(This Chart may only be used with prior permission from Laura Madsen)
The ICM is a simple map of the movement of two basic energy-systems within our nervous system: the conditioned (human, time-bound) and unconditioned (Soul, timeless). With willing spaciousness, the mobile-like movement of these inner-aspects becomes increasingly transparent to us – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Silence Practice groups have increasingly focused on refining our capacity for inner-awareness through deep listening and attunement. As this function stabilizes in the group dynamic, subtle energy-movements in our nervous system become palpable and increasingly conscious. The Inner Constellation Mobile (ICM) emerged in the most recent Silence Practice series as a map of the sacred territory of our inner life.
Silence Practice was originally founded upon a Master’s Research thesis Surrendering to Silence: A Heart-Centred Practice from the Vancouver School of Theology in 2011. The next iteration of Silence Practice has developed into a Research PhD program. The PhD proposal Discovering and Integrating the Soul’s Nervous System through Inner Constellations and Sound was accepted in April 2018 by Thomas Hübl’s AIS (Academy of Inner Science) in conjunction with Ubiquity University’s Wisdom School.
PhD Papers – 2019
Tasting the Embodied Faith of The Miraculous
While Living in a World of Shadow
Setting myself to the daunting task of writing on a book of this spiritual magnitude, I feel humbled and inadequate; yet something breathlessly exultant stirs within me–and so I begin. Every twenty years I find myself reading Autobiography of a Yogi. Since my early twenties, this astounding book has been a fiery reminder that life is nothing other than a spiritual journey. As part of the “Great Books” series offered by Ubiquity University’s Wisdom School, this third and latest reading is my first attempt to articulate the depth of its personal and collective message.
How does western materialism relate to endless tales of the miraculous from the eastern spirituality of Gurus and devotion? As I see it, the readership can have one of two responses: the first is to view it as an entertaining glimpse into a reality available to a few spiritual adepts; the other, far more challenging option, is to be willing to explore the truth behind the miraculous that lies dormant within one’s nervous system, heart, and mind. The first option does not challenge the personal or collective status quo, while the second beckons with the potential for radical healing and awakening.
The journey into willing exploration is not one to be taken lightly. Only a burning desire to experience God beyond the already-known suffices. Such profound attunement reveals new possibilities in every arena of life. Miracles may even happen, but they are not the point. The point is living a life of embodied Faith.
Tasting the Embodied Faith of The Miraculous While Living in a World of Shadow
A belief-based Faith is easily attained, revolving, as it does, around external identifiers. An embodied Faith requires a highly attuned, receptive inner-capacity. An embodied Faith is a dynamic practice, informed moment-to-moment by a palpable flow of energetic-intelligence within the nervous system. While contemplating how to describe this energy flow, the term “a temple of divine frequencies” came to mind. This energy makes itself apparent through the nervous system as altered body perceptions as well as a sense of something (seemingly) “new” coming into our awareness. I have experienced these states of consciousness during meditation, in groups cultivating inner stillness and silence, and during individual and group Sound Healing sessions (more on this later). During these experiences, the body can feel more expanded, lighter (like there is more space between the cells), and/or more solidly grounded and present. A receptive nervous system is vital to becoming a reliable vessel for attuning to higher frequencies such as the “temple of divine frequencies.” Mental abstractions or the lower vibratory level of conditioned frequencies that are considered “normal” are neither sufficient nor reliable.
Though a steady stream of the miraculous flows through Autobiography of a Yogi, that is not its most astounding feature. The treasure found in these pages is the palpable abundance of living Faith coming through Babaji and the various Indian saints in his lineage. They embody their Faith like we might eat a sandwich. A pithy (paraphrased) participant-comment during “The Great Books” presentation at Ubiquity Wisdom School contrasts our lack of Faith-capacity: “The Miracle is not the goal, but the sense of our continuity with the divine. The continuity is always going on and is more common then we realize, but we usually have a small bandwidth that we deal in” (Oct.09, 2018).
Autobiography of a Yogi exudes a continuous flow of divine consciousness. From Yogananda’s blessed lineage and his willing surrender to come to America, this divine transmission is passed along through the purity of their single-pointed God-devotion and Faith. The downward flow of its generosity is palpable while reading this book. Though we may feel it as a mere trickle in “the small bandwidth” of our conditioned consciousness, this beautiful synchronous God-world remains our birthright–with or without our awareness. In chapter forty-three, Sri Yukteswar describes how the subtle body of the astral worlds becomes more available at physical death because the consciousness of the flesh recedes (1987, p. 485). Unbeknownst to our conditioned attachments, God is the very ocean in which we swim and gives birth endlessly to–what we perceive as–the miraculous.
If the subtle astral world is available to us, the impossibly large question facing us is how do we learn to live from there while still embodied? As someone who has been graced more than a few times with a taste of this sacred world, I find myself devoting more and more of my life to this question as the manifest world seems to be spinning into chaos and destruction. I view the world Yogananda describes as an embodiment of Faith, and Kriya yoga as the recommended “how to” of his lineage. Kriya is a Sanskrit word for “to do” (Jim Garrison, Great Books presentation, 2018), so we could summarize Faith as the action of God-attunement or the doing of God through the refinement of embodied Faith.
The God-reality in which we unheedingly swim becomes visible through the paradigm of experienced Faith. Our western culture’s steadfast engagement to the temporal world leaves us with a collective spiritual blindness and a painful separation from our authentic identity in God. The vast majority of social, political, economic, and religious structures operate from within a polarized commitment to spiritual forgetfulness. Essentially, we live within cultural structures that support and encourage spiritual blindness. Again, in his rich exposé in Chapter forty-three, Sri Yukteswar explains that even after death, “… an undeveloped being from the earth remains for the most part in the deep stupor of the death-sleep and is hardly conscious of the beautiful astral sphere” (1987, p. 491).
How do we activate an awareness of the temple of divine frequencies while living in a culture so spiritually bereft? How can we support the movement of Kriya within our bodies and in the world around us? Can we cultivate awareness of astral splendour before we shed the body? What spiritual capacities are inherent in a lived Faith? What inner receptivity makes us available to the abundant energy capable of moving mountains, surrounding us in every moment? “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move hence to yonder place,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you” (Matt.17:20-21).
Thomas Keating, among other liturgical leaders have stated that God is closer than our own breath. Through our Faith, God shapes all manner of (perceived) finite things, including our (seemingly) impenetrably conditioned humanity. What hypnotic trance keeps us in a state of collective-collusion and makes us largely oblivious to the Faith-energy moving in and around us–apparently closer than our own breath?
The Faith addressed in this book is surely not the traditional faith founded upon a belief system where God becomes an object designed to answer our prayers. Sri Yukteswar reminds his students that ” … man cannot glorify an Abstraction that he does not know [and] … the only honour that man can pay his Creator is to seek Him” (1987, p. 335). By seeking God, the devote is lifted from the conditioned weight of materialism. It seems that Kriya Yoga is a Faith-in-action that opens students to new heights of experience, insight, and knowing. I suspect that the practice of Kriya involves a paradigm shift in focus, along with a complete reorientation of cellular-energy in the body and nervous system.
Connecting with Shadow as Embodied Practice
Paramahansa claims that merely “sitting in silence” is not effective because the contemplative mind is constantly dragged back toward the five senses; whereas Kriya controls the mind directly through the life force to the Infinite (1987, p. 282). Disconnecting from the senses, he explains, allows the Yogi to be free from past actions, and better able to receive directions from the soul (1987, p. 283). This point is pivotal for western readership and central to this paper. The dynamic between the conditioned senses (of the past) and receiving directions from the soul employing these same (now awakened) senses fascinates me. Same body, worlds apart. How can this be? As Caroline Myss reminds us in her recent presentation for the Ubiquity Chartres Academy Community Webinar:
Our concept of space is that our physical space measures substance, but we are in the age of energy. This higher consciousness is the age of grace the mystics were given. In order to heal, you have to make that transition to Holism. We are only now exploring the power that Jesus (faith of a mustard seed) and Buddha spoke about. (paraphrased, Jan.13, 2019)
My doctoral research proposal and current group work emerged out of ten years of studying and facilitating Silence Practice groups and cultivating inner-stillness in everyday life. I began to have a visceral understanding of two basic systems of consciousness within us: the time-bound human condition and the timeless potential of the soul. I refer to these two different energies within the nervous system as an Inner Constellation Mobile (see Appendix). In contrast to Paramahansa’s encouragement to disconnect from the senses, my commitment is to connect more consciously with conditioned senses (of the past) in order to integrate them.
It may be that my western psychological upbringing dictates my rather strong orientation to connecting-with, rather than disconnecting-from. Autobiography of a Yogi was written in 1950 and was an early attempt to “spiritually awaken” the sleeping West. Almost 70 years later, disconnecting from the senses as Paramahansa recommends feels Vedantic (i.e., the world is an illusion) and easily serves as a practice of spiritual by-passing. It seems an encouragement to abandon a sinking ship that has no idea how to overcome its situation. To use Ken Wilber’s terminology, we would be waking up without doing the work of growing up or showing up (2001, pp. 261-264).
As an energy-healer, the emergence of shadow-patterns becomes an opportunity for integration and healing rather than something to escape. Abandoning the (already abandoned) trauma of shadow-patterns feels incomplete. It is my experience that the cultivation of inner-spaciousness in the body is foundational for shadow-integration. Hence, my commitment to facilitating the practice of inner-stillness since the 2011 completion of my research thesis “Surrendering to God: A Heart-Centred Practice.”
My motivation for cultivating connection with shadow is three-fold: firstly, shadow is often rooted in childhood trauma when we had no choice to leave; secondly, the trauma is already a wound of abandonment or disconnection; and finally, avoiding connection with or ignoring unconscious shadow-patterns does not make them disappear, it just grows more shadow.
I have been fortunate to study with spiritual teachers who emphasize embodiment and thorough connection with shadow. Spiritual teacher Thomas Hübl specializes in meeting individual and collective trauma-patterns with spacious non-judgmental awareness. He has discovered, over almost two decades of group facilitation, that generational holocaust trauma persists in the German youth today. In the presence of an expanded awareness, trauma is met, not abandoned. Being present with what is was also a core teaching of bhakti (devotional) teacher Lee Lozowick (d. 2010). Based out of Prescott Arizona, I studied with Lozowick’s Western Baul tradition from 1997 to 2004.
Surrendering to the will of God as what is, as it is, here and now. The sensations, images, thoughts, identifications, experiences that are here and now. And questioning any fears and beliefs that prevent this surrender. Also, surrendering to the inner guidance, to the heart. And here too identify and inquire into fears and beliefs preventing following this guidance … recognizing that what’s here is love makes it easier (http://absentofi.org/tag/lee-lozowick/).
Whatever form it takes, the suffering of the human condition seems founded upon a collective (unconscious) agreement that we are separate from God and therefore from each other and from life itself. We are convinced that we are alone in our trauma-patterns, whether as a group or individually. Paramahansa refers to this as the “common life [that is] influenced by past actions” (1987, p. 283). This past-based “common life” is what most of us accept as reality. We will likely doubt ourselves even if we experience a taste of the miraculous. The “common life” cultural agreements preclude the realization of an embodied Faith in God. What good can come from further disconnecting from the world’s shadow in our spiritual practice?
The phenomenon of spiritual by-passing is prevalent in our culture. Many of us are inclined to make our spiritual practices about personal comfort rather than connection to God. Ironically, making our spiritual practice primarily about abandoning our physical/emotional/mental traumas only increases the underlying trauma of our God-separation. Unintegrated patterns make for a turbulent inner environment until we begin to experience the spaciousness of embodied Faith.
Resistance as Personal Shadow
Whether we inherit trauma patterns from our lineage or through our childhood traumas, they feel real. They do not feel like an illusion. We experience them physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We so wholly identify with these patterns that we may resist the blessings of the more abundant energy flowing in and through the temple of divine frequencies.
I say this with confidence because I am such a person. I know of few people who have been graced with the number of mystical and near-death experiences as myself. These encounters have ranged from pleasant to powerful and, on one occasion, terrifying (as “I” was non-existent). I began my spiritual journey at the tender age of three, experiencing unitive states in the forests near our summer home, and they have continued intermittently throughout my life. When only one of these experiences has been directly terrifying, why do I still resist?
Simply put, I do not wish to surrender or give up control. I continue to engage in life predominantly from judgement and contraction rather than trust and flow. During meditation, doors of perception often open, but fierce habits of fear and resistance seem to prevent them from becoming a more stable influence in my daily life. I am unwilling to give up what Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault describes as a “fixed point of identity.” Happily, she also points us towards the discovery of a latent operating system within:
We identify ourselves by what makes us unique and special. Of course, that same list also makes other people separate from me; they are outside, and I’m inside. I experience myself as a distinct and fixed point of identity that “has” particular qualities and life experiences, and these things make me who I am. But we come into this life with another untapped operating system, and we can learn to steer by it, understand through it, and ultimately discover our deepest sense of identity within it (The Wisdom Jesus, 2008, pp. 33-35).
The Nervous System: The Conditioned and The Free
The gospels of Jesus became my first teacher at the age of twelve. At that age, I felt such physical resonance when reading the gospels that I read the Bible every night on my own for almost three years. I have loved Scripture ever since, although church attendance has never held appeal. Years later, I found a similar resonance in the teachings of Lee Lozowick and Thomas Hübl. All three spiritual teachers are from the West. Each employs their abundant inner-spaciousness as a means of engaging with the human condition: the abandoned, the wounded, the traumatized, the weak, the sick, and the spiritually lost (covering most of humanity).
I strongly feel that the ability to attune to the nervous system trauma-response is crucial for Western spiritual seekers attempting an embodied practice. Western culture has disembodied itself by increasingly understanding the world through dualistic thought processes. An embodied spiritual practice requires a grounded, responsive nervous system that can inform thinking through insightful connection; then the nervous system can serve as a spiritual resource through attuning to the temple of divine frequencies and by being present for the constriction or trauma. The most intoxicating chapter of the book for me is chapter forty-three where Sri Yukteswar (in his resurrected state) describes the vast astral cosmos. I could literally taste these fine vibrations in my nervous system as he described the astral cosmos; “more finely attuned than the earth to the Divine Will and plan of Perfection” (1987, p.479).
