Live the Question


“…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

– Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, in Letters to a Young Poet

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Spiritual Alchemy—a primer


by Michael Maciel


Spiritual alchemy is not so hard to understand if you look at it as chemistry.

Core principle of alchemy: solve et coagulae (dissolve and recombine).

In chemistry, we break substances down into their constituent components and then recombine them in different ways.

Spiritually, we learn to distinguish between different levels of vibration, using our inner faculties to separate them out.

As in chemistry, the more refined a substance is (how well you have separated it out from other substances), the better results you will get when you use it to make something new.

This process of separating out is called “discernment,” which is usually carried out either by burning or distillation. In alchemy, it’s called the Element of Air, because burning and distilling create gasses.

The biggest detriment to clear thinking is the lack of discernment, the inability (or unwillingness) to look squarely at an assumption (what “is”) and to avoid breaking it down into its components.

Keywords in the lack of discernment: conflation (blending two different ideas into one); obfuscation (to be evasive, unclear, or confusing); confirmation bias (interpreting all data as supportive of your belief, whether or not it actually is).

Confirmation bias is the biggest impediment to clear thinking. We must entertain opposing views fully, and test them—look for their merits as well as their flaws. We must also do this with our deeply held beliefs and convictions.

Fire is the precursor to air, alchemically speaking. Fire is the agent by which we reduce ideas to their essential elements. We have to be willing to undergo the process if we hope to arrive at truth.

To be willing, and then strike a match.

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The Word—Faithful Unto Death (???)

This is my response to a Facebook friend, Gary R. Markley, to his question, “…must we cultivate our conscious awareness to be at the level of where thought arises from, cultivate Being?And from there the Word moves?”
This is part of our ongoing discussion about the Word.

No, Gary, that’s the long way up the mountain, in my opinion. Besides, we’re pretty much dealing with pre-cognitive issues here, so in a sense we can’t get in there anyway, not really.

It’s far better, I think, to work at the conscious level, to pick something in the “I want/I need” department, and go for it. It doesn’t really matter if your goal is “right,” just as long as you have a starting point. Part of the learning process is engaging with the course-corrections that will inevitably arise when you put your heart into creating new conditions in your life or the lives of others. The keyword here is initiative—the Universe responds to boldness and daring.

You can say “let this be done in right action,” but that can sometimes be a way of avoiding responsibility for your creation. There’s always the risk of doing something wrong, but creation IS risky. I would rather show my desire for right action by being attentive and responsive to the course corrections as they present themselves. Know what I mean?

I say that creation is an “all in” kind of deal. There’s a mystical saying that goes, “Pray for what you want, and then pay for it.” Now, one might think that this means that you can pray for a car or a house and it will show up, and then you write the check, and at that level this is true. But there’s another meaning that cuts a little closer to the bone: you say, “LET IT BE,” and then take the heat if it goes south.
steak knives

History mostly records the bold moves that were successful, not the ones that weren’t. In the movie “Glenngary Glen Ross,” first prize was a new Cadillac; second prize was a set of steak knives; third prize was “you’re fired.”

We have to bring this kind of “do-or-die” attitude into our inner work. Many of the Great Ones have said as much:

Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.

Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.
–Jesus, Rev. 20:10

And this:
Luke 14:26-33New King James Version (NKJV)

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

This last one (controversial as it is) really illustrates the level of commitment needed in spiritual work, whether it be in one’s own personal development or in using the Word to bring something into manifestation. Hating your parents means going against their authority, which can apply to your inner “parents” as well. It also applies to governmental authority when it tries to assert parental control. Hating that refers to civil disobedience. Hating your brothers and sisters means not letting loyalties stand in the way either, whether to family, church, ideology, community, whatever. “Brothers and sisters” refers to close-in peer groups.

The “cross” that Jesus is telling us to pick up is the one that has our name on it. It is our point of connection to the world, where we are planted, spiritually speaking. “Taking it up” means own it. This is our soul’s way of staking its claim in the Earth. And no claim is valid unless it is worked. Using the Word to create what you want in your life is “working your claim.”

