Monday, 29 November 2010

Perfectly Unreasonable

Moment after moment things happen around us, to us.   To each we only have three possible responses1:
  • Occasionally we may be able to change something, but the number of moments when that is appropriate, or even possible, is really very small compared to the rest.
  • An extremely common response is to reject what IS. There are many ways to do this. We feel resentful, not liking the situation. We grumble or complain. We dwell on what's wrong (having our minds on what isn't). We imagine how it could be otherwise (spending that moment in some imagined place that cannot exist now).  We know better.  We daydream or simply be bored.
  • By far the best choice is to accept this moment for the reality it is. By continually doing this, we continually embrace life and live it to the full. By contrast, indulging in one of the myriad ways to reject what IS, is failing to live at all.

A Reasonable Man


Consider someone who has gone through life learning its lessons.  He now considers himself something of an expert at this life game.  He will have accumulated many experiences of things that didn't work and knows what to avoid.  He has tried to understand the principles by which the world works, and will probably have developed a strong moral code as a result.

This man has all but dug his own grave.  It is a most unenlightened way to live.  The sad thing is how many people choose it.

Most of the things that happen to him he has either seen before or has a rule that "applies here".  He has no need for the present moment reality: he already knows what to do before it even happens!  He has successfully insulated himself from the only thing that can help him: the world outside himself.

His strong moral code means most people fall short one way or another.  Those who pass muster are flattered to be included in his circle, though secretly careful what they say for fear of being ostracised too.  United in what they know to be right, they agree severe punishment is the way to teach all who fall short a lesson.  Secretly, he fears dying alone, but never wonders about it: all right-thinking people will obviously feel the same.

But with each "learning experience" of his own, his world has shrunk.  There are now more things he won't try than things he will.  Fear of what might happen haunts him.  Cynical and pessimistic, he believes "they" are to blame: how could it ever be reasonable people like himself?  He grumbles things aren't as good as they were in "his day", as if his days are already over.

As Good As It Can Be


The optimist looks up and laughs, saying to the pessimist, "We surely live in the best of all possible worlds".  The pessimist shakes his head and agrees, "I fear you are probably right".

All of us have a certain range of things we can accept; when things happen outside that range, we cannot cope and reject them in one way or another.  Peaceful co-existence can best be maintained by ensuring no-one is pushed into their "rejection zone"2.

When anything happens, we can be sure it is the best thing for everyone.

Of course it is possible to imagine an alternative universe where things seem better.  We easily forget how ridiculous it is to wish for the natural world to be different: it is what it is.  We might wish people were different, though.

But our imaginings cannot possibly take everything into account.  By their nature they are from our (limited) point of view; how can we incorporate the hopes and fears of others when we cannot even know them?

Such alternatives will almost certainly require someone to have acted differently. But they were already doing the best they could (see Meekness).  To expect more would force at least someone into their rejection zone.  No violation is without repercussions, so how could the overall outcome be an improvement?

Whether we agree with the optimist or the pessimist the truth is the same: this moment is the best moment that can be (for now).  When we reject what IS we do our bit to make things worse!  How can any good come to you, if you've cut yourself off from what is real?  We can only change things for the better by first accepting the conditions we wish to change.

There is a certain irony here.  Whichever way you look at it, rejecting what IS is futile.  Yet nearly everyone needs to do that at one time or another, so the only sane response is to accept it.


Moment by moment, the right thing is always to accept what IS  if we can, even the bad choices3 we and others make.  Which is simply compassion at work, this moment and the next and the next, forever.  But as everybody knows, limitless compassion (compassion without an end) is perfectly unreasonable.  Isn't it?



1  We think we have more choice because we believe in that pernicious illusion, time. That issue deserves a blog in itself. For now it is enough to recognise that only what we do this moment can ever be real.  So there is much less to decide than we imagine.


