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May 01, 2010

Spiritual Media

Recently a member of the Many Rivers community passed me some information about a new media company that has formed that has the ambition to build a media empire serving the QoL Market ("Quality of Life"). The organization, One Degree Media, was founded by a team of media saavy professionals with long standing interest in spiritual and self help subject matters. In fact, one of the founders of One Degree Media was among the original business organizers behind the EST movement. Reviewing some of their prospectus material (see www.1degree-media.com) turned out to be an occasion for my reflection on this sort of media outreach and the notion of a great awakening of human conscious that must be near at hand.
 
First off, One Degree Media is a business venture in the category I would call spiritual entertainment. I don't say that to dismiss the effort: even our small bookstore sells lots of books and CDs I would put in the category of spiritual entertainment. But it does mean that One Degree Media is about selling product and making a profit. In the end this means that the basis for discrimination around what constitutes good product will be how well it sells. "The Secret," the Eckhart Tolle franchise, Madonna's interpretation of qabalah, etc. will all be hot commodities in this new venture. But none of these hot properties necessarily brings people closer to taking the steps needed to engage in a genuine path of self-transformation. I don't doubt that under the mantle of One Degree Media, there might even be useful teaching materials produced, but like in other areas of life, such content will be the minority of the offering. In my experience, genuine spiritual work at the level that I find interesting is not a big seller. Will the content that One Degree Media produces offer better impressions to the World than say Fox News? No doubt. Will it usher in a new age of spiritual enlightenment? Not likely.
 
The notion that we are in the midst of a grand movement of spiritual awakening is an interesting one to me. If I examine the proposition in terms of what I see going on in the world, I can argue the opposite case just as convincingly. The romance with cultural exceptionalism seems characteristic of every age of human kind. It typically comes in the form of either the myth of the Great Awakening or the myth of the Imminent Apocalypse. It is not uncommon to see spiritual communities and teachers (teachers who are otherwise quite impressive and deep in their practice) held sway by these myths.
 
The Fourth Way tradition (whose ideas and practices are a strong influence on our Tayu practice) offers a somewhat different mythology well worth considering. In the Fourth Way mythology, we exist within a vast hierarchy of interchanging cosmic energies of varying densities. The creative outpouring of the Absolute is progressively stepped down via transformative processes to be utilized by Nature for various purposes of which we as humans may have little understanding. Life on earth including human beings exists to help bridge the gap in this ongoing exchange of forces between energies at the Solar level and energies at the earth and lunar levels. One of the purposes of this exchange is to "feed the moon" so that the moon can continue in its own evolutionary process of becoming a planet.
 
Humans and life in general fulfill this purpose regardless of whether we are conscious of it. When humans exist within a culture of enlightenment and people interact and live their lives with greater consciousness, the energies required by nature to feed the moon are more naturally available as a byproduct of our conscious emanations. When humans exist within an unconscious, ego-driven culture, the energies required by nature to feed the moon are extracted primarily at the time of death or through the release of negative emotion. In this latter case, nature utilizes overpopulation, short life spans, disease, wars, violence, etc. as the means to extract the required energies. So whereas it may be good from a conscious human perspective to cultivate a harmonious culture of enlightenment, nature will adapt and extract what it requires whether humans are conscious or not.
 
The conditions of human life today, this mythology continues, are such that nature tends to want to keep us asleep. Our social and psychological universes have evolved to pull our attention outwards onto the phenomenal realm. We remain hypnotized by the stories we tell ourselves and each other about the nature of our existence. And all of this suits the aims of nature just fine. Humans are much better managed when under hypnosis. But this state of affairs may not suit the aims of an individual human being.
 
According to this mythology, humans have another possibility available to us that is somewhat independent of the aims of nature. We have the possibility of evolving our Being to the Solar level and in this way transcending the laws and limitations to which we are subject in the ordinary hypnotized mode of human existence. In this sense we are experiments in conscious evolution. Whereas most forms of life exist under the laws of nature to serve the ends of energetic transformation on the Earth, humans have an additional possibility of evolving our level of Being to an entirely different octave. Terrestrial nature may be indifferent to this possibility, but higher beings from the Solar realm are available for help. There is no obligation for us to avail ourselves of this possibility, and there is no inevitable evolutionary movement toward global awakening (though at times it may appear that there are great rises and crashes in collective human consciousness). The path of individual transformation itself can be quite challenging and demanding, but it is available to each one of us.
 
I don't suggest you accept this Fourth Way mythology as a dogmatic truth. Rather, I offer it as an alternative lens through which to view such things as the so-called consciousness movement and the limits of what organizations such as One Degree Media may be able to achieve. In today's climate of romantic optimism about evolving humanity, this mythology is likely to seem like a "downer" (no Great Awakening). I have recently, however, been reading a series of Fourth Way commentaries by Maurice Nicoll written in England during the middle of World War Two. At that time, when the prospects for humanity looked exceptionally dim, this mythology must have seemed like a godsend (no Imminent Apocalypse). For me, this mythology serves as a sword of discrimination that helps to cut through the pretense of modern spiritual entertainment and return me to the foundational questions of our Work: Who am I? What am I doing? Why am I doing it?

June 04, 2009

Fly Me to the Moon

Recently in our Tayu workgroup we have been discussing the arising and functioning of strong mechanical sexual impluses and practical ways of working with such manifestations. In working personally with such phenomena, I have been struck by how easily the raw energetic yearning for contact can generate an unending series of plausible fantasies that if unchecked tend to seep into all my interactions with the particular object. There is no reasoning with these fantasies - much like the hydra of myth, if I attempt to cut off one head, then seven more grow back.
 
