The Engines of Experience

comments 36
Course Ideas / Reflections

I believe a lot of interesting things, things I’ve collected along the way.  I have pages and pages of notes.  Scribblings.  Arrows and half-thoughts running up and down the margins.  Ellipses and question marks.  Coffee stains.  My life is a draft copy full of edits.  I’m always circling back– leaping from one passage to another, sifting through my notes, strengthening the narrative, discovering what was and might have been.

We are revealed in the living of it.

But I fuss with the details.  I should have worn red that day.  Red would have been different.  Or a hat with a feather in it.  Everything would have been different if I’d worn a hat that day.  With a feather.  If I had, what would have come next?  We have to imagine it completely, the life we had when we didn’t miss the turn, conjure it top to bottom, and squeeze it onto the paper.  If I had worn red and the hat, then maybe…  We’re caught by our own perpetual revisions.

We sometimes live in circles.

* * * * *

The ideas we collect are keys.  They open doorways to new rooms, new passages.  Perception is reconfigured.  Thought and experience reflect an ever-shifting maze.  This is learning.  I’ve learned so much…  I carry a chain around with so many keys I hardly remember the doors anymore.  I am standing in the dark, fishing through the keys, trying to remember where I am and which key it is I need.

Here’s a good one.  Right key, wrong door.  I’ve done this before…  There’s no rush this time.  I’ve been wherever that door leads, and here I am.  Back here.

Anyone have a light?

In between keys, while my hands are fumbling with the chain and the ground edges and the burrs and the cold metal, I think of a place of staggering beauty, where I fill the air like the scent of springtime, where I resound as a pure tone.  I remember something like it but I don’t have any keys that are specifically for that.  It’s like one big Yankee Swap.  We’re all trading in hopes of ending up with the same thing.

What am I doing with all of these keys?  What is this place?

Ahh–!  Here we go.

* * * * *

It’s an incredible problem, this idea that we can map our route to freedom.  That would be great if the territory wasn’t our own mind, and we weren’t the most finely crafted experience-generating engines ever known, plunged in a neutral reality of figures and forms.

The other day I was working on a short essay and I was struck by the realization that in unity there is never a reason to question our experience.  Call it what you like– unity, heaven, wholeness, selfless, nirvana– this unconditioned knowing is an experience (I lack the words for it, but I’ll call it an experience) one would never question.  What would be the merit in questioning such exquisite perfection?  It’s a ludicrous sentiment– to question the glory of what is when we’ve lost ourselves in its midst.

The entirety of such an experience is evidence not only of the meaning inherent in the experience itself, but of our own meaning as the experience and the experiencer alike.  We over-saturate with possibility and it’s all happening at once.  This is unity.  But apply the same power to separation– to a false identification– and what do you have?  You have an experience that is evidence of the underlying idea on which it is based– the idea of separateness– an experience that is seamless and consistent in its every facet, but is not a valid reflection of what is true.

This idea that we can have experience that isn’t necessarily a reflection of what is true is astounding to me.  Think about it for a moment… how could that be?  How…?  The only way out of such a condition is to question the experience itself and the meaning we’ve assigned to it.  In unity this would be an utterly meaningless act as it would be to question truth itself, the truth as given to us, the truth as us, so it is profoundly confusing.  Why would we do that?  Why would we ever question our inherent validity?  Why would we do something so meaningless?  I think it is a difficulty I have under-estimated most of my life.

This is the shift from a life of effortlessness to a life of toil, for suddenly we are saddled by the need to question what seems to be in order to allow for the transformation of our experience.  It can be a heavy and tedious labor.  I think our keys help us, but they don’t necessarily get us out.  They inspire us to let go a little more perhaps, and that is good.  But ultimately we have to let the maze itself be undone– let the passages and corridors be taken down.  We have to let the geometry of our own minds be remade.

And then, as this occurs, we have to stop questioning everything and recognize the deed is done!  To carry this questioning attitude into unity won’t really work either.  This is why our part is so little.  Our contribution so small.  All we can do is make way for grace, until our experience transforms and we discover the miracle has occurred.

