Missing the Mark

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by Michael Maciel

If sin is “missing the mark,” then we have to ask, what are we aiming at?

You may have heard the adage, “I reached the top of the ladder of success only to discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall.” Also, “No one on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time at the office.” A sinful life doesn’t necessarily mean a life of debauchery. It could also mean being unfaithful to our heart’s desire, to our calling, or even ignoring the still, small voice within. How true are you to YOU?

If our sense of God is one of a strict and judgmental father, then repentance feels like avoiding punishment through shame and self-hatred, but if God is a loving, nurturing Mother (or Father) then repentance feels more like turning away from bad choices and rededicating ourselves to what the angel in the Book of Revelation calls “your first love.”

What worldly concerns have replaced our heart’s desire? Isn’t that the worst kind of betrayal? What has our soul come here to do, to learn, to contribute, or to share? What unique role are we here to play? What would the world be missing if we as unique individuals weren’t here? These are virtuous questions.

Perhaps the worst way to miss the mark is to not aim at anything at all, to just simply give up. That’s when we sink into despair. That’s when we say to ourselves, why even try? What’s the use? Or, I just want to die. What could be more sinful than that? 

Well, actually, a lot. Sometimes, our despair can turn into resentment. We can start to hate God for creating such a pointless and painful world. And if our hatred becomes strong enough, it can turn into a pathological desire for revenge. Like Cain, who killed his brother Abel because God favored him more than him, we begin to hate anyone who is more fortunate than we are. 

We might even internalize our hatred and start to hate everything good in ourselves. We become cynical. We start to regard our own feelings of kindness and compassion as evidence that we are weak and pathetic. We might even decide to turn that self-hatred out onto the world and find perverse comfort in harming others. Once we start down that path, hell starts to feel like home, and we can’t get there fast enough. And if we can take others with us, so much the better. 

The best thing about having good aim is that we will eventually hit our target. But life doesn’t end there. Each accomplishment opens new doors of opportunity. Having climbed the top of our hill, our horizons suddenly expand. We not only see farther, we also see where we have been. And that can inform our future choices. That’s how we grow. 

We might also, having gotten what we wanted, realize that it’s not all that we hoped it would be. A course-correction might be in order. But that’s good too, right? Isn’t that the way it usually happens? Our efforts make us stronger and more mature, so our goals in life naturally evolve as we evolve. What we thought was the top of the mountain now proves to be just one step towards a loftier peak. How exciting! What new adventures lie ahead? Having accomplished one goal, we can’t wait to try for another. Success breeds success. Life begets more life. The strong get stronger. Our cup runneth over. 

Missing the mark isn’t so bad, as long as we keep shooting. In fact, not missing the mark might just mean that our target is too close, too easy, and too tepid. And souls aren’t usually tepid. Our soul is that part of us that is always face-to-face with God, and God is a consuming fire. So when we are in touch with our soul, our hearts are inflamed. And like actual fire, our lives are in a constant state of change. Everything we touch is affected by the heat. People are either drawn to us or they run like hell. Few are lukewarm. 

So, it’s important that we kindle that fire. It’s important that we be true to our “first love,” our soul’s longing to blaze towards the heavens. It’s not what we want to do, it’s what we have to do. That’s what matters. And it’s the “have to” part that sometimes makes our lives uncomfortable. When it comes to soul work, there will always be pain. Fire burns. But it also forges. It purifies. It enlivens. It opens the way. If we resist it, we will always be running from it, but when we accept it into our hearts, it lights the way ahead. It’s better to run towards something good than to run away from something bad. But hey, most of us need a little of both, don’t we. That’s life. And given the inertia of this world, that’s a good thing. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Naivete and Cynicism

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by Michael Maciel

I’m thinking that the opposite of being naive isn’t being smart, as though naivete is ignorance by definition, but rather, the opposite of being naive is to be cynical. However, both words have negative connotations, so we have to strip them of that before we can keep from using them inappropriately.

Naivete means the lack of experience, wisdom, or judgement — easy to see why it’s a negative. But what if the word isn’t as accurate as we suppose? Or, if it is accurate (many people do lack those things, after all), what if it’s sometimes used inappropriately? How would we know unless we think about it more carefully?

