Posted by: chrismaser | October 18, 2009

THE GATE OF SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS

Life is a matter of faith—not of sight. For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, no explanation is possible.

Having already entered my garden through each of the gates of Ecological, Social, and Personal Consciousness, it is now time for the fourth and final entry—the gate of Spiritual Consciousness. Because spirituality seems, in these harried days of ever-faster technology, such an intangible thing to many people, I have drawn heavily on quotes from mystics, monks, and other people who have had spiritual experiences. It is my hope, by presenting myriad facets of the intangible, that it may become more real to those who doubt.

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You, who are now entering my garden through the gate of Spiritual Consciousness, are embarking on possibly the most arduous path, for the journey of self-fulfillment, of self-realization is, as the Katha Upanishad warns, “sharp like the razor’s edge.” Swiss critic Henri Fréderic Amiel put it in practical terms when he said, “the man who has no inner life is the slave of his surroundings.” Thus, every decision we make determines where we are, where we are going, and where we will end up, which fits well a verse from the Upanishads:

A man is what his deep, driving desire is.

As his deep, driving desire is, so is his will.

As his will is, so is his deed.

As his deed is, so is his destiny.

The flow of our life in youth is the collective thinking of parental, familial, peer, and social pressures—the external commonalties. By this, I mean we often accept, with little conscious consideration, the route of least resistance embodied in the collective, social thinking that dominates our time. Essayist Logan Pearsall Smith terms this “the Voice of the World” or “consensus reality.” In contrast, Albert Einstein foresaw a different way and boldly grasped it. “I soon learned,” he said, “to scent out the paths that led to the depths and to discard everything else, all the many things that fill up the mind and divert it from the essential.”

In this thought, Einstein touched on the esoteric meaning of a symbol used by the Greek philosopher Pythagoras to instruct his pupils about choice. The symbol can be likened to the stem of a stream, where it divides equally into two forks, one going to the right, called Divine Wisdom, and one to the left, called Earthly Wisdom.

Youth, personified by a pupil walking the path of life in tutelage under Pythagoras, symbolized by single central path, reaches the point where the path divides. The pupil who chooses the left-hand fork and so follows its dictates of the lower human nature, enters a span of folly, dissipation, and thoughtlessness, which inevitably results in the pupil’s undoing. If, on the other hand, the pupil chooses the right-hand fork and follows its dictates of the higher human nature, that pupil walks hand in hand with integrity, industry, and sincerity and will reunite with the immortals of the celestial spheres.

As people mature in years, however, most will drown in a sea of mass thinking or the silt-laden, polluted waters of materialism, going always with the current, seeking their sense of value through the acceptance of others, who are themselves drowning in mass thinking. Today, for example, the lives of so many people are consumed in feverish activities and untold distractions, they are exhausted nearly all the time.

A few, however, like Einstein, will chart their course against the current, driven by an inner need to find the “still place” within, where spiritual fulfillment can emerge naturally. They will dare to risk the unknown of continual change and fight their way against the current of fearful, self-centered thinking embodied in the present social paradigm. The Buddha’s term for meditation, patisotagami, fits perfectly into this upstream journey of spirit because it means “going against the current”—the mass conditioning, which has resulted in the rampant materialism and global destruction of our times.

As the stream of spirituality narrows, these few will find themselves increasingly at odds with the thinking of the general populace in our morally troubled society, for the narrower the stream becomes, the purer and loftier become the ideals, the fewer the people of like mind does one find. “It is not that we love to be alone,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “but that we love to soar, and when we do soar, the company grows thinner and thinner until there is none at all.”

If you are courageous and true to the calling of your heart (the literal meaning of “vocation”) of your spirit, the main obstacle you encounter will for a time be a growing sense of apparent isolation as you face the mounting criticism of those who do not understand and are frightened by the changes they see in you. But if you dare to reach the place where spirituality puts materialism in perspective, you will find your focus so concentrated, your faith so strong, that what others see as a Herculean effort becomes to you increasingly effortless as you are learning the difference between what is truly valuable and what is valueless. If you then take the time to look back, you will find, as author Carl Perkins did, that “if it weren’t for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song.”

