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I have written about this before, but wanted to revisit it for my own sake.
There are a few possible reasons for a dark night of the soul:
It’s a common stage in an awakening/embodiment process. It seems to be part of the process, for many or most.
It’s a part of natural swings. After a “high” there is a “down”, and the dark night of the soul sometimes comes after a honeymoon phase, an initial “high”.
With these swings, the invitation is to see, feel and love it all as awareness (Spirit, love), and to find ourselves as that which already is and allows it all.
It helps us see what’s left in terms of unloved and unexamined wounds, trauma, fears, beliefs, and identifications. It’s an invitation to find a new wholeness as a human being, and for identifications to (continue) to wear off.
It seems the dark night happened because I left my guidance. I went against my knowing and my guidance on a major life decision, and didn’t leave the situation even if it continued to not feel right. This led to a sense of being deeply off track, and eventually fatigue and collapse at many levels.
All of these may be part of the picture. It’s a natural phase, it’s an expression of natural swings, it’s an invitation to see/feel/love all as what I already am, it shows me what’s left, and it happened the way it did because I left my guidance on a significant life decision.
What are some possible reasons for an especially long and/or intense dark night of the soul? And, in particular, what may be some reasons in my case? (I am thinking of DNs that last 10-15+ years.)
It followed a long and intense initial awakening phase. The unusually high high was followed by an unusually low low. (Respectively 10+ years, followed by a transition, and then 10+ years.)
I may have special difficulties in finding love for what’s here, and examine it thoroughly. Perhaps due to trauma? In my case, it seems that it’s been difficult for me to allow it – the love, trust, understanding, insights – to deeply sink in and work on me at a deep(ish) level.
I continued to go against my guidance for several years, which deepened the sense of being off track, brought fatigue, and led to eventual collapse. I stayed in a situation that didn’t feel right, at a deep level.
On the topic of stages, here are some as described by Evelyn Underhill and Adyashanti.
Evelyn Underhill’s stages: Initial interest, dark night of the senses, illumination, dark night of the soul, unitive life.
Adyashanti’s stages: Calling, awakening, trails and tribulations, abiding tranquility, transfiguration, relinquishment, transmutation.
To me, it makes sense that a dark night of the senses leads to a more abiding tranquility. It seems that the only (?) way through it is to find a deep love for what’s here, including the deepest pain, and recognize it too – including at a felt level – as awareness and love. And it makes sense if this leads to a deeper sense of ease with what’s here, whether it’s easy or difficult, pleasant or painful, “light” or “dark”. It’s a deeper level of “one taste”, one that’s not only seen or loved, but also felt.
I am adding these points which came to mind:
A year or two before the dark night of the soul happened, I prayed for full awakening no matter what it would cost (for days, in front of the main altar in Bodh Gaya of all places). This is a type of “dangerous prayer” which may give us what we ask for, but not in the way we expect or (think we) want.
About six months before the darkest phase of the dark night, I received diksha (energy transfer) which led to about half a year in a (simple, easy, unremarkable) nondual state. This was followed by sudden fatigue and collapse at almost all levels. It’s possible that this was a response to the diksha.
A couple of weeks before the absolutely darkest phase of the dark night (two years after the diksha event), I said another dangerous prayer. I asked to be shown what’s left, and was plunged into about nine months of primal and immense dread and terror.
An excellent presentation from a seminar in Oslo last week on climate psychology.
We can say that something is evil, or appears evil to us, or we chose to label it evil. (Which is learned from our culture.)
We can also say that what appears evil is really from confusion, it’s misguided, it’s from unloved and unquestioned fear, wounds, trauma, beliefs and identifications.
We can say that this, in turn, comes from an attempt to protect the imagined self, and so can be seen as love.
And we can say that it’s all awareness, it’s all happening within and as awareness and love.
Either of these are valid in their own way. And it can be a relief to find the three last ones in own experience, through specific examples.
