Match

 

So much is about the match.

The particular match between the person and the art, whatever the art is.

A painting. A movie. Music. Food.

With art, some is inherent in the piece. The skills it’s made with. How universally it tends to speak to people. And yet, what it really comes down to is the match. The match between the person, there and then, and the piece.

Since my teens, I have preferred the rare art critics who speak partly about the skills behind and the universality of a piece, and the type of person the piece may be a good match for. (Most critics tend to generalize from how well the piece matches them personally and try to make it sound universal.)

The match principle can be transfered to other areas of life, incluidng pointers for life or spiritual practice. Here too, the skills and insights its coming from, and how universally it applies to people, plays a role. But it really comes down to the match.

The good guide or teacher will offer pointers that match the person and where he or she is at, as much as possible.

Of course, there are exceptions and extreme cases. Some food may be immediately unhealthy for everyone. Some pointers, if taken literally, may be unhelpful to anyone.

Painting by Mark Rothko.

Past lives as metaphors

 

I have some images that could be taken as images of past lives, and also from a disembodied state before my current incarnation. More recently, two separate vortex healers have had images come up during sessions with me that had them wonder if it had to do with my past lives.

I am very aware that all of these are images, perhaps with some charge associated with them. That doesn’t mean they are actual memories. And it doesn’t really matter that much to me. What matters is what these images of possible past lives mean to me now. In what way do they resonate with me? What in me do they speak to or point to?

For instance, the two vortex healers both had a sense of a soldier energy in me, someone who has been in a war. One also had images of a medieval battle. All of that very much resonates with me. It fits the primal survival fear that I have experienced off and on for some years now. The survival fear that surfaced when I – stupidly? bravely? inevitably? – asked God or life to show me what’s left. (The primal dread and terror surfaced one or two weeks after that prayer, stayed at an intense and overwhelming level for about nine months, and then lessened a bit.) It doesn’t mean I have had past lives as a soldier, but those images fit perfectly my experience of this dread and fear. It’s what I imagine a soldier in and after war easily can experience.

Quantum physics and evolution as pointers

 

The scientific approach in general is a good guideline and pointer for our own “spiritual” explorations.

And within science itself, it seems that the study of the very small and the very large both are fertile ground for pointers and guidelines for exploration.

Science in general helps us recognize that we don’t know. We operate from our own world of images and this is just a map. It may be very helpful in a practical sense in everyday life but there is no “truth” in it. Examples from quantum physics, the study of the very small, helps bring this home.

Through this, we notice that we may assume that there is an objective world “out there”, and it is helpful to act in daily life as if it is so, but this too is just an image. As is the images of a me and I (doer, observer). As we notice these images as images, as content of experience, there is an invitation for identification to release out of these images. We can still use any and all of them in a practical and pragmatic way, to help us function and orient in the world, but they are recognized as images, helpful tools only, and not any absolute truth. And we can notice what happens when there is identification with the viewpoints of some of these images, including the images of a me and I, and what happens when there is a softening or release of this identification and we are more free to play with and make use of these images while recognizing them as images only.

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Religions and their commonalities and differences

 

We’re Not the Same…And That’s OK. Stephen Prothero says the leaders of the interfaith movement have a problem: call it the Kumbaya Effect. Instead of grappling with our religious differences, he says they gloss them over, creating a ‘pretend pluralism’ that does more harm then good. Stephen Prothero, author of God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter.

The current episode of Interfaith Voices is on why our differences matter. It is an interesting topic, so before I listen to it (if I do!), I thought I would explore it for myself first. I am usually not so interested in religion, so it is good for me to take a look at it.

When it comes to emphasizing commonalities and differences, it seems appropriate and helpful if we emphasize commonalities these days. With increasing connection among people of different religions, emphasizing commonalities helps diffuse tension and ease interactions. Within that context of emphasizing commonalities, there is also a great deal of benefit in acknowledging and looking at the differences among religions.

Ecosystems are more resilient and stable the more diverse they are. And although social systems are not identical to ecosystems, it does seem healthy for humanity to have a wide diversity of approaches to religion, spirituality, and God. Each provide their own unique perspectives, contexts, and insights. There is a richer set of approaches and tools for us to try out. They provide contrasts to each other. There is an incentive for each tradition to clarify and refine their own approach. And there is an opportunity to find apparent universals and commonalities within the diversity. And as in an ecosystem, we don’t know which “species” will show itself fit and thrive in the future.

