocent misperception which results in the identity -- that which can be named and is a small thing, a functional and utilitarian servant -- playing the role of king. When things are in their proper places, everything takes care of itself and the whole world is uplifted. Our humanness is infinitely enriched by Being. But our Being is usually eclipsed and occluded by our sleeping preoccupation with our humanity, our identification exclusively with the personality -- our character jacket.
Earlier this year Jon at The Wild Things of God asked about getting to know me better. I wrote the following:
We could get to know one another, the history, the details of our sweet/sad enterprise through time and space. The joys and the heartbreak... On the other hand, there is a larger risk available. Although I do not know you at all, there is an unspeakable intimacy we already share, a divine space weaving us together in a miraculous way. Poets reach for that space, that love light, and fail like we all do. The chasm is too great, the gulf too wide, yet we leap anyway. And in the basic trust of this sacred act, the chasm is crossed, the gulf evaporates and we are pulled through the gate, as John Tarrant says, without the use of our own hands. Existence, graceful presence, does it for us. What is impossible to the mind, may happen through an open, trusting heart. It is a wonderful mystery, like you are my friend. Even if we "got to know one another," what would we really come to know? What do we know of our loved ones, family and friends? Do we really know them? We may think we know who someone is, but that knowing is very limited. Even someone we have lived with for years, do we really know them? Do we know our husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, best friends? How could you know another? They are a fathomless mystery. How can we know vastness, wholeness, being? Do we know who we are? Plumb your own depth within and you will find eternity, an infinite space that goes on and on. You are a vastness that can never be known. If I had your profile down to the minute details, I would not have scratched the surface of who/what you are. But I can look within and know your heart, because we share the same throbbing heart. And although I do not know you, I am in love with this vastness that both you and I share beyond our personalities.
I will never know my friend Meredith. She remains a beautiful mystery to me, so alive, so fresh. She is much more than her personality, psychology, accomplishments, relationships, and the things she owns, so much more than her ego identity. These are small things that we attach such significance to. In a few short days all these things we cling to so desperately will be gone. Everything will be taken from us, our body, thoughts, emotions, our relationships with family and friends, our home and possessions, even the sun and moon and stars - all gone. They are temporary and provisional, impermanent. Even now they slip from our grasp.
The mind wants to figure out, understand and know. Wholeness is bigger than that. It will not be confined to the knowable. The mind divides, knowing divides. The whole can not be divided. It is whole, containing both the knowable and unknowable. And the knowable is so small, the unknowable is vast, endless.
Being is a vast mystery. It takes a leap, from the margin of knowing into the unknowable abyss.
Tommy, you invited me to share my journey, all that makes me Akilesh. The question goes to who or what I am. And it is a good question, a question I do not take lightly. It is a rare and precious question when asked with sincerity. It is the kind of question that can break up the frozen ice of living one's life inside the small box of ego consciousness. It is the kind of question that calls into question cherished beliefs and assumptions, hopes and dreams. If pursued it can disrupt the foundational aspects of one's identity, something that goes largely unquestioned in our culture and even in our spiritual seeking. Rather than deeply inquiring into the question, who am I, and coming to terms with the suffering and broken heartedness that is an inevitable part of such inquiry, all too often the spiritual search is more about escaping from such destabilizing questions; escaping from suffering and a broken heart, finding a shortcut from misery and dissatisfaction. Too often the spiritual search is about finding a once-and-for-all enlightenment, a static state of happiness and peace. States of peace and happiness exist but, just like everything else, they are impermanent, they do not last. And we find ourselves back "here" again facing what is.
The journey of enlightening, the quest to realize who you are, while as close as your breath, is not so simple. Through the process of social conditioning and programming we come to make an innocent mistake, a misidentification. And with this mistake our authentic presence recedes into the background of our consciousness and our small self, the ego, the little me, the psychological personality, takes up residence in the foreground, as the sovereign, as king of the world. After this innocent mistake everything becomes self referential -- "my" self, "my" family, "my" house, "my" body, "my" mind and emotions, "my" world. My, me. This is ego consciousness, fixation upon self-identity, what Tolle calls the mind identified self.
Many sages of the past have likened living in ego consciousness as living in a dream. They have often used the metaphor of waking up from the dream of a separate self. When we are asleep in this dream, entranced, hypnotized by our conditioning, our entire enterprise through time and space is informed and animated by the limited context of ego consciousness. It is sad that most of us live out our lives and die in this box, without ever having made the journey, set out on the quest to realize our true nature.