If I talk with someone who seem to see the first of these, I wouldn’t jump to the third or fourth. I would perhaps suggest that it comes from fear, wounds and trauma, and that it’s an attempt to protect the self.
And for myself, I explore what’s here. I can hold satsang with what’s here in myself, and see what’s there. You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me. What would satisfy you forever? What are you really? (Each of these are gentle questions. Is it here to protect me? In what way is it protecting me? What is it protecting?)
Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?
– Jane Goodall, Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating
Samsara is nirvana.
Here is one way look at it:
Samsara can be seen as beliefs, velcro, identifications.
That too is awareness, it happens within and as awareness and love. (It’s what we are.)
Also, in an ordinary sense, it’s there to protect the imagined self. It comes from love.
In that way, what appears as delusion – and sometimes is expressed as hatred, greed, confusion and more – is already awareness and love, and it’s also love in a conventional sense.
Samsara is nirvana.
As I see this in myself, I begin to recognize it in others. My experience of myself and others shift.
And that doesn’t mean that it’s kind to allow unkind behavior in myself or others. That’s something very different.
We already are what we seek, and that’s why we seek it.
Some – including Adyashanti – point this out. What does it mean?
We already are whole, peace, love, contentment.
We sometimes don’t recognize it (as what we are), so we seek it in all the ways we see in our own life and that of others. (Through circumstances, people, experiences…. food, vacations, lovers, money, status, identities, spiritual experiences, and more.)
I know this may sound nonsensical, but it’s how it seems. We wouldn’t seek it unless we weren’t it already.
One way to test this is to ask myself a question:
Is it true that what I seek is not already here?
It may appear to be here in the way I think I want it, but does that mean it’s not already here?
When we act, perceive or feel in ways that seem irrational – either to others or ourselves – it may still be rational in its own way.
Believing a certain thought leads to perceiving, feeling and acting in certain ways, and it may not look rational to someone who believe another set of thoughts. Even to ourselves, it may not make sense if we consciously believe on set of thoughts, and at a deeper level believe another. (Which is sometimes the case.)
Here are some other ways of saying the same:
When words and images seem “welded” to certain sensations (velcro), these appear real and solid and we act, feel and perceive as if they are real and solid. Again, if we have a conscious view that’s different, this may appear irrational even to ourselves.
When there is identification with a certain identity, we’ll act to protect and support this identity. This too may appear irrational, although it’s quite rational in the context of wishing to protect and enhance the identity. After all, it will feel like who we are, so protecting this identity may well feel like a life and death situation.
When there is trauma, we may act from anger, desperately seek company, isolate and so on. Again, it may seem irrational and yet be understandable and seem rational in the context of the particular trauma. (It’s possible to see beliefs, velcro and identifications as forms of trauma – sometimes very mild and sometimes stronger. They are all ways to try to protect the imagined self. And it tends to feel like a life and death matter, either mildly or strongly.)
So it may be understandable and rational within its own world. It may be kind, and come from a wish to protect the (imagined) self, and come from love for this imagined self.
And it’s often also slightly misguided, from a larger perspective. It’s not what makes the most sense, if we are more clear and healed.
We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.
– Carl Sagan
And that is literally true. We are – quite literally – the cosmos knowing itself.
We are the local eyes, ears, feelings and thoughts of the universe, bringing itself into awareness.
As a kid, this shifted my perception of everything, and it still does. It brings a sense of awe into the most ordinary of experiences and activities.
There are some resources for people going through a spiritual emergency. These include websites, guides and therapists, online groups, books, and there used to be a center in California set up by Stanislav and Christina Grof. Some spiritual centers and monasteries may also be happy to receive people in a spiritual emergency, although their level of understanding and expertise may vary (it’s important that they have a good understanding of what’s going on).
It seems that there is a clear need for…..
Better and more comprehensive information about (a) types of spiritual emergencies, and (b) what is often most (and least) helpful for people going through them.
