Mike, a middle aged man, wakes to an alarm tuned to his favorite station. His feet hit the floor and he showers while listening to local FM DJ’s maniacal laughter. Breakfast is “healthy” granola that lists its second ingredient as “cane sugar” with a handful of blueberries from Chile, a cup of skim milk and a tablespoon of sugar sprinkled on top. While he eats he reads an article about George Clooney in Men’s Health while the radio laughter continues, caused by what appear to be a series of inside jokes. Coffee with cream and sugar goes into his travel mug and he’s out the door. While he drives he listens to sports talk radio. He congratulates himself for not getting upset when the woman in front of him stalls and makes him miss a light. Instead he curses lightly as he drives by her. The talk radio host is making him laugh today. He admits to himself that this helps. At work he stays on task at his cubicle with the radio in the background. From time to time a song comes on that reminds him of the past. He is a good worker, allowing himself only short breaks from the task at hand to think about the past or, as the week progresses, what the weekend might bring. At lunch he eats with colleagues who talk about upcoming movies and politics. They argue good naturedly about whether all female Fox News anchors have to be former models or not and then digress into Playboy’s decision to move away from nudity. The conversation digresses further from there. The drive home features silence for the first time in his day, but this is only momentary as he gets bored within 30 seconds and decides to put in a CD that he loved when he was in high school fifteen years ago. At home he eats a prepackaged meatloaf from Trader Joes and finishes the article on Clooney. He resolves to exercise tomorrow. He turns on a movie he’s seen seven times but that illustrates a life he’d like to live one day. He goes to bed in time to get seven hours of sleep.
Almost everything we experience in this culture, which I call the temporarily dominant or “TD” culture, is designed to put us and keep us in our minds. There’s a lot in that statement. The idea that there is a design implies there is a Designer; and since we’re talking about something as vast as the TD culture, it could only be a very powerful Being. Furthermore, since I’m presenting the TD culture as something with which we should be aware, it might also imply that the Creator of it might have a degree of malevolence to it. A devil, perhaps.
However, I don’t really believe a malevolent Being created the TD culture any more than I believe in a Devil in the traditional sense. What I do tend to suspect is that there is a Creator, a Supreme Animator of All Life, and this Being created a great stone. And on one side is light and the other is darkness. Both are necessary and, when they were created, were defined by the other. Neither was “right” or “wrong”, they just were. This is the nature of light and darkness. They have an “is-ness”, a “being-hood” that is pure, holy. At least it was this way before mankind came into the picture.
So what does that have to do with the man in the story? Bear with me.
There is something else about this Supreme Animator that I’d like to discuss. It may be that I am brainwashed, or hopeful, or a wishful thinker to choose to believe what I am about to say, but here it is: I choose to believe that this Being is full of a Love so deep and omnipresent that we are simply unable to fully comprehend it here. Our physical bodies actually act as a barrier to perceiving it since that Love is made of energetically finer materials than we are able to process while in them. I choose to believe that this Being is Most Powerful and a perfect combination of the Sacred Masculine and the Divine Feminine. Again, all this is open to change and interpretation, but these teachings are not without precedent. I think they can be trusted to a great extent and would be valid and welcome in most of what we might call “spiritual paths”, or even most religions, with some variation.
My illustration of The Culture in the story attempts to convey my belief that anything in opposition to The Animator would be, by definition, impermanent. In a small space in time anything may appear to be everlasting, particularly when our perception is caught up in it, but the perception would be skewed in that case. It would not reflect reality. The TD culture is then, by definition, temporary. The nature of anything that can replicate itself is that its offspring tends to look something like the parent. It takes on aspects of its creator. So what is the offspring of the TD culture of which you and I are most certainly a part?
One word: distraction. As I said in the first line of this dry little exposition, everything is designed to put us and keep us in our minds. A few examples:
· Set meal times
· Way too many holidays (with very few Holy Days)
· Popular music and movies
· Money, particularly the way we use it here in the U. S., at the pinnacle of the Culture
· The proliferation of information generally. And the more useless it is, the easier it is obtained
· Organized Religion
· Sex, particularly the way we use it here in the U.S., at the pinnacle of the Culture
· War, particularly… you know what I’m going to say.
Now wait. Don’t we rather need meals, a method of trade and some exercise? Isn’t it good to have music and holidays? Shouldn’t we know what’s going on in the world? Don’t we need some kind of government? Is it not good to worship this Architect and doesn’t religion allow that? (I’m not even going to address sex and war; too obvious where we’re at with those two behemoths.)
Yes, but… an honest assessment of any of these above will lead a person to the opinion that these institutions within the TD culture have gone too far. Like a small and healthy cell can morph into a cancerous mass, each of these has grown into something “too much” and that take up far too much of our minds and attention to be deemed healthy. As a culture, we've made them so.