I’ve learned some interesting things along the way.  I’ve collected them and carry them with me.  I take them out when the darkness closes in and we review the nature of this problem together, and I am reminded each time– we live on a knife edge, afraid to fall, while grace is wiggling the knife to and fro, rolling Her wrist back and forth, hoping we’ll catch on to the plot and drop off the side– either side, pick a side… any side– into Her waiting hand.

 

36 Comments

  1. Wow, I’ve missed your writing! I’ve done a bad job at keeping up with others’ blogs lately. The last two paragraphs especially blew me away. The second to last one, with its first line (“And then, as this occurs, we have to stop questioning everything and recognize the deed is done!”) was powerful for me. I think this often…but it seems we don’t need to “think” about it but rather be aware of it, flow with it. You definitely flow with it (that higher truth), in words, here.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, RJ. I’ve been a little challenged to keep up lately as well… and I’m glad you dropped by. I would agree it’s not a question of thinking about it. My take is that we need to stay close to the practices and the notes and the voices that keep us close to the warmth, without getting too attached to them. Keep peeking through the doorway until one day the wind rushes in, and sucks us out into the sky! Thank you for the kind words.

      May the wind be at your back…
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  2. ” I carry a chain around with so many keys I hardly remember the doors anymore. I am standing in the dark, fishing through the keys, trying to remember where I am and which key it is I need.”

    Yes. That really does say it well.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, JoHanna. The way is strewn with paradox, I think often. And paradox often shows the way. I’m glad this resonated. May we match the key to the door to the life to the moment. 🙂

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Wonderful post and musings Michael. The challenge is how we let go of the mind, questions, comparing and mazes to relax into the oneness of being, led by life itself. I have moments of this, but too often fall back into the trap of trying to figure it all out. 🙂 to peace, flow and unity…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Brad,

      The mind is quite an interesting thing… Very perspicacious. The thing that’s amazing is that we need the mind to come with us. We don’t and can’t abandon it. It just changes shape or something. We’re talking about healing the basis of experience. Healing the way we experience. I cannot think of a greater work. And yet so often it looks like anything but. It looks like yesterday– like what we’ve come to expect of it. This is how things go. This is how it goes with jobs and the news and the produce aisle. This is how it goes with Wednesday nights, and Sunday mornings. This is how it goes with enthusiasm. It fades. I remember now. And at the same time it’s just reflecting how we think. It’s just showing us what separation feels like, again and again and again. It’s astoundingly true to what we’ve asked it to do…!

      Peace to you also…
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s a priviledge to float
    upon the meaningful thought
    boat your processes take me
    on, Micheal!
    They’re a prod!
    There’s a reason I keep
    misplacing keys as it
    seems I’m not quite
    ready to open that
    door 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you very much, David. It’s a privilege to drift down this river beside you as well. All in good time with the door I think. Some days its like we have the ruby red slippers in our backpack. We carry them wherever we go. But we want to do it ourselves! So we’ve been trying to build these Ruby Core Converse All Stars with brake lights, stereo speakers and Hermes wings. Very impressive stuff! Still prototypes, though! Ha!

      Peace my friend!
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Michael,

    Instead of questioning your life so much, make a simple step back to your childhood. Questions came naturally so as to explore and understand life. Children don’t run in circles, adults do. Mind provoking writing, I loved reading every single word of it!

    Zaria

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Zaria.

      I appreciate your advice. Often when I write like this I’m trying to express an authentic feeling or experience– a moment that came, blossomed and went– and by the time I write it, it has moved through. I was thinking here of all the things that have helped me, or seemed to help me. Ideas that changed my view of the world and of myself, and how exciting it was and is when they fit together. But also how it seems we must complete this “seeking” work to move fully into what it offers us. And so we circle to this point of leaving the concepts behind, and maybe the shoe fits, and maybe it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, we wander some more, and return. I think we have to be honest about that… We can’t make the shoe fit!