Saint John of the Cross saw the journey of consciousness differently in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, on top of which awaits the grace of life as it is meant to be lived. Below the summit, the mountain is crisscrossed with paths, while at the bottom are the beginnings of two routes. One is wide and inviting, a path of self-will that says “yes” to the ego and at first glance is the obvious one to take, whereas the other is partially hidden, narrow, and tortuous as it wends its way among rocky precipices.

Whoever chooses the wide path is opting for a life of least resistance, but soon finds it coiling back on itself as it shrinks progressively until it disappears altogether in the impenetrable vegetation of the mountain’s slope. The narrow path, so difficult at the outset, becomes gradually wider, smoother, and easier as it ascends the mountain, for this is the path of spiritual discipline, which guides the traveler with increasing ease and delight to the pinnacle of life’s essence and fullness.

“What is the path?” the Zen Master Nan-sen was asked.

“Every life is the path,” he answered.

As you discard the valueless, including what others think of you, you will hold ever more lightly the valuable, for you will learn that true value lies in the gentle touch of sharing, not in the death-grip of ownership. Value lies in the freedom of detachment from the material, not in the shackles of its possession. Value lies in keeping your own score in the way you live your life, ignoring all those in the prison yard who cry foul as they rattle their chains while screaming that they are the appointed umpires. As you want less and less, you will find you have more and more. To be “poor” out of choice is to consciously embrace your chosen level of material simplicity and, in accord with that simplicity, hold hands with freedom, leisure, and spirituality.

To hold fast to the spiritual journey requires the utmost courage, for the time will come when in your soul the purple darkness of night will temporarily snuff out your guiding light. It is during this time of spiritual blindness that you must allow yourself to be guided by the invisible eyes of faith.

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Faith, which is belief without evidence, keeps the dreamers dreaming and the doers doing. “Faith,” says Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, “is the bird that knows dawn and sings while it is still dark.” In contrast, someone once wrote that, “worry is interest paid in advance for a debt you may never owe.” And the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, in dealing with the paradox of faith, said:  “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” It is not by accident that “with faith” is the actual meaning of the word “confidence.”

I learned faith as a young child planting peas. I would plant my peas and then immediately begin wondering if they were growing, so I would dig some of them up to see. Sometimes I even dug them up more than once a day. Those that I dug up too often died, but those I left in peace long enough or those I failed to find, germinated and grew. I could then see them coming up through the soil. I didn’t know what went on in the soil, because I couldn’t see, but I learned that if I were patient, the seeds would grow and that each pea seed would grow only into a pea plant. So my wondering gradually turned into be-wonderment, and out of my be-wonderment I finally understood what Lao Tzu meant by learning to trust what is happening because allowing and accepting what is happening is more potent than pushing for that which I want to have happen.

In a similar vein, have you ever looked closely at a leaf bud on a tree in winter? I am still awed that inside a frozen bud are miniature leaves just waiting for spring to release them from bondage. I find the same miracle in the seeds of a flowering plant. Each seed has already present, encrypted in the genetic code and hidden within its coat, the roots, stem, leaves, and all the flower’s radiant colors, like an artist’s paints stored in tubes. I can, as I gaze at the seed, imagine what the flower will look like when it blooms. But if my lack of faith causes me to become impatient and break open either seed or bud to see what is inside, I destroy the miracle.

If I have faith, I believe in the outcome. If I believe in the outcome, I can be patient because everything has its own time for germinating, growing, maturing, and reproducing, be it a flower or vegetable in my garden, or a book I am writing. Certainly, as St. Augustine taught, the most precious reward of patience is patience itself.

Time is the current of life’s flowing. I can either accept it, learning to navigate life with ease, fluidity, and grace, or I can wear myself out like a swimmer trying with brute strength to defy the river’s power by imposing my own strength of will.

