The bud is hard. Then it softens, bursts, releases the pollen, and fragrance spreads through the garden. The blossom becomes more than itself. It becomes a community of birds, insects, worms, human senses, and new flowers.
So it is with my heart. When it is armored, closed tight and safe, my heart is only me. But when it opens, softens, allows itself to be vulnerable, my heart is more than me. It permeates other hearts, a field of heart radiance, a scent that has no circumference, a cup that contains the sky, and all the weightless stars.
The unconditional vulnerability of my heart is called "courage." I am only beginning to learn this, because I was raised to armor my heart, to harden and separate it against others, so that I could be "self-reliant." I was raised in the cultural myth of American hyper-masculinity.
I am just beginning to open. I have a long long way to go. But now I am learning that Courage means to soften, not to harden, my heart.
May the part of you that never gets married wed every lover on earth. The ceremony is bewilderment. Wed the honeysuckle and wild rose, marry the sound of a bumblebee in a late afternoon sunbeam. All through the black hours, be wooed by the incoming tide; then consummate your silence with sunrise.
Though One and Two were never betrothed, marry the confusion. Your engagement ring is the uncut diamond hidden in a vein of sorrow. Polish it in your chest, tumbling in tears, until the water is quiet. Neither give nor receive that brilliance in marriage. Stay one, remain voluptuous.
You can't avoid the void. Some speak of it as naked and empty. Yes, sometimes it is, and you must drown there. Then the void glows with indescribably intimate softness. Receive that touch. And finally, at spiritual midnight, when the darkness is deepest, the void gushes with the Beloved, your secret and eternal Paramour. Be ravished. These are the three forms of the formless.
Don't tell them that the bride is an exhalation of surrender, a golden body of breath stretched into fragrant darkness. Don't tell them that this silver-crowned inhalation, laden with gifts, is the groom, who enters your garden through the open gate of prayer.
We meet in moonlit stillness. The heart is a lake. There seem to be two swans. But there is only one white-feathered splendor, settling gently into its own reflection. Softly now, in a whisper, renew your vows.
We have thousands of reasons to be happy. But we have one reason to be miserable: the mind. Instead of seeking happiness, just drop the mind that seeks.
Why pay so much attention to your thoughts when you can live from the level of intuition, the spontaneous guidance of the heart? The energy of intuitive living feels completely different than the energy of mind. And once you awaken the intuitive heart, you will look back to see that mind is a quaint 18th Century custom we can no longer afford: it has grown sour and toxic. It's been uncorked too long.
How does one choose happiness? Well, here is a very ancient way. Let go of thought, sink down through breath, rest in the heart. This is the beginning and end of all spiritual practice. Precisely these instructions are given in the ancient Shiva Sutras of India, and the Philocalia, an early Christian manual on "Prayer of the Heart" from the desert Fathers.
If you don't believe that you are entitled to choose happiness, at least you can choose to breathe prana, the healing energy of the cosmic life-force. Prana is all around you, at every moment, in abundance. You just have to learn the techniques for infusing its power, its shakti, into every cell, every nerve of your body. Depression and negative thinking cannot survive in a physiology saturated with prana, in a nervous system infused by the breath of life.
How do we imbibe this life-breath into our bodies? Find an Art of Living center in your city, where you can learn to practice the Sudarshan Kriya, introduced to the world by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Sudarshan Kriya is a most efficient and practical healing art for those who seek relief from depression, exhaustion, and the plague of chronic negative thinking.
Why keep rowing when the wind fills your sail? It's you choice.
Photo by Laurent Berthier
You are the Master of the Dream, and you are here for a very special task: to reanimate the world with wonder.
Until now, awareness has been the background of your waking life, and thought was the foreground. Awareness as pure space was so obscured by the chatter of your thoughts, that you were not even aware of awareness!
Now there is a foreground-background shift. Presence solidifies. Pure awareness emerges as the primary substance of your experience, as your mind, with all its anxious thinking, all its images of past and future, subsides into background noise, and finally fades into silence.
Those who allow this shift to happen find that their time has come. They lead the world into a new intuitive lifestyle. They function not from the field of mind, but from the field of intuition, which is the spontaneous guidance of the heart. And they teach humanity to make peace through simple Presence. For them, Being predominates over Doing.
Our civilization will no longer be dominated by mind, with its insatiable desires, appetites, obsessions, and fears, its need to own and consume, its addiction to never-ending arguments and conflict.
Humanity's economic and political problems will be solved very directly, not by engaging in economic and political activism, but by DIS-engaging in the behaviors that were causing injustice. Humans will simply rest in the heart as radiant consciousness. And this rest will bring so much fulfillment, such waves of love, that self-destructive behaviors like greed, lust and violent competition will not arise.
All this transformation of our ethical life will happen as a result of merely seeing the real nature of the world. The transformation will not come on the level of religion, ethics, or government, but through the physics of consciousness.
Every proton of solid "matter" is made of subtler quarks and anti-quarks, who themselves are made of mesons, baryons and gluons, which are no-thing but waves of pure space with no actual location. Each apparent "particle" is not a particle at all, but an excitation of the entire vacuum of empty space.
Therefor the most solid material object is composed not of any stuff that we can call "matter" at all. What then is it made of? Waves of the all-pervading void, or what physicists call "fluctuations of the vacuum."
If the content is empty, then what of its form? The form of the object is a ghost of akashic memory, a repeating tremor of space. This form is ceaselessly filled and emptied by the vibrations of emptiness which are, in the final analysis, the only particles of the world. Nothing is solid or permanent. All instantaneously appears and dissolves. As the Medieval mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck wrote, "The world is re-created each moment out of nothing."