Guidelines for how to support people going through different types of spiritual emergencies.
International and national networks of people who can guide and support, and people going through it. It would be good with some sort of filtering or evaluation of those who guide and support, including client ratings and feedback.
Local support groups. Local, regional, national and international gatherings.
Centers for people going through spiritual emergencies. Places where they can rest, feel nurtured and understood, where they can receive helpful information and support. A sanctuary. They could stay for any length of time, from a day to several months. And it would be ideal if there was a scholarship or work trade option for those with little funds.
In my experience, and from what I read, it seems that these things can be helpful:
Nature. Rest. Nourishing food. Nourishing touch.
Feeling understood. Finding others who understand, from own experience.
Finding love for the process and its symptoms. Finding love for one’s life and what’s here.
Healing our relationship with life, ourselves, what’s here.
Trying gentle practices aimed at healing our relationship with what’s here…. Loving kindness (metta), ho’oponopono, Breema, natural rest / allowing, inquiry and more.
And also setting aside – at least for a while (or forever) – practices that aims at (a) manipulation or (b) increasing the energy. Practices that aim at manipulating and “improving” what’s here inherently assume that what’s here is “wrong”, and this may disturb the process and create an unpleasant backlash. And some practices may, if inadvertently, increase or “raise” the energy, while many forms of spiritual emergencies benefit more from relaxing and grounding the energy. Of course, this is a generalization, and what’s most helpful in each case will vary. read on…
Here is something that seems relatively common in a spiritual emergency.
Our system tends to be highly sensitive in such a phase. And there also seems to be a wisdom in the process(es) we are going through. It has its own intelligence.
So it’s important to chose advisers and modalities wisely.
For instance, I have followed the advice of “experts” against my own knowing and guidance, and it has not turned out very well. (At an ordinary human level.)
And I have had several sessions that has backfired, especially when I have gone to someone who tries to manipulate or “improve” something in me. This has included network chiropractic (ended up in bed in massive pain), craniosacral (ended up in bed for a week unable to function), breath work (again ended up in bed for several days), a psychotherapy session which turned out to be quite traumatizing for me (I had opened up about the kundalini process, and she didn’t understand it and got scared), and more. It’s also possible that a couple of diksha sessions led to the chronic fatigue I am experiencing now. (It worked very well, and did lead to a nondual awakening, followed by complete burnout and collapse.)
There are two lessons for me here:
Follow my own guidance and knowing. Even if it triggers unquestioned/unloved fear in me, and even if someone who apparently is an expert (and yet doesn’t know my situation fully) advises something else.
Be very careful with who I go to for bodywork or therapy. Also, mostly or fully avoid any approach that aims at manipulating – or “improving” – what’s gong on for me. Instead, what I have found very helpful are approaches that helps me – gently, kindly – change how I relate to it, and leaves the process itself alone. (Breema, inquiry, resting/allowing has worked well for me.)
A couple of things about hope:
Hope, in a conventional sense, is often (a) images and words, (b) associated with sensations, (c) which makes it appear real and solid, as if it’s about a real future. It rests on an experience of time and the future as real and “out there” somewhere, and what’s imagined in that future as real as well.
There is another form of hope. It’s when we see that future and what may be in the future – to me – is created by images, words and sensations, and I cannot find it outside of these. And also when the ways I stop myself as recognized in a similar way. That gives a sense of curiosity, openness, interest and a quiet natural confidence.
The basic recognition that all is God can be, and often is, sudden. (For me, it happened without warning in my mid-teens.)
Exploring variations of this, and living from it, is a lifetime exploration.
This experience – including physical pain, emotional pain, discomfort, sadness, anger, joy, reactivity – it’s all God (AKA Spirit, love, awareness).
God as love, presence, awareness takes the form of everything in experience, including a me here and a wider world. In one sense, it’s all love, presence, awareness. And in another, it’s all varied with a me and a wider world, and “levels”, processes, development and evolution.