If we can look at cynicism for a moment (also regarded as a negative), which means an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest, we can also ask ourselves if we sometimes use that word inappropriately, as well. Usually, when we call someone a cynic, we imply that they disagree with whatever it is they’re being cynical about. We tend to use it as a pejorative, especially when they are being cynical about something we believe. But in reality, they might just be applying critical thinking. 

These two concepts, cynicism and critical thinking, are easy to conflate, but they are entirely different. Critical thinking means the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. It’s not prejudicial thinking but analytical thinking. It’s analyzing an issue in order to arrive at an informed opinion. 

In the same way, we use the word naive to imply that a person is not well-informed, when in fact they may be idealistic. But that word, too, has a negative connotation. It implies, whether correctly or not, that the person is somehow disconnected from reality and that they are not looking at the sense data. Perhaps a better word for this possible misinterpretation of the word naive would be “creative.” 

Creative thought — at its best — uses all of the available data as a springboard to launch into the realm of the possible. It’s climbing on top of what’s known and then looking out from there to see the unknown. But it’s a special kind of unknown: it’s not what we know that we don’t know, it’s what we don’t know that we don’t know. For instance, we know that we don’t know the secret of anti-gravity. We know that. But it’s what we don’t know that we don’t know that holds the secret. That’s why we haven’t figured it out yet. 

So just as the word cynicism can keep us from recognizing legitimate critical thinking, so can the word naive keep us from recognizing legitimate creative thought. 

We seem to be born with a proclivity to one or the other of these ways of looking at the world. We are either questioning what we see or we are busy imagining what would be ideal. And just as the human nervous system has two separate mechanisms to control our metabolism (one to speed it up and one to slow it down), so do our minds have mechanisms to do the same thing — to either construct increasingly optimal solutions to the problems of life or to fact-check those ideas so as to avoid unforeseen consequences should we act on them. 

One is an exploratory mindset, and the other is a protective mindset.  One ventures beyond the known to discover what’s new, and the other wants to conserve what has already been established. One says, “We can do this better,” and the other says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Obviously, either mindset without the other would quickly lead to disastrous outcomes. It would be like trying to drive a car with a gas pedal but no brakes, or vice versa. We would either crash or simply go nowhere. 

The world seems to be divided almost equally down the middle between those who think creatively and those who think critically. And isn’t it wonderful. The outer things that differentiate us, such as gender, socioeconomic status, general intelligence, and education, don’t have any bearing on which of these two mindsets we have. We seem to be born with them. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, because we need both to survive and thrive. Nature has somehow ensured that both will be equally represented in the population across multiple dimensions. 

While we can strive to understand that frame of mind to which we are not native, we can never become it. It will always be extrinsic to our nature. This is a good thing, because it guarantees that we can remain objective. And objectivity is essential to critical thinking, and to some extent creative thinking, as well. (Objectivity and identity are another innate dichotomy but are a topic in their own right, perhaps better explored in a separate article.) For this reason, both modalities would do well to respect each other, because though they are complementary, they will always be at odds. 

Trying to blend the two would be counterproductive. In fact, emphasizing their differences — as long as it’s done within a framework of mutual respect — maximizes the advantages of both and safeguards against either inadvertently drifting away from reality. As Albert Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind” — just one example of this psychological polarity.  But interject too much of one into the other, and the strengths of both are diminished. A healthy antagonism is required, and both need to keep their watchful eye on the other and never let the gulf between them get too wide. 

Another example is whether the government should be entirely a secular affair, or should it allow itself to be informed by religious values? One could argue that the overzealous separation of the two has led to the exaggerated consumerism that is polluting our planet — also, the rise in teen suicides and inordinately high divorce rates. But again, these are topics for another time. It does seem, however, that this fundamental polarity is universal. 

Peacefully coexisting with those on the opposite side of this cognitive divide requires open dialogue within the context of mutual benefit. We have to assume that we both want the same thing — a better world to live in. And unless the other person has proven him or herself to be pathologically predisposed towards ruin and annihilation, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt in this regard. We must never accuse them of being evil simply because their views of a better world differ from ours. This is true diversity — viewpoint diversity.