2  At first that might appear too soft.  Surely we all need to be pushed out of our "comfort zone" (for that is what it is) from time to time?  Yes, I agree.  But I believe the human spirit is, by nature, adventurous enough.  Our appetite for life will make us explore new territory when we are ready to do so.

Forcing people is not the way.  Jesus' Kingdom and Communism both believe in the equitable distribution of the world's resources.  The only difference is where the Communist way says, "I want to redistribute your wealth, Jesus's way is to say, "I want to redistribute my wealth.

The voluntary status of the act means the difference between heaven and hell.  See Meekness for why good actions can only begin at home.


3  Bad choices and rejecting what IS are synonymous.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Duckweed

Duckweed is a menace.
Just part of a leaf is enough.  Before long it takes over the whole pond.  Day after day, every trace of duckweed must be picked out.  A clear pond will stay clear, but vigilance is still advisable.

Notice that its all or nothing with duckweed.
Because it spreads exponentially it is rare to find a pond only partially infected.  If there is no duckweed the water will remain clear.  But any duckweed means the pond is rapidly covered and will remain so.

Human mentality is like duckweed; our true nature like the water beneath.  This true nature goes by many names: spirit, Holy Spirit within, primordial mind, Big mind; each different flavours of the same true Being.  It is the essence we are born with and do not lose when we die.

Human mentality has fewer names as everyone has it; it is the "I" that develops as we grow.  It is the psyche, the soul: our thoughts, feelings, opinions, values.  It includes everything social like our status and good name.  Human mentality is everything we share from our culture, including language.

Why "duckweed"? Simply by being there each plant spawns others around it.  In the same way thoughts spawn others simply by being in our minds.  It is possible to be mindful (mindless but with a full awareness of being) but it usually doesn't last long.

As soon as one thought appears others quickly follow until it seems we live in a world of ideas and mistake them for reality.  For example, how many people do you know think money is real?  And how many are immune to it, knowing it is simply a shared idea that enables fair exchange?

Where ponds are people, most of the ponds in the world are covered with duckweed.  Some even go so far as denying the existence of the water that sustains it, claiming duckweed is all their is.  This is not surprising as we are all infected.  Our parents live in the duckweed world, so that is the world we ourselves learn, too.

Distinguishing between the duckweed and the water is simple: if you can express it adequately in any cultural medium (art, dance, music) but most commonly in words, it is "duckweed".  If it defies description it is either fantastic rubbish or "water", the true ground of being.


The Narrow Way

The many live to maximise what they "have"; doing as little as they can get away with to still appear good. A few wish to live fully, as deeply as they can, regardless of how it appears.  These are the ones that sense the water.

It would be nice if we could say 'spiritual' groups like churches (or even new age chat rooms) recognise the value of true being.  Unfortunately, because their "message" is given in words, it is mostly heard in words too.  Culture begets culture: it cannot be anything other than duckweed.  As in the population as a whole there are "the few", but they are the exceptions whose learning is not from the words.

This is an unpopular message, for it implies that many people will not survive death no matter how "good" they are.  Being good is simply a matter of conforming to moral expectations.  By definition these are socially defined, transmitted using language, even if they invoke the name of God or some universal "standard".

To survive death we must have some impact on the "water", not simply float on top of it.  At this point the analogy fails, but perhaps I can use an illustration from Jesus' teaching.  He said (Matthew 6) that those who prayed in public received their reward in full but those who prayed with no earthly recognition or response are heard.

It is as if the "duckweed" world is internally consistent, balanced.  Action and reaction match.  Human mentality expects justice in these terms.  Jesus told another story (Matthew 20) about a man hiring labourers for his vineyard.  Those who had laboured all day under the hot sun were paid the same amount as those who turned up for the last hour. Reading this, we feel their aggravation.



A Rend in the Universe

Yet the point is, sometimes things don't balance and they are not supposed to.  There is more to life than the human mentality duckweed.  Jesus told us (Matthew 5) even the heathen love their friends; we are to love our enemies (despite knowing they won't love us in return).