Recognizing what’s here – including wounds – as God (love, awareness), is a healing of how it’s related to, and allows it to heal too.
What bothers me “in here” and “out there” is all Spirit, love awareness, and being bothered is it too. Since it already is love, presence, awareness, it can be met with that too.
Although all is Spirit, love, awareness and perfect as it is, there is a human side. And this human side has its own needs and desires, and it has consequences to ignore that.
I could have, and did, say this even back then. And yet, it’s also an ongoing exploration. It’s a continually humbling process.
Note: In my immediate experience all is love, presence and awareness. It’s possible to think that this is more of a psychological and individual phenomena, and that “the world out there” is perhaps physical and matter and nothing more. And yet, any ideas of a world “out there” that’s different from love, presence and awareness is also the same love, presence and awareness. And there are enough synchronicities and other experiences suggesting that the wider world “in itself” is also love, presence and awareness. Matter does appear, in several ways – in immediate experience, through synchronicities and other experiences, and perhaps even suggested by current science – as love, presence, awareness.
It seems not uncommon for people in a “spiritual emergency” to experience illness, which in turn may function as a form of retreat.
In some cultures, they recognize the symptoms of a spiritual emergence or emergency, and support it in various ways, including through retreats. In our culture, there is often not such an understanding, so illness may sometimes serves that function instead. It’s what’s possible for us, so it’s the direction life takes. (The lack of understanding of – and support for – these types of processes, may in itself contribute to fatigue and illness.)
The purpose of a retreat is to remove us from our daily routine, the business of daily life, and allow us time and space for meeting what’s already here.
And that’s exactly what an illness can do, and perhaps especially fatigue. (Which seems a typical symptom for some in a certain phase of a kundalini or awakening process.)
An illness allows us a retreat setting. It allows unmet, unquestioned and unloved things to surface in us, so they can be met, loved and examined.
And some of the things surfacing will, most likely, be about the illness itself. An illness is often perceived as a threat to some of our most cherished identities.
Life without a future is magical.
– Byron Katie
It doesn’t mean having no images or thoughts about the future, or believing there is no future.
It means seeing clearly, through curiosity and investigation, that any images I have about the future are just that, images.
They are images and words, with perhaps sensations associated with them. If unexamined, the sensations will lend a sense of reality and solidity to the images and words. They will seem real, as if they reflect a real future. If examined, I see images as images and words as words, and feel sensations as sensations. It’s clear they are all happening here and now. I cannot find a future outside of these, happening here, and being images, words and sensations.
Here in Europe, I have come across a couple of people who talk about “dark forces” or entities, and claim to have seen them.
It’s quite possible that something may appear as dark forces, and yet…..
It’s so easily a distraction. It can be made into a belief, which in turn can be stressful and misleading. It can put a cause out there and a victim here.
Here are some other ways of looking at it, which may be more helpful:
It’s all lila – the play of life (AKA the divine). The appearances, our interpretations and everything else.
It’s all happening within and as what we are (AKA awareness, capacity).
It’s all unfindable. I cannot find it – forces, entities, dark, light, causes, outside, inside, me – outside of words, images and sensations.
It’s a projection. Whatever I see “out there” is also here. I can take any story I have about what’s out there, and find how it’s true for me too. I can find a specific example of how it’s true for me, and then another, and another.
None of this is saying that what can appear as dark forces/entities doesn’t exist. That question is not so relevant in this context. (Although it could be interesting as a research topic.) What’s more interesting to me, is what’s more true. And for me, that’s lila, that it’s happening as what I am, that it’s – all of it – unfindable, and that I can find in me and here what I see “out there”.
There are also other stories about this that are as or more true, at least for me, than the standard ones I have heard. For instance, it’s all love.
These forces reflect back to me what’s here, helping me to see it and take responsibility for it, and that’s love.