Now about our minds: by design, our minds are supposed to be like the icing on the cake. The cherry on top of a sundae. An inflection in a spoken sentence. Our minds, the most powerful of any of the Beings on this planet, are tremendous tools, but we misuse them. In this culture, we eat only the icing and miss the cake. We eat a bowl of artificially colored and overly sweetened cherries scooped carefully off delicious ice cream. We scream all our words rather than using skillfully all aspects of communication. So we have what we have in the world today. I personally place the blame on the “masculine cells” going wrong and cancerous for the “spinning out” we are experiencing now, for disavowing and then stomping on the Divine Feminine. “Spun out” masculinity uses force when conversation would be slower but more healthful. It chooses to treat the symptom rather than healing the wound as the Feminine is more apt to do, and then ushering in the next patient with maximum efficiency. It’s a gardener hacking at vines that always grow back with increasing speed. In the end, the gardener looks like a samurai warrior being attacked from all sides by plants that grow exponentially and that he will eventually no longer be able to keep up with. He will die in that garden, rather than training the vines into mutually beneficial spaces that look like a perfectly manicured garden as his samurai’s wife might have done if consulted... if samurai’s had wives.
The problem with all this is pretty apparent. You don’t need me to point out the challenges we face in the world. What is to be done, anyway?
Mike, six-months later: He wakes to a noisy alarm. He lays in bed for a minute or two, remembering details of a dream that seems like it has some significance to him. Making note of a point or two, his feet hit the floor and he showers. He notices how the water feels on his back. He notes an appreciation for a warm shower and thinks of others not as fortunate as he. Breakfast is oatmeal with almond milk, honey and a green smoothie made from organic vegetables. He tunes his iPod to meditative music. It plays softly in the background. While he eats he reads an article by Eckhart Tolle in Shambla Sun, a Buddhist magazine that he was recently given by a friend after he had attended a Buddhist sangha with her. He takes his coffee black these days, and drinks less of it than he once did. Once he realized how caffeine and especially sugar was affecting his moods it was easier to decrease his consumption of both, although it has still been a struggle. Before he leaves, he meditates in his living room for five minutes, seeing thoughts arise and fall like ocean swells. He feels a certain unfamiliar but welcome peace and leaves with just enough time to get to work at 8. While he drives he still listens to sports talk radio. When a woman cuts him off in traffic, he feels rage roil inside him but exercises self-control and does not act on his impulse to retaliate. But instead of congratulating himself on not getting angry, he acknowledges that he was indeed angry, and asks himself what that was about. He correctly assigns accountability for the anger to an event that happened to him as a young driver, when being cut off nearly caused a head-on accident. He had been terrified and to a small extent, traumatized by that event. “Fear arising in me caused me to flare in anger,” he thinks to himself. “A fear of being out of control made me mad.” He decides to believe the woman in the car didn’t mean to cut him off and when he passes her when her lane slows, he waves and smiles. She waves back gingerly and mouths, “sorry” to him as he passes. He notices a feeling of compassion for a woman he knows nothing about swelling inside his chest. He realizes that the anger he briefly felt had very little to do with the woman in the car. Sports talk continues, but it is now background chatter to genuine self-exploration.
At work he stays on task at his cubicle. The radio is on intermittently, but he realizes this is an addiction so he turns it off from time to time. He sees his mind wandering to non-work related topics but is able to bring it back time and again. Each time he does so, he beats himself up a little for having such an active mind that he can’t control it even when he is being paid to do so. He feels frustrated with himself for this, as well as for years lost in daydreaming about things that have no significance to him or to the tasks at hand, whether at work or play. At lunch he eats with the same friends, but chooses not to participate in some of their banter. He notices this and wonders what has changed. He just smiles and enjoys their company even though he feels different for some reason. He drives home in silence, and then prepares a meal of grass-fed beef from a local farmer and organic vegetables. He reads a book on the life of Ghandi and listens to compositions by Mozart and Bruce Cockburn. He goes to bed in time for seven hours of sleep.
Well, what is healthful is to walk as the ancient indigenous ones walked. Metaphorically they walked with their hearts open.
What does this mean?
The heart, like the mind, is a great tool. The great thing about it is that we share a lot more in common on a heart level with all living things than we do our minds. Our minds and the minds of an amoeba are pretty different, but the force that animates us is precisely the same. Obviously I’m not talking about four-ventricle heart here; that would be looking at it literally, from a strictly “masculine”, literal standpoint. Moreover, a mind attuned to the feminine sees war as the aberration it is. It sees music as a language and then pays attention to the strings of potential energy it moves. It supports a healthy order that allows some benefit to the calling of “being human” without seeking to remove all trial, hardship or natural consequences of unconscious actions, as so many of the governments in the world attempt to do.
Why is it important to walk with our hearts metaphorically open and our minds a little less active? One reason: it is only with our hearts that we can grow in understanding of the Love of the Animator in this existence. It is with our hearts that we receive the “finer materials” that I mentioned Creators love as being made of.