Yet emptiness is ineluctable joy. This was the teaching of the Buddha, and it will be the ultimate message of physics. The nature of the vacuum is not mere abstraction, but consciousness. Space is awake. And when we awaken to our true nature, we see that, just as particle-waves interpenetrate one another in the vacuum, as non-localized waves of wholeness, so you are happening in the space of me, and I am happening in the space of you.
Pure consciousness is a diverse community! It interacts with itself as other-ness, in love, for the sake of love. We love our neighbor AS our Self, because our neighbor IS our Self.
So let us not be deluded by the myth of materialism. It is time to deepen our perception, until the background emerges as foreground, and spirit outshines matter. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "My kingdom is not of this world."
His kingdom is the vibrant field of awakened space, the silence of the vacuum singing and resonating in its own emptiness. When he said, "I have overcome the world," he did not mean that there was a conflict, but that Christ-consciousness irradiates the earth, illuminating every body. New wine bursts the old wineskin. We no longer behold a material world, but a world transfigured in the glory of being merely what it is, the vibrancy of consciousness.
Even the blow of a hammer is emptiness striking emptiness. The world does not have to be overcome; it simply dissolves into its actual Being, a marvelous mirage, shimmering in the clarity of the awakened Self.
When you realize this primordial empty wisdom, you have nothing to prove, nothing to regret, and nothing to attain. You flow like a river, rest like a cloud, and hold the mountain like a feather in your sky.
Photo: Mt. Rainier, taken by my brother David on our recent hike.
My intellect wanted to pretend that it knew something important. So I divided space into seven planes. I separated emptiness into physical, astral, mental and buddhic worlds, calling some "gross" and others "subtle." I split no-thing into hierarchies of angels and bodhisattvas. I parted the sea of silence into ninety-names. Then I imagined seven lotuses blossoming in the body of suchness.
As I treaded water, going nowhere in the ocean of wonder, I pretended that I was on a journey, ever ascending into higher spheres of wisdom. One day I might reach the goal. Perhaps, I thought, when I get there, I will say something profound. Or I will just hum and call it "the original sound of creation." Then I will adopt a Sanskrit name and charge people $125 an hour to talk to me on the telephone.
But now I stare into the face of my cat, I listen to the song of a baby, I smell the first magnolia, and this little mind-bubble pops. No planes exist, no higher worlds, no hierarchies of celestial beings, no names of divine silence: only the wine of bewilderment. There is nothing to be attained in suchness. Just as it dances, withers, and dies, this body is already the perfect blossom of innumerable galaxies in boundless space.
My mind takes off her clothes and runs naked through the meadow. She will return, smelling of pollen and tadpole streams. When I need to concentrate, I don't call her. She is like a thistle in the breath of the wind. I let her wander til she finds me where I do not know I am.
This path is a circle, the circle a pulsation of its center, the center a dimensionless point, the point a seed of laughter hidden in a tear. That is why the Buddha, when asked for his final teaching, only held up a daisy and smiled.
This time around, we're not here to focus on life's content. We're here to focus on life itself. Whatever forms may come and go in the space of life, it is not the content but the container, the space itself, that is our treasure.
In the past, our thoughts were the foreground. The spacious sky of awareness was the background, so buried that we weren't aware of it! Now the silent background becomes the foreground. We become aware of awareness. This is the shift that defines our age.
To guide a person's attention from the heaviness of objects to the weightless expanse of pure space - from the heaviness of thoughts to the weightless expanse of pure consciousness - what greater service can you perform? To liberate the sky from the non-existent boundary of clouds - what greater freedom can you share?
You may be one of those who are called to this work, but until now you felt useless on our planet. Your task was Being, and everyone else seemed obsessed with Doing. You pretended to be interested in the content of daily experience, but your interest just wouldn't stay fixed on money, sex, war, and politics. You had a hidden yearning, yet it seemed so amorphous it was nothing at all: because in truth it was no-thing! Your concern was not the things you could be conscious of, but the clarity of consciousness itself.
To explore the nature of awareness: this was your secret passion. You were drawn to the mirror and not what it reflected. But this endeavor wasn't recognized by your society as a valid pursuit. Nobody gave you encouragement. You couldn't speak about this inner work because your education gave you no vocabulary for it. Your teachers, your friends, your parents, called you "a dreamer." Perhaps a doctor even diagnosed you with attention "deficit." But in truth, your mind abounded in attention, pressed out and overflowing!
I tell you, Master of the Dream, your time has come...
Jesus had the same problem. They wanted him to fix the content of their lives: their religion, their poverty, their political situation. But he came to glorify the container, not to fix the content. He came to reveal the Kingdom of Awareness itself.
Jesus didn't give them a better concept of god: he shattered every concept, freeing the space around all gods. He said, "The space within you, the space of awareness itself, is God."
"My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus taught. They thought he was pointing toward a higher world, or a place you go when you die. But he wasn't pointing to any place at all. He was awakening pure space.
Jesus said, I am not here to replace the stuff in your mind with new stuff. I am here to empty you. I am not interested in stuffing. I don't impart any religious doctrines at all. I remove every idea, until all that remains of you is what I Am.
Those who heard him weren't ready for this teaching, so they crucified him. But now, many more are ready to hear. And when we awaken the space of Christ-Consciousness in enough of them, it will be the Second Coming.
Yes, many are ready. Many are weary with political, economic, and technological promises that don't solve the problems of humanity. Many are weary of religion and all its content, its stuffing of belief. Many are ripe for the foreground-background shift, which is the shift of attention from thoughts to the space in which thoughts arise.
Humans are ready to become aware of awareness. This is the great evolutionary step we are taking.
In Milton's words, "They also serve who stand and wait." You have been waiting, and by waiting, serving. Now your time has come. Time to speak the simple truth: the utterly transparent message of pure awareness.
