Saturday, January 30, 2010

war in the heart

I wonder if it's just a truism that anyone on a spiritual path has to wrestle with over and over again ... and find a resolution for, assuming spiritual endeavor is to have any experiential credibility at all:

On the one hand, to state it one way, I have problems or uncertainties. Those problems are emotional or intellectual and they can be pretty compelling ... a loss, a longing, a fear, a poverty, a sense of homelessness that gnaws.

On the other hand, there is the promise of spiritual endeavor of whatever kind. That promise is warming in its distances from my problems. It is not affected in the same way I am affected. It is overarching and serene and competent ... and maybe is filled with a delightful glow.

I don't much care if the direction is called "God" or "enlightenment" or by some other name. Whatever it is called, still it is a good thing, a promising thing, a thing that stands in an apartness that is both loving and unaffected.

And I like it like that. I am not interested in a God who has the same stumbling difficulties that I have. And woe betide the suggestion that that God could be as plain and stumbling and uncertain as I am. Where would my faith and belief and dream be if that were so? How could there be relief and release and a loving home if God/enlightenment/Tao were not be an improvement on my narrow and narrowing circumstances?

So on the one hand there is a longing to find peace and relief and release in a home that might be called God. There are hymns and rituals that support and encourage and offer fulfillment of that promise. On the other hand, there is a fear and utter revulsion at the idea that such a fulfillment might occur. "We can know God through his works" the Christians say. And maybe this is so, but it leaves out the fulfillment that the human heart began and continues its quest in search of ... who the hell IS God, anyway?

Please tell me!

No wait! Please don't tell me -- that would ruin the dream! That would be apostasy! That would be a true horror!

The longing to be close-closer-closest to God is nothing other than a desire and insistence on keeping that God/enlightenment/Tao at a distance.

And this is no goddamned joke or speculation or religio-philosophical Tinker Toy for those who are serious about spiritual endeavor. It is a serious daily matter ... the hope and belief and dream of relief and release, and the realization that if such a hope and belief and relief were attained, there would no longer be any need for hope or belief or dream of release. Eeeek!

When Swami Vivekananda, the Vedanta teacher who studied with Sri Ramakrishna and knocked them in the aisles at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, was offered the opportunity to realize in experience what Vedanta and his teacher had to offer ... he balked. Balked as anyone involved in spiritual endeavor balks day in and day out. Ramakrishna put his thumbnail against Vivekanada's forehead. The promise was clearly in the air ... this was it ... Vivekanada was about to see with his own eyes what his mouth could so wisely praise. Ramakrishna put his thumbnail against Vivekananda's forehead and Vivkananda cried out: "Not yet! Not yet!"

Not yet!

Not now!

It's so consoling for the believer of today to look into the past. Looking into the past, it is easy to find great teachers and teachings. But it also offers the perfect excuse not to look into the present: Those guys and gals are all dead: What could they possibly know about my uncertainties and longings and the stumbling steps anyone today might take while seeking God or enlightenment or Tao or some other wondrous relief and release? They're holy. I can spend time elevating and adorning them and then keeping the wondrous dream, this wondrous distance, alive.

Well, to put it indelicately, it's the same shit, different day. The differences we may assert between ourselves and the holy (wo)men we may adore are, to the extent they can be found at all, the differences between two peas in a pod. No one in their right mind selects or elevates one pea over another when it's time for lunch ... let's eat!

But ... and there always seems to be a "but..."

Not yet!

What I long for in my deepest heart is what I fear and abhor in my deepest heart. Seriously ... not philosophically or religiously. Seriously. I would rather suffer the fires of eternal hell than to actualize what it might be like if those fires went out. It's just plain too scary, too out-of-control, too simple, too lacking in heaven and hell.

None of this is intended as a criticism. It's just a depiction of what I think actually happens in the human heart, the human life, the honest-injun places where no holy man could enter...the world in which my shoelaces break. We long for what we fear and fear what we long for ... and the whole process is reassuring in its limited nature. We claim to want what we fershur don't want at all...and we spend long hours and days making sure we don't get anywhere near attaining what we think and believe might be attained. OK -- it's just the human way, the human mind, the human heart. No biggie.

Not yet.

Not God.

Not release.

Let me snuggle down in my longings, so cozy against the cold winds.

The American civil rights leader Martin Luther King (it's OK, he's dead, no need to feel threatened or curious ... praise away!) once summed up the difficulty that is very much alive when he observed approximately that it's not what's wrong with the world that scares people; it's the fact that everything's all right that scares the pants off them.

Not yet!

Not God!

Not release!

I think the thing that offers the best chance of bringing the warring heart to rest, the thing that solves the mystery of why I may love God so dearly and yet spend so much energy steering clear of any actualization, is a practice of some sort.

A literal practice. In Zen, we sit down, fold the legs, straighten the spine, shut up, and focus the mind. Thought, word and deed are brought into this single activity ... no matter how much anyone might squirm. And isn't unification what anyone might seek? Isn't the posited God or enlightenment or Tao a unified being or essence ... even in a weaving, hopeful mind. I may be a mess, but something or someone is not like me, not fragmented, not uncertain ... but whole and complete.

And everyone knows about completeness. They know it in a sneeze. They know it in a laugh. They know it in a long run. They know it in a kiss. It's nothing special or unusual and yet there is a longing for that easy certainty as a constant presence, not something that comes and goes.

It's useful to find a practice ... and then practice it. Not just on Sundays. Not just when elevated by a delicious imagination or hope. Not just with all the usual filigree that may be placed around the objects of veneration or disgust. Practice.

Practice and a little at a time, the war in the heart is stilled. Practice and what was merely venerated becomes clear and friendly. Practice and let the weight of the world grow light ... let the weight of hopes and beliefs and fears and desolations slip away. Practice some limited and determined practice.

And just see what happens. See if there is not peace where once there was only "peace." See if there is not relief where once there was only a longing for "relief." See if there is anything limited in your limitations. Just see what happens. Stop loving to hate what you hate to love and just, well ...

Practice. Is there any end to it? Any goal to it? Any meaning to it? Any relief or lack of relief in it? Any need for dead guys, who, come to think of it, can hardly be called "dead?"

See what happens.

It's not so hard, is it?

And it's not as if "not yet" could keep anything at bay.

Stop making war when there is only peace.



  1. Oh mein gott, this is a long one. OK reading now :D

  2. Trying to buck the double-speak standard of "war is peace"? You're out of step soldier!

  3. Charlie -- I imagine that "peace is war" is more like it. But yes, I'm out of step ... it's one of the few things I do well. :)

  4. I think being out of step is called dancing, but no matter. Let the currents take you and enjoy the ride old friend.