But the energy state behind the fantasies has a distinctive feeling sense. When that feeling is in front of me and I am aware of its presence, I have found that I can put it down as an act of conscious suffering. "Suffering" is the operative word, because when I have put the feeling down (as in choosing not to give it any attention in this particular moment), there is a corresponding feeling of loss. This sense of loss, however brief, has been for me painful as though I am giving up a promise or an ideal. And in the process of dealing with particularly powerful currents of this kind of energy, I have had to endure many such moments of sacrifice and loss.
 
Gurdjieff has often talked about becoming food for the Moon. In some of my recent studies of tarot, I have likewise come to associate this quality of seductive, sexually charged, fantasy making with the Moon card of the tarot deck. When our attention is given over to this stream of energy unchecked, we indeed become food for the Moon. Our vital energy can become sapped much like that of a junkie strung out on the promises proffered by a powerful narcotic - always promised, never delivered. Conscious suffering as a practice in this domain can neutralize the magnetic attraction of such streams of energy until such point that the energy gets redirected and the particular fantasies fade to the background.
 
Beyond the practice of conscious suffering, I have also found the Centrum of Gravity Question practice useful. These compelling sexually charged fantasies have for me had a character of yearning for completion by uniting with the particular object. But the so-called objects have always been my projections rather real people. As such, this yearning is in fact a powerful drive for completion by uniting with something in myself that I am not in touch with at the moment. Call it an emotional dislocation or a hole. The Centrum of Gravity Question to hold in conjunction with the arising of the yearning is something along the lines of, "What is it that I am missing in myself that would be completed by this object?" The key to this practice is not to generate a bunch of answers at a psychological level in response to the question, but rather to use the question to hold open the sense of emptiness or lacking underlying the yearning. By directing attention to the emptiness and being willing to be with that on an ongoing basis, we can indirectly effect a filling in of this hole.
 
The act of Conscious Suffering in which we willfully remove attention from the seductive fantasy making process induces a sense of loss felt most acutely in the Emotional Center. The Centrum of Gravity question engages the Intellectual Center to hold open the space surrounding this loss with a quality of perspective. The combination of the two practices can allow the naturally arising sexual energy of the Body Center to be realigned and reconnected with the functioning of the organism as a whole.

May 12, 2009

Teachings on Love (7): From Lust to Ecstatic Union

There is a way to enslave the arising of lust in the midst of physical intercourse to the service of a higher manifestation of love. To experience this phenomenon for more than an instant requires exceptional luck, or extraordinary good karma, or many years of unselfish service in practice. The practice approach is of course the most reliable path, for then one can recreate the conditions for its repetition as required.

To achieve this effect, lust must be subsumed within something much larger and greater than itself. Most people experience lust in one direction only: instead of subsuming lust within themselves, they find themselves subsumed within a compulsive craving that seems beyond management or escape. Higher manifestations of love are unattainable from such a place. Minnows cannot through imagination make themselves bigger than the sea. They must find extraordinary means to expand far past their usual limits.

The surest means for growth of human consciousness is the creation of the habit of pure Witnessing of all that is. Despite lust’s intensity, Witnessing is no less effective in transformation of it than with other phenomena.  As the Witnessing function of Self-Observation (and other meditative techniques) strengthens with practice over time, consciousness unfurls in a gentle, radiative expansion. If extended far enough, for long enough, then the tender embrace of love cultivated through Witnessing  inexorably loosens the white-knuckle grip of lust. But this work demands a dedication that few are able or willing to make. 

Those who persevere, and refuse to settle for false coin, surely experience the loosening of the grip of lust.  When the shift happens, the practitioner may redirect the tenacious energies of lust to further intensify the clear Witnessing of the inexpressible beauty of the beloved. The context thus created retains lust as an element during sex, but one that has been relegated to a more becoming status, because the practitioner can see every facet of the partner, and not simply a delusional fantasy generated by desire.  The beloved is perfect, without need of amendment or reform.  In that place of true Witnessing, no judgment clouds vision, and all that is, is as it should be. The practitioner sees both “virtues” and “flaws” of the beloved alike as exquisite adornments inherent in the being of the beloved.

In that eternal moment, lover and beloved partake of a mutual Presence enabled by grace. Thus ecstatic union shreds the dark of night.

But do not debase this ideal with the delusion that this achievement is cheap or easy, or that you personally have ever even approached it for more than a lucky instant. Resting in this place demands payment comprised of a purity of rigorous practice that only saints achieve—but who ever said you couldn’t aspire to holiness?  Be honest with yourself about your past and present capacities; but simultaneously recognize that the fervent yearning toward greatheartedness is the birthright of all. In sacrificing lust for love, serve well, and you will be well served.


 

April 12, 2009

Teachings on Love (6): No Struggle to Love

There can be no struggle to love. Love is anti-competition. Struggling pushes love farther away. In spiritual practice, we struggle to release the obstacles we place within ourselves to generate and experience love. But struggle has no purchase on love itself, for love gently enfolds all struggle, all agitation, all fear into itself. Love accepts and exalts all mistakes. It gives itself freely, and extends its calm assurance to fill the place of pain.

-Rob Schmidt

© 2009 Tayu Order, Inc.

 

Teachings on Love (5): Love as co-creation

Love is a co-creation. Love is co-operation in the literal sense: it is the space within which lover and beloved operate together. Co-creation of love rectifies the misunderstanding that separation is fundamental. Co-creation helps us see, beyond words, that union is more real than separation. Together we co-create every blessed thing! 

-Rob Schmidt

© 2009 Tayu Order, Inc.

April 07, 2009

Teachings on Love (4): Resistance to Love is Futile

Resistance to love is futile. Love always wins in the end. That said, the human social universe brims with the energy of resistance to love. People armor themselves against love across the full range of their experience, in their self-presentation in the most mundane conversations, up to and including the most intimate forms of mutual intercourse.