The latter, I have found, is always a waste of time and energy. If I plant seeds too early in my garden because of my impatience to see them growing, I inevitably have to replant because I have entirely missed their timing in relation to the length of day and warmth of soil. If I plant too late in the season, I again miss the proper timing and must wait throughout the winter for another chance to cooperate and coordinate with Nature. In this way, the germination of each seed and the sprouting of each bulb I have secreted within the soil rewards my faith when its tender shoot appears above ground. And in like measure, each life’s cycle within the Universe that intersects my own, be it that of an earthworm, a flower, a storm, or a comet, counsels both faith and patience.

Most of us, without even thinking about it, place an extraordinary amount of faith in taxi drivers to get us where we are going in one piece. I have had many and varied experiences in taxis in such places as different as New York City; Washington, D.C.; Cairo, Egypt; New Delhi, India; Tokyo, Japan; and Paris, France. I have actually gone through Cairo and Tokyo with my eyes closed, and in Paris, Zane dug holes the shape of crescent moons in my hand with her fingernails as the driver wove in and out of howling, bumper-to-bumper traffic at kamikaze speed. And yet, I’ve never been in an accident in a taxi.

In all of the above instances, I had faith in the outcome. With the taxis and airplanes, I have risked and still risk my life based on faith in the outcome of my venture. I also have faith that the trees will continue to leaf out each Spring, and that the flowers will continue to bloom, each in its own time.

We live by faith in secular things all the time. We do a thousand things each day with no evidence that they will work—from cooking breakfast, to flushing the toilet, to using the telephone, to turning on the television, to driving our car, to planting seeds and bulbs in our gardens—and we steadfastly believe in the outcome. Why is it easier to have faith in the outcome of material things, which we know are transitory and can break down, than it is in the outcome of spiritual things? I do not know.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was certainly infused with a strong sense of faith, which is evidenced by his statement: “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.” Spiritual wakefulness comes, then, not in a perception of dualistic thinking by compartmentalizing our lives into spiritual practice and everyday life but in an ever-present awareness that life is spirit and life is faith—the physical manifestation of which often comes in the eleventh hour.

When, I used to wonder over and over, would my faith be strong enough to know itself without some outward sign that the Universe had not forgot me? How much “proof,” I used to ask myself, did I need before I dared trust unequivocally in that which I could feel but could not see? Faith, I finally learned, is a spiritual test and, as such, often fulfills itself in the eleventh hour.

By way of illustration, I remember an important trip I was taking some years ago, which entailed that I drive over a mountain pass some fifty odd miles to the airport. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time to catch the plane. I parked my car and reached to the back seat to get my briefcase, in which I had all the papers necessary to my trip. It was not there! In severe distress, I wondered what to do because, on the one hand, my trip was all but useless without the papers and, on the other, if I made the more than one hundred-mile round trip back to the office to get my briefcase, I would miss the meeting. Finally, feeling total despair, I got out of the car only to find my briefcase perched safely on top of the car, where it had resided the entire trip at sixty or so miles per hour from my office to the airport—how I will never know.

In another instance, Zane and I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1990, where I had been asked to take a job with the Environmental Protection Agency. We found a house and needed a certain amount of money for a down payment. I had just had two books accepted for publication and the advanced royalty, we decided, would constitute the down payment. Although the money was promised to come early, it did not. As the day for closing on the house drew near, I began to worry that the money would not come; I wavered in my faith. The money not only arrived in the afternoon of the day before closing was to take place but also was almost the precise amount required, including all of the closing costs involved in the transaction. As usual, I had worried needlessly.

Someone once said that it’s not the load that wears you down but the way you carry it. The way we each carry our load is dependent on our understanding of and acceptance of faith as the foundation and guiding principle of life.


 

Related Posts:

• The World Is In My Garden–My Garden As Metaphor

• The Gate Of Ecological Consciousness

• I Participate With The Whole World While Working In My Garden

• The Gate Of Social Consciousness

• The Environment Is Our Social Mirror

• The Gate Of Personal Consciousness

• To Be In Control, I Must Give Up Trying To Control

• Finding Peace In My Garden

 


Text © by Chris Maser, 2009; Illustrations © by Leslie Edgington, 2009. All rights reserved.

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If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.



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