What do we say when a gymnast attempts a difficult move and is successful? We say, “She nailed it.” The Hebrew letter vav, which means “nail,” is closely associated with the crucifixion. It is Spirit affixed to matter. It is full-on commitment.

These sayings emphasize the degree to which we must take responsibility for what we create in order for our acts of creation to appear in the world. If we are faithful in the little things, greater things will be given. That’s why I say start with something/anything and then roll with the punches. Pick a direction and begin. If you’re wrong, you will find out in short order. So adjust your bearing and continue.

Here’s the original FB post to which Gary responded:

How can a person speak the Word if they think they are the one saying it? The Word is spoken, not by you, not by me, but by itself.

In Hindu philosophy, they say that the secret of OM Nama Shivaya is to speak it at the right time and in the right way.

The right time is the present moment, you might think, but it’s actually a fraction of a second BEFORE the present moment. In other words, you’re speaking it before you intend to speak it.

The Word shapes the present moment. That’s the power it has. But how can it shape it unless it precedes it?

This is not so hard to understand if you study yourself, your words, your actions, and your thoughts. The “present moment” is your creation. It comes out from you. The present moment IS your Word. But it’s already in place before you speak it.

This bestows a profound strength upon he or she who contemplates this, the Source.

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Priests and the Word

by Michael Maciel
We all radiate energy, everything from infrared to the vibrations of our thoughts and feelings. (If you’ve read this far, you have probably contemplated this before.) What I’m asking you to consider is what you DO with that.
The vibrations of our thoughts and feelings are essentially passive. They’re automatic, meaning that we don’t have to think about them. They are more the product of who we are, and the world sees us accordingly.
The “Word” is different. It has a different polarity and a different direction. Instead of being passive, it is active. And instead of wearing it like a bubble (as we do with our “vibes”) we SPEAK it into the world as a cause.
What does it mean to “speak” it into the world?
To answer this, ask yourself, “What do I uphold?” Whatever that is, THAT is your Word. The word “uphold” is an active verb. Like a column holding up a portico, your Word is the functional part of you. It is that without which the world would be different if you weren’t in it.
What is that? What is the difference you make in the world?
A priest is one who makes a difference in the world—consciously, deliberately, consistently. A priest says, “My presence makes a difference because I say it does. I have power to change the world, not because I’m special, but because power is given to me by God. God gives me power, not because I’m good, but because I’m willing—willing to use that power for the good of all, not just those whom I like. My willingness is proved by my ACTION. It is proved by what I speak into the world—speak with my words, my body, my heart, and my sweat. It is through these things that God is active in the world. And if I make a mistake, so be it. There is always the next action, and the next, and the next one after that. Let the intention that is within me smooth the way for others.”
They say that a chess game is controlled from the perimeter of the board. So is our outer life controlled by the Word we speak. (The spiritual is always the reverse of the physical.) The details are surrounded by what we uphold. We are what we say we are—not with our words or our ideas, but with our very being. It’s what we ARE that makes a difference, not what we espouse.
A priest IS. Her job is to BE in the world. All the rest is detail.
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What DO you know?

hall of mirrors

by Michael Maciel

There are some core teachings that we can pretty much take for a baseline, principles that have been accepted for so long by so many great ones that we don’t really need to debate them. Meditate on them, yes. Study and discuss them, yes. But debate them? No.

I mean, we can…but to what purpose?

Here they are:

As above, so below.

WoMan, know thyself.

Know, O Israel, the Lord our God is One.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

If these were all you had to work with, they would be more than enough. For many, many lifetimes.

We all need a place within ourselves where we can say, “The buck stops here. This is where I stand.”

Our understanding of these principles will vary. They will evolve over time.

When you find yourself in a Hall of Mirrors (the mind), crouch down to the floor, then feel your way out.

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The Invisible Woman


by Michael Maciel

There was a cartoon floating around on the Internet a while back depicting two women passing each other on the sidewalk. One was wearing a burka, the other a bikini and a pair of sunglasses. The woman in the bikini and sunglasses thinks to herself, “Everything is covered except her eyes.” The woman in the burka thinks to herself, “Nothing is covered except her eyes.”