They will ask, "How can simply being aware solve our problems?" And you will answer, "Find out for yourself. Become aware of awareness."
"How do we become aware of awareness?" they will ask. Then you will teach them to meditate.
Teach them to discover the kingdom inside, deeper than thought. Awaken the space that is silent, limitless, self-clarifying, eternal, free from past and future, overflowing with the nectar of joy. That space is neither doing nor thinking, but Being. It is the source of creation.
Don't hesitate to tell them clearly what all the great prophets have declared: God is consciousness, and all of creation is made out of consciousness. This simple fact dispels the materialist delusions that have crippled our civilization. It is not a belief or a philosophy, but a direct experience. That experience of pure consciousness brings peace to the restless soul.
Awakening spacious clarity in ourselves will awaken that clarity in every atom of the earth, in trees and mountains, moth wings and plum blossoms. And awakening space in ourselves will awaken other human beings as well. This is your work: reanimate the world with wonder.
Humanity is sound asleep. Sleep walking humans tread heavily on the earth, stumbling on its delicate greenery. And we trample each other too. But as we awaken the beauty within us, we bow to that beauty in nature around us. As we honor the space of awareness, we honor the environment. And as we love our own Self, we love our neighbor as our Self. This is the ecology of meditation.
Do not dilute the work of meditation with any political, economic, or religious message. That is all just content. Simply help people polish their mirrors: it is their business what to reflect. Teach meditation to East and West, artist and executive, believer and non-believer, pacifist and warrior. Do not teach Buddhist meditation, Yoga meditation, Christian meditation, Goddess meditation, or Metaphysical meditation. These labels are just more stuffing. If your meditation has a label, it is not meditation.
Remember that the world's problem is not war, injustice, pollution, racism or poverty. These are only symptoms of the problem. The problem is that we are asleep. Our mirror is clouded by thoughts. Our presence is clouded by images of the past and future. Our awareness does not know itself. And our mental disorder throws all our actions into disorder.
Give both friend and enemy the one solution to all problems. Teach them to cleanse the mirror, so that they may reflect the real world, which is luminous and divine.
The world doesn't need our busy-ness, it needs our consciousness.
A true story of grace and transformation, originally published in the Quaker journal, 'What Canst Thou Say.' I share it again on this Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, July 22. Painting: 'Mary Magdalene,' by Cassandra Barney.
In 1972, I was a pilgrim. Not to India, but to the Medieval shrines of Europe, seeking the heart of Christian prayer. I'd spent several years exploring the wisdom of India with my guru, Maharshi Mahesh. I told him that I longed to know the mystery of Christ. I was not a Hindu.
"Be a Christian," he said. "Take this meditation into the Church."
On my pilgrimage, I visited Vezeley in central France. In the crypt beneath the church is the pilgrimage shrine to the Magdalene: there I discovered that her tomb was nearby. I had no idea she was buried in France. For the first time in my life, I prayed through a saint. "O Mary, mother of devotion, guide me to the heart of Christ!" I wasn't even Catholic.
Much later, I learned her mythic story. After the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene boarded a ship bound for Britain with Joseph of Aramethia. On the coast of Provence, where now is the port of Marseilles, Mary disembarked while Joseph continued to Britain with the holy grail. Secluded in a cave in the hills of Provence, Mary became the first Christian mystic.
But as I wandered on, I forgot about my prayer to her. Several weeks later, in the pilgrim church of Conques, I met an old priest with whom I shared my quest. We did not discuss Mary Magdalene. We spoke of Gregorian Chant and the old traditions. I asked him if he knew of a monastery where the old way of Gregorian chant was still practiced. Mumbling about a tiny Benedictine priory in the south, he scribbled a note which said, "Bedouin, near Carpentras." I stuck it in my wallet.
A month later, bound for Italy, I got off the train in Marseilles by a sudden intuition. I took another train to Avignon, where I reached for the crumpled note in my wallet. "Bedouin, near Carpentras." Carpentras was a three-hour bus ride into Provence. In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, "Be a wanderer." I had no idea where I was going. I had truly become a wanderer.
In Carpentras, I hitched a ride toward Bedouin, which was fifteen miles further into the countryside and not even on the map. No bus, no train stopped there, few cars. I had to walk the last few miles. The village dozed in golden light. Poppies and lavender danced in the fields. Granite hills shimmered in waves of noon-day heat. Everyone in Bedouin was napping: not a soul about town! Was there a priory near-by? A single old man I met didn't know. I started to hike.
Covered with dust and sweat, I walked for hours past meadows baking in the drone of crickets. I came upon a run-down farm where a young British couple leaped through the long grass with butterfly nets. They told me there was no priory near-by and they said that everyone in the region was as crazy as they were. By evening, I was back in Bedouin. With desperate faith, I tried one more country lane at the far end of the village. The sun was an orange candle on the purple hills. I ambled another mile, through apricot groves and a flock of goats without a herder. Then, around a bend, I saw a dome.
It was an ancient Romanesque dome of well-fitted stones, near a farm house and cinder-block dormitory, tidy gardens, no sign at the gate. From the domed chapel came a sound as timeless as the longing in my heart: Gregorian chant.
I knelt in gathering darkness where nine young monks chanted Vespers. An oil lamp flickered from a niche in the granite alter. Carved in relief upon that stone was a woman, wild and naked, long hair covering her breasts. She held the oil lamp in her stone hand and gazed at me.After Vespers, the monks greeted me in silence and beckoned me to supper: vegetables, cheese, lentil soup and bread without words. Then the prior, a young priest named Father Gerard, returned with me to the chapel, where we could whisper despite the rule of silence. In stumbling French I told Pere Gerard of my quest and he invited me to stay.
"I don't even know the name of this place," I said.
"C'est La Prieure de la Madeleine."