It’s (unquestioned, unloved) fear and wounds in me that makes me behave in ways that may appear dark and self-destructive. These parts of me wants to protect me, and that’s love.
I can hold these parts of me in quiet presence and love. That’s the invitation, and – in a sense – what they seek and wish for.
In all of these ways, it’s really love. It’s love all around. (It may seem scary, and the opposite of love, before it’s met with curiosity and love, before it’s questioned and loved.)
A final thing here: This is not condoning any harmful or hurtful action. To the contrary, this allows for a more clear and wise action, including saying “no” to certain behaviors. I can find presence and love for hurt and wounded parts of me, and that makes it more possible for me to not act on them in hurtful ways. (Not that it’s always that easy or straight forward. There is often a confused phase before the way I relate to these hurts and wounds heal, and perhaps they heal too.)
Our human self seeks healing.
So even – or perhaps especially – when we are in a safe environment, wounds may surface in order to find healing.
And when that happens, it can be confusing to us and those around us.
When we meet wounds, it can be confusing. As they say in trauma work, we may even come out of freeze and into fight or flight.
So how do we relate to it? The first may be to know that it’s normal, and even a part of a possible healing process.
Deep wounds may cause us to behave in uncharacteristic ways. (Or characteristically if it’s been going on for a while.) We may lash out. Want to escape. Crave company. Avoid company.
And that too – whether it happens in ourselves or someone else – can be met with presence, care, and a quiet love. We can hold it in our presence. And we can hold each other physically as well.
And, as we are ready, we can find curiosity about it. We can even explore it in a more systematic way, through inquiry. What do I find when I explore the beliefs about it, and possibly behind it? (Is it true? What happens when hold it as true? Who would I be without it? What’s the validity in the turnarounds?) What do I find when I explore how it’s created in immediate experience? Can I find the actual threat? Can I find someone threatened? (Can I find it in words, images, sensations?)
There are also many other things that can be helpful. Nature. Gardening. Nourishing food, company and activities. TFT, EMDR, TRE, craniosacral, and other modalities.
Anything can be misunderstood, including something as (apparently) simple as “loving what’s here”.
For me, it means finding a quiet love for what’s here, for any experience (and especially that which a thought may label as a part of me, a subpersonality, an emotion, a wound etc.). It’s the love I would have for a scared and confused child or animal. It’s a quiet being with. A comforting presence. Allowing the child or animal to be and feel as it is and does. Finding a quiet love for it and what it is experiencing here and now. It’s what allows it to feel seen, met, perhaps even understood. It allows it to relax, soften (even if that’s not necessary or the intention).
The other way of understanding “loving what’s here”, is very different, and quite opposite in many ways. It’s what may be described as a (somewhat misguided) delight in indulging in what’s here, in – for instance – wounds and anger. “I love my anger, indulge in it, live it out.” This tends to fuel the wounds, identifications and hangups.
One is the quiet love we would have for a confused and scared child or animal. The other is indulging in it and fueling the hangups. One is the love we are. The other is a much more superficial, and perhaps misguided, use of the word “love”.
I don’t often use the word nonduality. Perhaps it’s because it’s almost too neat a way of phrasing it.
Our experience of life is already nondual, in a sense. It’s of a seamless whole which contains any other experience, including of dualities.
Nonduality is sometimes described as not one and not two. On the one hand, it’s “not one” because it’s rich and diverse, and it’s “not two” since it’s a seamless whole. It’s also neither, since both are images, an imagined overlay, and not “reality itself”. The description – not one, not two – may be as accurate a description of experience as possible, and yet – since it comes from an overlay of words and images, it’s also possible to make that too into an ideology, and take it as real and solid.
Really, duality and nonduality are both unfindable. When I look, I cannot find either outside of words and images – and the sensations associated with them which lends a sense of reality, solidity and meaning to those words and images.