We can even acknowledge the benefits of the varieties that are apparently not so healthy, such as the ones with weird ideas, views not aligned with science, and fundamentalism in general. They provide a mirror for us, a contrast, an incentive to find alternatives that are more kind, wise, and aligned with reality, and they provide an opportunity for exploring and implementing strategies in relating to them such as working to minimize damage, invite changes, and developing more attractive alternatives.

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This is it

 

this_is_it

A sentence from any source can be used as a koan, a question for own exploration.

It is most interesting when the statement appears mundane or counter intuitive, and even if it is a familiar reminder, it can be an invitation to look in a fresh way and perhaps a little further.

This is it.

This is all there is. All my images of the world and myself is my own world of images.

All I see “out there” – in present, past, and future, is here now. All goals, dreams, qualities, dynamics, whatever it is, is here now.

It is an image here now. The feelings and atmosphere it evokes are here now. The qualities and dynamics I see out there is here now.

Even the images of present, past, and future themselves happen in my own world of images.

I can notice and get familiar with this in the usual ways. I can inquire into my beliefs. I can explore my sense fields. I can recognize my images as images as they happen. I can notice my emotions as here now, and not belonging to anything out there in the past, future, or present. I can recognize my goals as stories here now. I can find the qualities and dynamics I see in others here now, in myself, including in how I relate to that person. I can ask myself if what I seek is not already here.

In this way, I get double benefit from my world of images. I can use my images, goals, and so on as guides for choices and actions in the world. And I can recognize it all already happening here now.

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Living in the present

 

The present moment is highly overrated. From an evolutionary perspective, the past and the future are where it’s at. Any aardvark, antelope, cat, or cockroach can effortlessly reside in the present moment. Only human beings can engage deeply with the past and consciously co-create the future. By doing so, by looking outward with aims of bettering our world, big or small, we also walk a path that leads to inner fulfillment.
– from by Evolutionary Spirituality: Coming Home to Reality by Michael Dowd

I agree completely. And yet, there is a common misunderstanding here.

The “present” doesn’t exclude past and future. It is just a reminder to notice thought as thought.

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Stable attention and pointers

 

A friend of mine with a great deal of experience with Buddhist practice, uses the word “concentration” practice for what I tend to think of as stable attention.

As usual with these things, it is an opportunity for inquiry, for trying it out.

What I know for myself, is that several of the usual tools work quite well for me with the stability practice.

I can bring attention to the sensations at the tip of the nostrils, or something the belly, or the whole-body experience of the in-breath and out-breath. (There is a quite noticeable change throughout the whole body from the ordinary in- and out-breath.)

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Cosmology as pointer

 

It is my second day at the intensive, and words from the main teacher reminded me of how cosmology can be a pointer.

Our actions in this life determines whether we will evolve into higher or lower beings following this life.

That is the familiar story of karma, and these types of more abstract teachings – apparently describing something out there somewhere – can be very helpful when taken as a pointer for something here and now, and less helpful when taken as a belief. (Although when it is taken as a belief, that is part of the process as well.)

When taken as true, it may at best encourage students to practice and to live in a more ethical way. But it is inevitably mixed with getting caught up in fears and hopes, and is just another log in the fire of taking stories as true. It is a scare tactic, and not quite honest since we cannot know. (Even if the most respected teacher or book tells us so, if we have vivid visions or memories, even if science indicates that it may be so, the truth is that we cannot really know.)

As any story, the story of karma is a question, an invitation to explore for ourselves, and to find what it points to here and now rather than take it as (only) “out there” in the wider world or the past or future.

Is it true that my current actions evolve me into a higher or lower being? How can I find it in my own experience?

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Boundary between I and other

 

Sometimes, it is said that awakening means the boundary between I and Other is recognized as imagined

That is true and a helpful pointer. It helps us see that boundaries are created in the mind. They are, quite literally, imagined. This is a good starting point. 

And it is just that, a starting point, because it leaves something out. It can be taken as saying that the boundary may be imagined, but the I and other is real. There is an I here and a wider world, but it is part of the same seamless whole. 

