In spiritual literature, one of the reoccurring themes is the duality of the self and the eternal, or the possibility of that which is beyond the self. The higher self/lower self, big mind/little mind, ego/ego-less, form/formless, man/god, etc. Often what drives us into the spiritual exploration is when the material world, the human world fails us. Leaves us empty somehow, usually in the face of overbearing pain. When the life we have built ourselves into is delightful, where would the inspiration to go beyond it come from? But when aspects of that life begin to change, to fall apart, do we find the inspiration to ask the deeper questions of the world and ourselves. I wouldn't assume that everyone reaches this point somewhere along the line, but living in a modern world that does not supply the education of the underlying truth of the world and our existence, and antithetically indoctrinates a convention of living that misleads in relation to it, it is inevitable to the extent that the vast majority will suffer at some point as the result of this displacement. I feel typical as an American in this way of my upbringing, looking back how the typical ideas resulting from institutional education, as well as media, peers, family, and so on led to this conditioning that was the influence in me reaching the point of experiencing the pain, the emptiness of a world that I believed in, only to abandon these beliefs and begin to ask those deeper questions. Though I have spent the imbalanced major portion of my life experience in the material/human realm, it is in the spiritual realm that I am finding the fulfillment of what I was desiring in all the relations within forms in the material world that always left me feeling short in the end. The spiritual realm is a complete paradox. I feel this paradox is the reflection of being caught between these two realms. The spiritual world is highly personal, yet not personal at all for example. In the spiritual relation to reality, the awareness seeing past the walls of 'the self', compassion arrives in how one sees the world as they see themselves. Unity. Causing harm to another is realized as the reality of causing harm to one's self, and benefiting another is the mirror to benefiting one's self. Yet how contradictory is this to the world we live in. Such ideas are viewed as rhetoric, impractical, naive. And so the impersonal relation to living, becomes personal how one must more or less keep it to themselves. The nature of the cultural conditioning is one of self servitude. Work towards building a life for you and yours, separate from everyone else. The world becomes a series of divides and the challenge becomes in the maintenance of them all. In this world we are like schizophrenics that wear a personalized mask for the variety of relationships in our lives. How can we ever know who we really are with such obligations? And when one begins to challenge the self, does a unique experience like no other begin to take place. The self, with its habits, routines, compulsions, coping, ignorance, arrogance, delusions…. When making even the smallest shifts in one's life such as abstaining from caffeine, alcohol, sex, or any other vice that one holds habitual value towards is removed, how the discomfort follows. And it is here in that bridge begins to appear in the experience to walk thru the withdrawal of the self and see what lay beyond it. No easy task. And again, to the rational mind this seems pointless, absurd perhaps, and when life is good what drive is there to do such. But when the pain that fills the self becomes overbearing, the only option left is to let go. Let go of the pain body of the self that we have identified with so completely. And in this pain, if we still not feel the inspiration to work with it until it reaches that climax of intensity later on, still the potential never leaves us somewhere inside that we may arrive at the deeper drive of ourselves that we look for in all the wrong places that bring this pain to us. And when we do begin to work with the 'negativity' of our lives, we find ourselves beginning to work with ourselves and the world we live in. I don't see how there can be any higher achievement than this. The person that has reached this, has gained themselves and the world, and sits in it like a king/queen on a throne with a genuine smile of contentment that is the result of the deepest hearts center breathing life to the external world of forms. This is not the appearance, or the idea of success, it is the existing expression of it radiated thru a transparent wall of flesh.
Today marks a week for myself of having gone thru a minor fast, cleanse, and abstaining from alcohol, caffeine, sex. I experience the strength, clarity, value derived from such a practice in working with one's self in this way. The trick is of course to maintain these qualities as a lifestyle. That part I am still at odds with. Though I experience the invaluable nature of profound experience in living in such a way, still there is that aspect within that exists in wanting to feed itself in all the lusciousness that the world's industrial landscape aggressively supplies. Marcus Aurelius stated that the path of life's contentment is simple, in that it is a matter of drawing a line from end to end and simply not deviating from it… but how we can't help ourselves from deviating. I begin to understand more and more the monastic life. It takes such strength to strip one's self down to their nature, and to live in the world that doesn't relate to this existence. I heard a crowd participant in a dharma talk ask why buddhists monks shave their heads and wear the golden robe. The monks reply was that it was a reminder. A reminder of the line and to not deviate from it.
At different chapters in my life, when I was searching for answers, many of these arrived thru the literature of great thinkers. When I was searching for meaning in my life I came across Viktor Frankl, the creator of logotherapy that aims at assisting the individual in realizing his/her own life purpose so as to live a life of meaning. When I was questioning the process of my artistic practice, I was obsessed with Mihaly Csikszentmihaly's "The Flow", where as a professional of psychological studies, he created a formula for happiness that was embedded in the process of any activity. And so here, I am searching for answers in living as a devotee towards the spiritual aspect of existence, while simulatneously existing in a world that is void of any nurturing or communion with this realm. So here I find the writings of Thomas Merton. A figure who devoted his life to spirituality, and though was a devoted member of the Catholic Church, his devotion went beyond any form of religious dogma that challenged this devotion. He was one of the forerunners of his tradition in developing relations with Buddhism, Taoism, HInduism, etc, seeing parallels in the nature of the spiritual wisdom that was not bound by any single religion. I am finding inspiration in his devotion to his unshaken certainty of the spirit that his him openly speaking from the heart of for example the spiritual self and the modern world, among other things, that are so relevant to anyone with parallels of anything I have described in my own exploration in this blog writing. To Thomas Merton January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968. Rest in natural great peace brother. The following words are written into the drawing, and are an excerpt from his book "Love and Living", which further describe the inspiration of which I speak in relation to the spirit and the culture. Enjoy
"Spiritual nakedness, without masks, is far too stark to be useful. It strips life down to the root where life and death are equal, and this is what nobody likes to look at. But it is where freedom really begins: the freedom than cannot be guaranteed by the death of somebody else. The point where you become free not to kill, not to exploit, not to destroy, not to compete, because you are no longer afraid of death or the devil or poverty or failure. If you discover this nakedness, you'd better keep it private. People don't look. But can you keep it private? Once you are exposed… Society continues to do you the service of keeping you in disguises, not for your comfort, but its own.
This realization of the true self at the apex is a coincidence of all opposites, a fusion of freedom and unfreedom, being and unseeing, life and death, self and non-self, man and God.
The danger of education, I have found, is that it so easily confuses means with ends. Worse than that, it quite easily forgets both and devotes itself merely to the mass production of uneducated graduates- people literally unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and completely artificial charade which they and their contemporaries have conspired to call "life"… If I had a message to my contemporaries, it was surely this: Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success… What I am saying is this: the score is not what matters. Life does not have to be regarded as a game in which scores are kept and somebody wins. If you are too intent on winning, you will never enjoy playing. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted. "