It’s very clear that Islam in general, and Islamic fundamentalism in particular, serve as the main scapegoat in western culture these days. It’s a favorite shadow projection object for many, and it tends to cloud rationality and reason – as it has historically in similar situations.
It’s equally clear that the threat from Islamic fundamentalists, although real and needs to be addressed, is very small. It completely pales in comparison with so many other things, including that we still live in and propagate social systems – in economy, production, transportation, food production and more – that are not aligned with ecological realities. By living within these, we are destroying our own life support system. If we were to be upset about something, and pour great amounts of resources into something, that’s it. And there are so many other areas more important than the threat from small groups of terrorists. (For instance, more people die in traffic accidents in North America each week than died in 911.)
And, although I am no expert here, it does seem that Islamic fundamentalism has one main cause, and that’s how the west has treated the rest of the world over the last several centuries. It seems to be a very understandable reaction to imperialism of all sorts – military, economic, cultural and more. And yet, that’s not something we hear much about from politicians and media.
I realize there are good reasons for this. More generally, shadow projection is very common at individual and group levels. And in this case, as so often before, this tendency is harnessed and channeled by some who have the means to do so, and gain from doing so. It’s in many people’s interest that we have an “external” scapegoat. It distracts from what’s happening here. It galvanizes people. It scares people so it’s easier to push through policies and military interventions that it otherwise would be difficult to get support for. It is also good for the media, since fear sells newspapers and news shows. I also realize that most people are not very rational when it comes to assessing and ranking threats. What’s dramatic and immediate, and what the media and politicians focus on, is what many will perceive as the biggest threat. And I realize that if the media and politicians would acknowledge and address our own role in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, however indirect it is, that wont’ be very popular amongst a certain segment of the population (the more conservative, mostly).
P.S. Some articles do address this, as this article I just came across.
Some folks talk about geoengineering “solutions” to climate change, and I am baffled that this – or at least the approaches I have seen discussed – is even a topic.
Earth is an immensely complex living system. Any geoengineering strategy is likely to have effects we cannot predict, and some of these may be major and catastrophic. They are likely to create as many or more problems than they “solve”.
Why chose these solutions, when there are so many others that are safe and we know work well? We already have the solutions. What we need is the public and political will to implement them.
Of course, there are some answers to the question of why this is even a topic. The ones promoting geoengineering strategies may use an old fashioned engineering mindset, which is “blind” to the immense complexity of the living Earth. They may attempt to side-track the public conversation on the topic (for financial reasons), for instance away from limiting use of petroleum and coal. They may wish to funnel public money into expensive (and flawed) projects for financial gain.
I listened to an interview about awakening and illness, and was reminded of love, surrender and action and how they are related.
When I find love for what’s here – illness, symptoms, brain fog, fatigue, the words, images and sensations making these up – there is a sense of surrender. It’s a surrender of holding onto identification with all my stories about these things. A surrender of the struggle. A surrender of the appearance of victim, duality, suffering, illness and whatever else is here.
And this, in turn, allows for natural action. A more kind and wise action.
This is also a very practical way of exploring “unconditional love”. I tend to not use that word since it seems a bit grandiose and have some unfortunate associations for many. But that’s really what this is about. As I find love for what’s here – for the pain, discomfort, enthusiasm and the words, images and sensations that makes up any part of my experience – then I am exploring unconditional love. And this is a love for any part of my experience, whether a thought (or image) calls it “inner” and belonging to “me” or “outer” and belonging to “others” or “the world”.
So a very practical approach – finding love for what’s here in immediate experience – is an exploration of unconditional love. It’s a form of surrender (of identifications). And it allows for a more natural, kind and perhaps wise action.
The interview mentioned above was with Karen Richards, done by Conscious 2.
Everything happens for a reason, that you make up in your head.