No one knows the perfect condition in which everyone can thrive, but we do know that forcing everyone to be the same is not it. Many societies have tried this approach, and every one of them ended in a bloodbath, without exception. Those that have survived for any appreciable amount of time have allowed for open dialogue and compromise. This holds true for large groups as well as intimate relationships. When we recognize this fundamental difference between us, it opens the door to a world that is both stable and innovative. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Right Action in the Time of Coronavirus

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by Michael Maciel

The problem with being a future-oriented society is that when the future disappears, everything falls apart. Our horizons have been too broad and too far-flung. It’s time to bring them closer to home. Because when we use the future (which is always fictitious) to anchor our reality, and it is suddenly obliterated, not just by changing into something different but by being replaced altogether by uncertainty, we lose direction. And that can be unsettling if not downright disturbing.

Now is the time to practice mindfulness, but in a way that’s a little different from the way we might practice it in meditation. By bringing our horizons closer in, so that our future is no more than a day or two out, we can focus on what needs to be done right now.

We all have a certain amount of chaos in our lives, but we manage to put off fixing it by constantly focusing on the future. We have goals, and they are usually long-term. Now those goals have…disappeared. And we don’t know how to live without them. 

Ever notice how young parents can be too distracted to be in the present moment with their kids? It’s because they have goals. Big goals. Important goals. And those goals rob them of the most precious years of their life. Now we’re in a time where there are no goals. Goals have been preempted by a huge cloud of uncertainty. For many of us, the farthest out we can see is fourteen days. After that, who knows? Maybe another fourteen? 

Being overly future-oriented has its dubious payoffs. It allows us to falsely prioritize. Instead of tending to the things right under our nose, we put them off, because there are much more important things to attend to. Even if we’re not actually doing anything concrete to realize our goals, we justify putting off the small stuff by believing that if we don’t stay focused on the future, it will drift away from us, as though thinking about it holds it in place. That’s called magical thinking.

Having goals isn’t the problem. Having goals that are just beyond our horizon is. We need to bring our horizons in. Way in. What am I going to do today? What has to be done by tomorrow? That’s it. That’s as far as our concerns should extend right now. Why? Because no one knows what lies beyond that. But we do know what needs attention right now.

Our lives are a continual balancing act between order and chaos. We work and plan as a way of projecting order into our world, so that we can feel confident that our actions will produce predictable results. Our actions, then, become our prayers. We tailor them to produce the world we want to live in. This is how we speak order into chaos, just as God did in the beginning when He spoke into the formless void and brought a habitable world into being. Our actions are our Word. 

There is a Zen saying: “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” Just as having a well-defined long-term goal can positively affect the way we take care of the little things, so can the way we take care of the little things positively affect how our future will turn out. There are two reasons for this. One is practical and understandable. The other is profoundly esoteric. Let’s take the first one:

As we attend to problems as they arise, we prevent them from accumulating beyond our ability to control. If we fail to attend to them now, they will overwhelm us in the future. Procrastination sets in. We worry — a lot. We get depressed, and our ability to respond to the exigencies of our lives deteriorates. If we ignore our problems long enough, they will sink us, sometimes catastrophically. 

Problems are the “evils” we face everyday. There are enough of them, big and small, to completely occupy our attention. Unless, of course, we’re too busy thinking about problems that might occur in the future. Those problems are fictitious. They haven’t happened yet. They might not ever happen. But we spend more time worrying about those than the real ones lying at our feet. 

When Jesus told his followers not to worry about tomorrow, he wasn’t telling them how to be hippies. He wasn’t telling them not to plan for the future. He said, “Sufficient unto the day are the evils thereof.” He was telling them that if they attended to everyday problems as they arose, the future would be a far better place to live in when it arrived. But if they did not attend to the everyday problems as they arose, the future would likely be a living hell. 

Now for the esoteric part of this: We are not born a blank slate, but…we live into one. There is no fate. The future is not written in stone. As Lawrence of Arabia said, “Nothing is written.” We write our futures as we live. Our actions are our prayers. If we speak order into our lives now, the order we create will extend into the future, and the future will take care of itself. We create the future with every act we commit in the present. We set the patterns by and through which it will unfold. We might not be able to be highly specific in our expectations, but the character of our lives will reflect the character of our actions today. 