But what are we afraid of?  What is the nature of love?  Genuine love is infinitely variable and unique in each of its manifestations.  Love shows a different face to every blade of grass. It has no ultimate peak, except in full union with God.  Genuine love has no post-orgasmic let-down after its expression, although love can be experienced as manifesting as pulses or waves, as well as an inexorable radiation.  That’s why resistance to love is futile, because love keeps moving. Love is like the water in a dam that naturally seeks out even the slightest flaw in the obstacle that opposes it.  Wherever  there’s a chink in the armor of resistance, eventually love will find and exploit that weakness, because love never stops.  All resistance to love has such flaws.

Even death does not stop love.  My mother and my teacher have both been dead for more than a decade, yet the love I share with each of them still flowers abundantly in my heart.  Amazingly, that love feeds me as much, if not more now than when these two beloveds still walked the garden path in their bodies. Self-delusion, your mind may mutter.  But try and see if it doesn’t work that way for you too, by putting your resistance to love aside.  Open your heart without qualification and see what happens.  Build a chamber in your heart where the commotions of the mind do not penetrate, and test the quality of love.

-Rob Schmidt

© 2009 Tayu Order, Inc.

Teachings on Love (3): Giving Love, & Lust

Because love is both giving and receiving, those who seek only to receive find the well of love runs dry. If only they could see that! But so many mistake the nature of love as blindly one-sided gratification: “Look at me, look at me! Love me NOW, give me what I want NOW or I’ll be really mad!” Love supplies our essential needs with abundance, but is a miser toward desires. A child needs love and attention, but an adult needs to both give and receive love and attention.  Without flow in both directions, love doesn’t have a chance.

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Attraction between bodies is natural, and is neither good nor bad. When attraction becomes entwined with ego/android habit energies, we can call that lust. Lust too is neither good nor bad. But when sexual energies are captured by the ego/android, then those energies are diverted from manifesting as love.

-Rob Schmidt

© 2009 Tayu Order, Inc.

March 27, 2009

Teachings on Love (2): Infatuation and Flow

Love has no boundaries as our minds usually conceive them. Real love cannot be contained within a single form, nor can real love be confined by any measure. When properly tapped, love spills inexhaustibly from its source. So exclusivity excludes love. In other words, genuine love does not, and cannot, exclusively and compulsively fixate upon a single object (other than God, which includes all objects). That which we ordinarily consider to be love may instead be called infatuation of some type. Infatuation is sought after because in its initial phase, its expansiveness mimics the unbridled character of real love. Those in the grip of infatuation feel as if the whole world is a magical place where gratification beckons from every corner. Even as a pale reflection of the radically unconstrained nature of real love, the illusion generated by infatuation remains compelling because of the power of the real thing.  And in search of the expansive quality of love, people continue to seek out, and fall into infatuation, because they don’t know how to generate genuine love.

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Love is giving and receiving. Love is process. Love is flow. Arriving in a human body, we begin as net receivers of love from caregivers (even if much or most of that love arises from mechanical sources). With the attainment of responsible age, the natural tendency is to strive to give love in turn, in order to balance what has been received. Although most people bestow what they have to give upon a limited number of objects, at the human level the purest form of giving love – the generosity of the saints – is like the pollen of a tree: unconstrained  by direction, it travels as the wind takes it, and extravagantly spreads itself widely.  There’s no place it doesn’t go. But ultimately love is circulation, and thus encompasses all directions, all comings and goings.

--Rob Schmidt
© 2009 Tayu Order, Inc.

 


 

 

March 13, 2009

Teachings on Love (1): Love is strong

Teachings on Love
Cultivating open-hearted, unreserved love has been the focus of my spiritual practice for over three decades. Such cultivation proceeds not through mushy affirmations, or through invocation of “good” intentions without grit, sweat and tears behind them. Real love sees clearly with hard-edged discernment, and must be sought after by discarding lies and illusions.  The intensity of real love is not for the faint-hearted. The flames of genuine spiritual practice heat an alchemical retort filled with body, mind and heart, in which the true nature of love is revealed as distortions are discarded. Following are some recently refreshed, as well as new observations on this most crucial topic:
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Love is strong and supple, not weak and inflexible. In the powerful tides of life, love bends without breaking to accommodate any shape necessary to sustain it. If it breaks, if it ends, it wasn’t love to start with, but the disguise of infatuation or compulsive attraction.
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Misunderstandings about love fill people’s minds. The greatest misunderstanding manifests as the impulse to grasp after love compulsively.  Spasmodic clutching actually pushes love away. Even worse, the process of grasping actually harms that which it seeks to possess. Strangulation of the so-called object of love does not qualify as love.
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The purest, most volatile and brilliant love fills us, surrounds us, and sustains us, but most of us only recognize flashes of it from time to time. The obstacles to love lodged in our minds and hearts cannot simply be dismissed or wished away, prayed away, or meditated into oblivion. The intermediary step to embodying love in a human body is non-identified witnessing of all phenomena. That means witnessing life purely, without judgment. The radiance of love emerges as the purification of witnessing dissolves the ego-driven obstacles that obscure it.
--Rob Schmidt
© 2009 Tayu Order, Inc.

 


January 23, 2009

Reflections on a Shakuhachi Lesson

I was taking a lesson recently with my shakuhachi (Japanese Bamboo Flute) teacher, Masayuki Koga. Koga-sensei's teaching style emphasizes among many other things activating the body through the direction of attention on specific areas at specific times. For instance, students of Koga-sensei might be guided to attend to the muscles at the sides of the hip to provide support. Or we might be instructed to open up the muscles near the eyes and forehead to better open the sound. We release the tension in our fingers, hands, forearms, to allow the energy so constrained to be freed up to contribute to the sound. Lessons with Koga-sensei are a constant process of tuning up our organisms so that we can convey a freedom and expansiveness through the shakuhachi.

