Postings from My Facebook Page #22
The following are selected posts from my Facebook page:
This is the twenty-second and current collection of posts from my Facebook page. I continue to add new selections, newer posts at the bottom, so if you’ve visited this particular page before, you may want to refresh or reload it to be sure you are seeing the most recent version. My actual Facebook page includes many other things not included here, such as quotes from my books, links to videos, the latest information on any of my upcoming events and books, quotes from other people (sometimes with commentary), occasional responses to other people's comments to my posts, book recommendations, and so on. Because the writings below were first written on Facebook, where italics are not an option, CAPS are used instead to emphasize certain words.
The posts are arranged chronologically with the most recent on the bottom:
Is Everything Really Sacred?
Someone recently questioned my saying in an old interview that “every experience is equally sacred.” This person wrote: “By the same token, is every experience equally sordid? I’d have no humanity left if I granted ‘sacredness’ to abhorrent acts.” This is my response:
The sacredness is in the beholding presence, the unconditional love, just as the beauty of an object is in the quality of the seeing. If you are seeing through the filter of thought, or lost in thought-stories of elsewhere and elsewhen, you can easily miss the wonder and beauty of the Swiss Alps or the Grand Canyon. When you are rooted in presence and seeing from clear awareness (open attention, wonder, love), you can see beauty in a crumpled cigarette package in the gutter.
"Every experience is equally sacred" doesn't mean you "like" acts of cruelty or think they are "good," or that you can't discern differences in everyday life between harmful activities and wholesome ones, or between a nourishing meal and dogshit, or that you might not be moved to take action in some way to change, heal or correct something. It simply means that you recognize that even the most horrific events or the most upsetting experiences are an inseparable part of the larger happening. The statement points to beholding even “abhorrent acts” from a place of unconditional love, which is the very nature of awareness, rather than from a place of hate, which always comes from reactive and delusional thinking. And again, unconditional love doesn’t mean approval. It is like the love of a mother for her only child, even when that child does something terrible.
To say that "every experience is equally sordid" is a recipe for a miserable life. Rather than getting lost in philosophy and metaphysics about how the universe works, I find it helpful to come back to a very practical place of discovering what brings forth happiness and what brings forth suffering.
Maybe it would help to turn the statement upside down and say that everything is equally empty of inherent reality or independent existence. Everything is equally empty of self and equally full of everything else, like the jewels in Indra's Net, each of them only a reflection of all the others. Everything is equally an appearance in and of consciousness, presence, being, unicity, the One-without-a-second, the Self. Or, conversely, everything is equally no-thing at all.
When seen from the perspective of the apparently separate individual, through the filter of conditioned dualistic thought and belief, this so-called world appears as samsara. Seen without those illusory filters, from clear awake boundless awareness or unconditional love, the world is recognized as nirvana. As it says in Vedanta: “The World is Illusory; God (or Brahman or Consciousness) alone is real; God is the world.” And, of course, there is no consistent, objective world “out there” in the way we think, as some inherently existing and persisting external reality. The world is in the seeing. Is the glass half empty, half full, neither or both?
Every wave in the ocean is equally the ocean, whether big or small, placid or fierce, soothing or destructive. We don't overlay ideas of "good" and "bad," or "conscientious" and "mindless," on the ocean's waves because we recognize them as an impersonal movement of nature without added meaning. I'm suggesting our human activity is equally a movement of nature, equally impersonal.
Every urge we have, every thought, every interest, every impulse is a movement of the whole. Thought claims it after the fact as “mine” (or “yours”). Thought says, “my choice,” “my mistake,” “my success,” “my failure.” But that “me” (or “you”) is nothing more than a thought referring to a mental image, a story, a bunch of memories and certain sensations in the body, all of which are constantly changing. We think the genocidal dictator, the child rapist, the factory farmer are acting out of free will, unlike the hurricane. But are they really any different from the hurricane? Do these humans create or choose the degree of sensitivity, the capacity for empathy, the wisdom or the compassion that they have or don’t have in this moment?
And can there be a manifestation with no darkness and only light? Can you have up without down, or left without right? Can you have a one-sided coin? Don’t these polarities inevitably go together in some unfathomable way? As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “No mud, no lotus.” No grit, no pearl. Or Leonard Cohen: the crack is where the light gets in.
As I once said, we only have to turn on the television to discover that Consciousness loves playing. It enjoys melodramas, horror shows, crime dramas, happy love stories, tragic love stories, comedies, adventure stories, car chases, wars – and it also enjoys turning off the television. It enjoys silence. It enjoys waking up from stories. It enjoys playing hide and seek. It enjoys finding and being found, and then hiding again, and again being found. It enjoys going to sleep; it enjoys waking up. It enjoys the play of birth and death, creation and destruction, appearing and disappearing, expanding and contracting.
I resonate with, and sometimes use, words like "sacred" or "God" or "Holy Reality" to describe what is, because when there is awakeness, I notice that everything is precious or beautiful in some way, even the garbage. It all shines. It has a radiance and calls forth a feeling of devotion and reverence. And again, the beauty, the sacredness, is in the presence.
