I’m attracted to simple spirituality. That’s probably because my mind is complex, like most people’s minds are. I need to balance myself out. Yin and yang.
So when I come across a believable one-sentence summation of spirituality, it catches my eye. And my heart. This is from Thomas Keating’s wonderful “Open Mind, Open Heart,” one of my favorite books.
I think it can be said that the essential point of all the great spiritual disciplines that the world religions have evolved is the letting go of thoughts.
Yes. On this Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Taoism can agree. (I’m not sure about Judaism, the most thought-obsessed religion). Or rather, the mystics of these traditions are in agreement. For they recognize that no thought, emotion, or perception can encompass the unfathomable mystery of ultimate reality, which many call “God.”
Keating advocates the practice of centering prayer. He says that this is different from mantra meditation, but in many respects it is similar. Keating says that the mental repetition of a word—“God,” “love,” “peace,” whatever appeals to you—is an act of intention, not attention.
That is, your goal isn’t to attend to the mantra, but rather you intend to unite with what lies beneath the contents of ordinary consciousness. As Voltaire said: God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. (Or maybe it was someone else who said this.)
Head for the center of yourself and you’ll find God. That’s the idea, for Keating and countless other mystics. He says:
Centering prayer is an exercise in letting go. That is all it is. It lays aside every thought. One touch of divine love enables you to take all the pleasures of the world and throw them in the wastebasket. The Diamond Sutra says it all: “Try to develop a mind that does not cling to anything.” That includes visions, ecstasies, locutions, spiritual communications, psychic gifts. These are not as valuable as pure consciousness.
I admire a Catholic priest who quotes the Diamond Sutra. I also admire Keating for his sensitivity to the games meditators play. As a long-time meditator myself, I know what he is talking about.
Letting go is tough enough. Letting go of letting go—that’s much tougher. But essential. I manage to stop thinking. Then a thought comes, “Wow! I’m not thinking!”
Well, at least my intention is to let go of thoughts, which naturally includes theological dogma, metaphysical hypotheses, imagined higher powers, and all other mental machinations that draw me away from my center. And after letting go, I’d like to be able to let go of letting go.
To just be whoever I am when I’m not engaged in trying to be someone else.
Followers of fundamentalist religions and sects have an opposite intention. Their goal is to hold on. And more: to hold on to holding on. They only are interested in finding what they already believe to be true. If an astronomer puts a green cheese filter over the lens of his telescope, that’s how the moon will appear. Falsely.
Truth is found with open clear eyes. Yesterday I happened to glance down at the counter of a store where my wife had just bought a hat. A saying was taped to the wood: “You are lost the instant you know what the result will be.” Nice.
I’ve spent many years in an Indian mystic tradition where the guru is considered to be the end-all and be-all. Essentially, god in human form. I was told to distrust any spiritual realization that wasn’t in accord with the guru’s teachings. The result was set in stone, like the tablets of Moses. “Thou shalt experience X, Y, and Z.”
I’ve let go of those rigid presumptions. Now, I’d like to be able to let go of letting go. I can’t make that happen. That’d just be another form of clinging to an expectation. Keating says:
Trying dilutes the basic disposition of receptivity that is necessary for the growth of contemplative prayer. Receptivity is not inactivity. It is real activity but not effort in the ordinary sense of the word. If you want to call it effort, keep in mind that it is totally unlike any other kind of effort.
It is simply an attitude of waiting for the Ultimate Mystery. You don’t know what that is, but as your faith is purified, you don’t want to know. Of course, in a sense you are dying to know. But you realize that you can’t possibly know by means of any human faculty; so it is useless to expect anything. You don’t know and can’t know what you are waiting for.
Wu. We keep coming back to Wu.
Wonderful. And splendid.
... A saying was taped to the wood: “You are lost the instant you know what the result will be.” Nice. ...
Even your very lead in 'taped to the wood' reminds me of the impermanence of this permanence.
I started my life as a Catholic, Roman Catholic, and yearned for the life of the Mystics deep in passionate consumate love. I wanted to be filled with it.
Until I found my self feeling empty. And everything but. I went from feeling pangs and a verve to sitting inside the chapel and realizing that inside myself I felt nothing. But heard nothing but rambling distracting meaningless thoughts dribbling through my head.
Now I find myself only quieted inside when in a yoga posture. And when I go inside of these asanas, I feel my being. Present. And my thoughts go. Quiet. Wu.
Thank you for helping me to realize this. It hadn't occured to me until I read your post.
And with many blessings -Lady.