The contrast between the two women pales in comparison to the contrast between women and men, the way men see themselves and the way women see themselves. Men, regardless of what they are wearing, see themselves as individuals. Rich or poor, it doesn’t matter. A man might be judged by his outer appearances, but those are generally a statement of who he is, whether he’s wearing a Wall Street suit or Hell’s Angels’ leathers. Two such men passing each other on the sidewalk will also have thoughts about each other, but the inner dialog will have a very different context than that of the two women. The context within which the men are thinking goes something like this: “I know I’m richer than you are, but you can kick my ass,” juxtaposed with “I can kick your ass, but you can throw me in jail, even if I don’t.” And in a broad, general sense, the rest of society sees them the same way.

bikiniBut how does the rest of society see women? Where the men’s outer appearance is incidental to WHO they are, the women’s appearance speaks to WHAT they are. With men, the appearance is secondary. It’s one aspect in a set of aspects. But with women, it’s the only aspect.

Is this always true? Of course not. There are always exceptions to every rule. But when ninety-nine out of a hundred think this way, it might as well be the only game in town.

In the world of men, a crumpled up man in a wheelchair speaking through a voice synthesizer can be a giant of history, if his name is Stephen Hawking. But a woman running for president of the United States is judged first by what she’s wearing and second by whether she has a pleasing personality. Her diplomas and political savvy are barely acknowledged. She can stand for the country, but only if her feet are together. Her appearance and her behavior, if deemed correct, get her in the door, but they also render her invisible. That’s the kind of door that first slaps you in the face and then in the butt. There is no way to win that game.

The woman in the burka is invisible–a black smudge in a world of color. But the woman in the bikini and sunglasses is invisible, too. Her costume hides her just as effectively, but in an inverse way. One outfit reveals only the eyes and thus emphasizes seeing; the other outfit reveals everything but the eyes and thus emphasizes being seen. Both outfits are proscribed by men and by the system that men have created. Both are assigned from the outside–they do not arise as authentic expressions of self.

No one likes to be invisible. In the movie “Avatar,” the people connected themselves to their world and to each other. They greeted each other with “I see you.” But we have cut ourselves off. We have found ways NOT to see each other. We have replaced connection with commodification. We see each other as things, not as persons. And when we objectify other people, we objectify ourselves. Andy Warhol described our condition by repeating the image of a glammed-up Marilyn Monroe, a parody of the objectification of women. And Lady Gaga shows us what it’s like to be a woman in 21st Century Western society by wearing nothing but strips of raw meat.

As people, we want to feel like we belong. Unfortunately, we have used this very human primal need against each other by stipulating absurd rules for membership. It’s a hole we have dug ourselves into, one which we must now escape before the hole gets filled in.

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Training Your Heart


by Michael Maciel

We can only want what we value. Take away the value, and you take away the desire. If you want something that you think is valueless, or worse yet, harmful, then there is a component of value in it that you are unaware of. Your job is to find out what it is.

Training your heart involves studying your desires. If you want something that’s not good for you, then somewhere in your mental circuitry you have made a false connection. You have associated two ideas that are incompatible. The act of smoking, for example, can be wrongly associated with feeling important—someone who should be taken seriously. The desire to feel important, as though your life matters, is real. It’s the association of that desire with the act of smoking that’s not. That association was engineered by those who sell cigarettes. Once you realize that the association is unreal, you can then set about addressing the actual desire—the need to have your life matter. That can lead to all kinds of exciting possibilities. But if you substitute those possibilities with the act of smoking, you effectively keep them from materializing. Then your life potential runs the risk of going up in smoke.

The worst thing you can do to your heart is to deny that your desires are legitimate. This is absolutely forbidden. When the mind and the will gang up on the heart like this, all kinds of health problems can arise. Rather than condemn your desires, investigate the associations that underlie them. It’s a wiring problem, not a moral one.