When we believe wholly in the dream and move always within the confines of the dream, from the limited context of ego fixation, all of our relating to the other, whether to people or things, occurs inside of ego consciousness. In this way the relating is limited to separate entities relating to one another out of separateness. In other words when we connect with others we most often connect on the level of ego consciousness. While this is not bad, it is limited. There is no possibility of true connection, of communion when relating occurs between separate entities. The innocent mistake and the living of one's life out of ego consciousness excludes the possibility of communion. In the absence of communion, relationship that is based on ego consciousness, based on the interaction between mind identified selves is often marked by conflict and dissatisfaction of some sort.
In the context of ego consciousness when we reach out to another, we are reaching out in a dream, from one separate self to another separate self, and trying to connect with them, trying to find a communion with them. What we find is limited and often unsatisfying. Yet when that’s all we are aware of, it is what forms the basis of our relating: we are more interested in the superficial aspects of the individual, their personality, their history, their character, the self. This is what we want to know about, and what we connect with as separate selves. This is what is important and emphasized in most human interactions. Spiritual rhetoric notwithstanding, this is what we seek when we want to get to know someone better. It is our conditioned default mode. It is unquestioned, and to question it has one be considered a little crazy.
Meredith writes on the how the personal and personality has its place, and enriches our experience of Being. She reminds me that the enlightenment quest is not the only purpose in life. Life is bigger than that. Obviously life is curious about the play of energy as it manifests in artistic and creative expression, in painting, sculpture, dance, music, poetry and creative writing; in richly textured emotional experiences, in adventure and travel, in physical expression, sports and athletic challenges, in sexual play, in the exploration of knowledge and intellectual growth, in science, medicine and healing, in the rich experiences related to kinship and friendship, in parenting and child-rearing, in a rewarding livelihood, in humor, and in so many other diverse ways. Just one example among an infinite number, listen to Apertura by Gustavo Santaolalla from Motorcycle Diaries. This creative effort came from a personality, an ego. The contact lenses I wear were designed and made by human ego.
Jon at The Wild Things of God posted a quote from Eckhart Tolle's most recent book, A New Earth:
You are a human being. What does that mean? Mastery of life is not a question of control, but of finding a balance between human and Being. Mother, father, husband, wife, young, old, the roles you play, the functions you fulfill, whatever you do-all that belongs to the human dimension. It has its place and needs to be honored, but in itself it is not enough for a fulfilled, truly meaningful relationship or life. Human alone is never enough, no matter how hard you try or what you achieve. Then there is Being. It is found in the still, alert presence of Consciousness itself, the Consciousness that you are. Human is form. Being is formless. Human and Being are not separate but interwoven.
Both the human and the Being are important. But we've got things backwards. We have the real king and queen dressed in paupers clothing sitting in the back row, smiling with infinite patience. And we have Ego the Pretender-Who-Thinks-He’s-Not-Pretending on the throne, front and center in our consciousness. Our Being is often relegated to spiritual parlor conversation while our day to day, moment to moment fidelity remains with the false face of our character jacket, the image and belief structure of ego consciousness, with the security and familiarity of our conditioned identity. We are devoted to the world of personality and to the stories that give us a security blanket: an identity and a sense of belonging in this world. With this nearly exclusive emphasis we live the life of a somnambulist, we are misshapen, entranced lifelong, and we go to the grave missing the richness and depth available in awakening within this precious human life.
Realizing our innocent mistake, waking up from the trance of a separate self places our vastness, our godliness on the throne and relegates our personality and rationality to the appropriate role of servant. And once we have experienced this waking up we keep a fidelity to this Freedom moment to moment, forever. We give it our moment to moment appreciation, as the true sovereign of our world, as the universal monarch -- what some have called the Self or God. From the human side our awakening seems to require this ongoing fidelity if it is not to default back into the conditioned dream of ego fixation.