How do we implement this? Since most of us are in isolation right now, due to the public health crisis, we have the time and the stage upon which to conduct our experiment. Our home is like a miniature solar system. It is in constant flux, and as conditions change, so do its needs. All we have to do is ask ourselves, “What needs to be done today?” Our home will tell us, if we listen. Maybe the refrigerator needs to be emptied and cleaned. Maybe we need to order food from Amazon. Maybe we need to call a family member or friend. Whatever it is, it is a bit of chaos that needs to be put in order. Chaotic conditions — unattended problems — make us vulnerable.

Sufficient unto the day are the problems thereof. Don’t invent future ones as a way to avoid what needs to be done now.

By bringing our horizons in and living consciously in the present moment (not so much in meditation as in our actions) we live in a state of continual preparedness. When conditions change suddenly and unpredictably, we will be as ready as we can be. That’s a whole lot better than not. And, most importantly, when we order our present, we simultaneously order our future. The developer of the Alexander Method, F. Matthias Alexander, said, “People do not decide their futures; they decide their habits, and their habits decide their futures.” Get in the habit of attending to real needs as they present themselves. Bring your horizons in. Way in.

 

 

 

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Meaning and Meaninglessness

'Christ of the Abyss' statue, Pennekamp State Park, Key Largo, Florida, USA.

by Michael Maciel

It seems to me that there are two things that drive meaning in our lives: love and purpose. In the presence of love, even loving one’s cat, pushes the need for meaning to the side, if only momentarily. And with enough purpose, meaning is…well, self-evident.

But when either of these fail us, meaninglessness can swoop in like a dive bomber and blow us to pieces. Which raises the question: What, in the lack of love and purpose, can make our lives meaningful? And why is meaningfulness important at all? Is there ever a point where life just is, and can that be enough? Not just enough, but arrestingly enough, mind-stoppingly enough, where the only danger becomes death by astonishment?

I wouldn’t want to give up meaning or the quest for it. It makes everything so…interesting. But without that place beyond meaning, without the bedrock of the sheer amazement that comes when we encounter being itself, what is there to sustain us when love and meaning fail?

Is this, then, the thing we should seek before all else, the thing that, once acquired, would bring us to the place where everything matters, where if one thing were plucked away, the whole universe would tremble?

Or is it that meaning itself is meaningless and that that’s okay? Perhaps it’s when the heart is empty that it is at its fullest; and the will, when stripped of its banner, becomes the deadliest force on the battlefield of life?

No one wants to be reduced to the mere instinct to survive, but perhaps it’s that instinct, the urge to move forward at any cost, that is the pulse of God, the pounding of which can grind everything—even meaning—to powder.

Is this the place, the center of gravity of our being, which is empty and yet holds the promise of everything, the thing without which the most meaningful life will one day be catastrophically undone?

In the face of that—the absolute impoverishment of spirit—what might be revealed? And would we be able to bear it, knowing that to enter into its field would be the utter subsumption of us?

Perhaps the rawness of life is nothing less than terrifying, and that that’s why we pursue meaning and endlessly strive to keep it alive. Maybe it’s our flight away from the terror that keeps the details of our lives in their swirl and locks us into the never-ending quest for anything that will distract us from the sheer magnitude of our awakening.

(Just a few thoughts in the early hours of a new decade.)

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Notes on the Law of Mind

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by Michael Maciel

 

How much of our world is held together by our beliefs? I mean, held together in such a way that if our beliefs were disrupted, our whole world, including our sense of self, would fall apart.

Consciously, we might wish that we could escape the bounds of our limitations, but subconsciously, we might not want that at all. Who’s to say that our limitations aren’t there for our benefit? Perhaps our soul knows something we don’t. Perhaps our limitations are our gestation chamber, like an egg, that if removed would kill us, not just physically but spiritually, too.

For instance, how often have you wished you could win the lottery? But, did you know that lottery winners often wind up worse off than before? Why do we believe that having lots of money would cure all of our problems? It might appear that way to our conscious mind, but the subconscious knows better. (Remember, the subconscious is the mind of the soul.) It knows that the integrity of our social circles would be jeopardized should we suddenly come into a vast fortune. Would we be willing to undergo the shift in perception our friends and family have of us? Probably not. Even if you gave everyone a million dollars, it still wouldn’t be enough. They would still resent you or hound you endlessly for more.

