The desire to write manifests as follows: a warmth in my chest accompanied by the sense of possibility, and the awareness something wants to be said, though I don’t know what it is. Last night I discovered and read an e-mail exchange between Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky that was published a few years ago. I’d been listening to some of Sam’s podcasts lately, and discovered the two men’s correspondence. I’m not expert on either man’s ideas, but reading and listening led me down to the water’s edge so to speak, to the cool, moonlit stream of my own curiosity, and now I want to drink. I want to explore this feeling I don’t yet understand.
I want to say that this piece is my response to my own impressions, and has nothing to do with the positions either writer has taken. This is like walking into a forest and sensing something in the position of trees and the weight of the light, and stopping to jot a few notes about what it is. While sketching out this moment, the mind supplies a memory to accompany this spacious awareness, the way wine is paired to fish or grouse or tenderloin. So this piece is a reminiscing with my own heart. The e-mails I read have merely nudged me along.
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Many of us would like to see the world become a better place. We may be angry about how some things are going, or frightened of the changes we see and the unknown into which those changes might usher us. There is foreboding in the air, a sense that we’re addicted to choices we know don’t ultimately serve us. And whether your life is one of relative comfort or one of considerable earthly difficulty, the fact remains in either case that when circumstance is stripped away, knowing what to do—being confident in one’s own response to a world which is at times so overwhelming—is a luxury few have ever known.
Not knowing what to do can be crippling because ultimately it is a symptom of not knowing or trusting one’s own heart. This occurs when mind and heart have not joined, when the mind’s logic and the heart’s knowing shear painfully against one another. In essence, when we are conflicted within. A Course in Miracles describes this condition in Workbook Lesson 257 (W-257.1.), saying, “If I forget my goal I can be but confused, unsure of what I am, and thus conflicted in my actions.” (The goal of course is a peaceful heart, unity with all creation, and the gifts of a forgiven world.) It is common when we feel this way to look to others for support and guidance—for safety in another’s knowing. There are many options in the marketplace of ideas today, more than ever perhaps, and what I find is that I can be swept along by the attraction of thinkers who exude confidence and an apparently consistent structure of thought. In particular I’m drawn to work that expands my awareness of a topic, that offers a fresh perspective (at least to me), and that suggests novel solutions to our problems.
There is nothing inherently wrong with bringing new ideas to the mind, and I’d say it is ultimately both healthy and necessary, but at the same time I’ll observe that if we enter the flow of ideas in a conflicted, and thus weakened condition, it is all too easy to let another’s recommendation supersede the knowing of our own heart. I’m going to suggest that this type of outward reliance merely sustains our ineffectual condition, and by extension a certain type of powerlessness. For that is what the conflicted state truly is: a powerless one.
A Course of Love (T2:7.10-11) speaks to this directly: “…[O]nce you have become happier with who you are, you will, if left un-schooled, turn your attention to others and to situations you would have be different than they are. You will want to be a change-agent. You will want to move into the world and be an active force within it. These are aims consistent with the teachings of this Course, but what will prevent you from following the patterns of old as you go out into the world with your desire to effect change? The only thing that will prevent this is your ability to go out into the world and remain who you are.”
There is something that happens, as it did when I read the exchange between Sam and Noam, that looks like this: when we see a disagreement—whether between two news channels, two friends, two pundits we admire, two dissenting movie critics or two spiritual teachers who’ve helped us, etc.—we feel a pressure to determine who we think is right. And not only do we feel this considerable pressure which the world brings to bear with great and immediate intensity, we feel a related pressure to explain our decision. There is something quite close to a social contract which says that for anything we might choose to advocate for, or actually do, we must have our reasons. They should be logical and defensible, and these choices and their reasons should be ones most any decent person could adopt. Otherwise we’re crazy.
And here is where it comes apart I think, because if our reasons are those of another–if they are not the reasons of our own heart–then when the spotlight finally shines upon us we falter. We find the reasons we’ve taken on are but flimsy shields that burn up in our reentry to the conflict. We cannot effectively make another’s response our own and place it at our center, because ultimately we cannot supersede our own hearts, so we find we are still empty there, alone and uncertain. There is nothing within us to give while we depend on another for our response to this world—no wellspring of life at the center of us that could not only sustain us individually, but which has as its only true desire the sustenance of all creation. We may embody great emotional intensity and seem quite profoundly alive, when in fact we are merely burning with conflict—consuming ideas like fuel to stoke our fire, to distract from or perhaps even to reenact the real conflict within, and to forge a moment of personal meaning.
There is, in wholeheartedness, by contrast, the gift of knowing who we are and what we would offer now. There is a perfect accord between what we know, what we would give, and the actions or non-actions into which this abundance would flow, and there is in the experience of this unification a reinforcement not only of our own inner validity as a being, but of the innermost validity of all other beings as well. In addition we are able to engage the world not only while remaining who we are, but by becoming even more of who we are. There is a holy source within us that receives even as we give, and the resulting dynamic, or exchange, is called “creation.” It is not the process of making right, or being right, or even knowing right in the eyes of others necessarily. It is the culmination and liberation of all that is—arising uniquely in you, in me, and in all who choose to participate.
(To be continued…)