The imprint of ego fixation runs very deep in the human being. Tied to survival and security and replication, it is a very, very powerful, seductive and subtle illusion. It is multilayered and in my experience always remains by the side, as a default, a conceptual context or pseudo-sanctuary ready to receive the frightened identity back into the familiar confines of the cocoon, of conditioned existence, of consensus reality. The depth, power and reach of our conditioning and programing deserves respect. It is a pervasive and socially sanctioned trance that we have going on to some degree all the time while we are in a physical body. Overcoming the ego is not killing it or having it disappear, but freeing yourself from your fixation upon it, your identification with it, and having it take its rightful place as servant instead of master.
Who is Akilesh? The short answer: I don't know. The name is Hindi for King of the World or King of All. I was given this name many years ago by my teacher, (who would certainly have something to say about me referring to him as a teacher). Miserable, lost and confused in the spiritual supermarket at the time, the name was like a radioactive particle embedded in my chest -- there was going to be a reaction of some sort, and in my case it was a meltdown. King of the World! How was I to discern the meaning of this koan? How was the personality to contextualize this? How was little me going to get his head around this? How to contain it? "What is really in a name anyway?" Working on this koan over time precipitated an alchemical melting down of my identity.
There is an old saying, "To go down is to go up." Before illumination there seems to be the need for descent. It seems we do everything we can to avoid this descent. Recently Meredith wrote to me on the subject of fear, how it arises from a "lack of feeling loved - a deep, and fundamental perception of unworthiness, of feeling bereft of love."
My journey begins with fear, it begins in darkness.
I will speak from a felt sense, out of an intuitive, dark space, as opposed to a clear, rational, linear-sequential, well-lit and thoughtful place. The former is more trustworthy than the latter. I start with shadow. I came out of shadow into light. For most of my life I walked backward, facing a long shadow. I have turned around and now face the rising sun, but I often look behind to pay respect to the shadow and remember where I came from. This is useful when journeying in any wilderness.
Like you, I was born nameless, faceless, open, at large. With the necessary socialization of my culture, my conditioning and programing, I took on a self-identity and wedded myself to it to survive and succeed in conventional life. In childhood and adolescence I always felt something to be missing in this life. My role models - parents, clergy, civic leaders, teachers, professors, elders all seemed to be out of touch with what my heart told me was authentic. They seemed to be in some kind of trance which I was gradually being indoctrinated into. Many of my most powerful role models seemed to subscribe to a selfish, aggressive approach to life, however subtle or sophisticated. They seemed childish with grown up bodies, striving for security, preoccupied with survival no matter how wealthy, intelligent or advanced in years. They were concerned with acquisition and security, collecting material goods, relationships and experiences, constantly trying to control the conditions and circumstances of their lives. And in my young opinion they confirmed that the depth and range of a "normal" human life was overall animated and informed by "quiet desperation." When I looked in them I saw fear and insecurity deep down, no matter how together or powerful they appeared on the surface. When I looked inside myself I saw the same thing, felt the same fear and insecurity. So I investigated, inquired into this fear, could not leave it alone, and it lead me deeper into darkness, into sadness and suffering. I do not know why I continued to look into this, perhaps the fathomless depth of the abyss was seductive. It had a gravity like pull that attracted me, like the curiosity that pulls you to the edge of a precipice, so you can look down. I wanted to look down into that darkness. I wanted to swan dive into that dark vastness of fear and sadness, to immerse myself in it, that I might learn the secret of it’s dark energy and understand it.
In August 1994 Harper's magazine published excerpts of an interview of Ken Kesey by Robert Faggan in the spring issue of The Paris Review. In that interview Kesey was asked by Faggan what he wanted to explore when he set out on the bus with a band of "merry pranksters" in 1964.
Kesey: What I explore in all my work: wilderness. Settlers on this continent from the beginning have been seeking wilderness and its wildness. The explorers and pioneers sought that wildness because they could sense that in Europe everything had become locked tight. Things were all owned by the same people, and all of the roads went in the same direction forever. When we got here there was a sense of possibility and new direction, and it had to do with wildness. Throughout the work of James Fenimore Cooper there is what I call the American terror. It's very important to our literature, and it's important to who we are: the terror of the Hurons out there, the terror of the bear, the avalanche, the tornado -- whatever may be over the next horizon.
As we came to the end of the continent we manufactured our terror. We put together the bomb. Now we don't even have the bomb hanging over our heads to terrify us and give us reason to dress up in manly deerskin and go forth to battle it. There's something we’re afraid of, but it doesn't have the clarity of the terror of the Hurons or the hydrogen bomb during the Cold War. Now it's fuzzy, and it's fuzzy because the people who are in control don't want you to draw a bead on the real danger, the real terror in this country.