– Collete kelso
We can have many stories about why something happened. Some can be quite painful and stressful. Some can be comforting, for a while. Some may help us relate to our lives in a more kind and helpful way. And all of them are made up. What they refer to are unfindable. At some point, it can be a huge relief to discover that. (And that discovery may not be a one-time event. It’s ongoing, and may involve investigating whatever “sticky” story is here.)
I saw someone on Facebook (one of the teachers from Center for Sacred Sciences) say “or perhaps time doesn’t exist at all?”.
If that’s they case, why not throw away your calendar?
Saying that time doesn’t exist is as misleading as saying it does exist. It does and doesn’t, in different ways.
It can be another place for identification to land, another story we are trying to find a sense of safety through by holding it as true, or even a “final” truth.
To me, it seems much more accurate to say that it’s unfindable. When I look for time, I find words, images and sensations, and none of those are “time”. I cannot find time outside of these words, images and sensations. (And if I look for words, images and sensations in this way, I cannot find them either…..!)
I still have images and words relating to time, and I use them to organize my life in an ordinary and everyday sense. But I still cannot find an actual, real “time” when I look for it.
And unfindable is not the same as “doesn’t exist”.
So many problems that can be solved in this way, by making it fun, easy and attractive to do what’s good for society and our ecosystems. All it requires is some imagination, and some structural and systemic changes. (And enough people, in the right positions, shifting out of their old mindsets.)
The world is here to frustrate us, until we realize that it can not make us happy.
– Eckhart Tolle
When I wake up in the morning, I often experience a profound sense of emptiness. It’s been that way for the last few years.
It’s not emptiness in the Buddhist sense. The Buddhist emptiness can be taken as absence of a real separate self inherent in reality, or absence of experience of being a separate self. (Absence of identification as a self – or with images or words which tends to create identification as a self.)
It’s not emptiness in an ordinary psychological sense, meaning an unfortunate sense of lack of meaning or richness in ones life.
It’s more of an “energetic” emptiness. An absence of movement. A deep silence and stillness. It scares my mind still, since it projects it into my human self and the future. It creates images of an inability of this human self to function in the world, and complete lack of initiative. I often take time to experience the emptiness, and sometimes meeting and feeling the fear. Thanking it for protecting me. Thanking it for it’s love. Finding love for it, as it is. As soon as I get up and start doing things, this sense of emptiness goes into the background. (Although I can still find it, even now.) As soon as I can find genuine love for this emptiness and the fear that comes up in response to it, something may shift. I suspect I may notice everything as this stillness more and throughout the day, and also that what’s noticing is the stillness itself.
Without knowing, I suspect that the Buddhist emptiness may refer to two things. One is the absence of a real separate self anywhere, and the realization of this. Another is the deep stillness which comes into the foreground as all there is. The stillness recognizing itself as all there is. (This may be what’s happening in the mornings these days.)
This is perhaps the most important question we face collectively today.
Here are some very basic facets:
Information and knowledge plays a role, at least at a basic level. This in itself is not going to do much, but together with other things, it may be very effective.
Meeting people where they are. Speaking a language they understand. Speaking to their values and interests. (In an honest, real way.) For instance, when communicating with a conservative Christian, it may be helpful to talk about being good stewards of God’s creation, keeping nature and our bodies clean, preserving our community and families (by preserving our ecological support systems), and so on. We need to understand the people we are communicating with, and “what makes them tick” – their values, interests, what’s most important to them. (No matter what is most important to them, at least in this life, it depends on a well functioning ecosystem and Earth to exist and flourish.)
Stopping actions to prevent more damage, including giving legal rights (a voice in the legal and political system) to species, ecosystems and future generations.
Implementing, promoting and developing solutions and good and attractive examples.