— from World Priest, available soon from Amazon

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Zone of Illusion




by Michael Maciel

Here is an excerpt from a post on Matthew Livermore’s blog, Valley of Vision:

“Therefore, the thesis that I am advancing with one hundred per cent conviction is that every Hermeticist who truly seeks authentic spiritual reality will sooner or later meet the Blessed Virgin. This meeting signifies, apart from the illumination and consolation that it comprises, protection against a very serious spiritual danger. For he who advances in the sense of depth and height in the ‘domain of the invisible’ one day arrives at the sphere known by esotericists as the ‘sphere of mirages’ or the ‘zone of illusion.’ This zone surrounds the earth as a belt of illusory mirages. It is this zone which the prophets and the Apocalypse designate ‘Babylon.’ The soul and the queen of this zone is in fact Babylon, the great prostitute, who is the adversary of the Virgin. Now, one cannot pass by this zone without being enveloped by perfect purity. One cannot traverse it without the protection of the ‘mantle of the Blessed Virgin’…It is therefore the protection of this ‘mantle’ which is absolutely necessary in order to be able to traverse the ‘sphere of mirages’ without falling prey to the influence of its illusions.”


In Advaita Vedanta, the term “neti neti,” which means “not this, not that,” describes this same method for traversing the zone of illusion. (I sometimes find it helpful to cross-reference Christian principles with those of other religions; looking at a problem from a different perspective can bring clarity to it.)

Arriving at high spiritual states is a process of elimination. Since God cannot be killed, anything that can be gotten rid of is, by definition, not God.

The Zen saying, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” also gets at this (more perspective).

The terms “purity” and “virgin” fall into this category. They have nothing whatsoever to do with sexual mores, except when they are used in a secular sense. But we’re not talking “secular” here, are we.

Not being a woman, I have no idea what it’s like to deliver a baby, but the phrases “purity of intention” and “singular will” do come to mind. The whole process seems capable of moving mountains with the unstoppable power of a glacier. Hence the imagery of Mother and Child in the esoteric literature throughout time.

Only one sperm penetrates the egg; all the rest are rejected: neti neti. Virgin to the end. So it is with our single-pointed desire to become one with the Divine (purity of intention). As we rise up in spiritual consciousness, we encounter this “zone of illusion,” and it takes all of our willpower to reject what we find there. The “reward,” or “Holy City,” is what remains after we have killed all the “Buddhas.”

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Divine Guidance—How to Know God’s Will

lighthouseSounds huge, doesn’t it? I mean, what are we talking about here? Is it God’s will as it applies to our entire lifespan, or do we simply want to know what to do next? It seems to me that figuring this out is the first step.

Of course, the two have to be in agreement. Our moment to moment life has to be in alignment with our life’s purpose, doesn’t it? That’s called integrity. But what if we don’t know what our life’s purpose is? How then are we supposed to know what we should be doing today?

Being one with God, in a practical sense, is doing God’s will. Spiritually speaking, it’s where the rubber meets the road. No amount of mystical experience, divine revelation, or wide-open chakras can compensate for the lack of a full-on engagement with God’s will. Even if you’re “spiritual, not religious,” unless your life is in sync with the Universe, getting high on Spirit will only be a temporary fix at best. It will do little to actually transform you. What we do here in this life is the litmus test of our spiritual evolutionary status. As Huston Smith says, “It’s not the altered states but the altered traits” that count.

poiseTrying to figure out your life’s purpose is as intimidating as trying to know the entire plot of a novel before you write it. I don’t know of any author who does that. They all say that the plot, along with the characters, evolve as the story unfolds. No wonder we have such a hard time trying to figure out God’s will. The plot, it would seem, is never revealed ahead of time. There are no spoilers in God’s Plan.

If writers waited until they knew what they were going to write about, nothing would ever get written. Author Joan Didion says, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Writing, it turns out, is a process of self-discovery. Why then should the story of our life be any different?

Before we go any further with this, we need to lay one thing to rest: God’s will is not, has never been, nor will it ever be written down. Everything that has been written is nothing more than a set of principles. The Bible (or any other sacred text) is a style sheet, a collection of guidelines, not a personalized prescription. By design, it has something for everyone. But if we try to script our lives according to its dictates, we quickly discover that the sheer volume of its wisdom can quickly overwhelm us. When it comes to guidance, there is no one-size-fits-all. What is wise for one person is often foolish for another. Timing, as they say, is everything!