Two different consciousnesses are also featured in Paramahansa’s rendition of the Bhagavad Gita (1999). Each consciousness is shown in a one-page map detailing their diametrically different effects on the nervous system (The Bhagavad Gita, 1999). He refers to one structure as the “Bodily Kingdom as Ruled by Rebel King Ego,” and the other as the “Bodily Kingdom as Ruled by King Soul” (1999, p. 17 & 20). Paramahansa and Bourgeault seem to differentiate between the same two basic structures available in human consciousness. In the preceding quote, Bourgeault references the dualistic operating system of our conditioning and the untapped operating that we can learn to live by. In Autobiography of a Yogi Paramahansa refers to the “ego prison” of the past, where “gross man seldom or never realizes that his body is a kingdom, governed by Emperor Soul on the throne of the cranium” (1987, p. 283).
As an embodied spiritual aspirant, how do I free myself from the grip (or prison) of conditioned structures while living in a culture that largely operates from within their structures? How do I become more available to an intelligence that is already within me, but latent? Perhaps it is easier if we recognize that love is here with us as Lozowick suggests — not merely as an abstraction or concept, but as a sensory-recognition within the nervous system.
According to Paramahansa, both of these questions can be answered by learning and practicing Kriya Yoga. With all due respect, I know a few people who have undertaken the Kriya Yoga method and have not experienced progress in “being with” the conditioned past or “attuning” to the higher dimensions of “Emperor Soul.” I suspect there is something more essential at play than simply learning a method. There are also too many saints who have never heard of, let alone practiced, Kriya Yoga.
Embodied Faith as Discrimination and Heart, Sword and Love
Autobiography of a Yogi relentlessly questions our western cultural conditioning and the egoic operating system. Our “ego prison” flourishes within a dualistic worldview. As Paramahansa states: “The entire phenomenal world is under the inexorable sway of polarity; no law of physics, chemistry, or any other science is ever found free from inherent opposite or contrasted principles” (1987, p. 310).
I believe that the action of Kriya is the action of embodied Faith. It is an embodied Faith that allows us to transition from King Ego to Emperor Soul; or from the fixed identity to the untapped operating system. The subtle inner-world of Faith lies within the sphere of deeper attunement than our conditioned landscape affords us. Too often we try to understand the higher frequencies of Scripture or mystical experience from the dualism of the already-known. How do we hear and see the movements of Emperor Soul or discover the latent operating system within us? What inner-orientation shifts as we come to know God and ourselves through the action of embodied Faith?
Discrimination: Learning to See and Hear
A phrase well-used in modern spiritual circles is “where we place our attention is where we grow.” For many of us, to realize that we have a choice on where to place our attention is a huge shift in consciousness. I suspect it is the biggest hurdle to overcome as we “become aware of when we are serving Emperor Soul or succumbing to King Ego” (1999, p.19). When we recognize that we have a choice, we literally see and experience a wider/deeper reality. We perceive a less conditional field of possibility and something opens up that wasn’t there before.
Paramahansa employs the word ‘discrimination,’ in all his books, perhaps to allow us to see more clearly the difference between awareness and conditioned habits of the past. Discrimination is a third-eye capacity enabling us to distinguish Higher Truth from habit. This is the “seeing capacity” of the “untapped” operating system within us. I believe this is what Jesus referred to when he said that our hearing and seeing must come from a different place within. I feel that the Kingdom of Heaven is none other than our largely-untapped operating system of Emperor Soul within.
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand (Mt.13:10-13).
Similar to an outer journey, an embodied spiritual journey begins from where we are. While we must be in touch with conditioned habits, we also need to see and hear beyond the known of conditioned dualism. If I am unable to discriminate between the conditioned inner-impulses of “King Ego” and the deeper inner-guidance of “Emperor Soul,” my spiritual journey will not progress.
The Yearning Heart: An Inner Compass
The Yearning Heart is a powerful Faith-instrument that can call or transmit signals to the divine. The Yearning Heart became the most influential of the five themes of my 2010 Theology Master’s Thesis “Surrendering to Silence: A Heart-Centred Practice.” Paramahansa compares the heart to a radio, and the third eye to an antennae (1987, p. 299). He explains the dynamics of a finely-tuned nervous system as one that gives and receives telepathic messages. For example, Paramahansa explains that he “broadcasted [his] love to the soul of his student Kashi through the microphone of the spiritual eye” (p. 299). He was also certain that he would know when Kashi answered his call because he would feel it “in the nerves of [his] fingers, arms, and spine” (p. 299).
Babaji’s responsiveness to the yearning heart of a few Americans and Europeans lies at the root of Paramahansa coming to America: On his first meeting with Sri Yukteswar, Babaji (in the body-form of Lahiri Mahasaya) explains that he will send Sri Yukteswar a student who will travel to America because: “The vibrations there of many spiritually seeking souls come flood like to me. I perceive potential saints in America and Europe, waiting to be awakened” (p. 390). His perception turned out to be true as Paramahansa had several close students ready and eager for his Kriya Yoga teachings. It has been my experience that my Yearning Heart is responsible for many varied mystical experiences throughout my life, as well as teachers that have come into my life at the right time.
Personal Faith Experiences
At eight years old, I had my first near-death experience. After falling onto my head on a cement floor, I suffered a severe concussion and fell into a coma. According to doctors, hope for recovery was slim, as the equipment necessary to drain the swelling of my brain was in Vancouver. In Kamloops they could only offer twenty-four -hour watch in critical care.
When consciousness finally returned after a week, I stared in disoriented surprise at the nurse beside my bed and she, also surprised, stared back at me. Her surprise was a response to my regaining consciousness. My surprise was because she had two eyes rather than one and I had no clue where I was! Wherever I had been, everyone had only one eye in the centre of their forehead. For years I maintained that I had been “on a different planet” for that comatose week. I had no context for my belief at that time, but when I read chapter forty-three of Autobiography of a Yogi for the second time twenty years ago, my whole body responded with relief and joy as though reminded of a precious home I had forgotten.
I have had a propensity for mystical experiences throughout my life. Having no guidance in these matters, I was at a loss on how to express them without sounding crazy. Like many, I grew up in a conventional world where divine possibility was an inconvenience at best and a sign of psychosis at worst. In fact, my father was adamant that if I spoke about my experiences, he wanted nothing to do with me. With time, I began to develop an inner-resistance to the mystical leanings within me. I learned that I had to choose between the call of the mystical and belonging to my family and culture. By the age of ten, I saw myself as “an alien” going through the motions of “being normal.”
Autobiography of a Yogi assures me that I already belong as a spiritual being abiding in God. The profound spiritual weight of this sacred book revolves around God’s play. In the Hindu tradition, God’s play in our life is referred to as a Lila. As I read this book for the third time, my physical-body relaxes as my subtle-body glows in resonance at the sacred truth behind the miraculous stories. Given half a chance, these subtle resonances become accessible. Facilitating Silence Practice groups over the last decade, I have become aware that the shared experience of listening to these higher truths opens a collective field that can feel like a new world that has opened within and between us.
Ananda Moyi Ma refers to the “sheer logic of Faith” and claims that “it is man’s duty to become a seeker after God or Truth” (p. 525). I believe that Ananda Moyi Ma’s “sheer logic of Faith” is experienced in our nervous system. We are the perfect vehicles for Faith-logic embodiment. “O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (Psalm 38:8).
On several occasions in my life I have “tasted” the “logic of Faith” as a significantly different consciousness coursing through my nervous system. These experiences have come unbidden, some more subtle than others. The strongest of these occurred in 2001 while my husband and I were doing our (then) regular evening meditation. It began with the sensation and inner-observation that my heart was beginning to expand and open like a camera lens. For several years in my mid-twenties, I taught energy-meditation techniques that included observing from the neutrality of the “centre of the head” (the pineal gland) and grounding from the root chakra. Initially, I just observed this unusual occurrence as it unfolded within me, but gradually I came to be immersed in a full-blown multi-sensory experience of the Universal Heart. The visual heart-sensation was one of being in an endless galaxy consisting of moons and planets in a sapphire-blue sky; the cells of the body seemed to be floating in the spaciousness of this sky; the feeling-sensation was one of boundless beauty (a mixture of exquisite tenderness & love); the olfactory sense was a perfume of jasmine. (I am actually not sure of the smell, but if heaven has a smell this was it!) All of these wondrously mysterious sensations seemed to emanate from an endless source of energy in my heart chakra. I recall feeling that this experience had something to do with Yogi Ramsuratkumar’s picture on the bureau to my right.
The next morning, I learned that my experience coincided with Yogi Ramsuratkumar, the “hidden saint” of Tiruvannamalai, exiting his body. Yogi Ramsuratkumar had frequently said that his sincere students would know when he died because his energy would become more available. Seventeen years later I can still feel the heart-vibrations of this astounding divine blessing and gift. A small taste goes a long way. At this time, I also became aware that the “turbaned man” appearing in two powerful dreams in 1977 was Yogi Ramsuratkumar.
This experience may be what Sri Yuketswar describes as “Superconscious perceptions of truth [that] are permanently real and changeless, while fleeting sense experiences and impressions are never more than temporarily or relatively true, and soon lose in memory all their vividness” (1987, p.483). I am suggesting that this is Bourgeault’s “untapped operating system” and the world of the mystic whose entire life becomes a willing consent to God. What is freely given with this operating system is a taste of power, grounding, and energetic-circuitry palpable in the nervous system. The body begins to resonate at a distinctly higher and more coherent frequency.
Yogi Ramsuratkumar was a man of impeccable Faith. For him, there was “only God” and he lived this truth, never considering himself a teacher (because “he” did not exist, only God did). Following his spiritual death in 1952 (aided by his third and final Guru, Swami Ramdas), Yogi Ramsuratkumar only referred to himself in the third person as “this beggar.” I never met the “hidden saint” in person, but in 1999 and again in 2001, I watched a video of him bestowing blessings on his devotees. The difference in the way I perceived his movements during each viewing addresses the significant energy shift that I believe resulted from the February 2001 heart-opening experience I had at his physical death.
Trained in psychiatry as I was, the 1999 viewing had me concluding that Yogi Ramsuratkumar’s rather jerky body movements were similar to the dyskinesia seen in patients taking too much Psychotropic medication. I did not even notice the movement of his hand giving blessings. When I watched this same footage again in May 2001, I could feel hundreds of darts-of-light landing in my heart as he flung his hand in the direction of the camera saying, “my Father Blesses you.” I did not even notice his jerky body movements, only the uncompromising force of his blessing as these light-darts landed in my heart.
Like many spiritually oriented people raised in a materialistic culture, there has been an extreme lack of education on subtle nature of the astral and causal worlds described so beautifully by Sri Yukteswar in chapter forty-three. Materialism imprints heavily on my western mind and heart, even when I have been blessed with occasional tastes of these astral worlds.
The refined teaching in Yogananda’s book cannot seed itself within the dualistic operating system of materialism. Chapter forty-three places my four near-death experiences and several mystical experiences within a higher-ordered context where I know beyond doubt that I belong because I Am. It is a physical, emotional, and mental relief to place these experiences within a higher-order mystical intelligence. Reading this chapter feels like an ecstatic home-coming where the world-as-I-know-it disappears, and another comes into focus.
My heart literally leapt in rejoicing when I read Paramahansa’s descriptions of an operating system that serves spirit alone — as absolute authority. I feel like the swan in “The Ugly Duckling” tale who realizes that her attempts to become a duck were fruitless and unnecessary. I have been trying to conform to the dualistic operating system and forgetting to listen more regularly to this subtle, beautiful higher intelligence of the untapped operating system within.
Sri Yukteswar’s teachings on the awareness of the three energy bodies in chapter forty-three are unparalleled (1987, p. 493). While reading the book this time, the truth of his astral teaching activated my nervous system. I felt more alive and breathlessly still–my whole body galvanized with listening. The description of the physical, astral, and causal energy-bodies rang true as a visceral knowing. It seemed that time stopped as the higher intelligences moved like an uplifting inner-breeze bringing relaxed alertness in the body, a feeling of peace and understanding, and mental acuity.
Paramahansa himself describes his response to Sri Yukteswar’s intimate descriptions of the three energy bodies this way: “never from song or story had I ever received such inspiring knowledge…though the Hindu scriptures refer to the causal and astral worlds and to man’s three bodies” (1987, pp. 492-493). Paramahansa goes on to exclaim that it is his master’s authenticity that makes this teaching about the three energy bodies come alive (p. 493). The relationship between teacher and student has a profound influence on our spiritual progression. The relationship between Paramahansa and Sri Yukteswar is one of trust founded upon a deep love; the best transmission source for higher learning because the heart is open and available.
Equally important and related is spiritual teacher Thomas Hübl’s reference to the importance of healing within relationship. Thomas says that because trauma occurs within relationship, it is also where we heal most effectively. This is good to remember if we are attempting an embodied spiritual practice. Grounding our practice in the healing of relationship also prevents our spiritual aspirations from becoming a way of by-passing the shadow patterns often revealed in relationships. It also supports the regular Triads and Dyads I have implemented in my Inner Constellations work. (To see more about Inner Constellation group practice, please go to lauramadsen.ca)
A willing mind and heart light our way home to the Soul’s beauty in God. The foundational principles of our inner God-journey are the signposts and practices hidden behind the miraculous nature of these stories. Babaji proclaimed to Lahiri Mayasaya that the truth is for earnest seekers and not for idle curiosity where soul-searching is not required (1987, p. 368). There is a way that we must learn to relate to these teachings, and it involves more than respect from us. I sense that it entails an unwavering understanding that these Teachings are the only Life we have and our true place of Belonging. When we understand the Teachings, we can then honour them with our faithful allegiance. Eventually the conditioned habit-of-who-I-am relaxes enough to experience the subtler dimensions within our own body, heart, and mind. Lee Lozowick describes our relationship to the miraculous this way:
To ultimately “make it” in this Work of Awakening, of Transformation, you have to embrace the miraculous — always. And that miracle is you being so much at peace with yourself that you can turn your energy towards welcoming and using the opportunities that are always falling into your lap. To embrace and devour these opportunities will make you free, happy, full of life, full of passion (http://arunachalagrace.blogspot.com/2011/03/lee-lozowick-tribute.html).