Pointing to the woman in the alter I asked, "Who is she?"
"La Madeleine." It was Mary, and this place was hers. Only then, after weeks of wandering, did I recall my prayer at her tomb. "Her cave was in these hills," said Gerard. "This shrine was built for her in the ninth century. She was the first Christian monk. And you are just in time."
"For what?" I asked.
A Catholic feast begins with Vespers at sundown. My saint had guided me to Magdalene Priory precisely at Vespers on July 21. The next day, July 22, was The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene. As Tolkein wrote, "Not every wanderer is lost."
For months I worked in the apricot groves, sang the daily Latin Hours, rose for Vigils at 3 AM. There was hard work in the gardens, but the real work was prayer. In that ancient dome, before the soft granite gaze of the Magdalene, I prayed for hours each day, using the meditation technique with which my guru had graced me. The stillness inside me grew boundless, then vibrant, then dazzling. I tasted the light at the center of the soul, where the tiny bud of "I" dissolves into the blossoming "Am" of God. Yet I still longed for a personal connection to the Infinite.
Suddenly, doubt shattered my devotion. Can I unite with Christ through a meditation practice from India? Impossible, impure, even adulterous! I vowed to give up meditation and adopt the Jesus Prayer. I would only use the name of Jesus as my mantra. I tried several forms of Christian practice, but none united me with Christ like my guru's subtle sadhana.
Then came the breakthrough. With a single breath I sighed into realization. I saw that the conflict was not about East vs. West, but intellect vs. experience. God cannot be thought, for God is. I must surrender my intellect, and plunge into a darkness without concepts, a silence without thoughts. From this emptiness, love is born: light from darkness, Christ from Mary's womb.
Meditation deepened and softened, softened and deepened, until my longing was fulfilled. I realized that my bija mantra, the subtle Sanskrit sound heard in meditation, was really an echo of the one divine Word, the Logos "through whom all things are made" (John 1). This Word vibrates through every ancient language of prayer: Sanskrit, Hebrew, Latin, Arabic. The Logos is the resonant energy of silence. It is pure consciousness, vibrating as the seed syllable at the root of all language, before sound condenses into matter. As all material creatures are born of one Spirit-Breath, so all languages are born of one Logos, and all prayers return to one God.
Those who meditate with faith in the divine Name, in whatsoever religious tradition they are born, enter through one eternal Word into the boundless silence of God.
Gazing into the abysmal intimacy at the heart of creation, I gazed into the face of Christ. I saw no form, for his features are dissolved in light, and that light is the fruit of darkness. When two kiss, they are one. They no longer see: yet the beloved is nearer than the lover's own heartbeat. One, yet two.
I understood the Song of Songs, "For your lips are sweeter than wine, and your name is perfume poured out!" I tasted a vintage beyond lips, sweetness beyond naming. The person of Christ was essentialized in the sapphire radiance at the center of my soul.
"Taste and see that the Lord is good!" cries the Psalmist. O seeker, trust in the authority of your own experience. For we are led by the heart to understanding, not by understanding to the heart.
LINK: 'Kenosis: Entering Loss'
14 thousand years ago, when I was 9 years old, my father sent me into the meadow to herd his meager goat flock. From the forest, where I was told never to wander, I heard a thrush song so melodious that it almost seemed like the call of an angel. At the time I did not know that songs do not descend from above, but rise up from the animal kingdom.
Allured, I abandoned my goats, who grazed contentedly on thistles and clover, and plunged into the woods where it grew thickest, greenest, and most wild.
Under a blossoming dogwood tree I met a boy my own age. His skin was blue as a rain-laden cloud in early May. His eyes were twin trillium dancing in fern shadows. Being a prince, he superciliously gave me a commandment: "Leave all your duties and make mischief with me."
"Is this permitted?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, " because the world needs mischief more than work."
"What about the rules?"
"There is only one rule. Fall in love. Then it is your duty to break every other law."
He taught me how to turn my body into a wounded flute with seven holes. He showed me how to pour tears through it. He taught me to catch peacocks by the tail and follow their outraged flight to the moon. He taught me to transcend both sleep and dreams, and to sing all night.
Then my dark blue playfellow led me to a deep pool filled by a waterfall in the forest, where the daughters of his royal cousins were bathing. We tiptoed over the moss and stole the clothes that they had scattered on the bank. Climbing up in a yew tree, we hung them from every branch, laughing and teasing the ladies below, who shrugged their shoulders and covered their buoyant breasts with crossed hands.
I accidentally dropped my wallet into the pool, a little bag filled with my most precious heirlooms. One of the girls dove for it, then came up gasping, waving the purse and shouting, "You must give us our clothes to get this back!"
I called, "There's nothing in that bag but my name, my grandfather's diamond signet ring, and the deed to my father's property. Throw it back into the water. I'd rather see your nipples!"
She did just that, causing the blue boy to laugh with delight. "Well done!" he said, clapping his hands. A very large salmon leaped out of the water with my wallet in its mouth, then swam down the stream toward the sea.
But the blue boy wanted to give the girl a little punishment for throwing my wallet away, not because she had done wrong, but just to tease her. So he blew a breath upon her that transformed her body into a mourning dove. "You may return to your human form tomorrow," he said.
Beating her wings in distress, the dove flew to a willow branch that wept over the water. All night she keened the plaintive ululation only lovers understand. At dawn her sweet mist-muted cry came from afar, over many hills.
When the sun was high and the mist had burned away, she wandered back to her friends, naked and human, her bare feet delicately pressing last night's dew from the moss. "Sorrow is lovely," she said. "Now I will never be afraid. I miss the dark."
Almost 10 thousand years later, while wandering through Manchuria, I met the Old Master of the Way, hitchhiking out of the empire. I was still a young boy. "Before you escape from civilization," I asked the old fellow, "what can you teach me?" He taught me to breathe through the soles of my feet. I still hate shoes.
