I love the feeling of being ‘inside’ and in the midst of everything. However, when I am inside an observing self with everything I observe situated outside, then inside and outside are like orphans dreaming of their lost family. But maybe I don’t have to step outside myself in order to encounter the inner heartbeat of the cosmos in which I have been born.
That sense of being inside everything is quite different from being inside my own thoughts, because when I am caught up in my thinking then I am stuck inside a bubble world that only sees the content of that thought. Similarly, when I am completely caught up in conditioned behavior and attitudes–confined to the consciousness of a self for whom everything else is an object of interest—then the feeling of being inside is restrictive and closed, one split off piece of a broken reality. But feeling in touch with an ‘inner’ truth, experience feels vividly present, distances melt, and otherness gives way to a feeling that everything is given together.
Chances are that I am not the only one who tries to collect his scattered outposts of being—all those interests, panicked alarms and shifting allegiances—within some kind of overall image that includes both me and my world. I keep gathering together a sense of a place and time that I share with something larger than my own individual being. But the framework provided by society is not holding up very well. Anger, desperation and inequality of opportunity wash through our communities like rising floodwaters. Signs of disintegration are everywhere.
We may be devoted to our family, yet remain suspicious of others in the wider human family even though we share our planet with them. Perhaps we are estranged from our own roots and feel that we have been flung off to the edge of an accelerating carousel.
We may be trying to live in a way that is true to an omnipresent Greater Being and believe that–just as the ocean is equally wet in every drop–we are also, in our very essence, at one with this centerless wholeness of being.
Perhaps we aspire to develop our capacities for love and compassion–to learn to be open, tolerant, and to feel joy for the gift of life. But when we feel depressed, under attack, misunderstood, or simply lost—as if our individual being has been carelessly flung into the lost-and-found–how can we generate feelings of love and compassion? As social structures crumble and beacons of moral integrity topple, sometimes all we can do is make it to the next rest stop. How can compassion towards fellow beings take root in our consciousness when the messages buzzing around us, like a plague of locusts, warn of enemies at the gate and aliens in our midst; while the rich and powerful move us around like pawns on a chess board?
When panicked solutions–themselves a major source of the problems they claim they will solve–are automatically deployed, who has time to plot a well-considered change of course?
Where can we find a stable fulcrum on which to anchor our lives? Family, friends, a few hours playing a video game, and faith in a higher power to which we devote our gratitude and our hope for a better tomorrow: by such means we may seek to provide a path of sanity.
But it can feel as if such gestures of integration are being invested in a disintegrating landscape—like a tree spreading its roots on a hillside that is itself sliding into the sea.
What are we to do? Is there a path of hope that can also offer hope for our world—including the grand experiment of Nature called the human race? It seems an important question to ask. Perhaps by daring to ask how we can reinvigorate the love that each of us has probably at one time felt for our world (or at least some moment or encounter along the way), we can rekindle the capacity to care which a Greater Being has seeded in our individual being.
Among the many metaphors for the nature of such a Greater Being (sometimes called God, sometimes Original Nature, sometimes held up as an ineffable presence that permeates everything) is “primal light”—that luminosity which is present alike in darkness and in sunlight, in matter and in consciousness. Mirroring this ancient spiritual vision of light–enlightenment, luminosity, illumination– modern physics has begun to fathom a level of reality where there is nothing but light, winking in and out of existence, transcending time and space, and knowable as a luminescent presence shining at the heart of everything.
Yet here we are, perched on a rock that is spinning in space, immersed in daily lives whose pleasures are tied to the yearning for distant objects, thus ensuring that our glimpses of an inner light will be rare and fleeting.
Perhaps the place to look is at the frustrations, limitations, and darkness that we experience here and now. Perhaps that’s where we can find the light that can never be extinguished, from which all that we know and all that we don’t know is woven.