One recurring theme in this process is for students to open the third eye as a key means to take to an entirely different level the quality in the sound that the organism can produce. Physiologically, this action is in part achieved by relaxing and opening the muscles of the forehead. In addition, this direction of attention induces an expansive action whereby the head remains upright and the mind keeps an upward or soaring trend of attention. Practically this action allows for a more expressive sound and the holding of a continuous tone, even when the breath pressure reduces and the sound softens. This approach also has the technical benefit of allowing the pitch of even difficult-to-achieve notes to remain true.

But although the approach of opening the third eye and "looking to the sky" can be analyzed physiologically and practically, experientially it is an integrative approach. By opening the third eye and connecting attention with something higher outside ourselves, we don't have to be concerned with controlling the details of the micro-movements of the organism: the organism aligns and configures itself naturally in response the to quality of attention we are invoking.

Attempts to control the sound or to control the position of the body tend toward a reification of tension in the body, which closes down the sound and results in a more mechanical sort of playing. In my recent lesson I had a vivid demonstration of this observation. I was playing a particular phrase in an orignal composition by Koga-sensei, and he was observing and commenting on my struggle with a particular progression of notes that would normally require a coordinated movement of the fingers, neck, and breath to achieve. He noted that I had tension in my upper lip. His suggestion was for me to connect my upper lip to my third eye while I was playing. I did this and immediately the difficulty of the particular progression was gone and I was able to return to a consistent expansive playing of the phrase. The distinction was quite apparant to me and was typical of the many such epiphanies that I have been privileged to enjoy through the brilliance of Koga-sensei.

As I was enjoying the freedom of that very subtle interior gesture of connecting my upper lip to my third eye, I looked at the root of the tension I had been holding in my lip. Describing the ensuing impression in words does not capture the instantaneous impression of my seeing the root of this tension, because my seeing of it was not a product of analysis. It simply was what it was. What I saw was the tension arising from a fear of missing the note and the corresponding mechanical attempt to compensate for this fear by overcontrolling the muscles of my upper lip to make sure that I did not miss the next note in the progression. This seemed like a left-over habit from my early years of practice and the resulting tension was functioning like an energy block or a unresponsive knot (all very subtle however). When I connected my lips to my third eye, this energy had a place to go and the fear and corresponding tension simply went away. A suppleness had returned to that part of my body.

In seeing this particular mechanism of tension revealed, I appreciated the occasion to reflect on the pervasiveness of micro and macro tension throughout the body. These tensions are created as defensive responses to a myriad of perceived threats. I perceived how these tensions enslave energies in service of mechanical reactions to circumstances in all aspects of our lives. The insights and discoveries that Koga-sensei teaches about liberating the Self in the performance of shakuhachi apply equally well to other aspects of life. The key elements amount to striving toward a higher octave of energy, while at the same time being mindful, at the level of sensing, of the activities of the organism as a whole.

January 08, 2009

Darwin, Saints, and the Instability of Certainty, Or, The Soul of Science is Uncertainty, and Uncertainty is the Science of Soul

2009 is the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the naturalist and scientist whose impact on human culture and thought may exceed that of any other scientist in history, and may exceed the impact of any single human being in the modern period, including Newton, Copernicus, Napoleon, Marx, Einstein, Picasso, etc. The influence of Darwin’s work upon religion continues to reverberate prominently 150 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, most noticeably within Christianity, but there have also been recent discussions in the Muslim world debating the impact of Darwin upon Islam. In this posting, I want to consider the relationship of Darwin’s work to spiritual practice, as distinct from religion.

First, let’s distinguish between a spiritual tradition and a religion. Tayu founder Robert Ennis used to call religion the skeletal remains of a previously living spiritual practice. This metaphor aptly depicts the relationship between the two phenomena. A spiritual tradition arises when someone has a profound and sustainable realization about the nature of reality far beyond the capacities of the egoic mind, and can skillfully transmit that realization to others. Such a realization has profound effects upon the moment-by-moment experience of life. A spiritual tradition remains alive as long as a fully-realized practitioner of that tradition can demonstrate its principles in daily life. When an incompletely-realized successor seeks to continue to promulgate the teachings without full understanding of their underpinnings, then we can speak of the birth of a religion.

At its foundation, a religion consists of ossified, more or less unvarying rules. These may be ethical codes (e.g., “Honor thy father and mother” and “Do Not Steal”) or prescriptions for producing particular results (e.g., “Pray to Lakshmi for abundance” or “Meditate to realize your Buddha nature”).  The rules of a religion tend to be frozen because the mind of a religious adherent (as opposed to a spiritual adept) is itself more-or-less frozen, and such a mind naturally clings to, and reverences the preserved words of the founder. In contrast, the mind/heart of spiritual realization comprehends without thought that conditions and contexts of practice necessarily change; hence appropriate change is not simply enabled, it is embraced and executed.

Back to Darwin and religion: Interactions between Darwinian thought and religion are often seen as a competition between two more-or-less incompatible idea systems. This is the basis for the religious fundamentalist rejection of Darwin. Or more generously, the interactions between Darwinian thought and religion have also been viewed as an opportunity to expand the relevance of each separate system through cross-fertilization and a general broadening of perspective. But the focus either way has been on interaction between two differently constituted ideational systems. Some people insist that only one can be right; others prefer to try to make both correct.