So how do we do it—how do we engage with the creative process called “Life”? Someone once asked me, “How can I help?” I replied, “Well, what can you do?” Unless you have something to start with, something you can bring to the table, engaging is going to be difficult. The best place to start is finding out what lights you up. This is not a matter of what you want, but what you love. As Joseph Campbell used to say, “Follow your bliss.” And by that, I don’t think he meant to follow your desires. We all know where that can lead. No, he meant follow that which gives you joy, not pleasure. Discovering the difference between joy and pleasure is a rite of passage into adulthood, and the enquiry into God’s will is an adult pursuit. God’s will is not geared towards instant gratification or cheap substitutes. The goal of moral development is to bring us to this threshold.

A writer’s worst nightmare is writer’s block. And everyone who has ever wanted to live a spiritual life, to do God’s will, or even to simply be a good person has experienced the spiritual equivalent of writer’s block. The way out is the same for both: write something—anything! When we don’t know what God’s will is, the best thing we can do is anything. At least give God something to work with. You have to be able to do something before you can be of any use to God. So what does it matter what profession you choose, what country you live in, what political views you hold, or what religion you are? Those things are not important to God. If they’re more important to you than they are to God, then that might be the problem. What you know is not as important as what you value.

bookYou have to be willing to let your life’s story unfold creatively. Like a novel. It’s not that you aren’t the author. But then, God isn’t the author either. Stories write themselves. God is just as eager as you are to find out how it ends! In fact, I say that that’s why we were created. God wanted something to read!

Trying to write the story you think you should write is the worst kind of self-betrayal. God didn’t create you to be someone else. Art is nothing if not authentic. And authenticity (along with timing) is everything. If you bring anything to God, bring that. Bring authenticity. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot,” says the angel in Revelations. Lukewarm, in stories as well as in life, doesn’t cut it.

You can pretty much go anywhere as long as you go all out. Our lives are judged by their level of commitment, not by generic standards of right and wrong. Does this give us an excuse to hurt people? Of course not. But what normal human being finds bliss in hurting people? (Anyone who finds joy in hurting people has a much more serious problem than finding their life’s direction.) Sometimes, people do get hurt, but we call that a “mistake.” If we live our lives in constant fear of hurting someone—in constant fear of making a mistake—then we’re back to lukewarm. The best we can do is the best we can do. No one, and especially not God, expects us to be perfect. “Good” is good enough.

In a sense, we are characters in God’s novel. And just as stories tend to write themselves, so does God expect us to show Him/Her who we are. God doesn’t know how we will develop. If that were known, what would be the sense in writing the story? God breathes life into us, and then it’s up to us to see where the wind of that breath carries us. Our journey is a day-to-day, moment by moment exploration of who we are, what we’re made of, and what we’re capable of becoming. We write our own script, our own dialog, and, to a large degree, the plot. Just like the characters in a novel. This is God’s will, that we go forth and multiply. Not children, but “children.” What will we give birth to? How can we multiply the potential that we are? If God wants anything from us—anything at all—it’s a surprise. There’s no cosmic ultrasound that will show us (or God) what’s going to come out.

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Sins of Omission

fishbowlThere’s no way around it: “He who would lose his life, for my sake, shall find it.”

Our souls are committed to growing. Growing requires stretching. And stretching is hard work.

Living “as if” has been greatly misrepresented in the movies—there’s no such thing as a twenty-four year old brain surgeon in high heels. Many go for the look; few work for it.

But just because people love the glamour of achievement more than achievement itself doesn’t negate the fact that we must first step into the shoes before we can wear them (not necessarily high heels). This is called the Law of Assumption, and it is essential to the spiritual path.

Every area of human knowledge is one of those “many mansions in my Father’s house” that Jesus spoke of. And every one has a door upon which we must knock (knock and then push) if we are to enter.

Knowledge is power, and power never surrenders itself; it must be seized.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Equilibrium is the result of growth, not the cause of it. To grow, we must become unbalanced. We must push the limits of our capabilities and extend ourselves past them. First the egg, then the chicken. That’s life’s first test—can you, indeed WILL you, break free from your shell?

What you don’t do is sometimes worse than what you do.

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