Who are we?
It is perhaps the fundamental question of both science and religion, and certainly of what we call “spirituality”, a catch-all word with which I resonate in steadily decreasing degrees as time passes. Spirituality is all too often a repository for that which fails to fit nicely into one of the generally accepted practices for knowledge cultivation in our dominant cultures. Definitions aside, for most of us I think the essential purpose of our own unique inquiries, however we choose to categorize them– inquiries which are for each of us both holy and deeply personal– boils down to achieving freedom from suffering or at least an interpretation of suffering in which deep meaning in our lives is obtained and sustained despite the difficulties
When I was first trying to make sense of things, I had but one governing premise to steer me: there must be some way of seeing in which all of this makes sense, or more accurately, is meaningful. From there I began doing what a person of my particular birth station and proclivities would do at a state-funded institution of higher learning: I went to the library. Raised a Catholic, I knew step one was the expansion of my database of world views. Other people had their own experiences, and they wrote them down. I could see what they had to say. I attended a talk on Hinduism. I read about the Mayans and the Native Americans in particular, and indigenous people in general. I read books on Buddhism and meditated. Buddhist reading kind of stuck early on because it was so different, because it pointed to something tantalizing that I couldn’t quite bring into focus, and because I felt a certain permission to practice without wondering if I was doing it right. That seemed to lie at the heart of the practice: to sit, and be present. I supplemented the sitting with confounding myself with its written teachings. I was patient, and methodical, and desperate, and strove to understand as deeply as possible.
A corollary to my one guiding principle– that there must be a way of seeing in which life is a meaningful endeavor– arose fairly quickly, and that was the assertion that people everywhere were being true to their own experiences, viewpoints and teachings. Different people from different parts of the world weren’t out to dupe all the other parts of the world. People are people– by and large truthful, sincere, passionate and loving. I developed this idea further into the premise that people who radiated authentic, loving Presence were not inventing their experiences. The result was that I was left with all sorts of conundrums. How could this be true, and that? How could this experience over here be interpreted in light of what is being taught over there? On the one hand, it was pretty easy to weed out the big stuff, like assertions that one religion was right and its followers destined for glory, while everyone else was doomed to eternal damnation for their folly, but the core question of who I was had yet to be fully answered.
An obvious difficulty of making sense of Eastern and Western thought is making sense of who is present in those cultures. In the West, the self is a given, and in my Christian upbringing, the “I” of me continued after death, on into eternity, in either heaven or hell. In my admittedly limited readings of Buddhism, the self and the world around it were described as somehow illusory in nature, and the sought after nirvana was not a place at all it seemed, but a way of perceiving, an emptiness that is full, something at a right angle to my entire previous experience. This degree of discord was exciting on the one hand, and debilitating on the other. Moments of grace came from the inner tussle, as when I thought about Jesus’ famous line, “Father forgive them, they know now what they do,” in light of the notion that misperception was a fundamental cause of suffering, and realized there was no discord. If I could see things properly, I thought, I would be able to forgive even my killers. The idea that Jesus was the embodiment of a powerfully actualized way of seeing and knowing, a way that had perhaps fallen through the cracks of religious oversight over the years, began to take root within me. But gaps remained.
For someone raised a Christian, the notion of eternal life is a difficult concept to ditch, and doing so comes perilously close within the structure of that particular worldview to suggesting that we die and that’s it. There’s scant middle ground to stand upon. I found that even the idea that my awareness would not end, but would rather be “absorbed” by an infinite pool of Godhead– one of those efforts at reconciling the particle and the wave– failed to satisfy. If a little company gets bought out by a big one, it’s not necessarily cause for celebration. Something is lost, some independence, some freedom. Likewise, having gotten some mileage out of contemplating quietly this concept of living emptiness that is the true essence of an illusory reality, I found myself loath to pitch that from the equation as well. It was bringing peace, and deeper understanding. It was alive and transformative within me.
The notion that there is no eternal soul was difficult to ditch for other reasons as well, such as reading about the stories of Near Death Experiences, or reflecting upon the beliefs of indigenous traditions in which links to ancestors, often very specific ancestors who are known by name and who periodically speak through synchronicities that are delightfully in-character, are sustained to the point of being nearly tangible to an outsider. I have had the opportunity to participate in ceremony and felt a power that could not be denied. In keeping with my first and only principle, it was impossible to conclude these links to beings alive in the spirit world were simply delusion, just because another world view suggested otherwise.
Things eventually came together for me with discovery of A Course in Miracles, and later A Course of Love, because there I found both a way to unify and maintain the truths I felt lived within these various sets of views, or practices. Here was a deeper dive into the way of seeing and knowing that Jesus had sought to share with the world, a nudge to see beyond illusions of form and ego, a way strikingly similar in many respects to what I had learned trying to make sense of Buddhism and other world views. Also, the words came from Jesus, and this suggested a continuity to his presence within the heart of humanity, and an accessibility that felt like the unbroken chain of connection I had witnessed in Native American pathways. There was something eternal– an immutable presence, a lineage, a cup over-flowing continuance. I found a way of understanding in which eternity and emptiness might coincide, their seemingly disparate dimensions linked not by word tricks or clever definitions, but through a deep understanding of perception and knowledge.