In contrast, there are some very interesting points of congruence between Darwin’s work and living spiritual practice. Darwin sought a comprehensive explanation for the observed distribution of differing species of life across time and space. Natural selection was a brilliant insight because it was based upon deep observation of the ways that organisms live, reproduce, and die, and because it enabled immediate comprehension of relationships between phenomena whose linkages had not before been obvious. But the true scientist understands that even the most stunning theory must, in a fundamental sense, always remain provisional. Evidence – the observed facts – must always come first before any explanation to account for the nature of evidence, because without that attitude, newly-observed data that might support another explanation may be ignored or jettisoned from a desire to save a cherished theory. That attitude – the priority of evidence over theory – is the essential core of the scientific enterprise.  It is even more important than the ideal of “controlled experiments” because in many cases, and Darwin’s naturalist observational data is one such case, establishing and conducting meaningful controlled experiments with certain types of evidence is completely impractical. It’s quite hard to do with species of finches, to use one of Darwin’s examples. It is only in recent years that Darwin’s scientific successors have been able to directly demonstrate the action of natural selection upon species of microorganisms under laboratory conditions.

Like Darwin and other scientists, practitioners and adepts in living spiritual traditions seek comprehensive, meaningful answers to important questions. Who am I? What am I doing, and why am I doing it? Is there some aspect of experience greater than the ordinary experience of life that people commonly agree upon, and if so, what is it, and how can I obtain reliable data about it?

Like the best scientists, practitioners and adepts in living spiritual traditions strive as part of their endeavor to always remain open to new data that might call for revision or replacement of even the most profoundly beautiful answers so far attested. One could even characterize the achievement of a true spiritual adept as the creation of a reliable habit of interior openness, of deliberate instability of certainty, operating simultaneously along with a full, richly wholehearted and unimpeded appreciation for the beauty of reality so far revealed.

So it is the inscription within consciousness of the instability of certainty that marks the best scientists and the best spiritual practitioners. Our ordinary discursive minds compulsively seek to eliminate uncertainty; but the wise recognize the futility of grasping after false assurances as the egoic mind insists. Because the habit of grasping after ideas is so strong, people assume that replacing one dogmatic system of ideas with another represents profound change. But the opening of heart and mind to whatever the universe has to tell us takes us farther still, as great saints and scientists demonstrate. Great scientists and great practitioners do not just leap once or twice into the unknown. They make careers of leaping into the mystery at the heart of existence. What career do you seek to create with your life?

© 2009 Tayu Order, Incorporated

November 21, 2008

Meditation as wolf

Why is meditation a carnivore?  Not a daisy, not Bambi? Consider this description of it:

“Meditation has been sold to Americans as a tool to reduce stress, enhance calm and improve health. But real meditation is a wolf, not a fraud in sheep’s clothing. In its purest forms, meditation consumes the unwholesome flesh of self-delusion to lay bare the enduring bones of Truth described by saints and mystics. The catch is that, while still very personally attached to the gristly tendrils of our mechanical, compulsive impulses, we imagine that it must be agony to observe the wolf feasting as it is meant to do. And that fearful anticipation of pain effectively circumvents the only hope of genuine salvation from the merry-go-round of self-deception. Hence real self-examination doesn’t just happen; it must be made to happen, systematically and consistently. That is the task and the promise of real meditation.”

If it is true that meditation has been misrepresented as benign and oh-so-sweet, this passage operates as a corrective to that misperception. When meditation is understood to be boring, bland, and gutless, why should those helplessly recapitulating their compulsive habits seek refuge in meditation?

Meditation as carnivore is a metaphor to help people realize that real practice, real meditation, can be pursued with enormous energy, and must be so pursued to lead to liberation from compulsive habit patterns. Meditation as wolf reminds the practitioner that the energies of the passions can be transmuted to serve practice.

Genuine meditative self-examination entails cultivation of a profound hunger for truth. But such cultivation is not a saccharine pursuit. Injunctions to be “sweet” or “nice” are irrelevant to what it feels like to redirect the convoluted energies of self-indulgence toward a pure passion for truth. But this can be difficult to appreciate, as the title of one of Jacob Needleman’s latest books Why Can’t We Be Good? illustrates. There are two answers to Needleman’s question:
 

1)      We can’t be good because we’re stuck enacting deep habit patterns that are relatively impervious to ordinary self-reflection or psychological manipulation. Even when we manage to shift some things via ordinary means, unintended consequences usually emerge where we least expect them, such that the sum total of unnecessary pain produced does not vary.

2)      The only thing that can profoundly affect the compulsive habits that undergird everything we do is spiritual practice, which consists of the rigorous, persistent witnessing of unvarnished truth. Identifying with considerations of good and bad are worse than irrelevant to this pursuit. These judgments constitute links in the chains that bind us. We cannot break our chains by adding more links!

The purity of witnessing meditation cuts through the quagmire of good intentions and selfish actions, just as carnivores feed not because they seek to be “good” or “bad” but because that is their function.

Ecologists tell us that wolves seek the easiest prey: those who are weak by virtue of being old, lame, ill or young.  When we judge wolves as bad, and eliminate them from ecosystems, other creatures suffer as imbalances occur. It behooves us to recognize that the wolf of meditation consumes that in us which is weak, or as Gurdjieff would have put it, that which is unbecoming to three-brained (human) beings. We serve God, the Universe, and ourselves best when we bring the power and ferocity of the carnivore to pursuit of truth. The strongest practitioners and the greatest saints are those who impartially witness all phenomena with the clarity and single-mindedness of a carnivore stalking its prey.

Note: The paragraph quoted at the beginning of this blog posting is part of the description of two linked public talks that Stuart and I will be doing on two successive Thursdays at Many Rivers in December 2008. The full descriptions of the talks are copied below.