Where to From Here?
In his first meeting with Babaji (disguised to resemble Lahiri Mahasaya), Sri Yukteswar describes how Babaji claimed that “East and West must establish a golden middle path of activity and spirituality combined” (1987, p. 389). Hübl refers to this as the “mystic in the marketplace.” Culture is vital as a spiritual container if we are to ground our spirituality in and through the body and live in the marketplace. As an example of the influence of culture, I traveled for five weeks in India with the Western Bauls in 2004. As we traveled from Tiruvannamalai in the south to Calcutta and a small village in Bengal, I experienced a graceful energy flow in my body, along with a calm mind and emotions. Everywhere I went I experienced a sort of “unifying hum” in my body. (Unfortunately, with re-entry into my own culture the same tensions and feeling of disconnect returned within a week.)
The culture we create together matters. Slowly, groups are gathering together to practice accessing and embodying higher frequencies, not as an abstraction outside ourselves but as a lived experience — tapping the untapped operating system within our nervous system and heart. In the West, I believe that it is not so much “a method” as a profound, singular will that allows us to both transcend and include our dualistic conditioning. As Garrison said, it is not about knowledge, so much as capacity (Great Books presentation, Oct.09, 2018). Faith is a capacity we are capable of developing given the right environment and direction.
I see Faith-capacity growing in the number of ways that healing is available in the West. What healing is and how we are guided to new forms of healing is an act of Faith: a calling out, a listening, and an emergence of a new way to integrate higher frequencies. I can thoroughly relate to Caroline Myss saying, “I am nothing I trained to be, and I am something I have never heard of” (Ubiquity Chartres Academy Community Webinar, Jan. 13, 2019). I feel that we are in the middle of a transition or birth process– complete with contractions! We are being guided from the restricted perspectives of dualistic operating systems to an expanded operating system. For those of us in the West, it is not just “wrong thinking” as the Buddhists say, but an “outdated operating system.” Hübl has a delightful expression about our propensity to behave as though we are separate lap-tops when in fact, we belong to One Big Super-Computer (spoken on several of his on-line classes).
Of personal interest to me is Paramahansa’s statement that “India has long recognized the human voice as the most perfect instrument of sound” (p.184). I am a singer. On more than one occasion I have been told that my singing voice is “very calming,” or “makes me believe that there is good in the world,” or “feels like a prayer.” I have never been interested in using my voice to entertain per se, although I have willingly sung at friends and family weddings and funerals. As a newly awakening gift, I am delighted to discover a rather surprising ability to connect with energy using my voice. Varying the sequence of the notes, tones, and vowels–including intermittent silent periods–can make powerful shifts in the nervous system and consciousness of an individual or group. I am thrilled therefore to include sound healing in my doctorate proposal “Discovering and Integrating the Soul’s Nervous System through Inner Constellations and Sound.” Of particular interest is Paramahansa writing that “Hindu music is a subjective, spiritual, and individualistic art, aiming not at symphonic brilliance but at personal harmony with the Over-Soul. The Sanskrit word for ‘musician’ is bhagavathar, ‘he who sings the praises of God’” (1987, p.184).
It is clear to me that there is a parallel universe running through our thick shadow-world consensus– one where synchronicity with God is the rule rather than the exception. From this perspective, there are no miracles as we would perceive them, only the Grace of God’s creativity within and through us. The movement of God in our lives is a magnetism and a felt experience in the nervous system—closer than our breath (Keating). It is a temple of divine frequencies that is capable of flowing through my body, emotions, and mind because none of these are separate from God. As Garrison said in his presentation, the mysteries of the cosmos begin to imbue the ordinary (The Great Books, Sept.11/18).
What makes this book astounding is the Faith of Paramahansa Yogananda and his lineage. They are a living expression of the uncompromising reality of divine order; a world or operating system that remains untapped for most of us, despite having been blessed with openings into this hallowed reality. Transitioning to our latent operating system, new possibilities emerge because we see and hear differently. We taste the miraculous through an embodied Faith where God manifests as the highest expression of our will. Arguably the greatest Western teacher of embodied Faith puts it this way: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matt. 6:33).
Perhaps this gospel quote is as good as the “how to” instructions get for West meeting East, creating Babaji’s “golden middle path of activity and spirituality combined.” The question of how to receive and transmit this reality in a way that makes it visible in our secular culture has intrigued, beguiled–and at times–tortured me, all of my life. As I see it, our individual and collective lack of embodied Faith is the only barrier between ourselves and the miraculous God-world we inhabit. With the third reading of Autobiography of a Yogi, I experienced this book’s transmission more profoundly and more frequently. Several times while reading, I felt a responsive resonance that vibrated with the “hidden” Truth beneath the miraculous: that we dwell now and forever in the timeless dimensions where the miraculous dances effortlessly in this world and worlds beyond.
Bourgeault, C. (2008). The wisdom Jesus: Transforming heart and mind— A new perspective on christ and his message. Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
The holy bible (RSV, revised 1952). Matt. 6:33, 17:20-21.
Hübl, Thomas, On-line course content (2017-2018).
Lozowick, L. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://absentofi.org/tag/lee-lozowick/
Lozowick, L. (2011) arunachala grace, a tribute [Webpage]. Retrieved from http://arunachalagrace.blogspot.com/2011/03/lee-lozowick-tribute.html
Ubiquity Chartres Academy Community Webinar, Caroline Myss presentation, Jan. 13, 2019.
Ubiquity Wisdom School, Great books course, Jim Garrison presentation, Oct. 09, 2018.
Yogananda, P. (1987). Autobiography of a yogi: A classic introduction to the science of yoga. (revised ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship.
Yogananda, P. (1999). God talks to Arjuna, the bhagavad gita. (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship.
Wilber, K. (2001). The eye of spirit: An integral vision for a world gone slightly mad. (3rd ed.). Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
The Timeless Beauty of the Mystic Heart:
A Fiery Refuge in Times of Spiritual Anemia
Exploring the timeless beauty of the mystic heart is the most heavenly challenge of a lifetime. As embodied spiritual beings we live within her eternal beauty, although she remains as little known now as she was in Kabir (15th C.) and Jesus’ time. The challenging beauty of the mystical path is precisely this: there is no true understanding without being transfigured by that which we are seeking to understand. The identified seeker slowly fades from their own perception as their relationship with the mystery burns ever deeper. There are no half-measures, compromises, or “having it our way” for a mystic. Kabir says “I’m nobody. So are you. What ecstasy! Join me” (2018, p. 178); and Jesus says, “… unless you come as little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Through Kabir and Jesus we find a sacred transmission in their uncorrupted expressions of the mystic heart. Uncorrupted because, in each of them, we find profound inner-capacities for timeless listening and a skillful wielding of truth’s sword. I have chosen Jesus over other possible mystics because his direct unsparing style is similar to Kabir’s, and because he is the most influential mystic of all time.
Traditional monotheistic religions refer to this supreme intelligence as God. While naming is a valuable aspect of our human development, the naming of our divine inner-intelligence has been costly. With the exception of a few devoted mystics throughout history, “divine naming” has empowered the “naming-institution” rather than the essence of what is named and the furthering of our sacred relationship with it. Without the lived intensity of a fiery mystical state, we are rather easily misled by various forms of fingers-pointing-to-the-moon, rather than the moon itself. Lost in the fire of mystical union, both Kabir and Jesus effortlessly discern the moon from the fingers and— when not praising God— they are calling out the piously religious for their spiritual delusions.
Our historic tendency to “conceptually-identify” rather than “engage-with” continues to contribute to profound levels of spiritual anemia and confusion in the west. Somewhere beyond secular materialism and religious institutionalism lies the unexplored territory of the mystic heart that sees through the naked beauty of “only God”—not as a thing, or a qualifying name, but as a profoundly intimate relationship that is more alive within us than the beating of our physical heart. Attuning to God is the mystic’s first priority: through their fierce commitment they become a timeless refuge in a troubled world.
The Timeless Beauty of the Mystic Heart: A Fiery Refuge in Times of Spiritual Anemia
In the following essay, I also wish to explore the unique language of mystical expression. Deeper than the expression itself however, I wish to honour the mystic’s steadfast willingness to listen beyond time—to be devoutly receptive to the mystery of belonging to God alone. The expression of the mystic is encoded, not as in trying to keep anything secret, but because it takes a similar resonance or wave-length to receive the timeless subtlety of the mystic’s expression. As Jesus said, “blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear” (Matt. 13:16). There is a transmission-transaction between the inner-coding of the one reading or hearing mystic expression and the place the mystic is attuning to while expressing. This is true in the case of reading scripture and mystic poems/songs where, in the receiving, the “listener” is transported to the place where the expression was conceived. In both the mystical expression and in the receiving of that expression, one enters a timeless dimension and is transported, transfigured, and/or—if lucky—transformed permanently.
I also wish to explore the receptivity-factor for “hearing/seeing” divine expression. As one with a strong propensity for the language of the mystic I can attest to the strong transmission inherent in a mystic’s expression. To that end, I have included mystical reflections from Andrew Harvey’s Great Books lectures (Ubiquity University) on his recent book Turn Me to Gold (2018), the penetrating nature of Kabir’s songs, the gospel-gold of Jesus parables, and my own mystical insights that have graced my awareness more in the past fifteen years than at any time in my life. (http://lauramadsen.ca/practice-insights/). I have also included two of ten Devotional songs I wrote in 2010 while deeply immersed in exploring the mystical practice of relating to Silence and inner-stillness.
As mentioned, the inner-upwelling of the mystic heart takes place through their ability to attune and listen. They are consumed by a piercing reality that can be expressed in unique flavours and styles. For example, there are many Indian mystics who, other than the blessing of a palpable transmission, offer little in the way of obvious expression; while scientific invention could conceivably qualify as an aspect of mystical expression also. For example, Albert Einstein and Elon Musk may be able to envision well ahead of their current paradigm because they are influenced by the timelessness creative abundance of the mystical realm. My point is merely to suggest that, whether consciously listening or not, we are eternally saturated in the timeless God-mystery we share. Thomas Merton, mystic and “king of silence practice” in the 20th C. Christian tradition, writes:
It is only the infinite mercy and love of God that has prevented us from tearing ourselves to pieces and destroying His entire creation long ago. People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce men and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity. How could all this be possible without the merciful love of God, pouring out His grace upon us? Can there be any doubt where wars come from and where peace comes from, when the children of this world, excluding God from their peace conferences, only manage to bring about greater and greater wars the more they talk about peace? (The Seven Story Mountain, retrieved from http://goodreads.com)
Kabir also addresses this phenomenon of our lack of God-awareness in the punchy wit he is known and loved for: “The fish in the water that is thirsty needs serious professional counselling” (Daniel Ladinsky, 2002, p. 211). In an attempt to remind us that we are indeed fish-in-God’s-water, both Kabir and Jesus teach about right relationship with a higher order of intelligence. In his song writing, Kabir refers to this intelligence as Beloved, Lord of Truth, King, Father, Magician, Master, among others. Jesus often stays with Father and the Kingdom of God or Heaven, and is highly creative in relating everyday life allegory (parables) to enlighten his followers about their relationship to God.
In both mystics we hear an expression of abundance that compels and electrifies them. Any personal loss they have suffered is subsumed in the generous beauty of the mystic heart’s surrender to God. During these moments, we hear Kabir and Jesus admonishing us to release our precious identification to religious dogma and secular materialism. Kabir sings of the timeless paradox of finding refuge and bliss only in the naked vulnerability of our relationship to God:
Everyone is wound in illusion’s web—
The so-called holy as much as the worldly
And those who run for safety
Under the comforting dais
Of form and ritual and dogma—
Well, life’s hurricane lashes them.
Stay out in the open:
You’ll be left safe and dry.
The ones Love never savages
Live in boredom and pain;
Those Love devours like a cannibal
Live in bliss forever.
The ones who lose their own eyes
Come to see the whole Creation
Blazing in their own Light;
Those who hold on to their sight
Remain blind as bats in full noon.
When I began to awaken to the Truth
I saw how bizarre and crazy the world really is! (2018, p. 58)
Fifteen hundred years earlier, Jesus expressed the same mystic principle or divine law:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)
We do not encounter God in tidy ways that suit us. God’s way is not “convenient to us,” and can be challenging to discern amidst the noise of the world. The Mystic in the world reminds us that our deepest treasure is finding the sacred in everyday life through the timeless beauty of the mystic heart.
The Timeless Landscape of the Mystic
A mystic is an embodied spiritual being. They live in the world, but their treasured home is elsewhere. The timeless dimension where they live and work from, lies well beyond their separate identity. The mystic has surrendered their personal life story, with its time-bound conditioning, for something incomparably different. At some point, the mystic is loosened from the grip of maya or karma and tastes the liberating waters of their soul’s timeless flow in God. Getting there however, becomes a fiery alchemy as the timeless landscape of the mystic births itself into embodiment in the world around them. Who among us are willing to endure that level of alchemical heat? As Jesus says, “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14).
In September 2017 my spiritual teacher Thomas Hübl gave a six month on-line course called “Walking Forever.” This was the fourth in a series of courses called Mystical Principles where he taught principles of mystical embodiment. Hübl describes his basic teaching platform as the art of being “a mystic in the marketplace.” Also emphasizing an embodied mystical path, Jesus expresses a similar teaching as “We are to be in the world but not of the world. … its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (John 2:15-17). In both teachers we hear two primary mystical principles: one encourages us to take our mystical spirituality into the world rather than “hide-out” in a cave, mountain top, or behind the false safety of conditioned comforts (religious beliefs and/or possessions); and the other, is that we—as mystics—are walking forever through the grace of living in alignment with God-truth. Ladinsky states that “the glorious role of the mystical poets is to help us accept God more as He Is—and ever less than our prejudices and fears want Him to be” (2002, p. 211).