If I have learned anything, it is that reality lives between the lines. I now think that what is called a self cannot be intellectually understood. While the fundamental issue we face is that of knowing our true nature, our true identity, as without this knowing misperception remains, this is not the type of knowing the mind alone can either achieve or carry. A fundamental obstacle to authentic knowing that is presented in A Course in Miracles and in A Course of Love is the long-held, fundamental misperception of separateness. This is a starting point for the experience of self that colors falsely nearly every experience, and I saw in hindsight that it was the core misperception that had maintained the wedge between my efforts to stitch together truth wherever I found it. Separateness is a stance that occupies the mind, and so it is a stance the mind cannot wrestle free of on its own, without invoking the heart, for the mind alone cannot conceive of unity. Unity is not a concept, but a living reality.
In unity, we don’t have a purely individual identity, but a shared one. Our identity is Oneness. This is who we are, who I am, who you are. Oneness. We are each Oneness, walking around. We are each other, the sea, the sky, the caterpillars, the birds. There is naught but this, arising. We are Christ, the Buddha, and the White Buffalo Calf Maiden, or perhaps, to try using words a few different ways, we each live in them, as they live in us, and yet we are uniquely who we are. I carry all beings in my heart, as you do, for we all carry and continuously give birth to one another, and there is no separation between us, and yet each of us are unique differentiations– unique expressions– of all of us, of all that is.
In A Course of Love, Jesus says, “We exist in the embrace of Love like the layers of light that form a rainbow, indivisible and curved inward upon one another.” Later, he says, “Love is the source of your being. You flow from Love, an outpouring without end. You are thus eternal. What flows from Love is changeless and boundless.” There is an unchanging, timeless and eternal core that lies at our root, a solid ground on which we can depend, and that is Love. It is ever-fertile and never-ending. Simultaneously, nothing can flow from Love that is separate from any other outpouring of Love, and so all are indissolubly bound to all.
But what of the individuality we experience? Is the individual wholly illusory? Jesus says, “Expressions of Love are as innumerable as the stars in the universe, as bountiful as beauty, as many-faceted as the gems of the earth. I say again that sameness is not a sentence to mediocrity or uniformity. You are a unique expression of the selfsame Love that exists in all creation. Thus, your expression of love is as unique as your Self. It is in the cooperation between unique expressions of Love that creation continues and miracles become natural occurrences.” While the ego, the notion of being a kingdom unto oneself is illusory, the Self held in unity is not, but the Self held in unity has its deepest roots in Oneness.
Here is where it ultimately comes together for me. With the desire for unity in our hearts and minds, with unity itself as our vantage point, we realize that Love has a purpose for each and every being, and that it is an eternal purpose. We are joined in unity outside of time and place. We join in unity at the heart of it All. Love doesn’t become a being as a way of commenting on the weather– what she says is never subject to circumstance, never obsoleted by time’s passing. All Meaning is eternally valid. Mark Twain, for instance, in unity, is a living reality, alive within us, alive within Love, never-ending, as we live in him. He is not gone, or carried in memory alone. He did not exist “then”, in a different way than he does “now”. We are not joined with him in the past, or he to us in his future. We are joined in unity. We are what is.
The fear of being absorbed and subsumed is, I think, a false one, a misperception of who we are right now. It is the way a kingdom unto itself thinks about losing a separateness that never was. As we heal our perceptions, and realize we each live in and through one another, that our wholeness exists only in the holy relationship of all to all, and that one could not be without the other, the fear of being lost or misplaced, or melted down for reprocessing, vanishes. We realize how deeply meaningful is our connection to other beings, that we are sustained in and by them, that they are the very nature of our existence, as we are theirs. Relationship is the nature of all nourishment. I think to understand this fully, is to discover the type of gift each being, each expression of Love truly is. It is unspeakably rich, knock you over rich, bring you to a dead stop in the Gold Medal 100 meter dash rich. Each are given to each, that each might live. We are given unto one another. The fear of being lost is nullified by the realization that all beings are giving you life, and you them. Which being whose holy presence is the sustainer of your Life would you judge unnecessary?
For whom would Love issue a recall?
The Self is a shared phenomenon giving rise to countless unique and continuously embraced and enfolded expressions. Nothing is lost. Only added unto, for Creation is still occurring, right now, and we are the reason, the way, and the Life.
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PS – This post was inspired by dialogue with the insightful Miss M over at SeeingM… Thank you, M, for the discussion and shares…!