      These things can be hard to write and to speak about, because when we have difficulties it seems we are in need of solutions and insights. But on the other hand there is a way in which we are not really in need of anything. In other moments, I feel that, too. So I bounce back and forth sometimes, and believe it or not writing likes this helps me think less about the process. Because through expression sometimes I can see and trust in the whole of it.

      Thank you for your visit.
      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 3 people

  6. May you be at peace surrendering the incredible wealth of your imagination to the incomparable wealth of simple presence whenever the time is right.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. “This idea that we can have experience that isn’t necessarily a reflection of what is true is astounding to me. Think about it for a moment… how could that be? How…?”

    It’s astounding, you are right. But yet that is what nearly everyone is experiencing. Enter incarnation with a belief of ‘I am separate’ and that is what you get, plenty of experiences which do not reflect truth.

    How can this be? Maybe because we are “experience-generating engines”? I mean that in the sense that our belief generates the experience. The belief in separation results in fear and defense which in turn manifests the corresponding experiences. The belief in unity results in peace and trust which in turn generates the corresponding experiences.

    Not WYSIWYG, but WYBIWYG – What you believe is what you get.

    “But ultimately we have to let the maze itself be undone– let the passages and corridors be taken down. We have to let the geometry of our own minds be remade.”

    Yes, the house of cards has to fall down. It’s usually a somewhat messy business.

    Peace,
    Karin (-geometry of mind is currently being remade, under construction, from gordian knots to something simpler)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Karin,

      Yes we are in agreement on all of these points. Experience is the great distillery of being. We can claim all we want to be past the difficulties, to have purified our beliefs and self-concepts, etc.– but the experience we have within always reveals to us what we have chosen to carry inside.

      I carry some strange stuff in there! But I’m getting more comfortable with it. I’ve gotten rid of the collared shift dress code and the formal greetings between the various beliefs and myself. We’re rolling up our sleeves for some anything goes brainstorming sessions. Hafiz is refusing to use words, preferring instead to speak his sentiments through the brass section of the ethereal orchestra!

      Peace to you also!
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Your contribution is not small. Your writing points to so many things of life and inspires. I do think, as one of your readers wrote, one key might me getting back to the experience of childhood. Unity seems like it was so much easier then. Now I struggle to find the key. Except now there is love seemingly more expansive then before. And with that love, attachment. Thanks for so much thought, Michael! Love, Ellen

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hi Ellen,

      Small is a relative term… Here I meant it in the very specific sense in which it was used in A Course in Miracles, where the part we must give is small, and grace is the real mover and shaker. It is a bit like going skiing and being afraid to point the skis down the hill! Pointing them down the hill and leaning forward just a wee bit is the small part, though it feels quite challenging if your stomach is doing somersaults. Gravity (grace) can then take over and do the work…! That’s what is meant by our part being so small… Letting go of the reins, so the mind can change shape…

      But I know what you meant and I appreciate it. It’s interesting to me that people say to get back to the experience of childhood. I think perhaps they mean the experience of innocence, because childhood is no cakewalk… Is it? I mean it certainly has its moments. As children our minds are plastic. They are soaking up experience and learning new things by the second, forming rules and drawing conclusions from one encounter to the next. And we absorb some strange things. And in this way difficult things can become cemented into place. We can infer things that aren’t true. We can draw conclusions that aren’t valid.

      The truth is I don’t feel all that different than when I was a child. In many ways I feel better now. I had some glorious times as a child, and some quite difficult times, too. And I had a childhood that was quite safe as one might measure these things. No abuse. My parents were loving and mature. But it’s the whole mindset of the world that soaks in. We take it on… I like to think this moving in circles is saying good-bye to a few things I don’t need anymore… Setting patterns free…

      Peace and Love,
      Michael

      Liked by 3 people

      • Sorry I misunderstood the meaning of small. Thanks for explaining.