Whichever way we look at it, becoming a mystic is a radical process operating as it does outside of secular and religious reference points. For this reason, the mystic has not walked smoothly in the marketplace, being misunderstood and feared as they have been. Many mystics have been killed or otherwise threatened in their “coming out” or in sharing their elevated “walking forever” consciousness. Jim Garrison referenced Plato’s Cave Allegory in a recent Great Books lecture to highlight the threat awakened individuals impose on the status quo. As an awakened individual, the mystic’s message reduces the shadows on the back of the cave as ephemeral apparitions: “for this, Plato said, they will hang a good man on a tree” (Great Books lecture, May 14, 2019).
Being in touch with the timeless dimensions within us allows the mystic to act freely and independently of cultural influences. Their steadfast commitment to belonging first to God rather than to culture and family is their strength and their greatest gift to culture—however rarely it may be recognized. When perceived through the (spiritually) blinding lens of cultural conditioning, a mystic is unrecognizable even when they are standing right in front of us.
The timeless inner-landscape of the mystic stands apart from culture’s codes of communication and behaviour. A mystic communicates to serve God and not the shibboleth. The flavour of a mystic’s expression varies depending upon the focus of their awareness: they rejoice, pray, yearn, painfully burn, resist, stumble, discern, ridicule, and remain devoted to God first throughout all of it.
Listening to be Found
In a culture drenched in materialism and spiritual amnesia, the “ears to hear, or eyes to see” are a rare phenomenon indeed. The mystical experience is a unique invitation. It is unlike any other because it is an initiatory invitation. As Harvey reminds us, “known at the depths of human history Kabir mutated, he became, he went through the dimension that the whole human race is being called to” (Great Books lecture, April 9, 2019).
If sincerely engaged with, this fiery relationship pierces and expands the mystical heart lying dormant within us. In the heat of those flames, we become more of who we are in God and less of who our conditioning tells us we are. Our inner landscape is forged into an altered reality where we experience a feeling of “being known” in a more expanded or complete version of ourselves. It is as though simplicity and clarity increase exponentially as the deluded grandeur of “being the knower” recedes. Bruno Barnhart’s pithy observation addresses the rare quality of the mystic’s unguarded simplicity when he says that “most people prefer a manageable complexity to an unmanageable simplicity” (Barnhart, Camaldolese Monk, CA). Kabir’s advice to the seeker is similar:
Seeker, the simple union’s the best. Since the day when I met Him there has been no end to the joy of our love. I don’t shut my eyes. I don’t close my ears, I don’t mortify my body; I see with open eyes and smile and see His beauty everywhere (Harvey, 2018, p. 188).
Few spiritual seekers are able to live with the burning tension of not-knowing that deep listening requires. It is far safer for us to engage in spiritual seeking than spiritual finding because we are in control when we are “doing the doing” of seeking. Whereas the spiritual “finder” discovers increasing levels of their own nakedness and vulnerability as they rest in the palpable reality of “being found.” Sounding like a fiery gospel commandment and Kabir himself, Harvey encourages us:
Don’t just go on looking — dare to find! How? Offer your whole heart to the mystery, your longing to the mystery. Go Near Now to His Heart. Longing and Knowing is how you go near. God will teach you directly — it is the relationship itself with God that gives us exactly what we need (Great Books lecture, March 12, 2019).
The mystic knows that even the finding is not something they can credit themselves with because they have experienced the undeniable reality of “being found.” Thomas Keating described this highly personal divine-interchange as “divine therapy.” That which was seeking no longer exists because that impulse now rests in the merciful grace of being found. “There is no denial — the whole body, mind, heart is the transcendent offering; it is all from the source” as Harvey says (Great Books lecture, April 9, 2019) quoting Kabir: “Ram has come to live with me … How blessed I am” (2018, 172). As all hints of our previous “desire to find” dissolve, an overwhelming sense of abundant celebration emerges: “Sing out the wedding song! I’ve come home with Lord Ram … The beloved of my heart” (2018, 172).
The following quote is a description of a personal mystical experience of “being found”:
I was alone in my Vancouver kitchen on a rare sunny mid-November morning in 2012. While enjoying the everydayness of a cup of tea with family dog Rosie by my side, something substantial landed within my awareness. At this point in my life I had been facilitating Silence Practice groups for a couple of years following the completion of a 2010 Master’s Research thesis entitled “Surrendering to Silence: A Heart Centred Practice.” What I did not realize at the time, was the depth of commitment and consequent awakening this regular practice would initiate within me.
I had experienced many major and minor shifts in consciousness before, but this one had a solidity to it — like I had crossed a threshold of some kind. It seemed as though previous mystery-glimpses had now rolled into a solid view. I also experienced a deep knowing that my life did not “belong” to me; that my True Life, my Real Life, my most Alive Life belonged entirely to the experience presently flowing through my awareness.
The more I surrendered to It, the more I became It: how delightfully circular and joyously playful. At the same time that we were “one,” we were also two. At this point my “thinking” mind had receded and all of this felt abundantly natural. There was no questioning or second-guessing. I was not separate from what I was experiencing, and yet “I” was enjoying it.
My heart beat faster. Rushes of vital energy flowed up and down my body and out of my arms. My body was light and alive, and yet solid. The lightness seemed to come from a diminished resistance in my body: I had no personal agenda in this moment, so it seemed as though I could just be there in a sort of suspended and “held” way. Rosie, the cup of tea, and I were held in the same timeless moment. My heart raced again in response to this beautiful congruency, accompanied by a strong pulling sensation in my chest. My eyes brimmed with grateful tears as I recognized how deeply I am held in this Beauty.
I also knew, with strikingly calm clarity, that I was not the identified-self I had strived to maintain for most of my life. From the perspective of this spacious awareness, the “identified-self” was thin, frightened, meagre, and ghost-like. With sadness, I could also see that this “ghost-like” self had kept me occupied for much of my adult life. Although I have been intellectually aware that I was not that, I seemed to be caught in an endless battle with it: and the more I struggled, the more entangled I became.
Abruptly this beautiful harmonious awareness was broken by a sharp familiar voice within me, “You’re making all of this up”! I recognized this voice as the all-too-familiar voice of fear. I felt a slight heaviness enter my chest. My breathing became shallower and more contracted. I became aware that the middle of my back was hurting. I was also shocked to see that 3 hours had passed in a space of time that I thought was about 20 minutes. I had had an encounter with timelessness in my own kitchen, with my dog Rosie by my side!
“You have a Choice.” I was brought back to the threshold of this expansive encounter by a calm inner voice that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere in particular. I noticed how much vitality disappears as entangled habits of fear and resistance re-surfaced in my awareness. They seem so very real, and yet they cost so much. If I do have a choice, it is clear that there is only one sane choice. It becomes, as the Buddhist’s say: the choice-less choice (http://lauramadsen.ca/about/).
Kabir hints at a circular movement similar to what I experienced. What he expresses as “united with Ram, round and round, how blessed I am” (2018, 172), I express as “circular and joyously playful.” It would seem that the mystic’s listening becomes a delightful dance between our non-dual nature in God and the duality of being the listener that is “found.”
Being Alone: Forsaking the Entanglement of Habit
Whether we are aware of it or not, the timeless reality of the mystic is where we belong. It is our authentic home. How could there be such overwhelming peace and joy within the mystical encounter if it were not our home? When we are in relationship with the sacred, we open to the depth and breadth of who we are. A mystical experience marks us for life because it is so far removed from the context of cultural and personal habits of conditioned awareness. Once our timeless God-encoding has been activated within us, returning to “life as usual” is not only impossible, but undesirable.
Watering the tender seeds of this awakening takes intention and courage. It can also be helpful to practice with like-hearted/minded souls as Jesus reminds us: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20). With sincere practice, we experience being “known” from within a deeper inner-truth that allows us to feel “cared for or guided” in our naked aloneness: no longer dependant on our inner-defences, we feel full and abundant. Meeting life with transparent authenticity allows entangled habits to fall away naturally.
When asked about his relationship with Kabir and his five-year immersion in writing Turn Me to Gold, Harvey said that his life was changing, he wanted to live in the wild, and he wished for a profound solitude. He also said that it was the right time to meet Kabir without fantasy, and that he was also called to write his own poems. (Great Books lecture, March 12, 2019). Our struggle to know God in this direct way is only initiated by a deep inner-calling. As mentioned, this is not the God of our concepts, but a guiding voice within. We are “called to”: create art, write a book, a song, a PhD dissertation, teach, dance, retreat, or to invent something we didn’t even know existed. The listening of the mystic creates “new worlds” of coherent beauty in the marketplace and in the minds and hearts of the people.
The depth of mystical-listening that is required at this level of creativity cannot happen without experiencing the nakedness of “being alone before God.” If we do not land regularly in the beauty and grace of this sacred aloneness (through states of prayer, creativity, communion, meditation etc.), we too easily loose ourselves to habits of cultural and familial entanglement. Our intention and courage create the inner-heat that eventually burns through conditioned entanglement. Jesus expressed this determined intention as “Ask and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matt. 7:7).
The sacred struggle inherent in the mystical impulse provides the alchemy for the incomprehensible transformation from human to human-divine availability. All that is left is gold. As in Jacob’s struggle with God’s angel, we come out of it wounded, but more whole— like Jacob becoming Israel. Our obstacles, our falling down, our rising up, our hope and our despair become the way forward — no longer something to be avoided or bypassed. The following is a theology paper excerpt about the 20th century American saint Dorothy Day:
I have come to know that the spiritual path requires an acceptance of our aloneness before God. I resonate deeply with Dorothy Day’s book title, The Long Loneliness. The raw truth and magnitude of spirit demands attention and effort. Inevitably, “being known” by spirit competes with alternate realities imbedded within my family, culture, and personality habits. This naturally creates the innate resistance that mystical orientation has towards the status quo — Dorothy Day’s main argument.
Ultimately we are asked to decide “Who am I”? My most acute bouts of confusion and pain have come when I am unable or unwilling to experience my spiritual identity through the transparency of my aloneness. The reality of spirit is like a parallel universe that comes to life when we put our attention on it — immediately or eventually. I believe it to be a mutual calling to Divine relationship (2010 VST paper).
We come to realize that an easy spirituality of “how we would like it to be” is an anemic spirituality. It is better that we do not delude ourselves with it. As Ladinsky points out, a spirituality that “want[s] God on our terms not His … will probably always keep us separate from the One we say we love and the one we need to unite with; what an irony” (2002, p. 211). For the mystic, being “taken down” becomes a blessing, losing becomes winning, and the dissolution of “our way,” becomes our liberation. As Hübl says many times “the obstacle is not in your way, it is your way (notes from Timeless Wisdom Training US2).
The Mystic’s Fire: Refuge in a Mad World
How does one take mystical experience into a world that spins on an entirely different axis of consciousness? How do we take this into the mainstream as Harvey asks, emphatically encouraging us not to “Oprah-fy” this by spouting off about something we haven’t embodied: “lead with your broken heart” he implores us (Great Books lecture, March 12, 2019). We are so good with naming and identifying with tidy mental concepts, when the explosion of God informing our nervous systems is anything but tidy. Harvey asks: What is being born in me now? We are in a crisis of mutation and are being used to transform apocalypse into grace; and be turned to Gold (Great Books lecture, March 12, 2019).
In the first lecture Harvey describes Kabir and Jesus as fiery: both born of humble birth, both fierce in their delivery of Truth. (Great Books lecture, March 12, 2019). Unfortunately for seekers who burn with longing, religion has highjacked “Jesus as love and gentleness,” effectively denuding the mystical fire of his teaching. Religion has been reduced to “nice” ways to please cultural power structures. This anemic delusion supports belonging to a shibboleth, and is a far cry from a direct mystical experience.
Ladinsky makes a striking observation that the closer a teacher/saint/mystic is to God, the harder it is for the average person to have faith in them (2002, p. 210). He says that as a person gets close to a saint, they typically go through an ego-dying process (2002, p. 210). Almost completely ignored by religious Christians, Jesus also said “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Our passage from apocalypse to grace (Harvey) challenges us in ways that we are incapable of enduring— and that’s the whole point! When the heat of “I can’t do this” has us writhing, we turn to God/Goddess/Source—name this experience for yourself. Whatever we choose to name this experience, it is here that the miraculous reveals herself: in the landscape of surrender and vulnerability something new begins to awaken within us. We begin to be informed differently and in the listening we are simultaneously found and profoundly humbled.
The mystic’s fire becomes a refuge because we experience arriving “in this moment” in a way we have never known; we find “refuge” as something incomprehensibly deep begins to relax within us and we are literally “shown” another place of belonging. We are living the book of revelations! We learn that the mystic’s fire and refuge are not two: we have entered an astounding sense of freedom where unconditional grace and miracles abound. Weeping with gratitude, we come to our knees as the timeless beauty of the mystic heart explodes within our own.
It is in this manner that the mystic’s fire creates both a sword of discernment as well as the beauty of unconditional love. This allows a mystic like Kabir to see the cultural conditioning around him with sharp clarity and compassion. Although I enjoy the praise and ecstasy in Kabir’s poems, it is in his wielding of the truth-sword where I feel a palpable relief in my nervous system. Harvey’s book, “Turn Me to Gold,” and the passion with which he speaks of his five year immersion in Kabir, is nothing less than a holy reminder of life’s sacredness and our eternal belonging within that crucible.