Worldview changes, deeply recognizing and realizing that the health and well being of ourselves and those we care about, is intimately connected with and dependent on the health and well being of our larger social and ecological systems. We cannot flourish as individuals and society without a flourishing ecological system, at local, regional and global levels. Also, we can see Earth as a living system of which we are just one of many parts, each one vital and important to the health of the system as a whole. Even further, as Carl Sagan said, we are the universe bringing itself into awareness, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts and feelings of the Earth and universe. Of these three levels, it’s helpful if many or a majority “get” the first one at a felt and lived level, and if some – not necessarily that many at first – get the second and third levels.
And, perhaps most importantly, structural changes so what’s easy and attractive to do, is also what supports a flourishing ecological and social system and at levels, and also our own flourishing as families and individuals. These structural changes need to happen in economy, production, transportation, energy, education and any other area of society and human lives. Currently, we have social systems and structures that do not take ecological realities into account, and that’s why we are creating problems for ourselves. The main solution is to redesign and recreate these systems so they do reflect ecological realities, and what’s easy and attractive is also good for life at all levels. It’s very much possible. We created our previous system, and did it out of the knowledge and understanding we had then. We can create a new system that reflects the knowledge and understanding that we have today. This is not idealism or airy fairy ideas, it’s very much possible – and necessary for our own continued survival as society, families and even species.
We need a minimum of attitude change to make it possible to create these structural changes. And when these are in place, attitude change – at individual levels – is less important. People will just do what makes sense in everyday life, and it will benefit – or at least not harm – earth and society.
What’s actually going to happen? Nobody knows. As many say, it’s probably not going to be as good as some think, and not as bad as some other think. We’ll probably muddle through somehow, it will be messy at times, it won’t happen without damage and casualties, will will continue to lose species and ecosystems before it gets better, many humans will suffer in the process, and Earth as a living system will survive and eventually thrive again – with or without humans.
Take a moment and imagine that there is no time. Take a moment to just let go of tomorrow. What if letting go of suffering wasn’t possible tomorrow – that today, even right now, was all you had, and you had nothing else but today? All of a sudden, you would look at your whole existence through completely different eyes. See if you can feel what it is to exist only now. See what its like to completely take tomorrow, and yesterday, out of the picture.
– Adyashanti from Falling into Grace
A few basic things here:
In an ordinary sense, it’s of course fine and reasonable to postpone some things into the future – such as meetings, appointments, tasks and events. I’ll put some things on my calendar for the next few weeks, and even months, and do them (or not) as the day and time is here. It’s fine to put these into an imagined future, because it tends to work.
And yet, with certain “inner” things, it makes much more sense to do it here and now. These may include…. finding love for what’s here, pulling discomfort closer, using a gentle inquiry to see what’s here, asking myself “is it true that what I am seeking is not already here?”.
Putting these into an imagined future creates a pattern and habit of postponing. It gives the mind a way out from doing it here and now.
It also tends to reinforce the idea of a real and solid future “out there” somewhere. Is there really a findable future, or even a past or present? Is the word “future” the actual future? Is this image of a future an actual future? Is this sensation associated with “future” an actual future? Can I find the future anywhere, outside of words, images and sensations (clearly happening now)? As I examine this and take it in, the option of postponing certain things into the future seems less attractive or real. Why not do it now?
I keep noticing how different practices are stepping stones to what’s natural.
For instance, inquiry is a stepping stone – a formalized structure – inviting us to a very natural and simple curiosity.
Prayer is a stepping stone to an equally natural and simple reverence and sense of connection with the sacredness of existence.
Heart centered practices – such as loving kindness, tonglen, ho’oponopono – are stepping stones to a simple love for what’s here, as it is, and as love already.
Movement practices are stepping stones to a simple and natural way of moving…. from our wholeness and with curiosity.
Even a specialized practice such as Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) is a stepping stone for allowing a very simple and natural shaking to release (body-mind) tension.
I see that Joanna Macy‘s The Work that Reconnects is coming out in an updated version. I have participated in (and often organized) most of the activities described in the book, and know from personal experience how transformative and nourishing they can be. Highly recommended. See also The Work that Reconnects Network.