I followed the caravan routes across Persia to the Roman Empire. On the way, I passed through a picturesque little kingdom called Israel, noted chiefly for die-hard zealots who kept challenging the authority of Caesar, getting themselves crucified, then coming back for more.
I befriended the son of the High Priest while I was stealing pomegranates in the crowded marketplace. He took me to his father's house and, discovering that I had met some sages in the East, the High Priest asked me if I wanted to visit the temple. Of course I did. He made me bathe several times and cover my body in a white robe, then escorted me through the court of the gentiles and into the sanctuary, where I had no right to be.
"Are you sure the temple guards won't arrest me?" I asked.
The High Priest just winked and said, "You're a traveler. Speak well of what you see here as you travel Westward."
He led me down aisle after aisle, past many tables where merchants were selling pigeons, lambs, and wine for the devout to offer in sacrifice. There were pots filled with dinarii and other trinkets of silver. In the heart of the temple, I walked up the stairs past alters of incense and sacrifice, carefully stepping over trenches in the floor that ran with the warm blood of rams and bulls. The Levitical priests seemed entranced by their work of slaughter and didn't notice me, a 12-year-old goy in their midst.
Then the old man led me to the Holy of Holies, its door barely visible in the cloud of incense that perpetually gloomed the pillars and alters. He asked me not to speak, then opened the golden door. We walked into the shrine room at the center of God's little kingdom.
Imagine my surprise. There I expected to see another alter, with a holy book lying upon it. Or perhaps the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. Or even the lost tablet, the one Moses broke in fury, on which a single commandment was written: "Love thyself."
But instead I saw another door wide open, actually more like the black throat of a cave. The High Priest beckoned me with a sweeping gesture, and I walked through. Before my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, I seemed to be spinning through a vacuum, tumbled by waves of pure possibility, like a wildly unbalanced quadratic equation searching desperately for Zero, buffeted and baffled by expanding and contracting bubbles of space-time. I was lost in the swirling maelstrom of infinitesimal worlds smaller than Planck's Constant.
Suddenly I touched solid ground and could see again. I had passed through some mysterious portal into an ancient forest. Thick with cedar, hemlock, ferns and trillium, green shadows echoed with the sound of birds, shrieks of monkeys and other hominids, only the eyes of whom were visible, glinting from the dark. Reptiles with human faces twined around every tree trunk, smiling like flowers, singing so softly that their descant was an all-pervading whisper, mighty in its quietude.
Looking at the High Priest, I yearned for an explanation yet was unable to speak. In a very deliberate and barely audible voice, he said, "No temple can ever contain Adonai, the Lord of Creatures, whose true name is unknown. For God is wilderness, and order is chaos. In the presence of her mystery, all words perish, all thoughts fall silent. A holy scripture is holy only when it conjures images of the ancient forest. To find enlightened, you must be feral again."
So I walked deeper into the green shadows, and swooned... Then I found myself sitting in the market place, eating that pomegranate among the merchants' booths. Where was the High Priest and his son? Had it merely been a reverie? Were the seeds of the pomegranate fermented?
Not many centuries later, I was strolling through a village near the source of the Ganges, and who do you think I encountered? Bodhidharma, the 6th Patriarch, on his way to the North. He invited me to go with him but I answered, "I'm too young. Besides, I've already been there."
That night we lay under the stars. Bodhidharma gave me a pearl and said, "Rest this between your eyebrows." So I did. "Now look into the stars." Then I saw my seven grandmothers riding galactic bicycles, pregnant with light years, bearing the galaxies from virgin silence.
On my way home, I wandered through Macedonia. One night I left the path to sleep in a forest cave. About midnight I was wakened by a goat-footed singer with a three-stringed lyre, who was climbing through the cave on his way back from the Underworld, where he had been dallying with his lover. He gave me a drink from his wine skin and played the richest harmonies, the most haunting melodies, on just those three strings, for the complexity of the universe is only the music of the Trinity, Three in Zero. I began to weep with incomprehensible waves of grief. The singer said, "You must make a lyre of body, breath, and mind if you want to turn your tears to laughter."
I am not sure if this was a dream, but he touched his lyre to my lips and the strings melted like maple sugar candy, dripping down through the hollows of my rib cage, each drop echoing in the cavern of my belly. The goat-man said, "Loop these strings through your nostrils and stretch one to your heart, one to your navel, and one to the tip of your spine." I did as instructed. "Now breathe," he commanded.
As I inhaled, each neuron tingled with a love song. As I exhaled, strange rhyming couplets spilled from my lips in words of evaporated crystal. Even today I breathe these bejeweled sounds. This is how I remain just twelve years old, though I have outlived the world's most ancient volcanoes.
About 2000 years later, I met Jesus. He was an honored guest in the house of my master Levi, where I was a servant boy. Reclining on his elbow by the low table, as was the custom at Hellenistic feasts, Jesus said, "Come here, boy. What are you serving?"
"Olives, sir." I offered him my plate of succulent brown ones.
"Not sweet enough for me," Jesus said. "Do you have any grapes?"
The whole room grew quiet. My master Levi and all the men reclining at the feast wanted to see what I would do, for it was a great sin to insult a guest, and I was a slave boy. "No grapes, sir," said I, "Only olives; but my master's olives are more luscious than any fruit."
At that, both host and guests sighed with relief, resuming their debate on the philosophy of love. Jesus reached his fingers into my dish of olives, drawing out a dripping fistful. Holding his hand over my head, he crushed the olives in his palm and drizzled their juice over my hair. It spilled down my forehead into my eyes and over my lips. Jesus said, "Boy, I anoint you with oil. You are the Christ, just as I Am. Together, we will become pure breath, and enter the bodies of saints and fools."