In a culture that is largely filled with the noise of “egos-everywhere-seeking-constant reinforcement-from-other-egos,” walking a path of discernment requires some fiery sword wielding. In my experience it cannot be done without a few “brandlings” from the mystical fire. In his ever-gentle manner, mystical teacher Thomas Hübl asks how we can challenge ego and not shame it, going on to describe the process of transcending ego as a “delicate procedure” (2018 Celebrate Life Festival USA). The mystic’s refuge comes down to wisely choosing what to engage in or not. Hübl has advised on a few occasions to simply “not engage” with entangled places in our relationships. As 20th C. AmericanAmericanAmericanAmerican philosopher William James puts it:” The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook” (retrieved from http://passiton.com).
The Rejected Mystic: A Casualty of Time-Bound Consciousness
It seems that the more aligned we are with the mystery, the more misunderstood we are. I have therefore marvelled at the large following a mystical teacher like Thomas Hübl has amassed these past fifteen years. Now that I am in his most intense personal two-year Timeless Wisdom training and am one of the first seven students to begin his Academy of Inner Science (AIS) doctoral program, I realize that very few people understand the magnitude of what he is teaching. His charm and his exceptionally beautiful personality and physique are a big draw. Unlike Kabir, I also suspect that Thomas leads with love in his teaching style, although one can sense the uncompromising fire not far beneath the surface.
In his first lecture on Kabir, Harvey refers to Kabir as a thug, “an assassin of God” who doesn’t lead with love, but with Truth (Great Books lecture, March 12, 2019). We can hear this in Kabir’s punchy phrases of the first two movements (chapters) as he addresses Muslims and Hindus for their pious ignorance and God-betraying hypocrisy. For Harvey the naked reality of the mystic is how Kabir exposes everything with no anesthetic, where the dagger of the Truth sent to your heart forces you to look (March 12, 2019). He places one of Kabir’s most effective daggers in the middle of the book. Five hundred years ago, Kabir addressed one of the most ubiquitous spiritual by-passes still alive today:
If you didn’t shatter
While you’re alive
How can you expect
Salvation after death?
Those who claim, “After death
Your soul melts into God”
Are giving you
Whatever you gain now
Will be with you then
Or you’ll just be
In Death’s asylum.
The deluded wander around
Searching for God
In far exotic places.
None of the ends their pain
At returning again and again.
Only if you adore the holy
will the noose of your Karma be cut (2018, 88).
The Mystic calling draws us beyond our cultural and familial conditioning and even out of time itself. The limitations of a time-bound consciousness will always, and have always, rejected the mystic’s message. We seem unwilling to see that our spiritual allegiance continues to reside in our own beliefs and shibboleths’s rather than in the fire of a living relationship with God—the mystics only resource. Kabir reminds us that “the fight of the truth-seeker … is a hard exhausting fight [that] … goes on day and night—as long as life lasts it never ends” (2018, p.121) Many times in my classes I advise diligence as spiritual seekers living in a spiritually bereft culture.
Without the sword of Truth and the steadfast voice of teachers who put that truth above all other relative truths, western spirituality remains anemic and prone to rampant habits of spiritual by-passing. It is impossible to progress spiritually within a deluded context which tells me that I can “have God my way.” I believe Harvey was addressing this spiritual wasteland when he stated that Kabir asks him (Harvey) to see that we (as mystics) are alone in a cinema of demented projection in a lunatic asylum. (Great Books lecture, March 12, 2019).
Creating a Timeless Initiatory Field
Unique sharing of inner beauty is priceless. As Kabir reminds us, “True Heaven is only in the company of the Holy” (2018, p.100). When we resonate deeply with another in the mystery, we stand together in a timeless field. As we spend more time here, we discover that our life orientation is profoundly altered in unexpected ways. It is never about forsaking the living Truth within us in order to create a field of a shared togetherness. This universal field of initiation therefore needs to be spearheaded by mystical leaders with impeccable commitment to God first.
Creating a field of energy that keeps “company with the Holy” (Kabir) is challenging in a culture that does not easily recognize authentic spirituality. As mentioned, the “conditioned eyes” of the world often misunderstood and even denounce the mystic and God-lover as threatening. Like Jesus, Kabir was counter-cultural. Politically likely, but certainly in his loyalty to any “form” of worship. Like Jesus, Kabir also seemed inclined to regularly call to task those committed to religious forms over a living-relationship with God— for Jesus, the Sadducees and the Pharisees; and for Kabir, the Muslims and the Hindu’s.
There appear to be two foundational expressions of the mystic. We see can both clearly in the way Harvey has organized Kabir’s poems in his beautiful book. The first two movements/chapters explore the faith (“direct connection with the One”) that gives rise to the painful witnessing of spiritual ignorance (in religious dogma, culture, and ourselves); which in turn, gives rise to the fiery sword of discernment. The second two movements/chapters describe the palpable post-fire bliss where one dances in concert with the Divine and releases everything to her glory.
In this way, Harvey says, this book becomes far more than a book (Great Books lecture, March 12, 2019). It becomes a generous invitation into the fire of our becoming in God. It becomes the new wine in the new wineskin: Jesus says he is like “new wineskins,” and cautions about trying to put the new into the old (Matt. 9:14-17). As embodied spiritual beings, it is natural for us to devote ourselves to something. Where we devote our energy and attention is important to know because that is what we become. Who are we? What is life’s purpose? What consciousness are we serving by how we live and relate? Kabir relentlessly asks these questions because, as a mystic, they burn in him and he in them. These questions are the life-blood of a mystic and from that fiery engagement, a holy refuge is initiated.
A Personal Reflection: Entangled, Not Distracted
At one point in his presentation, Harvey wanted to hear from some of his audience and students in his Great Books course lecture. Unlike Harvey, we are not accustomed to expressing ourselves from within a mystical framework. After some silence from the group, Jim Garrison made the comment that “we are all too distracted.” I remember thinking at the time, “But…I am not distracted, … I am entangled.” Exploring the difference between these two has been fruitful.
Being a mystic in the world carries with it the casualty of being a “social misfit” as referred to earlier. It is not so much that we become conditioned by culture and family—everyone does. It is about the lack of being met by those who also understand the mystical reality we swim in. We learn, as Hübl puts it, to sacrifice our becoming for our belonging. Being social creatures, we learn at a young age to turn away from the mystical callings and tendencies. As I grew older, I felt the pressure of social norms and my innate relationship with the mystical felt awkward and far too naked to expose within cultural norms.
The propensity for forsaking our becoming in God for the frequently entangled social belonging is likely what Jesus was addressing when he warned, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; he who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt.10:37, 12:46). “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matt.12:50)
As a mystic returning to the deeper truth burning within me, I sense an increased desire to also be known from here. I sense it in the core of my body. Sometimes while writing, a mystical language overtakes me. In these instances language becomes poetry, almost as though nuggets of “gold-feeling” are downloaded into thought-parcels. They have a sense of flow to them like a stream of consciousness from somewhere full of grace. They drop into consciousness and explode as transmission—the breathing slows, the body relaxes into a greater field. When the fire of truth runs through the mind, the form and cadence of language changes and dances energetically within and around me.
Assisted by the two year Timeless Wisdom Training offered by Hübl and his team, I feel myself untangling from sticky conditioned patterns: patterns of relationship where the mystical realms were a curiosity at best, and usually met with harsh rejection. Slowly and steadily there is a growing Hallelujah within me as I learn to reacquaint myself with an inner world that is still and moves with the joy inherent in the mystical connection to life.
A mystic in the world needs boldness and uncompromising clarity. From here, compassion and love are held wisely, free from conditioned entanglement and collusion with delusion. The following insights are my version of “drops of gold” taken from my website. These short sentences arrive with a palpable transmission. They are felt as an uplifting alert connection in the body, a calm centring in the mind, and a feeling-mixture of gratitude, well-being and hope. There is a crisp freshness in the words that is typical of mystical poetry or song:
- The best mornings are the ones where love’s invitation is heard in a bird song and seen clearly in a spider’s web.
- This truth-yearning heart burns the past and transforms it into the most exquisite compost for Presence.
- I am so busy wrestling with God sometimes that I forget to do the dishes.
- It seems to me that God laughs a lot. But I so often miss the jokes.
- God’s humour invites me into Loving, but I take myself too seriously to engage for long.
- Loving God more than my life-projections is a fiery practice.
- Within the stillness, I realize that my whole life has been a preparation for this one precious moment.
- The “me” that forgives is not the same “me that is trying to forgive.
- Engaging with inner-stillness is like a deep-tissue massage of the inner-landscape. It rearranges everything into a more coherent Flow.
- When I have Connection I don’t need control.
- This morning I woke up and turned a corner to realize that in serving the Master, I make a room in my own heart where the Master sits.
- This paper was a beautiful piece of surrender … until I wrote on it.
- Life blossoms when I finally give myself completely to what I love without a hint of apology or excuse. So simple. Why do I not wrap my arms around God more often?
- The audacity of thinking that God is on my side is the surest way to turn my back on God (http://lauramadsen.ca/practice-insights/)
Timeless Beauty and Creative Fire
What is it to live our life on Fire? A Fire of a Truth so deep and compelling that we lose ourselves to it. As Kabir says, “I went looking for Him and lost myself; the drop merged with the Sea—who can find it now? Looking and looking for Him I lost myself; the Sea merged with the drop—who can find now”? (2018, p.164). The self that I know as “me” will never again exist. What will “that me” be missing? What will be left in her place? Or do we completely forget these questions as we burn in the mystic fire? How do I navigate the outer world from within such a fire, such a mystical burning bush?
I do not have answers to these questions, but I believe that engaging in them deeply eventually reveals the beauty and creative joy of the mystic heart. As our focus shifts from “wanting something” to listening in Silence,” the answers we didn’t know we had emerge from within. In a culture as spiritually anemic as ours, listening becomes our life-line for hearing the abundant Hallelujah that rings through our mystical heart. When asked to silence his disciples, Jesus responds “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40).
God is not a belief system, but a reality that calls us to be a living expression of Herself. The mystic’s delight is to know myself, as myself, in myself, through God. The subtly charged nervous system of the mystic allows us to know (experience) ourselves and the world around us through new eyes. We can feel broken by the state of world affairs and yet rise up with an incomprehensible hope that seems to arrive from everywhere and nowhere—where even the stones cry out.
Perhaps it is good to remember that we are all seeded with mystical potential even if we have not yet experienced that Truth. Mystics belong to a timeless journey of becoming; of returning the broken shards (Kabbalah); of the Great Turning (Buddhism); of realizing that God lives in our Hearts eternally (Christianity). In his second Kabir lecture, Harvey encourages us to remember that in the middle of all the falling apart, there is a new birth: that in Kabir we have a dance leader of the glory that arrives through grace (Great Books lecture, April 9, 2019). In Kabir’s words, “My Father is the absolute Godhead, My Mother the embodied Godhead, and I am their divine child, dancing for them both on their burning dance-floor” (2018, p.163).
Hübl, T. (2017-2018) Walking Forever (on-line course); (2018-2019) Timeless Wisdom Training US2; (2018) Celebrate Life Festival USA.
(?) Ubiquity Chartres Academy Community Webinar, Caroline Myss presentation, Jan. 13, 2019.
Harvey, A. (2018). Turn me to gold: 108 poems of Kabir. Unity Village, MO: Unity Books.
James, W. (n.d.) Quote retrieved from http://passiton.com
Ladinsky, D. (2002). Love poems from god: Twelve sacred voices from the east and west. London & New York: Penguin Group.
Madsen, L. (2010) Quote retrieved from Vancouver School of Theology essay on The Long Loneliness (1996) by Dorothy Day.
Merton, T. (1948). The seven story mountain, retrieved from http://goodreads.com
Ubiquity Wisdom School, The Great Books, Andrew Harvey presentations, March 12 & April 9, 2019.
Vancouver School of Theology (2010), Dorothy Day paper on her book The Long Loneliness (1952).
A Divine Download:
When God Claims the Inner-Throne
The Way of the Bodhisattva is a timeless spiritual discourse on the enlightened God-essence living within us. Although the 6th-century Buddhist phrasing and style of instruction can be challenging for western readership, the complete download of divine intelligence offered in this sublime text remains especially relevant for today’s spirituality. This teaching, imbued with the refined spiritual qualities of praise and devotion, invites the reader into a circular spiral of ascension through increasing levels of surrendered emptiness. Rather than a fixed way of knowing through an established doctrine or belief system, The Way of the Bodhisattva encourages the experience of continuously arriving in a state of not-knowing.
How can arriving be continuous? For the western trained mind, this comes across as an impossible koan. Firstly, because there is no destination and no goal, a wrench is thrown into the spiritual ego’s identification with knowing. Secondly, the still mind of wisdom is unattainable without arriving again and again into the surrendered state of full-emptiness. According to this teaching, wisdom is the substance that holds everything together, without which there is no spiritual evolution or attainment.
A Divine Download: When God Claims the Inner-Throne
The basic intention of The Way of the Bodhisattva is first to reveal and then ignite the bodhichitta intelligence within our mind and heart. Chitta refers to our basic “thoughts” or mind habits, and bodhi is an awakening or quickening beyond the known—enlightenment being the usual descriptor for this state. The ten chapters are guiding steps in a spiral ascent designed to navigate us towards a state of enlightenment—the absolute truth abiding within our heart and mind.
I admit that I found the ancient eastern teaching style of The Way of the Bodhisattva somewhat cumbersome and outdated. For this reason, I suspect that I may be one of only a few students who chose to write a paper on this book. However, even as I feel impatient at times with the sexist outdated words and phrasing, I recognize that this book is important for our times. The grounded spirituality and uncompromising words could serve as an antidote for the plague of confusion infecting spiritual circles today. Something subtle but powerfully tangible awakens in my nervous system as I absorb these outdated words. I am taken somewhere far beyond my offended western ego, and I am gratefully humbled.
When perceived through the cultural sophistication of 21st-century perception, there is no doubt that the scolding/sexist/body-denying verses of The Way of the Bodhisattva are offensive. As Great Books presenter Jim Garrison points out, some verses clearly negate the body and the feminine aspects of the divine (The Great Books Course, June 11, 2019). However, when the 6th-century cultural context is forgiven, these verses come alive as a manuscript for a rigorous practice of awakening our depth and eternal belonging in God. From this perspective, one may consider the uncompromising tone and harsh admonishments as protection against the all-too-rampant sleep of maya’s illusion.