Dangerous Meditation I: The Esoteric Pearl of Great Price
Rob Schmidt, Ph.D., Tayu meditation teacher
Thursday December 11  7:30 pm
The esoteric spiritual practices of the world’s great religious traditions have left the confines of monastic cells and huts in remote mountains. Descriptions of esoteric secrets now fill books and can be found on the web. Does that mean there are fewer spiritual secrets left, or none? Instead of lamenting this purported loss, we might prefer to celebrate that the willful obscurantism of false teachers, deployed to snag the unwary, has been thus undermined. Most importantly, we can take comfort in the perennial truth that the “open secret” of genuine practice remains hidden in plain view in our age where information is garbage. While in times past mystics sought the Pearl of Great Price in remote deserts, today the mesmerizing wilderness of contemporary life obscures its gleam. We need training to recognize the nature of the Pearl because it and we are immersed in crap.  Yet even with every stolen mystery a mouse-click away, the truth of esoteric practice remains constant: only those initiated into productive, persistent practice are positioned to pluck the Pearl from the grime of illusion consistently and reliably. Join us for the first of two talks discussing what esoteric Truth means in the twenty-first century. These talks serve as prelude to a practice group commencing in January 2009 at Many Rivers.
Rob Schmidt, Ph.D. studied with Tayu Meditation Center founder Robert Daniel Ennis, and succeeded him as Tayu spiritual director.  Tayu Center is an esoteric spiritual school with roots in several traditions, but founder Robert Ennis crafted an original and cohesive set of everyday esoteric practices applicable to the conditions of life in the twenty-first century.
Dangerous Meditation II: The Esoteric Practice of Co-Meditation
Stuart Goodnick, Tayu meditation teacher
Thursday December 18 7:30 pm
Meditation has been sold to Americans as a tool to reduce stress, enhance calm and improve health. But real meditation is a wolf, not a fraud in sheep’s clothing. In its purest forms, meditation consumes the unwholesome flesh of self-delusion to lay bare the enduring bones of Truth described by saints and mystics. The catch is that, while still very personally attached to the gristly tendrils of our mechanical, compulsive impulses, we imagine that it must be agony to observe the wolf feasting as it is meant to do. And that fearful anticipation of pain effectively circumvents the only hope of genuine salvation from the merry-go-round of self-deception. Hence real self-examination doesn’t just happen; it must be made to happen, systematically and consistently. That is the task and the promise of real meditation. Co-Meditation is an esoteric meditative practice explicitly designed to bring impartial self-examination attention to those sticky, delusive habits of relationship that obscure the true nature of our connections to others. Join us for the second of two talks discussing the nature of esoteric practice, and to taste the most basic form of Co-Meditation.
Stuart Goodnick studied with Tayu Meditation Center founder Robert Daniel Ennis, and has been a Tayu teacher since 1993. Tayu Center is an esoteric spiritual school with roots in several traditions, but founder Robert Ennis crafted an original and cohesive set of everyday esoteric practices applicable to the conditions of life in the twenty-first century.

November 07, 2008

Esoteric Tayu practice in Australia

Stuart and I have been in Australia this week passing on the Tayu dharma to a sincere Fourth Way practitioner from Mauritius, a small island nation east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Sydney has been a convenient spot to meet, since it is roughly half-way between California and Mauritius.

Our dharma friend from Mauritius has expressed the desire to come to California for further, more intensive training in Tayu practice as soon as he can make that happen. Since Mauritius and California are literally almost exactly opposite one another on the planet, that may take some time, but we trust that whatever is supposed to happen will indeed occur. In the meantime, he has gotten some powerful impression food to take back with him to Mauritius, to share with the practice group that he has formed there.

We have seen that the Tayu Co-Meditation exercises are an excellent example of a true esoteric body of practices. It is a point that many Tayu practitioners who have had the good fortune to learn them from Stuart and me, or Robert himself, may not appreciate fully. The Co-Meditation exercises only make sense when presented within an appropriate context. Stuart and I are, after many years of presenting them, quite skilled in creating and maintaining the appropriate contexts. And it may be all too easy for those who have tackled Co-Meditation in those contexts to take the contexts for granted.

What do I mean by "context" for Co-Meditation? I refer to the fact that the natural egoic obstacles to the practice of Co-Meditation, as with any other experiential esoteric practice, would make it virtually impossible for a newcomer to actually do the practice without help. There would be far, far too many excuses for the ego to throw up as obstacles to proceeding further. This doesn't feel natural or comfortable, I've never done anything like this before, I don't know what might happen, this could psychologically harm people, etc. The ego can generate a multitude of barriers to self-examination in the blink of an eye. The proper context can neutralize this strong egoic tendency.

So one of the things that Stuart and I can send back to California, prior to our return there, is just this point: although you may not have been used to thinking of them in that way, the Tayu Co-Meditation exercises are an excellent example of an esoteric body of "knowledge" available only in the context of a spiritual school.

October 21, 2008

The Seven Characteristics of Self-Observation

I have been reading a book by C. Daly King recently called The States of Consciousness, published in 1963 immediately after the death of its author. King was a student of Gurdjieff's famous follower, A. R. Orage, and one of his significant contributions to the Work was his privately published book, The Oragean Version. In The Oragean Version King meticulously lays out the principles, both practical and theoretical, of Orage's interpretation of Gurdjieff's teaching. The States of Consciousness includes many of the same ideas as The Oragean Version but it is supplemented by King's own scientific work in psychology and neurobiology. He seeks to elucidate the various states of consciousness available to human beings.

King's take on Self-Observation is particularly interesting because it represents one of the clearest published descriptions of the practice that we have run across. King is uncommon in his recogntition of Self-Observation as not just a method or technique, but rather as a distinct state of consciousness. King calls this state Active Awareness. In fact he he felt the term Self-Observation was "a somewhat confusing terminology, since what is observed is not at all the self - the 'I'-entity can never observe the 'I'-entity."