Then there’s the problem of addiction. Most people’s addictions are kept relatively manageable by their lack of cash. But give them access to whatever they want, and it’s only a matter of time before they self-destruct. As Paul Simon said in one of his songs, “Thinking I had supernatural powers, I slammed into a brick wall.” Our soul knows this, because it’s been there before.

Using the Law works best when we stay close to the edges of our beliefs. We can push the envelope; we just can’t push it too far. We have to honor the forebears of our perceived reality. If we reject them outright, there will be a massive pushback from the subconscious mind. All hell will break loose.

Take the example of flying. If we pray for the ability to fly, you know, like Superman, it’s not likely that that will happen. It’s just too far removed from our perceived reality. We don’t have wings, we are subject to gravity, and we all know that people can’t fly. Only birds can fly. But, people have wanted to fly for centuries, maybe thousands of years. They finally worked it out on December 17, 1903, near Kill Devil Hills, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Sixty-three years later, we flew to the moon.

As astronaut Jim Lovell said when someone said it was a miracle, “No, it wasn’t a miracle. We just decided to go.” The most powerful force we know of is the human mind. When we decide to do something—really decide—it gets done. The Law of Mind is the mechanism by which that happens. “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.” – William Hutchison Murray

Using the Law of Mind is an integral part of spiritual practice. It’s not enough to accept whatever comes along as though it were the will of God. When conditions aren’t right, it’s up to us to fix them. If it’s raining, we go inside. If it’s hot in the city we go to the beach. If people are dying of cholera, we invent a sewage system. These are fixes. But what if we’re shooting for the moon? What if we want a new job or a better relationship or even a new car? What prevents us from having those things? Is it God? I don’t think so. The only thing God wants, as far as I can tell, is that we get our prayers answered. THAT is the will of God.

Our approach to life should not be passive. We were created in the image and likeness of God. And God, first and foremost, is a creator. If we want to be like God, if we want to “please” God, we need to create. There are two ways of looking at the world. One is to see it as an aggregate of things and stuff—inanimate and mindless. The other way is to see it as infinite potential, to see all things in terms of possibility. We either say, “What must I put up with today?” or, “How can I turn my circumstances into opportunities?” One is the path of needless suffering. The other is taking on the mind of Christ.

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Consciousness—a direct experience

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by Michael Maciel

One of the problems that I see with most discussions about consciousness is that they tend to analyze it in terms of content, not consciousness as such.

Hofstadter, if I’m understanding him correctly, seems to want to classify consciousness as an emergent phenomenon formed by a web of self-referential experiences, like a hall of mirrors. I can understand that, because at a certain level, that’s what it is. But underlying this effect is consciousness as such, and THAT is entirely void of content.

Most people cannot fathom such a concept. The same people use the word “life” in a similar way—”My life is comprised of my circumstances, my memories, and the way I see the world.” In other words, my content. They cannot see life as anything deeper than chemical reactions, which is ironic, because, as the blog post points out, no one, not even the most cutting-edge scientists, have the slightest idea what life is. Life as such and consciousness as such are opaque mysteries to science and might remain so forever.

Tip of the Iceberg

I have become convinced as a result of my own inner investigations that the greater part of who (and what) we are is unknown and profoundly invisible. As the physicist, J. B. S. Haldane said, “I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose,” the emphasis being on the word “can.” Like an iceberg, the bulk of our being lies below the threshold of our awareness.

This is not to say that this invisible part of us plays no part in the way our life unfolds. In fact, its role is central to everything we know and do. The only way to access it is to simply recognize that it is there. Such knowing, which religionists call “faith,” opens a channel for the influence of this “ground of being” to make itself known to us, if only in brief flashes of insights, most of which are ineffable.

This unknown and unknowable part nonetheless continually breathes the breath of life into us, a life that is purely qualitative, not quantitative. And that life seems to have a will of its own, a purpose and direction but, again, not in terms of content but in spirit. Religionists call this the “will of God.”

The most salient fact about this unknown, unknowable part is that the deeper we dive into it, the more universal and less personal it becomes. It’s an existential common ground from which we all derive our sense of self, even though what we sense is beyond our capacity to describe, much less define. But we can feel it. It looms in the background of our awareness as though behind a curtain—a veil—figuratively represented by the curtain separating from view the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem.