Acknowledging the mastery in this ancient eastern book lies in recognizing what it is and what it is not. We can safely assume that this book is not a download of political correctness for the twenty-first-century seeker. However, if we scratch below the surface of its political incorrectness, this book becomes a monumental divine download into the vertical awakening of the soul. From this perspective, The Way of the Bodhisattva is a reliable map of ultimate reality. The power of its teaching lies in cultivating the no-thing-ness of our absolute, uncompromising, and eternal relationship to that. As such, it is a brilliant spiralling cadence of instruction in the vertical dimensions of God-consciousness.
Master-mind spiritual philosopher Ken Wilber helped to illuminate how this book could simultaneously frustrate and mysteriously draw me into depth and stillness. Wilber might refer to The Way of the Bodhisattva as an epistle on waking up through ascending vertical structures (Wilber, Dec. 2011, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXyiDI6e26o). In this vastly informative video clip, Wilber explains that we are only beginning to understand that “Wakefulness doesn’t just go through vertical structures of increasing perspectives as believed through millennia. Pioneers amongst us are understanding [the need for] horizontal states of increasing dis-identification as well” (2011, YouTube). As brilliantly as The Way of the Bodhisattva maps the vertical structures, it is paradoxically abysmal in recognizing the horizontal perspectives that some spiritual circles are beginning to acknowledge and value as essential.
Discerning a Divine Download
With the availability of so many ancient spiritual manuscripts, developing discernment between Wilber’s vertical structures and horizontal states is essential—particularly as modern urban spiritual practitioners. When reading a book designed for vertical instruction (the majority of ancient sacred texts), we would do well to understand that we are likely attuning to a powerful download transmission. For sensitive seekers, the energetic effect on the nervous system is palpable. Understandably, reading such a book without some form of refined navigational guidance makes it is easy to “claim” these experiences as “mine.” Claiming our mystical encounters as a separated consciousness begets the ubiquitous 21st-century phenomenon known as spiritual ego. Spiritual ego, a psychic/emotional/mental inner-structure, effectively blocks or otherwise distracts from, the movement of surrender. Without surrender, we sever our relationship to the vertical dimension because our access to her timeless depth comes only through ever-deeper levels of surrender and sacred attunement. Herein lies the vertical power and transpersonal transmission of Shãntideva’s divine download.
Transpersonal dimensions are not about “the identified me” of spiritual ego; they are bridges linking personal dimensions with higher frequencies of coherence. Spiritual ego is rooted in immature and early patterns of wounding. Prematurely identifying with the transpersonal can be dangerous to our mental and spiritual health. Without the wisdom influence of an awake and grounded teacher, we are vulnerable to creating isolated “me-versions” out of vertical teachings. Wisdom is essential for navigating the turbulent process of grounding vertical dimensions into the horizontal landscape of relationship. When met with respect, deep attunement, and recognition for what they are, ancient sacred texts become refreshing, energetic download-reminders of our timeless vertical belonging in God.
Our lack of discernment between vertical and horizontal dimensions contributes to much confusion and unnecessary tension in today’s spiritual circles. Wilber says, “we are now realizing [that] both types of growth sequences are necessary [but] until now, it has been one or the other” (2011, YouTube). He states clearly that “Wakefulness” does not just go through vertical structures, but also travels through horizontal states (2011, YouTube). Two reasons why The Way of the Bodhisattva is worth exploring are that firstly, it is an impeccable download of divine instruction (Wilber’s “ascending vertical structures,” 2011, YouTube). Secondly, because it is so impeccably what it is (i.e., a powerful divine download), we can also safely use it to discern what it is not. In this way, we might afford ourselves the opportunity of examining the particularities of spiritual ego: the bloated spiritual obstacle of “identified-self” living mostly unnamed and unnoticed amongst us—especially those of us circulating in so-called “spiritual circles.” (I say this both as a victim of this affliction and as a facilitator for fellow-victims.)
A significant contributor to the root of our multi-faceted global crisis is our collective inability to draw upon our essential wisdom-connection to life. We simply do not know who we are in relationship to God (vertical) or to life (horizontal). For most, a vertically oriented spiritual practice tends towards a disconnection from life. While initially necessary, vertical practice on its own can easily forsake the horizontal landscapes of relationship. Tragically, Western spirituality has succumbed to various forms of disconnection, with increasingly horrifying consequences of planetary proportions. Today’s wealth of access to higher truths and sacred texts has ironically helped to cultivate the self-congratulatory deafness that surrounds the spiritual ego of the west. Collectively, spiritual ego has become an energetic fortress that even the strongest vertical transmissions cannot penetrate. There is simply no chance of God claiming the Inner Throne when spiritual ego has replaced our ability to attune to the timeless vertical dimensions beyond itself.
When God Claims the Inner Throne: Shāntideva’s Download
This ancient Tibetan teaching introduces the way of the bodhisattva—a vastly different way of attuning to life. The demands are high, and the teaching rigorous. As mentioned, some phrases in the book can come across as harsh admonishment to a western mind. At other times the phrases reflect generosity, compassion, one-pointed devotion, and surrender. With praise for the “excellence of Bodhichitta” in the first chapter and praise through “dedication” in the last chapter, Shāntideva’s download transmits the fragile fragrance and profound mystery of who we are in God. (Or, more precisely, who we become when God claims us.) It is only Shāntideva’s capacity for surrendered attunement that allows him to receive the divine download of these teachings. The night before he gave his divine oration, Shāntideva dreamt that Manjuri (Lord God) came to him and said: “there is not room for two of us on the throne” (Great Books, May 14, 2019).
Shāntideva’s receptive availability allows God to claim the inner-throne. There is an innately humble orientation in a teaching that names praise as its bookends. Through Shāntideva’s humility, God claims the inner-throne and Shāntideva’s words become a powerful transmission for absolute truth. Readers wishing to receive this timeless transmission require refined levels of attunement and humility. Attuned listening—connecting to energy beyond words—is a conductor for the electricity of transmission in the nervous system. This level of soul-receptivity requires far more than conceptual understanding. It requires everything: our whole body and the undivided attention of our mind and heart.
Who was Shāntideva?
Shāntideva was a member of the monastic university of Nãlandã in the 6th century AD. A spiritual academic from an early age, he was drawn to the wisdom of Mayãyãna teachings (“the Middle Way school of Buddhist philosophy,” 2006, p.1). Although little else is known, records indicate that some thought certain personal attributes might have contributed to Shāntideva’s remarkable receptivity and the coherence of the download. One such character trait, mentioned in his biography, is that Shāntideva was not a follower. He was known as “a highly unusual and independent personality” (2006, p.1). Entirely unlike his fellow monks at the University, they considered him unproductive and something of a dullard (May 14, 2019). His refined depth of inner-attunement was misinterpreted, highlighting the difference between the capacity for deep inner-listening and surrender and a prescriptive regimen of religious schooling. For his colleagues, Shāntideva’s inner-absorption was uncomfortable, annoying, and thoroughly misunderstood. One story tells that Shāntideva’s classmates, wishing to embarrass him, asked him to provide some comments to have fun at his expense (May 14, 2019). “Do you want me to summarize the traditions, or would you like something new?” he asked (May 14, 2019). While likely able to navigate the teachings in such an attuned way that he could have summarized the traditions, the request was for “something new.” Astonishingly, what issued forth from Shāntideva was a divine download transmitted directly from Lord Manjuri (God).
A Divine Download in Three Spiralling Stages
The particular psychological orientation of a western mind will find the introduction to The Way of the Bodhisattva as helpful as the text itself. By clarifying the rhythm and sequence, the introduction helps the reader attune to the manuscript’s depth without by-passing it with our lightning-fast conceptual capacities. The thinking-speed of spiritual ego has enormous consequences because it disconnects us from experiencing the words energetically, and therefore from receiving their transmission. The embodiment of wisdom cannot take root within us in a disconnected inner-environment where conceptual abstraction trumps lived experience. Herein lies the essential difference between Shāntideva and his monastic peers.
Early in the introduction, the following brief paragraph outlines the manuscript’s basic three-stage sequence:
… the first three chapters (“The Excellence of Bodhichitta,” Confession,” and “Taking Hold of Bodhichitta”) are designed to stimulate the dawning of bodhichitta in the mind. The following three chapters (“Carefulness,” “Vigilant Introspection,” and “Patience”) give instructions on how to prevent the precious attitude from being dissipated, while the seventh, eighth, and ninth chapters (“Diligence,” “Meditative Concentration,” and “Wisdom”) prescribe ways in which bodhichitta may be progressively intensified. The tenth chapter is a concluding prayer of dedication (p. 2).
This introductory paragraph describes a timeless spiritual practice that cultivates what we now understand as vertical development: how to ignite the inner-spark, how to maintain it, and how to deepen it. As mentioned, our spiritual development seems to be spiral rather than linear. Linear movement implies that we are getting somewhere, whereas spiral movement fosters arriving ever-more deeply at the point of origin. The path of Bodhichitta belongs to the mysterious process of integrating increasing perspectives of transcendence and depth. With each spiral through the three stages, we experience a fresh depth of divine order.
For a psyche steeped in a disconnected paradigm of entitled superiority, surrender and confession are especially challenging. We are indoctrinated to understand that we are separate from life. Worse, the belief that life is here to fill (or serve) the very void created by this sense of separation inevitably gives rise to an increasing sense of collective existential madness. To avoid feeling the horror of our existential separation-angst, we are impelled to increasing levels of distraction or addictive numbing.
The Hebrew Bible defines these habits of separation as sin. Simply translated, sin means “to miss the mark.” Acknowledging that we are “missing the mark” becomes the gateway into the manuscript’s first stage. It is fitting that at a time when we are awakening to our bodhichitta nature, we are also realizing the depth of our collective entanglement and habits of disconnection from life. It has become the way we live and the way we relate to each other. Therefore, the first stage of praise (awakening to God) and confession (seeing/experiencing our God-separation) become reliable foundations for a spiritual practice grounded in wisdom. The following is my “modern” interpretation of Shāntideva’s three-stage download:
- Chapter one: The Excellence of Bodhichitta. Recognizing Bodhichitta excellence is an inner-movement of honouring. Honouring finds expression through praise and humility, where we begin to discover inner-spaciousness. Praise, therefore, initiates the space for connection to the incomprehensible nature of the sacred. Praise sets the stage for humility and cultivates emptiness. It is highly valued in this manuscript as praise begins the download and ends the download in its more mature form of dedication (in stage three).
- Chapter two: Confession begins as we discover the barriers within ourselves. The sharpening and deepening of inner-awareness could equate to revealing the defensive structure of spiritual ego or that which operates in separation from life (habits of “sin”). This Rumi poem beautifully reflects a state of confession: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” (http://en.thinkexist.com/).
- Chapter three: Taking hold of Bodhichitta is where we begin to receive mini-downloads or glimpses of bodhichitta’s divine order or law. “Taking hold of bodhichitta” might be more aptly phrased as “bodhichitta taking hold of us” as we become aware of the influence of an inner-intelligence bigger than the doing of our separated self or ego.
- Chapter four: Carefulness begins the second stage of the Shãntideva’s divine download. The introduction quoted above describes carefulness as the “prevention of the dissipation of precious attitude.” The cultivation of carefulness begins when we slow down enough to mindfully attend to where we direct our attention and our will. As Hübl has said on many occasions, our life changes when God becomes our first priority.
- Chapter five: Vigilant Introspection is a deeper/higher spiral of stage one’s (chapter two) confession. It is a natural surrender into deeper levels of self-examination as our priorities clarify and become less compromised by distraction.
- Chapter six: Patience is a more mature version of chapter four’s carefulness. Patience is something we begin to experience as our nervous system becomes more grounded. Our physical and emotional bodies are more stabilized in Bodhichitta and require less conscious effort than carefulness. With increased patience, we are now more relaxed and available for (surrendered to) that which we know only through our intimacy with it. We begin to experience the fruit of our practice through patience as our separation from “what we are practicing” diminishes.
- Chapter seven: Diligence begins the third stage of the download, where everything we have learned is tested. It is a more rigorous version of chapter two (confession) and chapter five (vigilant introspection). Higher levels of bodhichitta we have “tasted” are now “tested” — from both within ourselves and in the world around us. We might discover we have no patience or find ourselves experiencing a St. John’s “dark night of the soul.” Diligence is where we discover our “depth as a death into God” as the fire of our own becoming burns away increasingly subtle levels of resistance and attachment. As Hübl says, we cannot do an authentic spiritual practice and have our lives stay the same. (In my opinion, Hübl does not emphasize the burn enough, leaving his less mature students prone to the casual superficiality of spiritual ego.)
- Chapter eight: Meditative Concentration and chapter seven’s diligence work as a sort of tag-team. The burning rigour of diligence cultivates a more profound capacity of inner-listening, which increases the depth of “meditative concentration.” In the deepening circular fashion of the download, chapter eight’s meditative concentration is a pervading echo of chapter three’s “bodhichitta taking hold.”
- Chapter nine: Wisdom begins to live in our nervous system as a higher-resonance capacity. When Wisdom rests within us, and we rest within Wisdom, we navigate life’s turbulence with a reliable inner-compass and a listening-rudder. Without wisdom’s skillful compass, we might have big sails that catch the wind, but never really arrive anywhere (as mentioned in the introductory quote above).
- Chapter ten: Dedication We end with praise in the form of dedication, this time with a deeper level of recognizing the “excellence of bodhichitta.” Through the guidance of inner-wisdom, increasing transparency of our bodhichitta-nature reveals herself as we bow to repeating another spiral of praise in chapter one.