Deeply disturbed, my master Levi cried, "Why do you anoint this servant boy as if he were a prophet? He belongs to me!"
Jesus simply gazed into my eyes and commanded, "Speak, boy!"
My mouth made sounds, but were they words? Was this a language anyone could understand? I had no idea what I was saying, but I knew exactly what I meant:
"You have wandered too long in blazing desert sun. Come to my oasis of figs, pomegranates, cocoa and apple boughs. Rest in my green shadows."When your eyes take root in my fecund darkness, you will see gemstones lying among the lilies: rocks of amethyst and jagged topaz, blackest onyx, sapphires gleaming with their own inward light."Turn them over one by one and behold, a gushing spring under each stone. And see, dwelling in those gurgling fountains of night are all the serpents that were ever banned by priests of religion from every nation on earth. Now they dwell here, in my oasis, beyond good and evil. Press your face into my streams and drink of these serpent waters!"That was a very sweet night.
Several centuries later, I wandered through the ancestral hills of Eire, searching for elves and leprechauns, having read in a wicked book that Ireland was the last place on earth where the little people could still be found - at least out here on the world's surface. I climbed over a mysterious mound covered with clover and eglantine. Ancestral commotions rumbled from under the ground. In the thicket, a five-point stag was waiting for me. He whispered, "Follow quickly, we are hunted."
Hearing the huntsman's horn, the buck and I ran into the white fog, then emerged in a cedar forest, walking along a deep crevasse in the broken earth. I heard no horn of huntsman now, but elfin music rising from that cleft in the earth. "Fairies?" I asked the deer. But the stag had dissolved into mist.
As I was very tired, and it was evening, I lay down among morning glory vines whose blossoms were folded up. A sweet breath of warmth pervaded that cluster of green. Falling into deep sleep, I dreamed that tiny dancers entered and left my body, carrying excavated treasures which they loaded into carts carved from bone, pulled by winged dolphins who flew up into the night. They exported my whole body, atom by atom, into the stars. And I was made of stars.
Awoken by sunbeams, I was refreshed but hopelessly entangled in morning glories. The blossoms opened wide and gaped with foolish grins, yet the songs they sang were just tremors of silence in the breeze. I had the peculiar sense that this breeze and its silent songs were emerging from my own bone marrow.
Then I noticed a little man sitting beside me on the ground, his endless wheaten beard spiraling around him. Those vacant limpid eyes were like pools of cream, and somehow I knew that he was blind. But he gazed upon me with second sight, holding a ruddy glistening fish in his arms, as one might hold a fat furry cat. It was the salmon who had stolen my wallet in a previous age. This fish had no trouble breathing the sunny air.
"Who are you, sir?" I asked the small wheat-bearded man.
"My name is Turlogh," he said, "Turlogh, the Blind Harper."
"Have you come to teach me to harp, or to see?"
"Ah," he said, "You are so clever! Have not the little people been teaching you my songs all night?"
At that, I remembered the music in my marrow, and watched my breath sink into my heart, where a flame burst out, undulating in the emerald form of a lady with a serpent's tail, on which she could tiptoe and spin, spreading enormous rainbow wings. Her eyes were filled with tears, her lips with a succulent smile. Yes, a harp sang inside me. And deep underground, a chorus answered the song of my body, echoing from the crevasse. I understood that the elves, who lived down in the heart-wound of the earth, had been teaching me their songs throughout the ageless hours of darkness.
"Now you comprehend your name!" Turlough said. The truth was, I had always hated my name, "Alfred." But I never knew what it meant until now. "It is Anglo-Saxon," the little man added. "Elf-Read, which means, Taught-by-Elves."
That is when I awoke a second time, and Turlogh was gone. Or was it the third time I awoke? I am losing count. My life has been a never-ending rosary of awakenings. There in the grass beside me was a rabbit, a squirrel, and a fat raven. They plucked, pulled, and untangled the morning glory vines from my body.
The raven said, "None of the beings you have encountered until now were real. Not one. But we are real. We are animals. We come to you in dreams, disguised as other sorts of people whom you respect more. But you have been learning from us the whole time."
The rabbit and the squirrel stared at me with great kindness, then hopped off into the forest. The fat raven beat his wings and rose into the air, making a croak that seemed like the gong of an enormous star-encompassing bell. At that, I seemed to awaken yet again.
"Wait!" I shouted, "Was it all a dream within a dream?"
The raven called, "Yes!"
I shouted back, "Not so, because ravens can't talk!"
And the raven, now very high above, disappeared into the morning sunshine, singing, "This too!"
I feel sorry for the one who says, 'I am not this body.' What hopeless dualism: I vs. the body!
A vaporized zero-energy 'I' beyond the warmth of breast-bone and thigh? A blush without a cheek? He doesn't really mean it. Just trying to sound like a skinny saint in a loin cloth.
Now hear my confession. I don't wear a loin cloth. I AM my body. The whole cósmos is my body, every atom spinning on the axis of its galaxy, each photon tuned to a bursting star. My skin is too astonishing for the world to contain. I incarnate heavens.
Somewhere in my loin glows Krishna Loka. The almond space in my brain stem condenses the Milk Ocean, where Vishnu sleeps on his cobra boat. Mount Meru is a gnat between my eyebrows. Echoing from the hollow in my bones, the hymns of Sama Veda heal forests and wheat fields, calling a new race of honey bees from the planet Venus that orbits my belly button.
Stop trying so hard to be a ghost. Find out how crazy sensuous our Oneness really is. Dance with me. When we touch, we'll be a single lightning bolt, a fiery ladder of solidified silence between earth and sky.
I will dissolve your name in my kiss, but out beyond darkness, your body will keep whirling.