Faggan: What is the "real terror" in America?
Kesey: When people ask me about LSD, I always make a point of telling them you can have the shit scared out of you with LSD because it exposes something, something hollow. Let's say you have been getting on your knees and bowing and worshiping; suddenly you take LSD, and you look, and there's just a hole, there's nothing there. The Catholic Church fills this hole with candles and flowers and litanies and opulence. The Protestant Church fills it with handwringing and pumped up squeezing emotions because they can't afford the flowers and candles. The Jews fill this hole with weeping and browbeating and beseeching of the sky: "How long, how long are you gonna treat us like this?" The Muslims fill it with rigidity and guns and a militant ethos. But all of us know that that's not what is supposed to be in that hole.
After I had been at Stanford for two years, I got into LSD. I began to see that the books I thought were the true accounting books -- my grades, how I'd done in other schools, how I'd performed at jobs, whether I had paid off my car or not -- were not at all the true books. There were other books that were being kept, real books. In those books is the real accounting of your life. And the mind says, "Oh, this is titillating." So you want to take some more LSD and see what else is there. And soon I had the experience that everyone who's ever dabbled in psychedelics has. A big hand grabs you by the back of the neck, and you hear a voice saying, "You want to see the books? Okay, here are the books." And it pushes your face right down into all of your cruelties and all of your meanness, all of the times that you have been insensitive, intolerant, racist, sexist. It's all there, and you read it. You can't take your nose up off the books. You hate them. You hate who you are. You hate the fact that somebody has been keeping track, just as you feared. You hate it, but you can't move your arms for eight hours. Before you take any acid again you start trying to juggle the books. You start trying to be a little better person. Then you get the surprise. The next thing that happens is that you're leaning over looking at the books, and you feel the lack of the hand at the back of your neck. The thing that was forcing you to look at the books is no longer there. There's only a big hollow, the great American wild hollow, which is scarier than hell, scarier than purgatory or Satan. It's the fact that there isn't any hell and there isn't any purgatory, there isn't any Satan. And all you've got is Sartre sitting there with his mama -- harsh, bleak, worse than guilt. And if you've got courage, you go ahead and examine that hollow.
Faggan: And that hollow is, for you, the new wilderness?
Kesey: That's the new wilderness. It's the same old wilderness, just no longer up on that hill or around that bend, or in that gully. It's because there are no more hills and gully's that the hollow is there, and you've got to explore the hollow with faith. If you don't have faith that there is something down there, pretty soon when you're in the hollow, you begin to get scared and start shaking. That's when you stop taking acid and start taking coke and drinking booze and start trying to fill the hollow with depressants and Valium. Real warriors like William Burroughs or Leonard Cohen or Wallace Stevens examine the hollow as well as anybody; they get in there, look far into the dark, and yet come out with poetry.
One could replace the reference to LSD in the foregoing with spiritual inquiry, which for me precipitated the appearance of the hollow, the black hole, the horror. But courage was not my strong suit and I tried my best to run away, tried to escape it in every way I could think of. I tried to fill the hole with distractions and entertainments of all kinds (and in fear I conceived of and acted out many escape fantasies, some of which deeply hurt my loved ones, some of which turned into conventionally noteworthy accomplishments). It had become a matter of avoidance, desperately avoiding the darkness, the fear and sadness. But now it followed me - like a shadow. Again and again I circled back to the unresolved dark matter in the heart. And how I resisted and denied what was plainly in evidence.
I used to climb alpine peaks (one of my escapes) and often we had one or two camps set up on the approach to a summit. From the highest camp on the mountain we would get up at 2:00 a.m. for the best climbing conditions for the final push to the summit. It takes exertion and a certain fierceness to persevere in the challenging conditions of an alpine environment to overcome the forces opposing you and "bag" the peak. I used the same qualities to negotiate the day to day world of work. I brought these qualities to the pursuit of enlightenment.