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That’s the thing about curtains—you know something’s going on behind them, and sometimes you can even hear it. But only the “High Priest” part of us can go in there, and then only “once a year,” an allusion to the timelessness of our most exalted states and the causal role those states play in the way our lives unfold in the realm of ordinary consciousness.

I suspect that many of the things we do not understand, such as the underlying structure of language, as Noam Chomsky talks about, and our sense of beauty, humor, and the affinity we feel with the cosmos, not only originate in the unknown, unknowable part of us but carry with them a kind of mandate, a prescribed trajectory that we must follow, one that is specific in outcome but infinite in modes of expression. It’s as though this breath of life, this river of living waters, to use metaphors from the Old and New Testaments, contains everything that is—the “All in each.”

But it’s most fundamental aspect is what can only be described as Personhood. It’s not merely mechanical. It’s not a what but a who. We know this because when we catch a glimpse of it, we have the undeniable sense that something is looking back. When we speak to it, we know we’re being heard. It’s not some kind of cosmic AI, but a living being, one that responds to our being directly and intimately. Religionists call this part of the experience the “love of God.”

Such an experience is WAY beyond our mind’s capacity to understand. The lesser cannot comprehend the greater. This is why sages and gurus tell us to quiet the mind, to still our thoughts, and to empty our awareness of all content. “Neti, neti—not this, not that.” They tell us to go deeper and deeper within, to turn away from our senses, and to turn awareness back upon itself, devoid of content, and to let the experience change us, which it unfailingly does, even though we have no idea how.

To do this requires a different kind of language—a language of being, not of doing. Neither will a language of feeling, such as poetry, get us there. It might, however, if it’s entirely honest, cause the intellect to stand down, thus opening up our awareness of being Itself.

So, while intellectual discussions and poetic delvings about the nature of consciousness and its origins are interesting, they cannot substitute for the experience of an authentic inward journey, the ticket for which has an exacting price—everything. All content must be handed over at the gate. Even the slightest attachment holds us back. We have to embrace the aphorism—Let go and let God—absolutely. No half-measures will do. Unless our heart is lighter than a feather, we will be sent back to the circumstances or our lives to once again attempt escape velocity from the gravity of our mundane existence.

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The Ins and Outs of Consciousness

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by Michael Maciel

One of the reasons why we sometimes find it hard to connect with the consciousness of others is that we tend to think of it more in terms of content than as a thing in and of itself. Even our own consciousness can slip into that paradigm, as far as we’re concerned. But when we are able to see it as it is—without content and unbounded by space and time—then our fellow conscious beings begin to show up in an entirely different light. It becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish them from us. Then we can start to get a glimpse inside the mind of the person we’re interacting with, because essentially we are the same person. We just have two sets of eyes operating in two separate bodies.
This is what makes humor possible, by the way. You might say that the reason something is funny is that it exposes an unrecognized connection between people. When we give voice to the thoughts that arise spontaneously from the unconscious, people are delighted because the same thoughts are arising (or trying to arise) in them. Speaking those thoughts causes theirs to burst through the surface of their awareness, and they laugh. Laughter has a kind of effervescent quality to it, does it not? It fizzes like bubbles.
One thing we can say about consciousness is that it is AWAKE—wide awake. And as such, it does not impose itself upon the objects of its awareness. It simply takes them in. It’s very receptive in that way. The more we focus on this aspect of it, the quieter our minds become, because we’re focused on the receptivity, not the content. Content, after all, is subject to our interpretation, which forms a buffer between us and the thing we’re looking at. But strip away the interpretation, and we begin to perceive the thing directly, which is quite different from the way we normally see it.
It’s the content-free aspect of consciousness that makes us children of God—pure, unadulterated awareness. Within that state of mind, all things are possible, because consciousness—pure consciousness—has the power to evoke the thing that makes us divine, namely our ability to bring ideas into material form. We are created in God’s image, and God, more than anything else, is a creator.
But when the contents of mind start to outweigh the mind’s open receptivity, we cut ourselves off from reality. The world begins to look like a projection, because it is. We take our ideas about the world and paint the world with them. All we can see at that point is our own interpretation, not the world as it is. And when we see the world as it is, the vision can be overwhelming. It can appear unbearably beautiful or horrifically brutal, depending on what we believe about the nature of existence.
When we strip our awareness of its contents,  however, which is to say its presuppositions, then we are open to everything we’re not seeing. In extreme cases, we might look upon an ordinary, everyday object, something we use regularly and not know what it is. Instead, we begin to see its other aspects, the one’s we ordinarily ignore, the one’s that serve no practical purpose. We begin to see its beauty, which even the most common objects inherently possess by the sheer fact of their existence. When we cease projecting our “purposes” upon the world, all things become numinous.
Obviously, we can’t do this all the time. If we did, nothing would get done. But we can practice it so that it becomes our default setting, the place we retreat to when our world becomes overburdened by facts. We must, if we are to be truly sane, let the numinous shine out from the world. Otherwise, it becomes too dense, and our soul will start to suffocate.
Presuppositions, agendas, facts—these throttle our awareness. It’s not that they aren’t astonishingly useful, it’s just that we must not let them run the show. Consciousness is more than the world. It is more than who we think we are. It transcends us and yet IS us. That’s the paradox. And it’s in paradox that life emerges, like the green shoot of a flower in the cranny of a wall.
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Bringing Light Into the World