But for some people, I know that these words trigger all kinds of negative religious associations that they don't trigger for me. I was raised by atheist-agnostics, so these words don’t push old buttons in me, and while I certainly don’t like the fundamentalist or backward versions of religion, my own experiences with more open-minded and progressive manifestations of religion have been very positive. I’m not anti-religious or anti-spiritual as some people seem to be. And I don’t see the spiritual as “other than” the secular or the so-called “material” world. For me, spirituality is about right here, right now. It leaves nothing out. But the point and what matters most is the recognition itself, the feeling-recognition of what I’m calling the sacredness, not the words with which we express or describe it.
Who or What is Living This Life, Going One Way and Not Another?
Someone wrote to me recently and asked something like, “Can I choose to practice loving kindness? It seems like I can.”
My response: We seemingly make choices all day (what to eat, what to wear, how much screen time to allow the children, what to do about a problem at work, when to go shopping, what to say to a friend about a certain matter, whether to buy a house or accept a marriage proposal or go on a meditation retreat). But if we look very closely as each “choice” happens, we find no one in control of it. Our urges, preferences, interests, abilities, talents, aversions, attractions, desires and fears all arise by themselves. The urge to practice loving kindness, the interest in this, the “decision” to do it, and the ability or inability to carry out that decision in any given moment is a happening of life itself. The chooser (“me”) is a mental image, a thought, an idea, a presumption. See if you can actually find it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice loving kindness if the desire and ability to do so arises. In fact, in that case, you will have no choice!
But Aren’t We Responsible for Our Actions?
The entity who would be held responsible (the apparent thinker-author of our thoughts and maker of our choices) is a mirage, a neurological sensation, a thought, an idea, a mental image—not an actual entity that can be found.
As this apparent person in the play of life, we are responsible (i.e., able to respond) only in exactly the way we do in each moment.
It’s true that certain activities may (at least apparently, in the story of cause-and-effect) lead to a greater range of possibilities (or apparent choices being available). Activities such as education, athletic training, yoga, meditation, spiritual practices, somatic work, psychotherapy, practicing an art form, and so on may all expand the range of options. But whether an individual has the interest, the motivation, the ability, the discipline, the talent, the resources and the opportunities to engage in any of these activities is not in the control of that fictitious entity, nor are the results in any given moment. Life experiences of various kinds may also lead (again, in the story of apparent cause-and-effect) to an increase or decrease in the range of possibilities available in any given moment, but those are also not in the control of any imaginary entity.
Relatively speaking, in everyday life, of course we will be held responsible for our actions, and we will, at least to some degree, expect that of others. If we are teaching school, raising a child, training an Olympic athlete, working in the criminal justice system, supervising employees, or in any number of other life situations, we will necessarily speak to people at times as if they have a choice. “Pick up your toys, don’t run into the street without looking both ways, don’t throw your food at your sister, don’t yell in the supermarket, do your homework,” and so on all seem to imply that the person being addressed has control and choice. And we’re not going to erase this functional sense of apparent control and choice that is in some ways a necessary (and choiceless!) part of everyday life and how life functions. We don’t need to renounce personal pronouns, get rid of the sense of apparently making choices, or avoid ever talking in a way that suggests someone has a choice, all of which are part of everyday life. But if we deeply understand the bigger truth, we will have more compassion when the others fail, and when we fail, to perform as desired, expected or imagined.
And if society as a whole were to come to this deeper understanding, it might significantly change how we would approach such things as childhood education, parenting and criminal justice. Most of us would undoubtedly still want to educate our children, and we’d still want to get murderers and rapists off the streets, and we’d still feel healthy regret and sorrow if we hurt someone or made a serious mistake, but what would be absent would be shame, guilt, blame, overblown regret, and the spirit of punishment, retribution and vengeance. There might still be penalties and rewards of various kinds, but without the belief that any imaginary entity was behind either the apparent successes or the apparent failures.
However, the fact is, society, like the individuals that make it up, is responsible (i.e., able to respond) only in exactly the way it does in each moment. The imperfections of the educational system, the economic system, the political system, the criminal justice system…the imperfections of parents, and so on, cannot be different from how they are at the moment they arise. They may be different tomorrow, and we may be choicelessly moved to work toward bringing about some of those changes, but it cannot happen any sooner, or in any other way, than it does. And when that is clearly recognized, it changes how we might approach social justice work or addressing global problems or family problems. Instead of blame, guilt, shame, and so on, we might move from a place of genuine love and compassion for all of us being just as we are in this moment. And if blame, shame, anger or hate did arise, as they well might (old habits run deep), we might not add a secondary layer of blame and shame on top of that for having “failed at love and compassion.”
When we really see the absence of any independent self to have (or not have) free will, it is immensely liberating and brings forth compassion for all of us. And when we recognize that we are not separate from the apparent “others” or the apparent “world” – that it is all one, whole, undivided happening, we no longer feel that the absence of free will means that “I” am a robot or a puppet being pushed around by outside forces, or a cork in a stream, at the mercy of the stream. In fact, there is ONLY streaming.
In the end, all these conceptual formulations (free will, choicelessness, individual responsibility, streaming, etc.) are only maps. The living actuality cannot really be captured by any map. So it’s important, as always, not to get stuck or fixated on any particular map. We see that kind of fixation at times in the nondual subculture, and it’s not really true freedom—it’s more like having a new set of blinders on—it becomes a new fundamentalism, a new dogmatism, a new belief system. So it’s important to not get stuck on formulations, maps, ideas and concepts. Use the thorn presented here to remove the thorn of painful old ideas, and then throw both thorns away. (If you can!)
-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2019 --
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