While walking under a tree on a windy autumn day–the branches overhead leaning into a sudden gust of wind–I experienced how the senses flow in both directions. Listening to the wind singing in the branches—the leaves spinning wildly, tree limbs flailing in all directions, clouds scudding across the sky—I stood rooted to the earth below, utterly rapt; as my inner being listened, watched, and responded, awakening to life in this thrilling world.
Whatever moves us does so by opening this kind of two way flow, in which by reaching out towards the world we discover the one who is reaching out. We see, through interest and caring, a being caught in the act of responding to the beauty of our world.
Responding to the activities of others in a world I share with them, I more fully inhabit the unique perspective that animates my own individual life journey.
I don’t feel as isolated or alone when I see myself as part of a whole that nourishes my more defined, and therefore limited, presence within it.
I know by being known, and am known through my willingness to know anew.
Dialogue is more than a message flung across a gulf between diverse backgrounds and interests. Dialogue is a way of knowing ourselves through the eyes of another. Paradoxically, by allowing ourselves to be fathomed by others we become more fully ourselves. As the Yiddish joke about Rabbi Moshe at the Pearly Gates suggests, being ourselves is a good thing.
Upon his death–before Saint Peter can say a word–Rabbi Moshe starts to explain himself: “Saint Peter, I realize that I should have lived a life more like Moses lived. Please believe me I tried, but . . .”
Saint Peter interrupts, “Your problem was not that you weren’t more like Moses. Your problem was that you were not more like Rabbi Moshe.”
Ah, an individual self trying to know itself in the vastness—what a challenge! Every authentic moment seems to require an act of creation.
Einstein once remarked that “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” He had good reason to perceive the universe as open to human knowledge, considering that he brought to light an intimate connection linking light, gravity and the unfolding of time.
His recognition–using science and mathematics—that experience is relative to the circumstances from which we look, has provided a modern parable for the interdependent nature of our lives. I don’t claim to understand the Theory of Relativity, but it is reassuring to know that at every level, from the cosmic to the personal, a profound interrelationship and interpenetration reigns.
Meanwhile, everyone is equipped, in their own ways, to penetrate the mysteries of the universe, just as Einstein was. My own private universe may be full of frustrating people and difficult situations, which I feel unable to understand or overcome. What if I am subject to depression, addiction, and different ways of learning (as was the case for Einstein, who failed his math classes in school)? What if the cosmos resists my yearning to understand it, to cope with it, and to find a home within it?
However, Einstein’s example can inspire me to believe that I too am capable of comprehending the realms in which my life unfolds. Am I not also subject to the bending arcs of time and pulled off center by the gravity of my fears and desires? Am I not also subject to rhythms of light that map my days and nights, and illuminate my hopes and dreams?
I do not need to achieve Einstein’s insights into the physical realm in order to benefit from his example. Instead of fathoming cosmic mysteries using the language of mathematics, my mission may be to invite the mysterious voices discovered in my own mind to share their unique understandings. Einstein did not overturn Newton’s physical laws in order to create a more inclusive view of time, space and light. He used Newton’s laws to embark upon a voyage beyond them. Similarly, my old ways of making sense of my life, although flawed, provides a vehicle ready to embark on a new voyage of understanding.
My task is not to build a new vessel, but to set sail in the one already bobbing at anchor in the harbor. Technology is always building new vehicles, but the vehicle of my humanity will carry me farther. If the cosmos is knowable then I am living in a universe woven of knowledge. Knowledge is waiting for me to invite it in. Once I realize that I am part of the very universe I seek to understand, then I will also see that I am most fully known in the act of knowing.
It seems that so much of what we call ‘education’ fails to quicken our minds and hearts while we’re ‘accumulating’ it and then,–once we’ve settled into some kind of occupation–we are frequently unable to vouch for its value.
Surely a true ‘education’–while it would involve committing some things to memory and require that we sometimes struggle with unfamiliar concepts—must also involve excitement, insight and spontaneous discoveries, if it is to impart a deeper kind of knowing. With such an ‘education’, we would still doubtlessly avoid things we perceive as harmful, but would not see “enemies” based on our own ingrained preferences and conditioning.