He lays out the seven characteristics of Active Awareness as follows:

  1. It excludes any element of criticism
  2. It excludes any element of tutorialness
  3. It excludes any element of analysis or other mental process
  4. It involves a a complete non-identification from the organism
  5. It is directed only toward the prescribed area of objectivity
  6. It involves the mediation of all sensations appropriate to its objects
  7. It is not limited in its exercise to any special times or places

The first characteristic of Active Awareness means that it there is no process of judging taking place; what is observed is neither good nor bad. If judgment is happening, that is not Active Awareness (though one could in principle be actively aware of judging happening). The second characteristic means that active awareness does not seek to alter or improve what it is observing. The third characteristic emphasizes that Active Awareness is not a mental process. Mental and logical analysis are distinct from consciousness in this formulation.

The fourth characteristic represents for King one of the more challenging aspects of Active Awareness - that it requires non-identification with the organism. When we observe the manifestations of our organisms in Active Awareness, it is as though we are observing the manifestations of a stranger. The identification that "I am my body" must be released to cultivate Active Awareness. It is when we identify with the object of Active Awareness that the criticisms, agendas, mental processes, emotional reactivities, etc. flood into our field of awareness.

The fifth characteristic clarifies that the field of active awareness is the organism - that is what one has to work with. Things external to the organism are only "represented indirectly through the body's own receptor mechanisms." The raw energy of experience of the organism, internal and external, is the proper scope of Active Awareness.

King emphasizes that it is better to start a practice of Active Awareness with the sensations of the organism. King's emphasis here is grounded in the belief that it is easier for beginning practitioners to stay non-identified when the scope of their Active Awareness practice is confined to the sensations of the body. In Tayu practice we have found it productive to extend the early practice to include feelings and thoughts as well as sensations. As long as Active Awareness is practiced in the context of a Work-group with experienced guides, our experience has been that the scope can quickly include the functioning of the mental and feeling centers as well as the body center.

The sixth characteristic states that Active Awareness is not necessarily atomic but may involve a variety of sensations, etc. For instance, if one is actively aware of one's posture, one will be aware of a variety of sensations extending up and down the musculature of the body. Sometimes we observe small things, sometimes we observe more complex manifestations of our organism.

And finally, the seventh characteristic of Active Awareness emphasizes that this is a practice and a state of consciousness that is intended to be available at all times in all contexts. The cultivation of Active Awareness is not meant to be something we do 20 minutes every morning - it is intended to be something we do whenever we can remember to do it. Our practice is intended to shift the operating point of our consciousness from its habitual waking state of semi-hypnotism to the spacious freedom of Active Awareness - but this is no small task.

In King's description of Active Awareness, he is quick to point out that although the description above seems straightforward enough, the difficulties necessitate working with a guide or a group that has experience with this practice. It is extremely easy to become identified with the contents of our Active Awareness; it is extremely easy to start thinking about that which we observe. To achieve Active Awareness is an uncommon endeavor tha requires much more assistance than we may like to think.

September 01, 2008

Strolling Through the Garden of Consciousness

Visitors to Tayu House outside Sebastopol know that gardening has long been one of my persistent preoccupations. Assisting plants to grow and flourish can provide great satisfaction, not least because the successes and failures of gardening offer ongoing instruction in the ever-changing processes that constitute Great Nature. Gardeners attune themselves to this instruction by paying attention to the effects of these processes on the plants they select for cultivation.

 

I was reminded of this earlier this year when I came across a wonderfully succinct and sage bit of gardening advice by a woman who owns and operates a delightful plant nursery (Annie’s Annuals) in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her advice is so simple and straightforward that its application to the practice of meditation instantly suggested itself to me. If you want to grow a garden, Annie says, spend 10 minutes every day walking through the garden, observing what’s happening.

 

Such simple advice! Yet how many beginning or would-be gardeners do not think to apply such a direct strategy. Instead of hit-and-run gardening, dominated by bursts of energetic activity followed by long stretches of inattention, Annie’s advice suggests cultivation of a consistent, appreciative relationship with the garden and its contents.

 

To linger with awareness means to put aside other considerations. In the garden, that entails letting go of the usual egoic habits of mind. So instead of imagining what you’ll do later in the day, or remembering the offensive remark your friend made the night before, you recollect your consciousness so that you can observe how this area is dry while that soil remains moist. This plant is unhealthy, while another is so vibrant that it is growing through and over two other plants. The honeybees are going crazy for those flowers while ignoring those others. What an enormous praying mantis on that stem! Those tomatoes need to be harvested and eaten soon, or they’ll go bad. The more you look, the more you see.

 

The same principle applies to spiritual practice. The more you look at the contents of consciousness, the more you see.

 

Moreover, despite what you might have heard or read, this principle applies to the contents of the egoic or android mind as much as to any aspect of consciousness. It is easy to get the mistaken impression from reading spiritual literature that we should direct attention away from the ego/android (which is “bad”) and toward spaciousness of mind, compassion, love, “higher” energies, etc. (which are “good”).

 

It is easy for the visitor to the garden – and the visitor to the garden of consciousness – to have such an attitude, because it is the natural tendency to seek out the beautiful, or the interesting, and ignore the ugly, or that which we think we already know. Yet the skillful gardener understands that every part of the garden – the successes and the failures, the barren and the lush – has important and useful information, if only it is seen and appreciated for what it is. Similarly, the accomplished spiritual practitioner knows that the ego/android is a vast resource for engagement with the practices of non-identification and non-grasping.

 

Seeing and objectively appreciating what the garden contains does not mean that the gardener abstains from the responsibility to make necessary choices. Without choices, there is no garden. The sustainable process of gardening encompasses sowing, planting and fertilizing, as well as pruning, harvesting and composting. The gardener makes choices about when to engage in any aspect of gardening based upon the best information possible. That’s why Annie’s advice about the daily witnessing of the contents of the garden is so crucial. Consistent witnessing is the best source of data for the crucial choice of timing.