        As for going back to childhood, I agree, I don’t want to go back. It was hard in so many ways. But I do miss the closeness I felt to God starting at age 13 or so, despite being mostly unhappy. No psychiatric meds then to take away feelings of unity with all. That’s what I would go back for.
        Blessings, Ellen

        Liked by 3 people

  9. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    It’s a process, not an event. “I’ve learned some interesting things along the way. I’ve collected them and carry them with me. ” Yes, me too, and I value the keys and all the different tangential and interesting side trips.

    “we live on a knife edge, afraid to fall, while grace is wiggling the knife to and fro, rolling Her wrist back and forth, hoping we’ll catch on to the plot and drop off the side– either side, pick a side… any side– into Her waiting hand.” We will drop off the side into the hand of Grace, and in the meantime, until we do drop, I choose to enjoy as Her wrist rolls back and forth. I will enjoy the ride in each now moment until I drop off. I will love this mirror of my inner reality projected out there, until that time, until I no longer need the mirror and melt into One. Then there will be no need for edits, or keys or even questions.

    I love this piece, Michael. I love the questions and the wonderings, the turmoil, the love, the edits, the hats with feathers, the path chosen and not chosen, all of it.

    Love,
    Mary

    Liked by 3 people

    • I love it, too, Mary! (It = all of it, everything, take off and landing, the forks in the road, the hats and the feathers and the colors, the whirly-gigs and the full moons…) 🙂

      I agree completely it is a process. Don’t mind me while I muddle through it! I could say so many things about it– but you can start to chase your tail… I feel as though whatever it is, that I’m doing it. Hanging on to the knife edge is pretty hard work and I think that’s how I know I’m doing it again, by the difficulty of the moment, the hour, the day. The way it contrasts so starkly with the moment in which I feel so peaceful and free, so unencumbered.

      I would like to say I love it all, too, but in moments I do not. It is okay. If you want to bring the gift of fire to your heart, you cannot wade through the hurricanes of thought surrounding it with a single matchstick. Ha! Well, you probably can actually… if you walk with grace every step of the way, but there’s that step where she says Pssst! Let’s go this way and I see the tightrope bouncing over the active volcano and take out my O2 meter and can’t even barely get a reading and I say, in a whisper, “I’ll meet you on the other side.” And I point to the rendezvous very casually. And I say it very confidently. Big thumbs up. Tap my backpack. Be sure I have water. And then I wander off into the wilderness and get lost again for a few days!

      Ohh this Life…! It’s amazing stuff. You never need to travel far to have an adventure…

      Much Love
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    “I’ll meet you on the other side.” And I point to the rendezvous very casually. And I say it very confidently. Big thumbs up. Tap my backpack. Be sure I have water. And then I wander off into the wilderness and get lost again for a few days!” Hahahaha!!
    Yes, very adventuresome, this life! I know, sometimes it’s not that fun…but even when it’s not, I think I love it…. maybe sometimes better looking back on the not so fun moments, after we get through them. 🙂
    Love and freedom…and hats and feathers and keys,
    Mary

    Liked by 3 people

  11. footloosedon says

    There’s always a section in each of your beautiful writings that speaks to me most clearly and profoundly. In this piece it was “To carry this questioning attitude into unity won’t really work either. This is why our part is so little. Our contribution so small. All we can do is make way for grace, until our experience transforms and we discover the miracle has occurred.” In my extremely limited experience of unity there were no questions, just a knowing that this, this experience, was what all the teachers and mystics have written about, and this was a gift from grace, nothing to do with any effort on my part. Thank you as always for finding exactly the right words to describe the ineffable.

    Love as always,

    Don

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Don! Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I have been traveling.

      It’s interesting to me because when I have the glimpses, and I accept the reality of who I am, and who we are, and the whole beautiful ball of everything, it feels like I set down a burden. Our part is so small, but our minds want it to be the product of our own effort, and so we put so much more on our backs than we ever needed to do…

      Always a pleasure to share space with you, Don.
      Peace
      Michael

      Like

  12. You go to the heart of it all in this essay, Michael, and state so eloquently the conundrum we face, not least of all just here in these few words: “It’s an incredible problem, this idea that we can map our route to freedom. That would be great if the territory wasn’t our own mind.”