Seeing the world through eyes that know how to know, I am willing to share my lecture notes, my insights and my discoveries, because I recognize that true knowledge does not belong to me any more than the wind stirring its branches belongs to a tree. Like exhalations that make inhalation possible, I absorb knowledge by sharing it; and since everything I learn flows to me from beyond the borders of my small self, I make a home for knowledge by letting it flow through me.
The saying, “Home is where the heart is,” celebrates the places in which we feel most comfortable, inspired, and valued—a feeling that often harkens back to a time when others helped us get a start in life. Gratitude for our early teachers is certainly a good first step to making their guidance our own, but a more revolutionary interpretation of this phrase puts our heart itself at the center, not in some home that has already been established.
When I throw open the curtains and sunlight pours into my dreary room, my sense that I am at home in the world may come from a bird singing in the branches of a tree across the street. Drawn into a larger world, I discover that my home is really the great sweep of all possible futures—not just for me but for everyone—shimmering, never completely realized, which reaches out to me like a friend on whom I can always count.
“Aren’t we tired of seeing what is wrong in the world and having no way to address it? There is no profit in fighting, killing, and putting others down: that is not the way to happiness and well-being. We need to learn to respond to our circumstances with wisdom and with all the knowledge we can muster. We need to make this human mind great again.”
— Dimensions of Mind, Page 36, Tarthang Tulku.
Poised on a perch of pious judgement, I isolate myself from the humanity whose fate I will share if we don’t come to our senses together. It’s time to accept that there is no secure place for me to stand that will protect me alone from the rising flood.
A truth that has been propounded for millennia has finally become undeniable: We’re all in this together.
A wild thought: when Christ said that we should treat the least among us as His own presence in the world, could he have included those who don’t know their own self-interest and who feel alienated from anyone different from themselves? And when he said “they know not what they do” could he have included those who scam the system and are busy creating want in the midst of plenty?
I have become polarized against half the world. How deep would I have to dig to recognize my kinship with all beings, each suffering in their own ways?
“We know from our own experience what it is like to be cut off from inner healing, so it is easy to develop sympathy for others in the same situation. In the beginning, we can focus on our friends and those close to us, but eventually we can have the wish to help anyone, even people who have not been kind to us. We understand the way their minds operate, and we can recognize in them the same kinds of emotionality and ignorance that we have experienced ourselves.”
—Dimensions of Mind, page 46/47.
But why would I even want to make the effort needed to wrench myself loose from my familiar, comfortable alienation—and consider helping people who are inflicting great harm on this world?
“We do not want to end up bankrupt and defeated, wasting our lives in idle, meaningless pursuits, secretly convinced that there is nothing of value to live for. We do not want to pass that message on to others through our actions, our sidelong looks, our sighs and complaints. There is already enough negativity in the world.”
—Dimensions of Mind, Page 50.
In this age of skepticism, marked by a preference for rational analysis over belief and faith, it seems itself an act of faith to consider that wishing all beings well could replace active indignation over the damage our species is doing to the planet. While righteous anger, if it prompts us to resist the greed of people in power, seems justified, the cost of feeling resentment and alienation towards whole groups of fellow beings can be too great.
Einstein’s statement that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”–and Kurt Godel’s “Incompleteness theorems”, in which he proved that there is an inherent incompleteness in every closed system—encourages me to look outside the dysfunction of our current political structures and–in an act of enlightened self-interest—seek an alternative to feeling helplessly stuck inside them.
It seems rational, even scientifically ordained, to join those who are praying for others lost in pain. They are not likely to be seen on TV, making fabulous deals or starting wars, but they are quietly sending out kind-hearted wishes for all beings to be happy and well.
Oh Goddess of the healing rains, may you bring relief
To the parched deserts of our suffering
Have mercy on all who are thirsty and lost
And who see no prospects in their lives
Have mercy also on all who deceive others
And who waylay their hopes and dreams
For, in showing us who not to be,
They are sacrificing their own nows and hereafters.