 

Living life beyond the constraints of egoic/android habits means discovering what the Universe – the greater Garden – calls you to do from moment to moment. It means giving up the crutches of android/egoic attachments and directives, and listening instead to hear the song that tells us of the service we can offer right now, in THIS moment.

 

But this can only be done with full attention and awareness. The beauty and even elegance of the system is that we learn to cultivate full attention and awareness through observation of the tawdry, contractive egoic/android aspects of consciousness. Although they act as obstacles because of our tendency to become ensnared in identification with them, the products of the ego are not irrelevancies to be ignored. To transcend them, we MUST come to know them objectively and without reservation. The garden of consciousness will sustain itself and flourish best with the generous application of that full regard and attention that all aspects of creation call out for.

 

So take regular walks through your garden, observing all there is to see. And objectively witness the contents of consciousness on a consistent, regular basis. Thus will your gardens grow extravagant.

June 26, 2008

Faith and Doubt

At a recent Tayu Sunday Meditation Communion, the subject of Faith and Doubt came up in our discussion. The Buddha is known to have advised his followers that the path requires Great Faith and Great Doubt. In Gurdjieff's masterwork, All and Everything: Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, Beelzebub describes Faith as one of the sacred being impulses natural to a properly developed three brained being. Because of the distorted conditions of being existence on the planet Earth, however, the sacred impulse of Faith has degenerated in most of us into its mechanical shadow: belief.

To understand how Faith can function, it is useful to contrast it with Belief. When we believe in something, be it a thought, a whole framework, or a feeling, we take that something as true. We identify with the thought or feeling in the sense that our particular belief now becomes inextricably tied with our sense of identity. If someone challenges this belief, our instinctive reaction is to feel threatened at an emotional and body level. Belief is contractive in the sense that for us to identify with a particular belief requires that we reject or filter out alternative potential beliefs. When we identify with beliefs, we collapse the realm of possibilities - our Universe becomes smaller.

It is interesting to note that modern neurobiological and psychological research is turning tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on the brain to study the mechanics of belief (see http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-political-brain&colID=13 for a recent article). A well known phenomenon called Confirmation Bias has been studied in this way. When Confirmation Bias operates, someone who identifies with a particular belief will routinely filter out any new information that contradicts this belief and amplify the significance of any new information that supports this belief. We see this behavior writ large in our modern political climate. Studies using fMRI and various other techniques are now demonstrating clearly that Confirmation Bias is a non-cognitive process. The study cited above shows that Confirmation Bias has much more to do with the emotional functioning of the brain than with the  cognitive functioning.

I recently ran across a description of another study in which confirmation bias could be seen to operate in individuals with injuries that limit the function of memory to a 30 second time window. These brain-injured subjects were asked to rank several pieces of art. Among the pieces these subjects ranked, a number of pieces were ranked equally - that is, the subjects showed no preference of one over the other. They were next asked to chose between two pieces that they had ranked equally - thereby forcing a preference. When asked later (much beyond their window of recollection) to rank all the original pieces of art again, the test subjects would consistently now rank the piece they had been forced to highlight in the previous round as more desirable than the other pieces which had previously been seen as having equal desirability. In other words, at a non-conceptual level, our choices condition our future evaluations. The lesson of these studies is that as biological organisms, we are hardwired to identify with our beliefs and to filter our experiences of the world in terms of these beliefs.

As a sacred being impulse, Faith operates much differently than Belief. Faith has much more the quality of an affirmative assertion of Being. It is the quality of our Being that engenders the sense that there is a point to existence. It is that innate quality of existence that affirms that no matter the external circumstances of life, our lives have meaning. In contrast to Belief, Faith is expansive and inclusive - the Universe gets larger because regardless of the details of personal experience, Faith gives us power to carry on and to find significance in our circumstances. Faith gives us the courage to try new things - to test our understanding of life with new practices and ways of looking at things. It does this because Faith engenders the intuition that no matter what happens, at an existential level we will be fine.

The challenge of Faith in light of our habit patterns around belief, and the neural programming of the organisms we inhabit, is that affirmations of Faith often can descend into the rigidity of Belief. Though the action of Faith may lead to a transcendental experience of freedom, the habitual tendency is to attribute this experience to the consequences of a particular set of beliefs and practices. Even well-meaning practitioners can mistake the forms of their beliefs as the causes of their most profound experiences. And once that identification is made, the nature of the organism reinforces the maintenance of the identification.

The role of Doubt is to act as an antidote to the descent of Faith into Belief. Doubt is a denying function that negates the identifications we create to sustain our beliefs. In the Hindu tradition there is the well known practice of neti neti (not this, not this). This is the practice of Doubt. No matter what the identification or what the belief, we constantly challenge ourselves not to settle for a particular formulation of truth. Doubt frees us from having to believe in anything in particular. Doubt requires us to test in our own direct experience any claims made by other people. Doubt serves to liberate Faith from Belief in that it constantly undermines our systems of belief.

The challenge of Doubt is that, unchecked, it can lead to a kind of nihilism. Doubt can descend into a sense that nothing matters and that nothing means anything. In a way, Doubt can also descend into Belief, but in this case it is the belief that there is no meaning in life. In such an extreme, Faith then acts as the antidote of the descent of Doubt into Belief. Faith and Doubt mutually sustain each other and keep each other free from the lure of identification.

In Fourth Way parlance, Faith acts as an affirming function and Doubt as a denying function. The reconciling function that allows Faith and Doubt to coexist and to mutually support each other is the very presence of Being. Presence of attention enables a balance between Faith and Doubt. This balance sustains an affirmative and positive perspective, without succumbing to the biological imperative of crystalizing identification with experience in the form of rigid beliefs. Presence of Being allows us to wield the twin forces of Great Faith and Great Doubt to create an ever expanding and open experience of life, and to retain fluidity in every context.