I hurt, I was suffering, I had a dissatisfaction that nothing would appease, and here were sages on the shelves of Barnes and Noble telling of a possible way out. I had particular interest in anything that appeared to have shortcuts. I was all for taking the shortest route out of my pain. So I read and studied and applied myself with the vigor of a high alpine climber in my pursuit of authenticity, to bag the peak of enlightenment. But such a peak cannot be taken by force, authentic presence cannot be stormed like a citadel. A Rocky Balboa cannot box his way into heaven. But what did I know, I just tried to apply what I’d learned in my conditioned life to the unconditioned, and failed miserably again and again. And I mean miserably, wretchedly, pathetically, with all the superlative, narcissistic hyperbole that attends an ego fixation as big as a freight train. I hurt myself, I hurt others, especially those closest to me. The harder I pushed for the light of the summit, the darker the night; the faster I climbed, the longer the route that stretched out before me. The higher I climbed to heaven, the lower I fell into hell. I was lost.
What was going on? I did not know, but gradually I began to see how my suffering was linked to my resistance; how my need for control, my pushing and pulling, was tied to suffering; and how letting go, accepting what is, brought openings. The rub was: accepting what is was the last thing I wanted to do. I felt deeply impoverished and was doing everything I could to fight depression and despair. ("Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.") I resisted the gaping maw of the abyss, this expanding black hole opening up within me, pulling me down and sucking the strength out of me with it’s dark gravity.
Nothing worked, every conceivable option failed, until I just gave up. I just sat down in a darkness that appeared to go on forever, and for all I knew it would go on forever. I just sat down and gave up trying, trying to get something or push anything away. I gave up striving. This didn’t come as a glorious insight, rather it was out of shameful exhaustion. I had exhausted all angles, all shortcuts, everything my mind could think of to solve the koan of my suffering, and failed. The mind road was a dead end, and in my case the dead end was a very dark place, and felt like what I imagined death to feel like. I had applied all the thinking and doing I could muster and all I had left was this vast darkness, as if I were immersed in an endless dark dream: "there's just a hole, there's nothing there... There's only a big hollow... which is scarier than hell, scarier than purgatory or Satan. It's the fact that there isn't any hell and there isn't any purgatory, there isn't any Satan."
I took comfort from others who seemed to have gone into the dark and come out with beauty. For example in After the Fall, by Arthur Miller, where the character Helga shares the following:
Quentin, I think it is a mistake to ever look for hope outside one's self. One day the house smells of fresh bread, the next of smoke and blood. One day you faint because the gardener cut his finger off, within a week you’re climbing over the corpses of children bombed in a subway. What hope can there be if that is so? I tried to die near the end of the war. The same dream returned each night until I dared not go to sleep and grew quite ill. I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept onto my lap again, clutched at my clothes, until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to it's broken face, and it was horrible... but I kissed it. I think one must finally take one's life in one's arms, Quentin.
Or from the poem, The Man Watching by Rilke.
I can tell by the way the trees beat,
After so many dull days
on my worried window panes
that a storm is coming,
And I hear the far-off fields say things
I can't bear without a friend,
I can't love without a sister.
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
And the world looks as if it had no age;
The landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
Is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny,
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
We would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it with small things,
And the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament;
When the wrestlers' sinews
grew long like metal strings,
He felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this angel
(who often simply declined to fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
That kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
By constantly greater things.
Or this poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
But off apart there, who is that?
His path gets lost in the brush;
Behind him close
The branches together,
The grass stand straight up again,
The solitude swallows him up.
Ah, who can heal the pain
Of one whose balsam became poison?
Who has drunk misanthropy
From the fullness of love?
First despised, now despising,
He secretly wastes
His own worth
In unsatisfying selfishness.
If there is in you Psalter,*
Father of Love, a single tone
Perceptible to his ear,
Then revive his heart!
Open his cloud covered sight
To the thousand fountains
Beside the thirsting soul
In the desert.
*Book of Psalms
I start with shadow because I feel there is a strong tendency to circumvent this aspect of spiritual awakening. Without coming to terms with one’s shadow energies, including and expressed in the various psychological wounds of the personality, a seeker is almost always trying to find a short cut or escape hatch from suffering, and in the process denying what is. A deep, genuine acceptance of what is, including the courage to include the shadow energies, seems to be a good starting point on the path. Without this the seeker is usually projecting a path of enlightenment on top of and in reaction to the shadow and deep woundedness. Beside all the various psychological and physical wounds we carry from growing up and individuating, there is the deep wound of separation from our true nature to begin with.