Transmission: The Electricity of a Divine Download
Although this is a Tibetan Buddhist text, the higher intelligence of a divine download is certainly not tradition-dependent. The rhythm and cadence of the inner journey is not negotiable as it belongs to the vertical dimension of the soul’s timelessness. Whatever the tradition, vertical spirituality is a practice of relating to the timeless. It is, therefore, rigorous, demanding, thoroughly uncompromising—and frankly, impossible—to the time-bound identified self (ego). No matter how polished our spiritual ego, it is unequipped to become a sustainable spiritual vessel. As Jesus put it, you have to die to your old life, to be reborn in spirit (John 3:3-8).
Many bio-energetic systems are discovering that the nervous system of the human body has a largely untapped capacity for refined spiritual attunement. During my eight years of facilitating a group practice of inner-silence, I found myself gravitating toward a practice of nervous system attunement. With a subtle collective attendance to the nervous system, we came to recognize that a relaxed awareness of inner-stillness reveals a vastly informative intelligence within the nervous system that becomes palpable—even audible. We were discovering the body as the highly refined spiritually connected instrument that it is. Through our work with Inner Constellations, I realized that we were beginning to disrupt entrenched habits of perception. The activity of the conditioned mind—upon which we habitually and unduly rely for spiritual direction—was being de-throned and undermined with each ICM (Inner Constellation Mobile), not through the confrontation of embodied habit-structures, but a subtle side-door of energetic attunement. I began to discern an aspect of our mind’s intelligence that is not only available for this highly refined intelligence of the nervous system but an integral part of it. The wiring of our nervous system makes it an elegant spiritual instrument, ideally suited for the reception of divine transmissions. As in the case of Shāntideva, the surrendered vessel of our nervous system becomes the channel through which we first receive, and then transmit, divine intelligence.
In most cases, a spiritual transmission feels like an electrical charge to the nervous system, complete with increased alertness and feelings of anticipation (like waiting for a loved one). The divine nature of a download comes as a complete package that allows its communication to be transpersonal—simultaneously universal and personal. As with Moses and the people on Mt. Sinai, transmissions arrive in accordance with each person’s language or way of understanding.
Are all Downloads Divine?
The short answer is yes, in that everything is God or leads to God eventually (from a time-space perspective). A download does not always have to be spiritual. However, it often opens new vistas of understanding and insight into our human desire for knowledge, most notably in the fields of philosophy, science, art, and poetry. Even less divinely oriented downloads are frequently defined as something that “came through me, not from me.” Artists, scientists, authors, mystics, and poets have described this phenomenon when referring to their creative processes, insights, and ideas. In all cases, it seems that a download comes as a fresh response to a sincere intent, search, or longing of some kind.
Receiving a download can feel refreshing, nourishing, and intimate. It can also feel entirely foreign to our usual sensibilities or have an urgency about it that causes us to feel disquieted and uncomfortable. Downloads can occur through a variety of experiences: near-death encounters, dreams, spacious meditative states, deep scriptural contemplation, spiritual teachers, or a simple, random shift in consciousness in the middle of life’s ordinariness. A download, and particularly a divine download, is a transmission of intelligence that can effortlessly shatter habits of perception in seconds.
The Anatomy of Spiritual Ego: Divine Resistance
I have experienced many types of downloads throughout my life— all of them spiritual in nature. Although the reasons for these mystical encounters could introduce interesting speculative theories, it is not the focus of this paper. For whatever reason, it seems to be an aspect of the unique wiring of my nervous system. While they can sound amazing and spiritually desirable, these experiences gradually became associated with a lack of belonging throughout my childhood. There seemed to be very few people with whom these experiences could be shared and received with the sensitivity, understanding, and wisdom required. There simply was no social architecture to support this level of experiential knowing as I approached adulthood (and the “coming out into the world” emphasis inherent in that developmental stage).
Notwithstanding the awe inspired by these divine transmissions, I began to (subtly, gradually, unconsciously) develop feelings of inner-contempt toward them. There is a hardening or walling off in my heart that began when I was fifteen and is present today as a palpable energy blockage. Overshadowing any benefit to these heightened experiences was their divisive effect on my developing adult self. Where were the spiritual advisors fifty years ago?
To my undeveloped unsupported psyche, I was doing something wrong. I began to associate these spiritual experiences with a sense of social estrangement and alienation. Adding fuel to the growing fire of my (unconscious) resistance, “belonging” and “fitting in” were highly valued by my parents and the social context of my upbringing. A backlash of inner-resistance began to establish itself in my nervous system, emotions, and mental coherence.
The incongruence of divine downloads and habits of inner-resistance has made for a challenging spiritual path indeed. I feel well qualified to address the tenacity of what I am choosing to call “spiritual ego.” The defensive nature of my spiritual ego is well developed. As wondrous as divine downloads can be, they do not marry well with cultural acceptance—at least in my case. As a wise teacher (whose name escapes me) said, ego would rather the body die than give up control. I believe this to be true, as the “I” of spiritual ego continues to wage war with the abundant twenty-four/seven blessings it purports to pursue.
(If I am more generous with myself, there was not enough wisdom in the social fabric of my upbringing to bridge these high voltage transmissions within me. Not surprisingly, my healing around this has gradually become the main thrust of my work in the world, the most recent evolution being Inner Constellations and Sound Healing. Both focus on diminishing the disconnection between spiritual ego’s conditioned defences and our intimate God-capacities.)
Recognizing our Dilemma: A Disconnected Hubris
Spiritual blindness and superfluous angst are by-products of today’s western spiritual paradigm. As a culture driven by getting somewhere or achieving relief from something, our spiritual quests fall prey to the same disconnected momentum. It is in the collective air we breathe, and in the “reality” we share, however unconsciously. Until we slow down and begin to see and understand the mechanical impenetrability of spiritual ego, we will remain its prisoners. From behind the invisible wall of our collective blindness, we may sometimes become aware of feelings of restless disconnection, or wonder why our decades of spiritual practice have not radically changed our lives. It is healthy to ponder these things. It is a sign that we are beginning to sense that something is deeply amiss in our spiritual practice and in our collective relationship with life. Our dilemma becomes evident when we begin to understand that our life and our spiritual practice are one and the same.
There is no doubt that it is for our protection that The Way of the Bodhisattva instructs us to begin with praising the excellence of bodhichitta in chapter one, and confession immediately following in chapter two. The only beginning for a wisdom path is surrender, and surrender is unthinkable to spiritual ego. (As demonstrated in the personal example below.) As long as we are oblivious to spiritual ego, “the way of the bodhisattva” cannot work her sacred magic within us. Our dilemma is to remain spiritually deaf and blinded by the soup of our collective disconnection from life. Spiritual blindness has nothing to do with sight; it is a lack of ability to listen with the refined attunement of body, mind, and soul. What to do? How do we learn to listen beyond an inflated life-destroying hubris that we proudly and collectively—albeit unconsciously—affirm?
The Shāntideva’s of the world do come along periodically. As mentioned, the higher frequencies of attuned consciousness are not about fitting in or belonging. Shāntideva certainly did not, nor did Jesus, or Buddha, or Thomas Hübl, for that matter. (Thomas’ advice to “engage but not enrol” speaks to the need for a vertically attuned connection that frees us from horizontal collusion in our relationships.) If we can practice the vertical availability as taught in The Way of the Bodhisattva, we are a seasoned practitioner. However, like a newborn or young toddler, we are especially vulnerable in the early stages of a vertically oriented practice. As I remind my group participants, we are not living in a mainstream culture fuelled by depth awareness. If we assume that we are, we do not recognize our dilemma, and our inner-discernment is inevitably compromised. To make a point— and at the risk of making our dilemma sound hopeless—even “praise for bodhichitta” elicits spiritual ego’s claim of the “ability to praise.”
The unfortunate outcome of our disconnected hubris is that the spiritual ego precludes our capacity to receive, even when Manjuri or God-transmission is right in front of us (in the form of an enlightened master). We choose to worship the teacher in form only, which does little to disrupt spiritual ego and everything to reinforce its separateness. I realize this is sobering news, and it is not without sadness that I write these words. I have walked a spiritual path for a lifetime. I do not recall making a distinction between my life and a spiritual path. It has been a choice-less choice within me and has undoubtedly gone through various developmental stages. I have learned that we remain in collusion with spiritual ego if we do not see how it operates within us, around us, and between us, whether we belong to a religious tradition, secular spirituality, or have a spiritual teacher.
I have also learned that spiritual ego likes to blame and point fingers: if only this or that person, company, or situation would change. We inadvertently build walls of resistance to the very issues we are trying to change in the world. Another beautiful insight from Hübl is his recurrent reminder that we are not separate from the world that we are trying to change. This knowing melts the hardened, separative habits of spiritual ego like nothing else. When we know this in our nervous system experientially, we begin to feel— well, everything! We experience relationship with the trees, the planets, the pain of human conditioning, all of it. As the “walls of separation” melt, we often begin to feel an awakening of connection to bodhichitta beauty. Trying to have our tidy spiritual practice of inner-beauty and truth in isolation from shadow is the core operating system of spiritual ego’s anatomy.
We can only do our part moment by moment, often unnoticed perhaps, but palpable in our own heart. We are “colluding” with unconscious habits of fear and separation, or we are consciously “hosting” these habits. Externally hosting unconscious habit is not possible if we have not already hosted that “shadow flavour” within ourselves. If someone or something activates our fear and judgement, it is a good sign that we are being called to do some conscious “inner-hosting.” Unconscious areas in another that we are unaware of in ourselves leave us vulnerable to the hypocrisy that has us blaming or colluding rather than “hosting.” As an eight-year-old, I shared a related insight; after observing my mother and her friends gossiping, I apparently said, “when you speak of others, you speak of yourself.” Jesus put it more eloquently, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye” (Matt. 7.5).
Recognizing the blind resistance of spiritual ego often comes as a warning in scripture. Christian scripture warns against idol-worship; Hübl asks how we challenge ego, without shaming it; and much of the scolding flavour in Shantideva’s download is intent on wrestling our self-centeredness away from us—long before ego had a name. Navigating this spiritual territory is tricky because even glimpsing our spiritual egocentricity evokes its self-shame/blame structure. When we blame ourselves for our spiritual blindness, it is just more spiritual ego at work.
Spiritual Ego as Resistance: A Personal Story
I first became aware of the magnitude of my spiritual ego’s resistance in a writing exercise in 2011. Seeing and feeling the impervious nature of this resistance has done more for my spiritual maturity than any number of mystical experiences that have graced my life. Nine years later, I am still working with it as a constant reminder of spiritual ego’s ever-present tenacity. It continues to be an active ever-humbling ingredient of spiritual practice. It is this dynamic, in fact, that makes the fierce, uncompromising truths in The Way of the Bodhisattva resonate at a deep level of recognition.
During the writing exercise, I discovered that conversations with God are not limited to Conversations with God author Neale Donald Walsh. Initially, the class thought the exercise rather strange, but we were encouraged to “simply begin.” Thus began my very first “God-a-logue.” I proceeded to address “God” with the shocking absoluteness of “I want nothing to do with you.” Adding insult to injury, this writing exercise came after four years of studying theology and learning how gifted and spiritually insightful I could be—given the feedback from my papers. Perhaps the silver lining in the profound resistance was that it was met with an equally profound acceptance (as the “God-part” of the conversation). The God side of the equation oozed compassion, patience, and not a hint of judgement. Love reigned on the God-side, a fierce NO on the “me” side, and a third “witnessing me” that was staggered by this revelation. By the end of the dialogue, the “me” initiating the letter remained unswayed. The God-a-logue began and ended with a fierce resistance which even compassion could not perforate. By all accounts, resistance had won.
I had the good fortune of walking my first Labyrinth a few weeks later. With the instructions to “walk a question,” the recently exposed resistance was the only choice. I had continued to be disturbed and amazed by its intransigent power. After a slow, deliberate labyrinth walk focusing on my resistance, I entered the Labyrinth’s centre. As I placed my left foot beside the right one in the centre, a thunderous deep rolling sound echoed from everywhere and nowhere— it rumbled its way through the cells of my body, the sky, the trees, and the ground I stood on. Nothing was outside its influence.
I realized that the thunderous sound was speaking English: “YOUR RESISTANCE IS NOT SEPARATE FROM ME.” Nine years later, I still feel the raw, energetic charge of this shattering transmission in my nervous system. The spiritual advisor I saw following this event stated that it takes a lifetime to absorb such experiences. In this case, the energetic resonance might translate as an unadorned remembering that “there is nothing but God now and forever.” My “personal version” of spiritual ego is no different than most in having a fierce resistance to being nothing.
Wisdom: the Empty Vessel of Bodhichitta
Fortunately, the reality of bodhichitta is stronger than our habits of spiritual blindness. Early in the introduction, the translators (Padmakara Translation Group) reassure us that “the mind itself, even the mind in samsāra is never, and has never been, ultimately alienated from the state of enlightenment” (2006, p. 3). My 2011 labyrinth experience was an explosive embodied reminder of this truth.
Bodhichitta lives in the non-identified field of wisdom-consciousness. The final page of the introduction to The Way of the Bodhisattva features an important cautionary note, a warning that lack of wisdom lies at the root of samsara or suffering (p. 24). Without the “wisdom of emptiness” (Madhyamaka), none of the other practices can come together. Wisdom’s unwavering vertical attunement is a necessary attribute for integrating the continual blessing inherent in a divine download. Without the inner-strength of wisdom’s compass, the spiritual seeker is easily influenced by their particular shibboleth or conditioned structures. Established ways of knowing in secular culture or religious dogma are the shadows on Plato’s cave wall. They are easily threatened by wisdom’s penetrating depth. To carry wisdom into the world with any sense of steadiness, The Way of the Bodhisattva must already be our priority.
With what do we fill our precious capacity for consciousness? Many of us do not even feel that we have a choice in the matter. We are run by the conditioned mind—which has every agenda imaginable to keep us far from stillness and emptiness. Understandably our conditioned mind has a strong aversion to emptiness because that becomes its demise. If not fed with a continuous supply of worry and angst, like a car running out of fuel, it will falter, sputter, and stop. It is here where the empty vessel of bodhichitta begins to reveal her beautiful wisdom. A wisdom relationship with life is unequivocal and independent of conditions. Wisdom is rooted and eternal, and a clear perspective of knowing life through a lens of coherent wholeness.