dirty hands

by Michael Maciel

Bringing light into the world is a lot like house cleaning. It’s not enough to simply open the windows and air the place out. We have to actually clean up the mess, scrub the floors, and dust the shelves.

That takes will power.

I know that this flies in the face of the idea that we don’t have to DO anything, but we actually do have a role to play in the clean-up. Merely choosing to put our attention on the good is an act of will. And by doing so, we automatically negate the bad. We starve it of energy.

But just as scrubbing a stain out of a rug requires our focused attention, so do the shadows and negative thought patterns of the mass mind require that we know what they are and that they have to go. This, too, is an act of will. It takes work—lots of work—to know the truth.

We have to learn to distinguish between letting go and letting God and pretending that the evil doesn’t exist. It may not be a “thing” in and of itself, but hatred and malevolence aren’t going to magically disappear on their own. They have to be called out and made to stand in the light. Again, will power.

The default setting of the human mind is to descend into the world of matter. That’s what has allowed us to master the physical world, to harness the forces of nature, and to speak habitable order into chaos (the Logos). But it must be balanced with the ascending force of Spirit. In the minds of spiritually conscious beings, the two always go together .

If we are to help and not hinder the process of world transformation, we must not be afraid to get our hands dirty. Understanding the world’s problems is the mental and spiritual equivalent of getting our hands dirty. Cleaning up messes is a filthy job, but someone has to do it. Why not you?

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The Universe as Egg

easter eggs

by Michael Maciel

It must have been amazing for our earliest ancestors to witness a live chick emerge from what was before merely an amorphous goo. It was a high mystery.
Apart from the physical attributes of an egg, the spiritual attributes are far more amazing. Symbolically speaking, the egg is the perfect embodiment of undifferentiated potential—out of nothing, something.
If the universe is an “egg,” as many mythologies claim that it is, then the primary substrate of its existence is, in fact, undifferentiated potential. This is what the quantum physicists have been saying for quite some time now—at the subatomic level, everything is in flux. This is what enables us to use the Law of Mind.
With our imagination, we are able to call forth a particular manifestation from the undifferentiated potential of the Universal Mind, the great creative intelligence we call “God.” Just as we have been able to combine and recombine the raw materials of Earth and thereby create all sorts of things that do not occur naturally, we are also able to combine and recombine thoughts and images for the same purpose. It’s how we have been doing it all along.
As far as we know, we are the only species that looks upon our world as though it were a sea of possibilities and not simply “the way things are.” We see what could be more than we see what is. This is, of course, a blessing and a curse. But it’s been mostly a blessing. We live in better health and longer than ever before in history. In every way, our lives are far better than those of our ancestors, even our most recent ancestors.
It’s up to us to keep our perspective straight, to focus on making the world and ourselves the best that we can be.

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”

― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

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More About Easter

suffering

by Michael Maciel

“I teach suffering, its origin, cessation, and path. That’s all I teach.” – Buddha
Sometimes, the best way to understand your religion is by understanding someone else’s. Because if it’s universal truths we’re talking about, then those truths will show up everywhere. No one has the corner on the market when it comes to truth.