"Let me dwell here on the threshold of two worlds." ~Rumi
God isn't so into the details. God doesn't care all that much whether you say He or She, creature or creator, one or two. God leaves all the busy work up to the devas, the angels, the elemental spirits, right down to the quarkish ayin soph who creates this very thought in a synapse of your brain, then melts back into divine no-thingness.
So if you feel overwhelmed and exhausted by details, maybe you forgot that your awareness is divine, clear and empty as the sky. Drop your 1001 tasks this instant and expand into your true nature, like a bursting bubble of sea foam.
This is meditation, and if its true meditation, you only need a short blast of it to saturate your boundaries with boundless Silence. Then you can get back to the unique task of your earth work, like a busy gnome, a tree sylph, or a peony deva.
Don't underestimate this wild paradox of being human. You are both creature and creator, both the bee and the sap. You are passionate and dispassionate, personal and impersonal. You get to be unlimited while confined to a body. (Anybody can be unlimited without one.) You get to do absolutely no-thing while furiously dancing. (Anybody can be still if there is no dance.)
When you need to get grounded, do the work of a gnome. When you feel too small, dissolve into God.
"Now when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them and said... The kingdom of God is within you.” ~Gospel of Luke 17:20
"Take no thought for tomorrow." ~Gospel of Matthew 6:34
"Before Abraham was, I AM." ~Gospel of John 8:48
Jesus teaches exactly what Buddha, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Papaji, Osho, Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and all the awakened ones teach: Be Present. Surrender the burden of your old stories and wake up to the miracle of Now. The present moment is the kingdom of God.
The mind doesn't want to hear this, of course. Mind wants to accomplish something very complicated, and weighted down with history.
Painting by Rembrandt
The Buddha is visiting my town. He is a great disappointment. He doesn't talk about Dukkha, Anicca, or the Four Noble Truths. He doesn't make us sit in the lotus chanting the Heart Sutra. No robes. No glamorous antiquated gobbledegook. And his name isn't "Buddha." It's Raymond Something.
He invites us to a gathering in a dilapidated rancher with moss on the roof. But it has a large living room and the eldering hippie who lives there is kind. We sit silently for fifteen minutes and, since nothing happens, we get restless. Then Raymond the Buddha says, "Let's cut the bullshit. None of you are really happy. You try hard, but its all pretend. Right?"
No one replies.
Then he says, "If you want a workshop in Calling Your Guardian Angels, or Finding the Wisdom of Past Lives, or Using the Law of Attraction for Abundance, then go somewhere else."
Looking at our iWatches, half of us leave.
Fifteen more minutes of quiet sitting. Then he says, "I'm not here to discuss your tribal politics either. If you want to blame the rich for the problems of the poor, or blame one race for the problems of another, or blame the military industrial complex, then you should go to a peace demonstration, though you won't find much peace there. Because blame only isolates the mind, and the more you blame, the lonelier and more desperate you become."
About half the remaining people snort indignantly and leave. The ruffled atmosphere settles down into a deeper silence. He says, "I'll level with you. None of that stuff interests me, because none of it makes anyone free. I'm only here to discuss one thing: how to be free. Right now."
More silence. Finally someone says, "Sir, are we supposed to be doing something?"
"No," replies Raymond. A few more people walk out. A few remain. The silence gets thick and gold, like honey.
"Who can add one moment to life by worrying about it?" Raymond asks. "So let's just sit in no particular posture and watch this breath."
After a few more minutes he says, "Watch this breath entering your nostrils, your throat, your chest. Is it you who makes this breath happen? Did you create your breath?" Silence.
"Your breath is a gift," he says. "What did you do to deserve it? Nothing. Notice this, and be thankful." Silence.
"Now perhaps your mind is trying to 'do' something. Just observe how that is. See the humor and absurdity of it. Then come home to your breath. Receive a breath, and give it back. Smile deeply. This is worship, isn't it?"
Over the next ten minutes, most of the remaining guests leave. Then Raymond Buddha says, "When you exhale, all you can give back is gratitude."
Maybe twelve are left, a remnant. None of them are scholars.
Raymond says, "I'm not telling you, when you leave here, go and believe in the light. I'm not telling you, when you leave here, go and make the light shine. I'm telling you, go and Be the light. Then just work softly at your work,whatever it is. Let your breath touch the heart of every atom in the cosmos. This world is not transformed by thinking. This world is not transformed by doing. This world is transformed by Being."
Raymond stands up. He is dressed in a ragged golf shirt, blue genes, and sneakers. Yet his presence is like a sunlit cloud on a mountain. Flowing like a river, he moves quietly around the room. Ever so gently, he touches each person with two fingers of his right hand.
Some of us he touches between the eyebrows. We barely feel it on our skin. But inside, a cool breeze of emptiness.
Others he touches on the chest, soft as a feather. Deep between heartbeats, we sink through an abyss of stillness.
Some he touches on top of the head. It feels like a drop of dew, melting upward into the sky.
With this touch, you hear the voices of all flowers on earth as they open in the morning. With this touch, you see ten thousand golden suns silently birthed from the center of a galaxy, and it happens in the core of your chest. With this touch, you taste the inebriating nectar of clarity. You are falling, falling through no distance, into the groundless immeasurable beauty that you Are.
The power of Advaita is all-pervading silence. The power of Bhakti is the wave-nature of silence. Particles of matter arise from fluctuations of the vacuum. The dance of Shakti arises from the music of the void. We breathe in. We breathe out. The infinitesimal bindhu between exhalation and inhalation is the stillness where stars and galaxies are born. Rest the befuddled intellect in meditation. One and two are both vibrations of zero
Someone asked, 'What is your inspiration?' I thought about it and realized that my chief inspiration is something so small, so humble, so effortless; yet we cannot live without it. So insignificant that we hardly notice, yet vast beyond conception.