Recognizing Bodhichitta: The First Step on a Wisdom Journey
The identified self and its spiritual-sidekick, spiritual ego, remain impervious to one essential ingredient. Without wisdom’s inner-compass, the way of the bodhisattva remains invisible. Lacking the guidance of spiritual wisdom, we easily succumb to the historic spiritual/religious tendency to construct a God-idol of our own understanding. I have witnessed this phenomenon with excellent spiritual teachers. Students attached to their own interpretation of the teacher’s words or personal charisma forsake the subtle excellence of bodhichitta transmission emanating from the teacher.
Without the embodied recognition of bodhichitta within our nervous system, we have nowhere to direct the focused inner-action of a praise-filled heart. Praise is a form of protection when aligned with bodhichitta. Firstly, it is not something we can interpret in mental isolation because praise happens in a living relationship with what I am praising. As such, it is an I-Thou aspect of God’s face. Secondly, praise directed to bodhichitta’s excellence initiates an awakening of the heart. The movement of the awakened heart through praise creates a space for the wisdom-seed to germinate. Inner wisdom becomes the fertile container for our practice. As I remind Inner Constellation group participants, we would not have to swim upstream so hard if we lived in a more coherent culture, aligned with God-truth and our bodhisattva natures. Once we have recognized the excellence of bodhichitta, wisdom is the navigational inner-compass, allowing for a safe encounter with our wayward habits of God-separation.
The second chapter in the first stage of Bodhisattva’s instruction is confession. Barely off the starting blocks, we are challenged to see where we have “messed up” (sinned or missed the mark). However, if confession is not navigated cleanly and continuously, we risk blindly building our practice foundations on “false gods.” However lofty they may be, conditioned ideasare conditioned. Therefore, they lack the inspired genius of direct transmission and spacious potential of an available nervous system.
Familiar God-beliefs provide feelings of safety, but they also occlude the nervous system’s innate bodhichitta potential. The spacious freedom of not-knowing begins to awaken bodhichitta because we trust in something far beyond our capacity to know. 20th-century theologian Martin Buber aptly observed that “The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than the believer caught up in his own false image of God.”
Horizontal Healing: Understanding Spiritual Ego
It is not uncommon in western spiritual circles to make the ego out as “wrong” rather than acknowledging it as a traumatized aspect of our energy system. However, the scapegoating of ego only builds more separation. It echoes an earlier Christianity where the body’s natural appetites were targeted as the main obstacle to God. Having become more sophisticated, we now replace “body” with “ego” as spiritual enemy. Perhaps it is time for us to discover that our lens of perception needs further refinement. As Hübl reminds us, our obstacles are not in our way, they are our way (TWTUS2). Once recognized and met within this spacious humility, spiritual ego is no longer the end of the story but the starting point for a whole new story. It becomes the connective tissue for spiritual embodiment—a sublime fodder for the transmutation of base metal into gold. Spiritual ego, and its predecessor the body, are not the bad guys after all!
I have learned a lot about the transformation process through witnessing Hübl’s approach to stuck ego-patterns these past five years. Spiritual transformation begins where we consciously meet the fire of resistance in spiritual ego. In an embodied spiritual practice, how could transformation begin anywhere else but in the wounded patterns that we have built our life around defending? When we begin where we are the body becomes the engine, and the ego becomes the fuel, for the alchemy of spiritual transformation. Developing an inner-awareness where obstacles once perceived to be “in the way” are included in our experience changes everything. Identification habits relax into a deeper and fuller relationship with life.
At some point, an authentic spiritual practice produces an ability to listen to both the time-bound nature of our human conditioning and the timeless dimension of our belonging only in God. Inner-Wisdom sprouts within, in a way that guides our focus—and eventually, our life’s priorities. When we have support in both dimensions, I believe that discernment begins to develop within us like two protective wings: one wing clearing a pathway through the endless maze of illusion (or maya) in the world, and the other opening a listening-channel towards the divine. While Shantideva’s download is impressive in its clear transmission, its focus is primarily on the latter.
Like Wilber, Hübl also refers to horizontal and vertical dimensions of awakening to describe these two movements: the horizontal dimension of that shared space in the collective (TWTUS2) and the vertical dimension of transcendence. Whatever we call it, we begin to discover a rare and uncluttered capacity to be touched by life through both dimensions simultaneously. I suspect this may be a flavour of bodhichitta taking hold. The rigour and demands, obstacles and challenges, rewards, and inevitable surrender of human consciousness into divine grace is the sacred human journey. In its essence, The Way of the Bodhisattva is an impeccable map of surrendering our horizontal or conditioned structures. For the Western mind-set however, the map needs some refining.
Surrendering into Remembering
In a word, we have forgotten how to remember because we have forgotten how to surrender. Or is it the other way around? Either way, it seems that we are suffering from a collective case of resistance and amnesia. Like a fairytale, a (self-imposed) collective spell has held sway over us for a very long time. I like to imagine that we are becoming aware of that spell as we wake up to our bodhichitta nature. The second movement of The Way of the Bodhisattva is all about developing a “precious attitude,” giving up habits, and learning to align with life from a different inner-terrain. As mentioned, the cultivation of vigilant introspection and patience is ultimately for our own protection.
Without daily reminders, we easily succumb to habit and forget that we are first and foremost spiritual beings in vertical alignment with God. As 19th century mystic and theologian Teilhard de Chardin said, “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Words from a direct download such as Shāntideva’s contain a resonance or energy that can augment our capacity for hearing spiritual truth. A little glimpse goes a long way because it challenges our conditioned relationships with life. Freedom from conditioning threatens what we know and rattles the cage of our perceived sense of control in life.
Reading a book of this calibre is an invitation to remember. As we do so, we enter a stream of consciousness that takes us somewhere beyond the known. We cannot trust this moving stream if we do not listen and learn to enjoy the sensation of “being taken.” I liken it to the feminine principle (non gender-specific) who comes to know herself through trusting in the surrender of being taken. In this case, being taken is an invitation beyond thought-habit into the clear-being of bodhichitta. When the conditioned mind no longer “holds court” with its righteous entitlement, spiritual ego begins to undergo an alchemical process of transformation.
Transformation is real. Our cells and synapsis of our nervous system begin responding to an intelligent stream of consciousness that seemingly comes from everywhere and nowhere, within and without. In transformation, our ability to trust in an unseen and forgotten spiritual antenna gradually evolves. Our true spiritual nature is recognized through a dynamic, energetic absorption into the timeless emptiness of being. Here at the centre of our Universal Heart, God claims the Inner Throne. Just like the beginning and end of Shāntideva’s download, we discover only endless spirals of praise and gratitude. The mystery of life’s blessing reveals herself as Manjuri/God claims the inner-throne of our rapt attention.
Wisdom and emptiness are interdependent. The womb of emptiness is available for the wisdom seed to be planted. Wisdom takes root and grows in the unencumbered environment of inner-spaciousness. The ninth chapter on wisdom encourages the development of emptiness: “… they have not rid themselves of habits of desiring objects of perception; And when they gaze upon such things, their aptitude for emptiness is weak indeed” (p. 141). A profound introductory paragraph addressing the nature of wisdom bears quoting:
The strength and impartiality of Shāntideva’s compassion seem to be a subversion of universal order; and in a sense they are. They point to a new vision of things ultimately grounded not in the concepts of right and wrong, but in compassion and the wisdom of emptiness. Instead of dividing the universe now and forever into twin compartments of good and evil, the sinners and the just, the blessed and the damned, Buddhism focuses on the predicament of samara as such (p. 7).
As Garrison says (paraphrased): there is relative bodhichitta where we are trying to eliminate distractions by swatting the fly … then, while trying to swat the fly, we realize another way is possible. We know in theory, but not existentially; we become more and more who we really are. Samsara is not who we are, bodhichitta (clear mind) is most real (Great Books Presentation, May 14, 2019).
Living Within—and Beyond— Structures of Social/Cultural Entanglement
In the end, we find ourselves beginning the spiritual journey right smack in the middle of our confusion and entangled habits. This is particularly challenging today, as many of us are attempting to combine living in culture within the depth of authentic spiritual practice. As Hübl says, we are mystics in the marketplace. As such, we are doubling the challenge because, until a certain point of maturity in our practice, we become easily entangled in the horizontal social/cultural structures. Our relationships tend to reflect our unintegrated trauma and numbness.
Eventually, discernment or wisdom itself becomes our protection, as suggested in Shāntideva’s third movement (beginning in chapter seven). It is here that our practice evolves into an inner-compass that effortlessly reorients us towards the divine indwelling. We become immune to the shadows on Plato’s wall and, although we may feel ostracized, we see more compassionately from whence it came.
Entanglement between the soul’s innate impulse to become and the social need to belong has long been a source of tension for me. I have always felt a deeper truth running within and have rarely experienced the truth of my soul reflected back to me culturally or personally. Not surprisingly, this phenomenon abounds in people attracted to my Inner Constellation work.
If we are practicing as a householder (spirituality in culture), we must first plumb layers of conditioning to discover our unique flavour of soul-essence. Perhaps these are the glimpses of bodhichitta in the movements of Shāntideva’s first three chapters. With the beginning of the second movement in chapter four, bodhichitta intelligence preserves and protects “precious attitude”— that of discerning the difference between the entangled shadows on the cave wall and the “essential light” within the mouth of the cave.
Discovering “Me”: The Journey of a Lifetime
I have an interesting story about “discovering me.” I have never shared this story in an academic paper, but feel that it is worth mentioning because of the relief and reverberating joy experienced with a mere glimpse of bodhichitta nature. I was eight years old, in grade three, and Mrs. Olson was an unusual teacher in 1962. I realize now, that when she had us imagine different coloured balloons above our heads and guided us to slowly bring them down through our bodies, she was teaching us to meditate and attune to subtle vibrations in our nervous system. This was likely a clever way to calm a hyper class of eight-year-olds. I remember its calming effect.
On one particular day, Mrs. Olson asked us to say what we were going to be when we grew up. As I heard the various children respond with “nurse, doctor, fireman, teacher, artist, astronaut, etc.,” I became increasingly anxious as I energetically “tried on” the other children’s answers — nothing fit! Shy by nature, I desperately wanted an answer, but I did not have one. As the steady stream of answers reached the top of my row, my anxiety continued to rise. Then, just as the boy ahead of me finished, I knew with absolute certainty—in every fibre of my being and body—what I was going to be when I grew up. With no time to filter or second-guess, I announced with absolute confidence, “I’m going to be me”! Had it been any other teacher, I am sure this response would have been deemed unacceptable. As it turned out, however, with a momentary pause followed by an appreciative smile, Mrs. Olson said, “That’s wonderful Laura Leigh,” and we moved on. Bless her!
At such a young age, I could not have imagined what a complex life-journey staying in touch with (bodhichitta) “me” would be. Although lacking the supportive monastic culture of Nãlandã, I have no doubt that the timeless bodhichitta seed was uncompromisingly dancing within my eight-year-old mind and heart. I believe that bodhichitta was alive in Shāntideva at an early age, making him stand out as oddly different from his colleagues. I, too, stood out as different as a child, yet lacked the maturity and external support to value the deep inner-knowing underlying this perceived difference. As mentioned, my habit of inner-resistance grew as mystical experiences threatened my sense of cultural and familial belonging. Without a container, I was prone to the “dissipation of precious attitude” described in the introduction.
My life has been a slow “coming out”—a remembering of, and surrendering to—the deep bodhichitta truth I have learned to resist. We are each unique flavours of bodhichitta, yet our journeys have common signposts and challenges. Discovering our inner-uniqueness is the surrendered remembering that Manjuri/God claims the Inner Throne rather than spiritual ego. In Shāntideva’s time and today, this remains our greatest spiritual challenge, responsibility, and potential. Experiencing life through the grace of Manjuri/God is our only true life. As outlined in Shāntideva’s three-stage download, it is through spiralling rounds of deepening praise, confession, and surrender that right relationship to vertical dimensions are restored. Rumi addresses our plight and our longing in a poem (attributed to him) titled The War Inside:
Rest your cheek for a moment, on this drunken cheek.
Let me forget the war and cruelty inside myself.
I hold these silver coins in my hand;
Give me your wine of golden light.
You have opened the seven doors of heaven;
now lay your hand generously on my tightened heart.
All I have to offer is this illusion, my self.
Give it a nickname at least that is real.
Only you can restore what you have broken;
help my broken head.
I’m not asking for some sweet pistachio candy,
but your everlasting love.
Fifty times I’ve said,
“Heart, stop hunting and step into this net” (2017, p.25).
An authentic vertical instruction such as The Way of the Bodhisattva is easily misinterpreted by the wayward habits of spiritual ego. Despite this, our unrealized potential as enlightened bodhichitta beings is our birthright and, as such, never disappears. As Wilber says, “we reach our highest and deepest capacities and do so with a sense of responsibility” (2011, YouTube). That responsibility begins by slowing down and seeing the entitled fortress of our collective and individual forms of spiritual ego. In this way, we begin “pioneering” our way towards embodying the bodhichitta wisdom we desperately seek and need in our world.
Great Books, Ubiquity University, Jim Garrison, class notes, May 14, 2019
Hübl, T. Timeless Wisdom Training (TWT) US2 (2018-2010) Class recording and personal notes; Celebrate Life Festival USA (2019), personal notes.
The holy bible (RSV, revised 1952). John 3:3-8, Matt. 7.5
Rumi, (2017, ed. by Helminski, Kabir). The pocket rumi. Boulder: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Rumi quote from http://en.thinkexist.com/
Shāntideva, Padmakara Translation Group (2006). The Way of the Bodhisattva. Boulder: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Wilber, K. (Wilber, Dec. 2011, YouTube clip) States and Stages of Consciousness (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXyiDI6e26o)