    For very many years I thought there was a progression towards my becoming what I was not yet already. I used maps, psychological ones, Buddhist ones in fact, in an attempt to chart myself – my self – a course to a place beyond myself. More than anything, I used effort, and force of will, and determination, and faith too (perhaps the only thing that ultimately had any effect?), in a bid to find a freedom that, so some would say, merely needed a simple acknowledgment to make itself apparent – an almost imperceptible shift in focus so subtle that the mind repeatedly overlooks it.

    I have at times been criticised on my site for suggesting that spiritual seeking is, in some sense, its own worst enemy, in that the more it is pursued, the more the idea is reinforced that a seeker will find anything, that a seeker will ‘become enlightened’, that a seeker will attain anything. Certain (reluctant) readers have said that I am denying their conception of enlightenment, denying their many years of progress as a seeker on a path – in effect, denying their sense of purpose in life, which I am not at all. Far from it; I see tremendous value in seeking too, and have found my own decades-long path to be a very beautiful one from which I learned so much of value.

    The Buddha says in the Raft Parable that the teaching must be abandoned, necessarily implying that the seeker must come to be abandoned along with it. As I understand it, he was not saying that the seeker themselves must abandon the teaching, which would be as if in your own example of the seeker autonomously mapping their route to freedom but in a simple, magical finger snap, but something subtly different – how to remain fully alive and present without being here as an idea, without being the diligent and noble acquirer of some privileged knowledge, without being a seeker having found something beyond themselves? For most, the answer is found by setting to sea as an imagined sailor(woman) upon a raft of teaching – very few cross to the other shore without doing so. Paradoxically, the other shore was found to be the same one which was set sail from.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Hariod,

      This line you have written sums it up quite nicely for me, “…something subtly different– how to remain fully alive and present without being here as an idea…” When we are in a seeking mode, we are always comparing our experience to some conceptual image or ideal that we carry of what it would be like to reach that other shore. Because we don’t understand the parameters of our awareness that will be different on the far shore, and how subtle these adjustments are, we set up an impossible task for ourselves. We put ourselves in charge of producing conformance to what can never truly be!

      It’s a little like being in a completely darkened room, thinking there’s a light switch on the wall you must find to illuminate the space. So we scramble around, feeling along the walls, then getting more creative, concocting theories about different types of switches and where they might be and who put them there. Maybe it’s a hand-clapper. Maybe it’s a touch switch not a flip type. Then in the midst of it we get so caught up in the search we lift up the cover of the eye mask we’re wearing and glance around. And realize we’re standing in a flood of light.

      Well that’s cheating the mind says. If you want to be a cheater and take the mask off, and you think you can live with yourself, well then go right ahead…! The real seekers find the switch… Hahaha!

      But there is also something beautiful, as you say, about the path to where we’ve always been. We enter into a deeper relationship with ourselves, and that is a wonderful thing…

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 3 people

  13. I came back to this post, remembering I’d read it whilst out and about, and thinking of the keys…”The ideas we collect are keys.” – This alone is so spot on. I also have a drawer that contains many very old keys and often take them out and wonder what kind of doors they opened? What did they lock away fearfully, or to safeguard with love? Such is the mind. So many doors, and keys are all around us that can open them up, should we realise it is so.

    Great post Michael. I so enjoy your words and wondering wanderings.

    – Esme waving from upon the Cloud.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello dear Esme,

      Thank you for the kind words! I have been away for a bit and now return to a delightful visit from the Cloud! I was reflecting here on the way ideas– the big ones that stick in our hearts and transform us and inspire us– lead us on to the discovery of who we are. And in that sense they open doors… I’m glad you resonated with that.

      And I love your questions about the collected keys, and the distinctions about what we fearfully shut away vs lovingly hold close. A key if you just stop and think about it is a pretty amazing thing. The invention of a code– a shape, a sequence, a symbol– that expands the extent of one’s world. It is such an amazing thing! May we realize we are given keys each day to open up the closets of our prim and proper minds!