The Jungians say the shadow will have its day. Unless one comes to terms with and make a place for these energies, which are nearly always repressed in the unconscious, they will eventually erupt and assert themselves with a vengeance. We stuff away many unacceptable, unresolved issues in what Robert Bly calls that long bag we drag behind us through life. We have put all our rejected darkness in an opaque jar and screwed the lid down. When we begin to wake up, it is like removing the lid of repression, and like Adyashanti observes: all this material wants to move into the light of illumination, our stuff comes rushing out into the light of conscious awareness. This can be shocking and destabilizing psychologically.
This eruption of repressed and denied shadow energy and subsequent fall from grace can be excruciatingly difficult for those who are apparently highly evolved and spiritually adept. Even for one who has had a profound and persistent enlightenment experience, if there is repression of dark matter in that individual’s human personality, that stuff is going to manifest at some point. We have all heard the stories...
It has been said we live in a world marked by perfection and purity. But without genuine realization of this in one’s Being, there is the tendency of the mind to jump over or short cut around pain and project perfection in the form of an enlightenment story. When disillusionment occurs the collapse may unconceal the presence of a mental construct, a denial of what is and a projection of freedom through the use of belief and stories of liberation we repeat to ourselves. The projection of perfection is built over the top of an image of a hostile and aggressive world, and is often extended to someone who we can adore or revere, someone who may or may not actually be adorable. It is believed, perhaps through the power of positive thinking or affirmation, that we can transform what is into what we want or think it should be like. This may work for a while, but doesn’t work in the long run.
Projection of perfection upon a teacher makes him or her the source of our salvation and redemption. In this way we try to avoid responsibility for having to face our suffering, and for our own awakening. But with this unholy alliance we give away our freedom and power. There are many, many teachers who accept this Faustian deal with seekers. The teacher plays his or her part, and may very well have unresolved shadow energies operating in the background of the student/teacher relationship. You can see this playing out frequently: the desperation of seekers trying to short cut their suffering matching up with the need of teachers to have students loving them, projecting warmth and wisdom upon them, depending upon them. It’s a wild, unregulated party going on out there on the spiritual frontier.
Having examined some of the potential mischief in setting out on the spiritual quest, there is nonetheless tremendous wisdom and warmth in this world which genuinely encourages and nurtures the spiritual quest. In my experience it is worth the risk to inquire into this "basic goodness" which manifests in many ways and is available to us if we open ourselves to it. The basic goodness of the world manifests in ordinary magic, synchronicity and meaningful coincidence. We can use these energies to help us cultivate and deepen our love of and fidelity to what is.
The following is an example of ordinary magic present in the world, and which I found helpful on my journey. Here is Wolf Moon speaking from the native American tradition in a poetic and lyrical way on the Crow power totem:
Night descends upon the ancient forest as a silky shawl of midnight blue, settling over all that she encounters upon her journey, she leaves everything she touches changed in the shimmering veil of her silver light. Perched atop the hard surface of granite boulders that dot the mountainside, Crow stands, head cocked to the side, affording him a gaze of the moon, as she rides the pathway of the autumn sky. From the beginning of the time when Great Spirit transformed Crow from the form of a two-legged to the shape he now wears, Crow has dwelled simultaneously in Two Worlds, one of the earth and the other of the sky. He is the Watcher that has observed we of the two-legged as we walk along the Red Road of Physical Life. He stands ever vigilant, at the Gateway between shadow and light, watching for the Soul that is beginning to Unfold, and then with a beckoning call, black wings touch our face, and we journey with him, flying from the night of denial, and awakening with acknowledgments Day.
I doubt that Wolf Moon has had formal training in Jungian psychology but you can feel the same tenor of consolation in both traditions with respect of the inclusion of the shadow, the dark matter in this world view. Listen to the wisdom of Jung echoing in words from the Native American tradition, again Wolf Moon:
Part of the process is uncovering the Shadows Within that all possess along this Earth Walk. There are areas of our Self that represent our greatest lessons and opportunities for growth, yet can remain elusive to our grasp and understanding. However once these ‘shadows’ have been fully understood and integrated, then the journey upward to the light of the Higher Self can be easily attained and serve as inspiration for Others. To achieve this demands that one go Within and illuminate all of the corners of the subconscious where shadows still linger. To open the door to the corridors of pain where the past still haunts the soul, and shed the Light of awareness so that true Healing may occur... (Crow souls) exist simultaneously within two worlds, that of the Spirit and that of the Flesh..."