This is as if a rend is torn in the social universe, allowing God's grace (or whatever) to pour in.  Such a tear creates enormous pressure to close it again. For example, loving your enemy usually means loving the enemy of your friend, too.  But your friend, who simply sees you "giving support to the other side", will not take kindly to such treacherous betrayal.

However, in the meantime, something else has happened.  While your enemy was loved from a completely unexpected source, this rend in the universe moved the water beneath your duckweed.  Once again the analogy fails.  Think of well-worn slippers, the imprint of your bottom in an armchair or how two people in a good relationship 'fit' each other.

When these effects occur within the human world, the circle is closed; balance is restored with no residual effects.  But when they break through beyond the cultural sphere, they still leave an impression, but beyond the cultural sphere.  As that action is repeated, so the impression becomes more lasting.

So loving our enemies creates only trouble here (morality abhors injustice). However our action has also made an impression in the spiritual world, beyond.



Eternal Life

Yes, loving an enemy has done something to form our character, making such actions easier in future.  But that is simply duckweed; impact there is only upon the psyche or soul (which, remember, is not immortal, contrary to common belief).  But the water in our pond has been rippled, too.

We are born with undeveloped spirits. Most people live their lives entirely within the balance of social norms.  When they die, their spirit (the water underneath the duckweed) is still undeveloped.  Their lives have made no ripples there, no impact upon that which outlasts death.  So everything they are dies when their bodies are unable to continue ensuring they are able to continue.

But to the extent we have broken through this world and made an impression in the lasting "stuff", that part of ourselves has become eternal.  The primordial essence we were born with has been changed.  It is this change that will always be.  As an action of a unique being, no matter how poorly formed, that unique being is now a part of something that will continue beyond their body's life.

The idea of a wax seal makes sense to me.  Somehow, when we make a mark in the world of Spirit, our unique "seal" is imprinted in the "stuff" of God.  God is life, our life, the water that feeds our duckweed.  Of course our "seal" will look different, and some of us will have more "complete" imprints than others, but this imprint is even more alive than our duckweed was, being part of God Himself:  the eternal, living "water".


Heaven is calm and clear,
earth is stable and peaceful.
Beings who lose these qualities die,
while those who emulate them live.

Calm spaciousness is the house of spiritual light;
open selflessness is the abode of the Way.
Therefore there are those who seek it outwardly
and lose it inwardly,
and there are those who safeguard it inwardly
and gain it outwardly.

From the Taoist writings of Huai-nan-tzu
(the sages of Huai nan, c.300 B.C.E.)

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Parable of the Restaurant

The Word was a city restaurant. In a city, no-one knows their neighbours let alone people on the street. To be on the safe side, they assume most other people are loonies, up to no good, or not to be trusted for some other vague reason. This mild paranoia sits side by side with an equally unspecific tolerance. In a city there is room for all kinds of weirdos (as long as "they" don't bother "us", of course).

So when a group of like-minded people find one another, they appreciate it; banding together as a warm group of 'friends' in a potentially hostile world. The clientele who ate at The Word were such a group.

It was a good restaurant and the regulars particularly appreciated their bread and wine. Its history went back longer than anyone could remember. The proprietors were especially proud of The Menu. Passed down from generation to generation, this accumulated description of Good Food was (according to them) the last word in how to eat well. They were glad to have a 'faithful few', but sometimes wondered why hardly any new customers came back.

 

Our story begins with the proprietors overhauling their current selection. The Menu was so large and archaic, only the most dedicated customers wanted to read it all. Instead they presented a small list of the dishes they knew how to cook and had ingredients still available. Some dishes had lost popularity and the proprietors wanted to add something their customers had not been offered before.

"What's 'Duck'?" one asked as they were leafing through the Menu. Research revealed there was a 'season' for it, it was often served with orange sauce, had four letters in the name (being "The Word", spelling was important) and variations included Savoury Duck and Pekin Duck.