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I love the key image, for me it’s stones, rocks, pieces of a place sometimes I’ve been, or sometimes a place I don’t remember being but in holding that stone, it takes me there….kind of like a mental travel if you will. It’s like seeing people and noticing their “auras” or colors if you wish….magical thinking of the mind that fits at the time the thoughts and the doors of the subconscious….I know the mind is a mystery and if I try to figure it out, it becomes like a rubics cube, never could figure that thing out….so when I let the mind lead, more answers fall into place, more turns are made of the colored life cube…more people come and move into place with their “aura” because they are all a piece of this big puzzle. I’m still waiting for the whole puzzle to be worked out and I’ve stopped questioning why things happen and what it means….I don’t go crazy that way😀 Good post….sorry it took me so long….I was saving it up for a special day and today it said “read me now” and escape down the rabbit hole of wisdom from a splendid aura.
    Peace and love,
    Kim

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kim,

      Glad you enjoyed it and I loved your description of stones, tokens of place and pieces of earth as keys. Everything in a way, if we hold it so in our hearts, has a great deal to reveal. In that way it is a key to deeper understanding, right? I agree…

      Don’t go crazy. Let the mind be inspired and move in response to Love. Let the structures of judgment and interpretation fall away, that more may be revealed. I was just reading a note today about the idea that each person has a few puzzle pieces, and that in sharing them we all start to put together a vision of what is true. I think you hit on this perfectly in your reflections on the way we fit together. We are gifts to one another, though we seldom think of it this way…

      Much Love
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a fascinating exploration into how our minds work and how we experience. I like your idea of unity but wonder if as soon as we think about an experience we lose the chance of unity. Have just been to Lisbon and visiting and reading about the Portuguese poet and writer Fernando Pessoa. He wanders into the nature of experience and the intransience of our thoughts. I wonder if we find more meaning in the 21 st century than he did with ideas such as unity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, NN.

      I am not entirely sure what you are wondering about, but I will say that I don’t think unity is the experience we have when we think about it. I think we can experience it directly, but also given I feel it is the nature of who we really are, it is not an experience we have to go on a long journey to have. Also, for me often talking about unity, or reading some beautiful expression of unity like one of Rumi’s poems is enough to spark the experience. These things are like sparks that hit the dry kindling of our perceptions and we leap into the brilliant experience itself.

      I looked up Fernando Pessoa and found one poem I liked very much. Very delicate and powerful at the same time. I hope to find more… Thank you for that. I would tend to agree with the transient(?) nature of our thoughts (and perhaps the intransient medium of thought?), but don’t think thoughts are necessarily direct experience. In fact I tend to think they’re not, with the closest possible exception being moments of inspiration when direct experience resolves itself quickly into thoughts meant for us to utilize in our experience.

      Thank you for reading and sharing here!
      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

      • Am possibly influenced by just reading Pessoa’s prose work ‘The disquiet mind’ but think somewhere in his writing and poems, especially the heteronym he creates for the Guardian of Sheep poems that he hints at unity in the innocence of an experience.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. That thing you said about running in circles really is true. Life is complicated sometimes but at least we all know things are finally going green. We need authors to review our stories at Gastradamus, the blog is really taking off. We’ve got topic about African Americans getting payed less then whites. There’s a very touch topic on Abe Lincold, there is even buzz going around about the new Ghostbusters movie being pro choice, these are things we need to have opinions on, can you comment when you have the time, they are really quick reads

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gastradamus, thank you for the visit here, and congratulations on your blog! I will swing by for a gander and see if I can find a topic of interest, confessing in advance my opinions on these types of issues tend to be fairly abstract, as I somehow came to find that what we call injustice is a reflection of our own inner worldviews and interpretations of things. If we can get at the perspectives we hold dear deep in our minds, we can learn how to participate in genuine transformation. Perhaps this is your intent with your stories– to spark a little detective work into what is really going on out there…!

      Thank you again–
      Peace
      Michael

      Like

      • We love michaels opinion at Gastradamus, we really do. Please if you can keep on commenting, we’re getting real good feed from you.

        Like

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