The truth is more radical than that. So the next pointer is to say – as many do – that there is no separate I, no other, no world, no boundaries. All of those are imagined. All of those happen within our own world of images. 

This is an invitation to notice not only boundaries as imagined, but any object is as well. They all happen as a mental field overlay on the sense field. They all happen within our own world of images. And this includes the wider world as well as any sense of doer and observer. They all happen as content of awareness. They all come and go, on their own schedule. They are all gestalts, made up of mental field overlays on each of the sense fields. 

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A few resources

 

As of August 2009: See this page for updates.

A few resources I have found helpful…

Books

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A more practical approach

 

Here are two approaches to any teachings, and any pointers – and stories – in general.

One is to take them as right or wrong, and come from identification with stories and their views.

The other is to see them as tools only, and as any tool, apparently useful in some situations and used in a particular way, and less so in other situations and when used in other ways.

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Don’t look outside of yourself

 

Don’t look outside of yourself for answers, or for something to complete yourself.

It is common advice, and can be understood in a few different ways.

First, in a conventional sense, it is an invitation to find in myself what I am looking for outside of myself. I may be looking for advice, and remember to (also) ask myself and find it in myself. I may be looking for something to complete me, and remember to give it to myself and find it in myself. It is a way to learn to trust what is here, see that it is already here, and that something outside of myself – teachings, people, situations – can remind me of what is already here. The world is my mirror.

It is an invitation to not get caught up in blind projections, in blind attractions and aversions. I may get advice from others, and enjoy things I am attracted to in others, but also remember to find it right here now. I can see it. Feel it. Find appreciation for it.

Then, I can notice that it is already happening. It is already that way. I may be looking for answers outside of myself, I may be looking outside of myself for something to complete me, and it may be outside of myself in a conventional sense, but is it really outside of myself?

It is all happening within my own world of images. The wider world and me that I see all this in is my own world of images. There is no outside and inside here.

The qualities and dynamics these images refer to are also here now. The wider world is a reminder, a mirror, of what is already here now. There is an inside and outside, but they mirror each other instantly and perfectly in this way.

And it is all happening as what I am and everything is. As that which all experience happens within, as and as an expression of.

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I am not… and yet am

 

It is common to hear folks say you are not your thoughts or emotions, or anything within experience. (Well, at least common among people interested in those things.)

And this is a good illustration on how teachings are pointers only, or medicine aimed at a specific condition. In this case, it is aimed at the condition of (blindly) identifying with thoughts, emotions, or content of experience in general.

As with any other statement, it is a pointer and a question. As any other teaching, it is medicine aimed at a specific condition, helpful in some situations and not other, and without any inherent truth. And as any other story, there is a grain of truth in its reversals.

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You are That

 

I am that. You are that. All is that.

Or as in the Bible, I am that I am. (Taken as a story reflecting something here now.)

It is one of the most profound pointers, and –  depending on how it is received, as with any teaching – one of the most helpful ones as well.

And as with any statement, it is a question and an invitation to explore for ourselves.

What am I really? Am I what I take myself to be? When I look here now, what do I find that I take myself to be? Is it in content of awareness? Is it something that comes and goes? Is what I really am content of awareness? Can it be? Is it something that comes and goes? If I am not what I take myself to be – this collection of sensations, sounds, sights and images – what am I then?

First, these may be insights coming from contemplation, from within stories. Then, as we explore what is here in immediate awareness, we can have genuine glimpses of what we are not, and what we are. And after a while, after getting more and more familiar with it, the center of gravity of our identity may shift from content of awareness and into what it all happens within and as – either gradually and slowly, or suddenly, or both.

In addition to sparking curiosity and exploration, it can also spark a desire to know, it can help us form an intention for inviting what we are to wake up to itself. And that too can be immensely helpful.

Clarifying longing

 

Saying that God is longing to know itself is, as anything else, only a pointer, an invitation to exploration. It is not true or not true, apart from in the most limited sense, and the reversals are equally true. 

So how is this a pointer? In what way is it a helpful teaching? What is it a remedy for? 