Their normal suppliers couldn't help them. "There's no demand for it these days", they said. But that didn't worry them. Their chef would produce an inspired dish, just like all the others.

 

A few days later the updated selection was ready and a sign appeared outside, declaring Duck as the new House Special. Not surprisingly, more than the usual number of regulars turned out to try it. Amongst them were a group of travellers. Their appearance brought forth a few comments. "Looks like they're from the Country", one said.

"Yes. I've heard they actually kill their own food there," another replied. "And they eat it. Yuck!"

After a short wait a table was found for them and they ordered the duck with some relish saying, "We're starving for real food".

 

The waiter was taken aback by the howls of derisive laughter their meals evoked. It was not good natured; the strangers were angry, frustrated, and feared a joke was being played on them. Then some of the regulars were on their feet, defensive of their proprietor friends. As one body, the affronted customers hurled the strangers out onto the street.

As the crowd made their way back to their tables, one of the proprietors overheard someone say, "I don't know what they were so upset about. My duck was really tasty, and filling, too. The way the chef swirled the wine sauce across the bread was particularly appealing."

His friend replied, "Yes. Mine had spirals over both the D and the K: every letter such exquisitely shaped, too. But can you believe those uncouth morons? Don't understand what's good, even when its presented to them on a plate."

Friday, 8 October 2010

God's Arithmetic

Where knowledge is active, the human mind rules. We need the mind. It makes a good servant; but a bad master. For in the Present Moment there are few thoughts (try it). When we are aware of that, the consciousness of the universe is active in us. And very different way of being has come to the fore: the spirit rules.

How can we live in the world the right way up: with our spirit ruling us rather than our minds? Obviously the first step is to live aware of each present moment as it is. Nothing can be more important. Where else can we be alive?

Our culture conspires against such a move. To sit "mindless" is to be idle, i.e. lazy and unproductive. The values we live amongst esteem mind and ignore spirit. Stepping out of this poisonous atmosphere is possible. Jesus showed us the way saying, "Blessed are the poor" amongst other things. But the price is too high for us rich folk, accustomed as we are to our fridges, TVs, cars and mobile phones.

Simplifying things

However, maybe we can embrace a little simplicity at least. I once heard a Zen master say, "You have a saying 'to kill two birds with one stone'. That is not our way. We kill one bird with one stone."

One way we can become spirit-simple is to distance ourselves from arithmetic. There is lots of philosophical stuff I could spout about why that is valuable, but I won't. We feel intuitively that numeracy and humanity are incompatible, like oil and water, and most of us prefer humanness.

The second step toward staying the right way up is to avoid arbitrary thoughts. Some thoughts arise spontaneously out of the needs and uses we have of the present moment. Those are good thoughts: they have sprung from the real world. Other thoughts arise from our mind's activity. Those are the ones that bring us grief.

I call them "arbitrary" because they have no relevance to what's going on in the Present Moment. Ideas, concepts, beliefs and plans only exist in a (sometimes widely shared) "world" that is our human mind's way of trying to cope with the real one. They appear real, but they aren't. As I said at the start: where knowledge is active the human mind is in charge; and that's not so good.

Arithmetic is an excellent example of arbitrary thought. In the 1950's a psychologist called George Miller discovered the magic number 7, plus or minus 2. He showed that there is a limit to what we can hold in our heads at any one time. It varies: some can only hold 5 while others manage 9, but most people can manage to remember up to seven things without having to resort to tricks.

Even crows and pigeons are able to "count" in that they can recognise groups of things according to their number, up to about 6 or 7 items. Think of the immediate recognition of dice numbers — we don't have to count the dots, we know the number as soon as it is there before us.

A bit of naughtiness (to lead you astray)

Working with bigger numbers requires that we think, not with ideas that arise in the moment (good thoughts), but with concepts (numbers, processes) that arise in our heads. As soon as we go down that road we have lost contact with reality: left the truth behind dwell amongst descriptions about it.