Posted by: Lady | June 19, 2006 at 10:53 PM
And I appreciate the democracy of looking at as many traditions as possible to find the common vote on spirituality.
Keating is great - etymologically, the word "abide" slowly evolves into the word "faith". He nailed that.
How do thoughts interfere with my experience of the Grand Ultimate Reality (GUR)? I am supposing that I participate absolutely, though often ignorantly, in the GUR, as its expression.
Is it an activity of ego? A something in me that says I don’t like you if you insult my hairstyle, and more importantly, if you rush up like a sidewalk and try to break my nose? My ego will happily sacrifice my palms for the love of my face, if I fall face-first.
And the unconscious ego is a tough one to rout. My ego actually loves all the attention I give it when I try to shut it up. Let’s make believe I’m your ego. Through your actions and words, you are telling me that I can block out the GUR; I can muffle the voice of God speaking directly to one of her creations; I am the last obstacle to satori. Yee hah!
As your ego, I sit in my cushy, over-stuffed chair, giggling with delight. “Shh!” I say, “We’re meditating!” Hee hee. “Jesus is coming, look busy!” Ho ho. Nothing makes me happier than your undivided attention, whether you’re waiting for me to snicker in the silence, or building me into the great Satan. I will probably get seditious if you interpose a Higher Power, and I will really thwart any attempt at us having a relationship with a Personal God. If you stay in a meditative state long enough for me to go to sleep, you won’t notice – there will be no “I” around to validate the experience as separate and distinct from any other experience. So there.
Ego is a good friend, leave it alone. Let’s try another game: the GUR is constantly creating the now. The activity is so complete that it takes up the entire universe. Rockets can’t stop it! Participation is submersive from birth, and even before you are born, you are absolutely necessary to the process. All the categories – thoughts, feelings, ego, and your bridge game: they are all both expression and witness of the incessant now.
Oh, I know we can’t really watch, participate, record and process the eternal goings-on as they happen. But, there’s no need. The GUR is noisy and smelly and gorgeous and divine. Oh, and complete.
So which part did you want to keep quiet? The part your ego deems icky? Let go, and the whole thing is walking/waking meditation.
GUR will honor your intention, if you want it quiet, that's what you get. Sincerity is valid, too.
In this game, my conscious and unconscious participation is the goal. If there is a god, any god, I can’t psych her out. And the GUR has my every cell covered. Hungry? Eat. Thirsty? Drink. Alive? Live.
Meditating sure helps me relax, though.
Posted by: Edward | June 20, 2006 at 03:39 PM
My ego. My modesty feigning expanding ego. Is my friend? My good friend?
Perhaps. But how might these conscious and unconscious so-called-friends's be discerned from the GUR without stillness? Without some quiet?
But you stop me and ask which part I want to keep quiet? What part has my ego deemed icky?
Validated experience or not, I am small. And yet, still littler than that. What I hear repeatedly easily, quickly, becomes all I hear. And what I hear colors what I see. Textures what I feel.
I don't want to sense ego fed thoughts that I have been led away from being filled by God. I want to quiet the fear that I already cut that out. I want to still the 'ick' sick feeling that I was filled by God - gifted and graced by God - but let my fear and self-filled 'knowing' cut out that grace till it bled dry. Or that it bled me dry.
I want to remove the sounding voice of guilt.
Is it the GUR that this intention be filled?
Posted by: Lady | June 20, 2006 at 10:14 PM
All experience is expression of the GUR. Or of course it would be less than Grand. Or Ultimate. Not to mention Reality.
And I learn through watching and waiting which experiences are part of the path for me. Too little to know how the GUR is working, just big enough to have the I/me dichotomy going on. I have noticed that others tell me about things I haven't experienced, or feared.
Ego loves that it cripples my "calling." Ignore it and it grows stronger. Befriend it and it won't make me sick.
All the feelings are sacred. The GUR is complete. I think the point of the post was letting go, which is distinct from escaping. Guilt? God wants to feel that, to get through it again. Fear? God knows all the living things entirely. Omnipotent. Omniscient. The feelings aren't necessarily mine anymore - they belong to God.
Owning it and clinging to it makes me feel like I have to control it: for bill-paying, pretty scary; for keeping my heart beating, impossible.
Wanting to quiet the fear is a prayer. Worry is a prayer. Dueling with my ego is prayer. Never separate from the GUR, no matter what I think, or what the special effects of this plane of being show me, never separate from the fullness of God.
The GUR needs me to live with all the ten-thousand things, so that the eternal creation can be complete. Now.
Posted by: Edward | June 21, 2006 at 01:57 PM