The most obvious may be as an invitation to explore our own longings. I can take any longing in my own life, however mundane and unspiritual it may seem, and trace it back. What is it really a longing for? What is more genuinely true for me about it than its surface appearance? 

I have a desire for food. What is it about? I find that it is about survival, avoiding suffering, and finding some happiness. It is innocent, and a way to take care of this human self. 

I have a desire for success. Here too, I find that it is about survival, avoiding suffering, and finding some happiness. Again, it is innocent, and it is love filtered through stories. 

I have a longing for connection. Again, I find the same things. 

By exploring this, I find that my longings – the ones I have looked into so far – are all innocent, and they are love filtered through certain stories. The longing is always genuine and innocent. And the strategies to fulfill those longings may or may not make sense after I investigate them. If they don’t, there is always room to try something else. 

There is a relaxation here, a relase of struggle with myself. 

I also find that each longing is a longing for allowing what is, as it is, and for a full and rich human life. In other words, it is a longing for waking up – for appreciating what is, as it is, including the confusion, drama and mistaken identities, and also for releasing identification out of stories and identities, and the drama and resistance that comes from getting caught up in them. And it is a longing for growing up, for healing and maturing as a human being in the world. 

So the pointer God is longing to know itself is a way for me to clarify my own longings, my own intentions and desires. Not to change them, but to see what they really and genuinely are about for me. And I may find that they are innocent, and genuine desires to grow and wake up. There is a new sense of alignment when this is recognized, and it may happen over and over as I explore new longings and desires, or explore again the ones I have looked at before. It is always new. Fresh. Different. 

There are also other ways the hadith God is longing to know itself is a pointer. 

It is an invitation to see what is happening here now. To notice that form happens within and as awakeness, and not even that, just as the mystery no pointers can touch. This world of form, as it is, is God longing to know itself. It is no thing longing to know itself as (the appearance of) something, in always new, fresh and different ways. 

It is of course an anthropomorphism. There is no longing there. And yet, maybe we can say there is. The movement into form in itself can be seen as a longing for God to know itself as and through form.

Including as this universe, planet, plants, animals, humans, mistaken identities, awakenings, and whatever else is happening. 

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Everything you know is wrong

 

everything_you_know1

Helpful insights and pointers can come from any source. Some of my favorites are church signs, book titles and lyrics.

The book above is prominently displayed at one of our local grocery stores, and it is a great question and pointer. Is it true that everything I know is wrong? How is it true for me? What do I find? 

When I use statements from any source as questions in this way, what I find is often quite different from what is intended by the source. That only adds to the rich yield of those pointers. 

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Don’t take it as true

 

Don’t take it as true. Try it out for yourself.

That is how the Buddhist teachings are presented, and it can be understood in a couple of different ways.

Don’t take it as true. Try it out for yourself. See if it is true. See if the stories are true.

Or… Don’t take it as true, because no story is true. Use it as only as a pointer for your own exporation.

Stories as questions

 

There is a beauty in taking stories as questions…

When I do so, it invites in a receptivity here that reminds me that any story can serve as a pointer and a guide, and that it happens within the context of don’t know.

It is a pointer for own exploration. What do I find when I explore for myself, with some sincerity?

It can have a temporary and practical value as a guide for action, in some situations. What happens when i take it as a guide for action in any particular situation? In what situation may this story be helpful as a guide? Is there another story that seems more helpful in this situation?

And I am also reminded that this happens within the context of don’t know.

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Orientations helpful for practice

 

A few things I find helpful in doing any form of practice…

I set the motivation of doing it for the benefit of all beings. This invites in a shift of receptivity and an open heart, a more stable attention, a wider embrace (including an embrace of all of me), and of living from the effects of practice in daily life.

I clarify my responsibility. I am responsible for how I relate to whatever comes up and how to live from it, and that is it. Whatever else happens is life’s business.

(The good news is that if I have an expected outcome for the practice in mind, the effects are immediate. The practice feel stale, forced and uncomfortable. Feedback is a blessing.)

I remind myself that I really don’t know anything. I don’t know what will happen ahead of time. I don’t know what is really happening as it happens. I don’t even know why I am doing what I am doing. I may – and will – have stories about all of these, but have no clue about what is really going on. This invites in receptivity, interest and curiosity. It is always fresh. New. A mystery.