With our hearts open and our minds quieter – because the mind can always yell over the heart if we allow – we see our Connection to all Life through the Creator. We cease being caught up in what the Creator actually is and just allow ourselves to get lost in Love. Cruelty to our fellow humans and to animals vanishes. We eat food when our bodies need it (rather than when the clock tells us to) in the amounts that are needed, with thanksgiving that is felt more than it is spoken, even in prayer. Religion ceases to be a divisor and becomes a means of unification because it’s based less on “fact” than Connection to All Life through Creator, even if the means of that Connection vary. We cease worrying about the souls of the adherents in different religions because we realize that any God worth believing in is just and would not damn a soul because they had no opportunity to learn a different way, even if a prescribed “way” exists. Let alone if it
doesn’t. It goes back to “God is Good” and is left at that.
What I’ve described is nothing like what we see in the world right now. Nothing. But that doesn’t matter. To get caught up in that fact is also to invite despair and get spun out in our minds again. It doesn’t mean that we don’t use our minds to work towards healthful resolutions, but it’s the heart that drives us there, not the mind. Right now it is the opposite. You can’t only have heart, either. Evolution requires both.
So what do we do?
We each heal the overly active cells of mind within us by implementing practices that take us out of mind. We turn off the radio and close the screens. We sit in silence at every opportunity. We listen to our breath. We make it a point to feel the soles of our feet as they touch the earth. We skip meals here and there and eat things with, say, three or four familiar ingredients rather than two dozen with names that look like science experiments. We speak far less and we listen far more. We de-emphasize the names of things and instead see their essence. Have you ever done that with a tree? It’s really cool. I can see two fir trees in the distance from where I sit right now. But if I disallow the names, “fir” and “tree”, a sense of wonder replaces those names. Somehow I feel this essence is closer to what they really are, and the names I have been taught are far too restrictive to describe them adequately. I think we need to do that with many, many things. To sense the wonder inherent in that child, or that dog, or that homeless man, or even a stone or a candle flame is to See, to open ourselves to Communion with them that the mind itself is wont to block in the name of efficiency. The mind wishes to categorize. The soul, on the other hand, knows no bounds and, as importantly, does not seek to impose them on others. After all, they are all embodied souls, and how can the essence of a soul be captured in a word?
I’m not advocating the burning of dictionaries. I am pointing out the ineffectiveness of language to describe any but the most basic and non-essential traits of any living thing. The question that fills the void of a name is a sense of wonder and appreciation for the nature of that individual as it stands in the present moment, whether it is a mountain or a campfire, a star or a soul-mate.
Otherwise, what we are generally experiencing is identification with the shared illusion that our collective minds have created.
The next step in the evolution of mankind will occur when we are able to dis-identify with the structures our minds have soullessly spawned. When we are able to soften and then eliminate that identification, it will take us out of the temporary culture and place us in a culture that is rooted in the Heart of the Great Animator and is hence far more permanent and stable for all life. The process is beginning, and it begins with you and me individually. It is the great turning foretold by the sages, seers and prophets. The great stone is turning.
The time is now.
Mike, three months later: He wakes a few minutes before his alarm, but he waits for it to sound before moving because he likes the sound of it: meditative bells and bowls playing against a backdrop of wind. He makes a few mental notes about the dreams of the night and checks in with his body, noting that he feels alive, almost tingling. Aside from a nagging pain in his left knee, he feels better than he did when he was much younger. He sits on his bed and thanks Creator above and the Earth Mother below before he places his feet on her. He showers and again feels gratitude for warmth and water, both separately and together. He resolves to donate something to the “Well-Digger Project”, a Christian non-profit dedicated to making wells in sub-Sarahan Africa. Breakfast has changed for him. He has become habituated to a low calorie, low carb diet, particularly in the morning. He drinks mate’ and creates a green smoothie with spinach, lemon, ginger, kale and fresh mint. He reads a book on the life of Jesus written by Deepak Chopra. Meditation takes place at a small altar in a spare bedroom that features objects that are meaningful to him. Incense burns. When he can no longer smell it, the meditation is over. On the morning drive, he checks in with his sports talk and then turns on an audiobook about a surgeon that had a near-death experience. He finds himself remembering teachings from his childhood Sunday School class being validated from a different perspective as the author reads. No one cuts him off in traffic today.
At work he stays on task at his cubicle. The radio is on all day. He sees his mind wandering to non-work related topics but is able to bring it back time and again, just like in his meditation. Each time he brings his mind to the task at hand, he smiles a little inside and grants himself compassion. No need to beat himself up. Noticing that his mind has wandered is good enough for the moment.
At lunch he eats with the same friends, continuing to enjoy their company. He sees how everyone in this small group is alike, but in different ways. He enjoys being a part of their interplay, but sees it as just that: play. Things just don’t seem as important to him as they once did.
He drives home while listening to his book. For dinner, he decides to eat a slice of pizza with the friend that took him to Buddhist sangha. He treats, and they talk for an hour about the game of staying conscious throughout the day. He returns home and meditates for ten minutes, paying particular attention to a certain breathing technique his friend taught him. He goes to bed in time for seven hours of sleep.
He makes a note to get eight tomorrow.