Here is the simultaneous Being in two worlds, the One in the many, form is empty, emptiness is form. To deny either is to deny the Totality.
Twenty years after receiving the koan Akilesh, the meaning I continued to ascribe to my darkness was one of fear. But was the darkness actually the source of my fear? Without attaching any meaning to it, was it causal with respect to my fear? Regardless, it was the most "real" presence within me so I (kicking and screaming) made a place for it. I gradually began exploring my dark surroundings, bringing some acceptance to this infinite space, this "big hollow," this void. I recalled various teachings I had heard in the past, the most prominent being my teacher’s words, something to the effect of, "I have nothing to give you. I have only something to take from you, an illusion." But I was very, very attached to this illusion, and the strength of my attachment required strong medicine. I was deeply asleep in the trance of self-identification. I received what in hindsight was a powerful catalyst: I was given the name Akilesh, King of the World. It's no stretch at all to see the cosmic humor in this name - "What is really in a name anyway?" - and I've often laughed out loud at this joke, at it's dynamic range: from megalomania to nobodiness.
In his book Doing Nothing, Steven Harrison writes:
The little boy was drawing when his mother noticed and asked, "What are you drawing, Jimmy?"
The little boy without looking up, answered, "A picture of God."
"But Jimmy," his mother replied, "Nobody knows what God looks like."
"They will once I'm finished."
Who can draw God? Only one who realizes God’s face. With this realization they look out of the eyes of God, they radiate God’s Original Face to others. Jimmy is a young King of the World. In the child there is a natural lightness and radiance, a based-on-nothing confidence in the recognition of Divinity.
Yesterday the December 2005 issue of Harper's magazine arrived in the mail. The issue has an article by Eric Reece entitled Jesus Without the Miracles. In the article Reece writes on Thomas Jefferson's Bible and the Gospel of Thomas. The following is an excerpt:
The Jesus of Thomas's gospel is simply trying to give us back something we already possess. Here is a crucial passage:
Jesus said, "Images are visible to people, but the light within them is hidden in an image of the fathers light. He will be disclosed, but his image is hidden by the light."
Jesus said, "When you see your likeness, you are happy. But when you see your images that come into being before you and that neither die nor become visible, how much will you bear!"
There is an empirical way of knowing, and there is an intuitive way of understanding. The "father's light" exists within everyone and "will be disclosed," but we cannot know it intellectually -- we cannot give it an image. Likewise, we comprise two selves -- the one we see in the mirror, and the face we had before we were born. This last paradoxical image exists in nearly all mystical literature -- Zen koans, the Kabbalah, the Upanishad's -- and here, in the Gospel of Thomas. To "see" this imageless image, to know this original self, is to arrive at a nexus where the light within illuminates the world without, and finally shows it for what it truly is -- the kingdom of God. For that reason, the kingdom must exist simultaneously within and without. When Jesus' followers ask him to show them "where you are, for we must seek it," Jesus replies, "There is light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole world."
Tommy, you gave me a gift in the form of an invitation, "Show me where you are. Tell me who you are. Would you share your journey, all that makes you who you are?" I want to return a gift to you: "Show me where you are. Tell me who you are." To exchange these gifts is to share "...light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole world."
There is a human personality here, with his-story, with hopes and fears, dreams, successes and failures. There is the whole psychology, and the physical form, birth, maturity, and eventually, certain death. There are the roles and personality traits with which you would identify me: son, father, mate, professional, friend... But who are you identifying really? More importantly where are you placing your precious attention? With this attention - and the thought stream that follows so quickly as to be nearly imperceptible - you create the world. Nothing less than that, creating the world out of your thinking. Where is your fidelity, where are you placing your precious trust and faith? Upon what are you showering your love and appreciation? It may not look or feel like you are loving and appreciating something, but you are, and often it is on "the epic of little me." You may not realize that your jewel beyond price, your naked awareness, the authentic source of warmth and wisdom in the universe, is allowing itself to pretend it is "little me," an impermanent construct of thinking, feeling, and bodily sensation with which we identify and call a self.