Easter is the highest holy day in Christianity. Within its symbolism, all of Christ’s teachings can be found in a single story. But to understand those teachings, it is first necessary to see yourself in Christ’s shoes. The story of Jesus is the story of us.

This, of course, is only one level of analysis. But, it’s an important level, because it’s the one that enables us to grow spiritually. After all, he did say, “Follow me.” The inconvenient truth is that he meant that we should follow him all the way to Calvary.

It’s obvious, however, that this doesn’t mean that we should actually be crucified. Perhaps the word “follow” also means, aside from doing what he did, that we should look at the patterns of his life, as though they were a map, a map that describes the movement from ordinary consciousness to divine consciousness.

Unless we believe that the only reason to get spiritual is so that we can enjoy a heavenly afterlife, we have to admit that how we live in the world is as important as how we live in our hearts, that Jesus’ teachings are every bit as much about life in this world as they are about life in the next.

And the fundamental truth about life, as Buddha so wisely pointed out, is that we are going to suffer and die. Nothing new there, right? How then are we to consider this as wisdom? Seems more like a mundane fact, not a spiritual truth.

But, if it is indeed wisdom, then it must hold a deeper truth, one that is practical on every level, including our understanding of the nature of the world. What does it really mean, then, that we are going to suffer and die? And what is Jesus trying to teach us by mapping out in excruciating detail his (and our) journey from cradle to grave?

Is Jesus, like Buddha, trying to show us how to reduce our suffering? Is there wisdom embedded in the story of his suffering and death, a higher understanding of the nature of this world? Well, it would hardly be a wisdom teaching if there wasn’t. We can rightly expect that whatever that teaching is, it holds the answer to, well…everything.

So, what is it?

The truth that life on Earth is bounded by suffering and death is telling us that this is somehow an integral part of the structure of reality. No one is doing it to us. It’s just how it is. Everyone, no matter how rich or poor, is subject to this brutal curriculum. As the saying goes, “No one gets out of here alive.”

When we really grasp this about nature, it makes world peace possible, because when we realize that suffering and death are an integral part of life, then it’s hard to take it personally. In other words, it’s nobody’s fault. Even if someone deliberately hurts us, it’s not them that’s doing the hurting. Hurting is going to happen whether they do it or someone else. “It’s not personal; it’s just business.”

Therefore, we can’t blame them. They aren’t perpetrating violence, they are simply participating in it. Why would anyone do that? Because they, like us, more often than not, believe that someone else is causing their suffering, instead of knowing that suffering is a natural feature that besets everyone. They, as do we, want someone else to blame.

It’s as though we lived in Seattle and blamed the local government for all the rain. But, hey, it rains in Seattle. That’s simply what happens there. It’s no one’s fault. No one is purposely setting out to ruin our parade. We’re not being victimized by anyone. When we live in Seattle, the fundamental truth of reality is that rain happens.

The same can be said about this physical plane of reality that we all inhabit—if you’re here, you’re going to suffer. Period. What does it matter, then, if someone else appears to be causing it? You might as well blame them for breathing! Because, if you’re in a physical body, you’re going to cause suffering to someone or some thing. It’s as inevitable as rain.

What’s the takeaway? Stop blaming other people for your problems. It’s nobody’s fault that suffering is an unavoidable fact of life. Does this mean that when we deliberately cause suffering that we’re off the hook, that we aren’t accountable for our actions? Of course not. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!”

We hurt ourselves when we hurt others. But why would we hurt them if we didn’t first believe that they hurt us? Believing that we are victims, then, creates the sense we have that there are evil people in the world. They’re not evil; they just believe that they, too, are victims and that it’s your fault, the same as you believe about them.

We are not victims; we are simply alive. If anyone is a victim, then all of us are victims. To be here is to be a victim, a victim of a finite and fragile life. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just how it is. When we believe that someone is evil in and of themselves, then we perpetuate…no…we create the evil we see. This is how the cycle of violence continues.

When we know this about the world, we can then set about reducing the effects of suffering altogether. But we can never fully eliminate it. Why, then, blame others for our problems? The best we can do is bear up nobly under the circumstances. If we know we live in Seattle, we buy a raincoat to protect us from the rain. When we understand that suffering is an integral part of life, our understanding will keep us from going insane.

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