by Carl Strang
Winter is a time when we slow down and become introspective. Sitting and staring into the fire, we ponder the big questions. If you have been following this blog, you know that the focus here is science, science that can be done simply in outdoor settings. But we are more than scientists, and science has well defined limitations that need to be understood by everyone who does science or studies its findings. This winter I am using one post per week to develop my own viewpoint and biases, in particular sharing my take on the relationship between science and spirituality. In part this defines for me what these two realms of human experience are all about, and also develops the separate methods used for inquiry in each realm. I plan to place this paragraph in front of each entry in this series, so that those who are interested only in natural history or in scientific practice can skip these posts.
The essay I have been sharing this winter originally was a conceptual piece, but a true Dreaming in the Aboriginal sense is more comprehensive than that. It includes aspects of spiritual practice or religion. My approach begins with advanced awareness techniques, as described earlier. For many years seeing purely was something I could achieve for moments at a time, but didn’t attempt to sustain. This was in contrast to wide-angle vision and listening, which I had made continuous except when distracted by moments of stress. Then, on February 5 of 2009, I was playing with imagining the location of my center of consciousness in different places. It was as though “I” was a tiny person within my body, moving to sit in different places. I found a profound difference in results when practicing awareness from a viewpoint in the center of my chest. Suddenly, maintaining pure sensory perception on a continuous basis was possible, and it was easier to see people and even artifacts purely. For a while I tried to make this practice full time, but then I found that abstract thinking, logic, calculating, and working with words could not be done very effectively from the center of the chest. I had to return to the head to do such things. It seems that this chest-centered viewpoint is best regarded as a form of ongoing meditation, and that doing it as much as possible may be a necessary step toward the goal of Oneness, but it cannot be full time, at least for me.
The most difficult aspect of this technique is not so much maintaining the Seeing Purely state, but rather staying in the present moment and focusing on my surroundings without retreat into my thoughts and dwelling on past or future. Someone with a more externally focused personality type (sensu Meyers-Briggs) might find it easier.
New conceptual insights and interpretations also emerged from this new, expanded awareness practice. For instance, Benjamin Hoff, in The Tao of Pooh, translates the concept of P’u as “the Uncarved Block.” In his words, “So from ‘tree in a thicket’ or ‘wood not cut’ comes the meaning of ‘things in their natural state’ — what is generally represented in English versions of Taoist writing as the ‘uncarved block.’” I suspect that this may in fact be a reference to the experience of Seeing Purely a deciduous tree or a group of them in winter. The easiest things to see purely on a continuous basis are the masses of trees and bushes. One senses the vitality of all those reaching branches and twigs. If I’m right in this, it’s a mistake to replace this with the static image of a chunk of wood.
The next step came during a walk at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve on February 16, 2009. Having established the Uncarved Block/Seeing Purely meditation, I increased my focus on the surroundings, diminishing the ego and shutting out internal music and other self-conversation. This allowed an increase in the scope of what I was absorbing. Furthermore, I found that the sounds of my own footsteps were no longer connected to me exclusively. I was hearing them, but no longer recognizing them as mine. I had become a part of the whole, with my body now only a small part of me, and those footsteps, the sounds of them, were as removed from me as the trees I was viewing or, rather, all were equally a part of me. It was a sound of something moving within the whole. I was a center for receiving information, reflecting sensory impressions of all, indiscriminately. This I recognize as a baby step toward Stalking Wolf’s ability, described by Tom Brown (The Vision, pp. 56-58), to detect what had happened with two rabbit traps set several miles away. The Lipan Apache elder explained his correct narration of what happened at those traps, as it happened, by saying, “If a rabbit moved upon your back, could you not feel it?”
Another outcome of the Waterfall Glen experience was the realization that the closest way to God is inside, not through some intervening medium, because there is no such thing. We think there is because we live our daily lives at the separate-whitecap level. Rather, connecting to God and to the whole of Spirit is possible only through our direct spiritual connection within ourselves. If we are each at the center of the Universe there is no “up” (physically speaking). Therefore the closest way to God is within (spiritually speaking). I had the sensation of being a viewpoint of God when I allowed my ego to diminish while growing the heart center. The body is a peephole for Spirit into the physical world. That heart center became revealed as the extension of God into me. I had forgotten that there is no separation. I am part of God, and the best connection to that is through that center. So the next stage appears to be growing that sense of connection while diminishing the ego: how far can that be taken, and how long can it be held?
In a significant moment a few weeks after the Waterfall Glen experience, I became aware that I had developed an image of what was in the center of my chest as being contained, confined in a bounded space the shape of a medicinal capsule, but larger, the size of my fist or a little larger, but fronting something much greater. Shortly after I realized that I was holding that image, it became transformed during a prayer. The containment dissolved away, and since then when I have looked to that place the replacing image is not bounded. Sometimes it is like a star. It has energy, feels like a connection, but is generally quiescent. It seems to have the potential to be warmth, or light that could be a dull red or blindingly bright white, or to be my end of an umbilicus to Spirit like a communicating connection, or even to vanish and become a hole or even the Void. Alternatively, sometimes I have held the image of my chest filled with variously colored flowers. At such times, I am supersensitive to color in my surroundings. I have felt that for now, I am just to get used to the change. Perhaps at some point I will feel directed to work with it and try to bring out some of these qualities further. I sense that this is my true center.
I also have sought a more appropriate way to understand prayer and meditation (speaking and listening), including gut feeling, intuition, and experiences of love and beauty. How is communication possible in the physical world? We have media of communication appropriate to the physical world, possible because here we are indeed provisional separate entities. Communication with one another spiritually is trickier, because it has to take place through the timeless medium of undifferentiated Spirit. Again it is accomplished in the same form as prayer and meditation, coming in the form of visual metaphor, intuition, etc. In regarding other entities, nonhuman as well as human, Namaste is key. Prayer is attending and maintaining one’s consciousness of connection to that network of ties, that projection of the Universe inside the self.
I now define prayer as the process of reaching through our God-connected, spiritual selves to express gratitude for what has been, to find calm certainty about the good that we are, and to seek inspiration and guidance for future direction. Such direction comes through the various forms of intuition, resonating with emotional and intellectual certainty.
The idea of seeking oneness is a worthwhile goal, expanding on the notion of self that goes beyond the individual person to the entire universe, exploring that connection. So, what kinds of eternal moments do I want to co-create in my experience, thoughts and actions? Through them, what kind of universe do I want to co-create? This kind of thinking is what leads to an emphasis on healing among spiritual people. It points away from anger, fear and other emotional qualities based on overemphasis on the separate individual. Fear also focuses on the future and past rather than the present eternal moment.
It’s incorrect to go too far in either direction, the ascetic denial of physical experience or ignoring the call from our spiritual side, because in this life we may have our only opportunity to do either. It seems wrong to deny our existence in the physical world, and also to ignore the broader metaphysical part of our selves. Balance. The common factor in both is love.
Rumi encourages us to “submit to a daily practice. Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door. Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there.” Also, fake it until you make it: “God accepts counterfeit money as though it were real!” Even negative feelings can be helpful: “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival! A joy, a depression, a meanness…Welcome and attend them all!…Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”