From my perspective my teacher related to me like I was a young king who was deeply asleep to his godliness. I approached him from personality. He spoke to the godliness within me rather than to my suffering personality. I felt myself to be a victim of the conditions and circumstances of my life situation and that I needed help, relief from this suffering. Again from my perspective his attitude was:
Who is needing help? You are a king! Step out of your own way, wake up and see that the whole treasury is yours. It lives within you, whole and complete, and is available everywhere and at all times. Wake up, you are a monarch, and although you do not possess a kingdom or subjects, the entire universe is your playground. As a king you can celebrate, you can rejoice for you have all you need and so much more. Wake up to the vast riches, the generosity, warmth and innocence that is your inherent nature. Wake up to all the energy vibrantly at play around and within you. This energy is your body dancing. This is your very own energy bouncing back at you. You send it out and it returns to you and a dance of rejoicing communion emerges. Even in the storms you dance, in the wind and the rain. Even when you are filled with fear, you appreciate the wakefulness that can feel it, the raw, "what is" quality of it. And in the simple, humble act of appreciation, your wakefulness comes back to you as an echo, a further confirmation of that awareness within you that is awake. You begin to get a sense of being at home in the vastness of the universe; of being adept - capable of facing and absorbing what is, the energy of what is, back into your Self, and then releasing it again in the form and fragrance of love, a rejoicing, loving abundance.
"...light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole world."
My humanness is a work in progress. The work is a labor of love, keeping an appreciation of Freedom, from which the loving abundance, the "...light within a person of light" arises, and which in turn "...shines on the whole world" and guides the human expression of Freedom in the world, in form. As far as I can see into the darkness, what is asked of me, my humanness, is a fidelity to Freedom, to Awakening, moment to moment, forever. Without primordial trust, without moment to moment appreciation of Being I would default back into the dominion of personality, back into the trance of a separate self. Beyond relaxing into basic appreciation, I continuously look for ways to express and embody the awareness-that-is-awake that I find within/without, in both form and in the formless. Personality and all that attends it, intellect and critical thinking certainly have their places. But innocent, naked Being has the throne for Akilesh, a king without a kingdom or subjects, a king of nothingness.
I started with befriending the shadow and gradually opened my eyes to the light already, always shining. We human Beings contain the paradoxical interweaving of shadow and light. We contain that warm, aching god-emotion, an indivisible admixture of sadness and joy that brings such tender compassion. Are we not constantly blessed with warmth? With love? Are we not continuously showered with an abundance of miracles, both ordinary and extraordinary? In the words of Goethe:
All things the gods bestow, the infinite ones
On their darlings completely.
All the joys, the infinite ones
All the pains, the infinite ones, completely.
What would be the logical and rational response to such a watershed? Wouldn't it be overflowing happiness and gratitude, a joy coming from within that could be felt by others? Wouldn’t it be a "...light within a person of light," that shines on the whole world?
Someone in a neighboring town recently won the Oregon lottery to the tune of $340 million. This windfall is small compared with the treasure that lives free within that winner's heart. They hit a material jackpot against nearly impossible odds, but will they realize the greater treasure hidden in the wide-open?
When do we take the leap into the beyond? When do we act leading from our Being instead of from our ego consciousness? The kingdom of God is herenow. Move from here, from your treasure, your godliness, your love, from your innocence and authenticity. Move from this place of Wholeness. Tomorrow never comes. There is no future time when we will be more evolved or developed in order to take the leap into love, in order to be better able to love. You have all you need within you now. Love now and keep on loving openly and without reservation, calculation or strategy. Take huge risks in being kind and gentle and generous. Be free and unrestrained in your genuineness.
It is said that "Love don't pay the rent." But true love never plays so small; it doesn’t make such small claims. It gives everything and asks for nothing. But this nothing, ah this nothing, how to realize it so you can offer it to Love? Open your hand, release your fist of control, let go of hope and belief, of everything you would cling to. When you open to love, your original nature retrieves you. You don't do anything but approach the gate again and again, open and empty-handed, and let go of whatever you have been clinging to, desperately identifying with. We do not have to subscribe to the exclusive dominion of ego fixation. We can unsubscribe to ego’s email newsletter, which is old and stale anyway. And we have a good nose, our Original Nose, which tells us unfailingly whether something is old and stale or fresh. With the gift of your naked freshness, your openness and receptivity, your willingness to shed, Love receives you into its arms, and reveals those arms to be your very own. When Being meets Itself in your heart you are embraced by vastness which reveals itself to be your own original face. And that face radiates a love that can be called Divine. It radiates a Light that can be called God.