The temptation to ignore or discount physical or emotional pain as irrelevant to my spiritual journey is enormous. Recently I found myself fuming over a slight at my office. I found out via email at week’s end that my boss had decided to promote one of my colleagues to be his deputy. All well and good except I was unhappy that he didn’t let me, as one of his senior staff members, know about this in person.
Immediately after the rush of anger and disappointment came an internal admonishment that great spiritual warriors let these kinds of hurts go. In the grand scheme of things this snub had no meaning. Turning to my spiritual training, I remembered from The Four Agreements not to take anything personally, nor to make assumptions. I opened my heart and forgave my boss, knowing that as I fumed he was blissfully unaware of my pain. I turned all of it over to God. I affirmed that it was all in Divine Order.
Three days later, as I related what happened to the guys in my men’s group, I was still pissed! Only now I felt a complete failure as a spiritual warrior. Even though I did my forgiveness work and my affirmations, I still felt hurt and humiliated. What the heck was wrong with me?
One of the guys said something that helped to me an “ah-ha” moment. He said that I had every right to feel as I did, and that all I could really do was to embrace how I was feeling and stay present with it with as little thought about it as I possibly could. Spiritual warriors do not stop being human; although we know how it turned out, Jesus’ crucifixion was nonetheless both physically and emotionally agonizing.
I remembered what I learned about the non-dual nature of existence from Ken Wilber. In his book Integral Psychology, this is what he has to say:
“That which is Form is not other that Emptiness, that which is Emptiness is not other than Form,” says the Heart Sutra, in what is perhaps the most famous formula for this eternal, sacred equation. For pure Spirit (Emptiness) and the entire manifest world (Form) have become one eternal embrace. Shankara, one of India’s great realizers, put this ultimate “transcend and include” as follows:Consciousness evolves. It evolves generally and specifically—that is to say, it has been unfolding in and as the Kosmos since the Big Bang and it is unfolding in and as me. There is no separation from this dynamic, no matter how in touch with the formless I might be through meditation and other awareness practice. After all, the body is the vehicle that carries the awareness.
The world is illusory,
Brahman alone is real,
Brahman is the world.
The World is illusory (transient, ephemeral, passing, finite, mortal), and it must be completely transcended in every way in order to find the sole reality of Spirit (Brahman). But once having completely let go of the world, and having plunged into the infinite Release of purest Spirit (unbounded, unlimited, timeless, formless reality), the finite world is then embraced and completely included in infinite Spirit, or the prefect union of manifest and unmanifest: Brahman is the world, and Nondual mysticism takes its start with just that realization of One Taste.
When I am hurt or sad, if Shankara is right, that pain and grief are not-two with the Divine. Everything that arises in consciousness is of the same substance as consciousness itself, even if in my human experience I don’t feel that to be true.
Actually, the place where I experience duality is only in the mental realm, the arena of thoughts and concepts. Rational mentation is characteristic of the Orange/Green individual egoic wave of consciousness evolution, which happens to be the center of gravity of the collective consciousness of America and much of the Advanced Sector in 2010. We naturally and unconsciously apply the assumptions of this wave to all phenomena we encounter.
But the mental realm, like the individual ego, has severe limitations in its encounter with the boundless. We cannot think our way into the timeless because conceptualization rests upon comparisons of opposites. Knowledge of one thing depends upon that with which it contrasts. We can only know “day” as the opposite of “night”; if days never ended how would we know to label it something—and why would we bother?
The same is true for every concept. How would we know the infinite if we didn’t have the finite? How would we know beauty if we didn’t also have ugliness? How would we have circles if we didn’t also have lines? The pairings are as endless as they are ubiquitous.
But notice that these pairings only have meaning in the mental realm. In the sphere of emotion or physical sensation, for instance, they have absolutely no impact. When I am sad, there is no opposite, there is only the feeling. I may think about what I am feeling and then label it “sad,” but at the level of experience the exercise of thinking and labeling is irrelevant.
The purpose of puzzles like Zen koans, which ask the mind questions that cannot be answered rationally, is to force us to let go of attachment to logic and reason in order to be liberated into an ever greater realm of knowing.
In his introduction to his translation of the Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell demonstrates how
Lao-tzu’s central figure is a man or woman whose life is in perfect harmony with the way things are. This is not at idea; it is a reality; I have seen it. The Master has mastered Nature; not in the sense of conquering it, but of becoming it. In surrendering to the Tao, in giving up all concepts, judgments, and desires, her mind has grown naturally compassionate. She finds deep in her own experience the central truths of that of living, which are paradoxical only on the surface: that the more truly solitary we are, the more compassionate we can be; the more we let go of what we love, the more present our love becomes; the clearer our insight into what is beyond good and evil, the more we can embody the good.So my commitment is to opening my mind to Presence, to embrace all that arises in consciousness with equanimity and compassion. Whatever that might be, I too am That. In the experience of the moment, I become aware of the intransience of thoughts and concepts. “Enlightenment comes,” says the American Zen teacher Adyashanti, “when I no longer believe my thoughts.”