Let me take you there, and hopefully make a point in the process. We are told that 2+2=4, and such human arithmetic is OK when counting descriptions (concepts, ideas, representations we have in our minds). Unfortunately where living happens, in the Present Moment continuous experience, it comes to a lot more. In God's arithmetic*, my rather ignorant estimate of 2+2 is over 40!

Consider what happens when we absorb two lessons from the same Present Moment experience. We not only learn those two separate lessons but we also experience them together. They are intimately connected at a deeper, more immediate level than intellectual comprehension.

If we are not conscious (in Eckhart Tolle's sense of awareness-of-reality-as-it-is) the connection is made using acquired conditioning. If we have learned the trick of being present where we are, the connectedness is made at an immediate-consciousness level — somwhat similar to the awareness of an aikido or kung fu master: a knowing without thought. Either way, in God's arithmetic 1+1=3.

[OK, but how come 2+2 comes to over 40?

  • Say each lesson learned has two parts, like "if A then B". That Moment has more than the lesson parts (4: A, B and C, D) and their interactions {each interacts with the other three (6: AB, AC, AD, BC, BD, CD)}.
  • With just two things there is only one interaction. But here we have more than one interaction, and these can also be compared. So we now have another level comprising the interactions between the simultaneous interactions (14: 5+4+3+2 of AB-AC, AB-AD etc.)
  • So far we have confined ourselves to the scientists trick of trying to see each of these entities in isolation. But as well as existing in themselves they also exist in relation to everything else: all that is "not them".
  • So 24 (4+6+14) instances become 48 awarenesses, plus one because there is also a new totality of things.

Many more instantaneous learnings are happening than simply the two aspects of two lessons. Thought or language processes must be manageable, so we ignore most of the real stuff, keeping what we hope are the headline points. From there its a short step to believing reality is as limited as our descriptions.]

And finally, down the rabbit hole

If you skipped the last bit, don't worry. I was trying to show how arbitrary and irrelevant all this arithmetic stuff is. It confuses us and makes our brains hurt, for good reason.

We don't belong in a world of descriptions — the one thinking uses. That is a made-up world whose "reality" comprises stories, beliefs, even arithmetic. (Yet how many of us have spent so much time there, we've begun to believe these made-up things actually exist?)

We belong in the real world, with the things themselves — the one where we are breathing and moving: alive. Without "arbitrary" (derivative) thoughts clogging our heads we would be calm and clear, stable and peaceful. Isn't it likely our actions would be more "in tune", too?

Give it a little thought and you'll see just how deep this rabbit hole goes. It subverts pretty much everything Western society depends upon. But for now, consider this for a bit of fun.

If God made us (or we have evolved) so we can directly perceive around 7 things, perhaps we don't need to count higher? After all, bigger numbers were only invented so we could do more, get more. Not unlike trying to kill two birds with one stone.

This is my guess at the numbers God would use if he needed arithmetic.

"One" and "two" are fundamental. Then we have "a few" for any easy number, up to seven or so. After that we have "lots" for more than "a few" but still a manageable number. And beyond that, "too many".

I bet we could get by quite happily with those, though we might not be able to afford Sky TV, of course.


[*I've used the term "God's arithmetic" for counting with consciousness, i.e. without thought. Normal arithmetic is a system of thinking about counting. "God's arithmetic" is concerned with how we experience the reality in the present moment. It is the difference between things in themselves and descriptions of them.

Unfortunately our culture values scientific thought so highly, few people understand that science (the pursuit of precise and accurate descriptions) can never lead to truth, which surely must be about the being of things in themselves. To value any thought system (here, arithmetic) over the reality it references is like going into a restaurant and eating the menu instead of enjoying the meal: stupid to the point of ridiculousness. Yet we do it all the time.]