My inspiration is a sacrament that encompasses every cycle of ebb and flow, encircling the cosmos, yet is embodied here, in my particular and ordinary now.
My inspiration is this breath. This breath, nourished by awareness, illumined by Grace.
Grace becomes concrete in this breath, because I am simply aware that I do not take this breath, it is given to me.
Nothing more near, more common than a breath. Yet what moves my breath moves the planets, turns the galaxy, and pulsates eternity as time. This breath sparkles. It is the milk-flow of the cosmic mother.
My breath does not originate in me. It pours from the stars through my crown, my brow, my chest, my belly. Streaming down my spine, a string of liquid pearls, moonbeams pooled in my heart, seeping into every cell of flesh, saturating this body with the glow of God's first word, "Let there be light."
My breath connects heaven and earth. My breath is the first gift, and the last offering. My breath awakens me, reminds me that miracles begin right where I am.
I am still searching for the Breath Giver, so that I may bow down in thanksgiving. But I bow down anyway. Unknowing.
Painting: 'Holy Spirit' by Colleen Shay
The only original sin is to doubt that your heart is divine.
A pure light shines within you. It matters not whether you call the light Christ, Buddha, Guru, or Goddess. What matters is to merge with That through love. Then you will see the same divinity in others.
For the sake of world healing, it is time to be the light you are. Meditate, then radiate. Wouldn't you rather look FROM that place than FOR that place?
As soon as you become aware that "I am made of pure light!" countless hosts of sub-nuclear angels muster to your trumpet of intention.
Your flesh is composed of celestial hierarchies, ranked according to the table of the elements, which are waves of bliss.
This explains the little rush and plume of gold that fountains from each dendrite in your cerebral cortex.
It also explains how you can move a mountain. The material world responds to your intention. Earth is an extension of your body through divine antennae: seeing, hearing, tasting, smell and touch.
Send forth your messengers, O Eye, O Tongue, O sacred Nostril!
Even your pain is intensely luminous energy, sharpening your focus, melting ancient boundaries, removing the dross of thought, as long as you don't label it, "suffering."
But the moment you think, "My body is sick, I am a weak and fallen sinner," the heavenly hosts depart, and you are no more than a lump of uncooked bacon.
Engraving by William Blake
In the current political crisis, we hear a call for conscious people to participate in "resistance." A more radical response might be non-resistance...
Doesn't our resistance just project more duality and polarization? Aren't we limited, conditioned, and defined by what we resist?
When the Heart does not resist, it no longer fractures the continuum into "left" and "right." The Heart responds from wholeness. The answer to this crisis will not emerge from the old stories that have defined us through duality. One old story gave us the infernal engines of corporate oligarchy. The other gave us the almighty socialist state. Both were hierarchies of oppression. Something radically new is emerging from the centered Heart. It is not a hierarchy, but an ever self-sustaining circle. For the Heart is a center without circumference.
The Phoenix rises from the ashes of every narrative about time. She arises as the fire of Presence. Resentment of the past is over. Anxiety about the future is over. Politics is over. For it was all re-action, not action. Creative action springs from the heart's silence, never outraged by an old story. Love needs no story.
We are invited to see that resistance does not nourish us. It hardens us into a lead mirror of the enemy. Let protest be burned in the fire of celebration. Let us exalt something so luminous, so real and beautiful, that the fake and the ugly cannot endure its light.
In my quest for the most just and beautiful political system, given a choice between the Democrats and the Republicans, the answer became clear: Goddess-Intoxicated Anarchy.
I would rather drown in the un-picked blossom than sell the honey. I would rather light a tiny flame in my own chest than entitle myself to a million stars.
The bio-region replaces the nation-state, because nature draws no straight lines or right angles: she abhors borders. The local transcends the federal, the sustainable out-performs the wasteful, the small rejoices over the big, and all is green.
Our congress meets quietly around a forest pool reflecting the full moon. The only sound is a fresh spring gushing out of the earth. Our constitution is written in tree rings. The radical act is to be present. The revolution is to breathe.
Wetland Restoration Mandala by Caryn Babaia
I found that when I stopped making any conceptual distinction between happiness and sadness, I became fulfilled.
But when I separated the 'state' of happiness from the natural field of awakened space which also contains the poignant sorrows of the world, the 'happiness' became quite brittle and superficial.
I don't recognize 'happiness' as anything real anymore. It is like trying to separate the air in a sea bubble from the salt water. Peace.
I pledge allegiance to no flag.
I pledge allegiance to no nation,
no government, no border.
True patriotism is rebellion.
True rebellion is joy.
Cast down the mighty, the masters of war.
I pledge allegiance to the poor.
I pledge allegiance to weeds and sod.
I pledge allegiance to the moon and tide.
I pledge allegiance to sun and wind.
I pledge allegiance to the rainbow,
to the light that contains all colors.
I pledge allegiance to coral.
I pledge allegiance to an heirloom tomato seed.
I pledge allegiance to the unborn
curled in the mother's sea of trust.
I pledge allegiance to the dust.
I pledge allegiance to all the winged
and swimming children of the earth,
to crawling things and creatures of night,
to all my friends, four-legged and two.
I pledge allegiance to you.
If you want to feel a great relief from the project of getting enlightened, or saving the earth, just try becoming ordinary. To accomplish this, stop trying to be any-thing. Just Being is enough.
You might look at ordinary objects and say, "There are no miracles." But in fact, these objects are miraculous - the dandelion, the cloud, the dewdrop, the eyes of a child - for they exist, and Being itself is a transcendental, breath-taking, never-ending miracle.
If you realize that you Are the miracle, you will see everyone as a miracle. That is the only solution to our crisis.
Photo: My plastic Buddha