The Principal Cause of Ignorance

The Principal Cause of Ignorance

So we wish to speak about the principal cause of ignorance. When there is a system like the human being, one or more parts of the system can appear to rule, and might actually rule the whole system. This is easy to see with things like emotions, where the emotion can become so intense that it overrules thought or intuition or even the ability to sense something in the surroundings like smell or taste or touch. But the intellect can also rule all of the systems. 

The Purpose of Meditation

The Purpose of Meditation

Articles about the benefits of meditation appear frequently in a variety of news services and magazines. The benefits include a decrease in anxiety, a greater ability to focus, and happiness. One article I read recently talked about how meditation was used in a school to create a quiet time. Students were scored on various behaviors, they were graded, and different classes competed with each other for trophies.

The Immovable Me

[A sermon delivered at Arlington Community Church in Kensington, CA on October 18, 2015]

I have a part of me I call the Immovable Me. The Immovable Me emerges when I feel the need to be right about something. This “being right” can cover a wide range of situations. I don't think I need to give you any examples here because all of you know what it is like to be around someone that “knows everything” or has “experience” and they talk with a certain kind of assurance that might start out as authoritative, but soon becomes overbearing.

The immovable part of me uses whatever it needs in the moment, so the story can change or different facts can be emphasized or de-emphasized, or even ignored if necessary. It is the desire and attachment to “being right" that is immovable. Are you with me?

This Immovable Me resists change or persuasion and is not capable of being moved emotionally. When I am in this mode I might think I am being consistent, strong and principled. Unfortunately it usually comes across as condescending, arrogant, and self-righteous.

There are lots of consequences of this kind of behavior. For instance, “being right” often does not recognize the validity of another person's experience. There is no curiosity about why another person might believe what they believe to be true. There is no true empathy—remember that part about not being moved emotionally? The Immovable Me chooses to forget or hasn't had the kind of human experience that recognizes suffering.

The person that is always right rarely gets an honest answer from an introvert or someone that doesn't like to debate the issues. He never sees the vulnerable side of another person because they fear him and don't trust him with their feelings.

There is another part of this Immovable Me that is also important to understand. This Immovable Me, left in place for a long time, develops a story that protects this self-image of being “right.” I know I am not alone in this. All I have to do is look at the news and I can see lots of politicians, businessmen, educators, and leaders that want to be right; they are sure they are right and they can craft a convincing story to prove to you they are right. The more we get invested in these stories the harder it is for us to change. We deny our effect on the environment, we deny our role in injustice, we blame those with a different story for causing problems with the story we want to perpetuate out of self-interest. We sometimes even call this story of self-interest the truth.

But even beyond these problems, this attachment to “being right,” is a difficult spiritual problem.  Over time, as this internal process goes on, we lose touch with our identity; we lose touch with our essence as a human being. To keep the story going we eventually have to perpetuate a lot of denial. We deny other people’s feelings, their experiences, and we deny our own feelings. All of these denials eventually become a denial of our essence and our purpose as human beings.

In 2003 I had an experience that psychologists would describe as a form of spiritual emergence; a transpersonal experience. I involuntarily went into an unconscious state. Stelli was with me. During the time I was unconscious I started speaking. I didn't know this, Stelli had to tell me. Later I entered into this unconscious state during meditation. I didn't always know when it would happen. Even later I developed the ability to enter this state of consciousness intentionally. Stelli started recording the things I said during these sessions that we call “the readings.” The readings have provided me with information on stages of spiritual growth, the life of Jesus, meditation, different levels of spiritual consciousness, and dreams.

To say that I never saw something like this happening to me just does not say enough. You can imagine trying to integrate this Immovable Me who wants to “be right” with these experiences. How can I say what I think is “right” if I am unconscious and I don't know what is going to come out of my mouth? I became very adept at refusing to acknowledge what was happening to me. I used denial, I avoided talking about it by explaining it or rationalizing it in different ways, I even used a kind of faux acceptance by pretending that I understood it to avoid coming to terms with what it meant.

This is why the text from the 18th chapter of the Gospel of John is so important to me. Think about the story that unfolded. There are so many people around Jesus that “need to be right.”

There is Judas who betrays Jesus. What story did he tell himself in order to believe in what he did? Peter denies Jesus three times. The Jesus that Peter sees after his arrest is suddenly very human, very vulnerable, and living out his life in a way that Peter cannot imagine. Jesus’ confrontation of authority has taken on an entirely tone. Jesus is not the person Peter thought him to be and perhaps he denies this “new” Jesus because he now sees a side of Jesus he does not recognize. He wants to hold on to the previous story he believed to be true about a god-like man with incredible power. I sometimes wonder if Peter was telling the truth from where he stood. Only later, after everything unfolded before him was he able to understand that the story he told himself about Jesus was wrong. His regret might come from his fear and lack of loyalty to Jesus—those are certainly the most often expressed reasons—but I have often thought that he had to question himself about what he really believed about the events of his life during those years with Jesus.

Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responds by asking who told him to ask this question. Jesus functions like a mirror, reflecting back to Pilate Pilate's own process. Jesus will not be defined in ordinary ways. He says something very interesting: “For this . . .” Now lots of interpreters of the New Testament believe Jesus is referring to his reign as the Son of God, the Messiah, and as the King of the Jews. But he has already dismissed these as the statements of others. So when he says “For this . . .” he means by that what he is about to say: “For this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” This is an interesting and very powerful statement of his purpose.

Jesus understands his own essence, the essential part of all human beings. This essence, God, God’s being and presence, these together are the central fact of his life. He is not willing to deny this fact.

This way that Jesus shows us in this moment, standing before Pilate, expresses how important it is for us to be true to those most essential parts of our being, to the central “facts” of our lives, no matter what they are, whether we asked for them or not.

Just think for a moment about what it means to deny a central fact of your life, or for another person to deny a key part of your identity. Either way, when we deny ourselves or when others deny us, a part of us is marginalized. Think of the amount of denial and marginalization that occurs due to skin color, or sexual orientation, or gender, or religious heritage, or body type, or because we drew a line in the sand, made it a border, and use it to keep people apart. This eventually leads to us denying our humanity; we deny what it means to be a human being. We deny the suffering around us and we lose our ability to have empathy. Eventually, if we take more steps in this direction, we learn to justify violent behavior that inflicts suffering on others and we don’t see the moral implication of the oppression, subjugation or enslavement of other human beings that support our “way of life.” We lose the possibilities and opportunities to love each other and to be loved for our unique qualities, for our gifts, for our way of seeing the world. This denial gradually shuts down our curiosity and appreciation for things that enrich our lives and we lose the ability to learn new ways to experience love.

It has taken me awhile to accept this gift of channeling, but it is now the central fact of my spiritual life. I cannot say that it is a gift without difficulty, but I understand it better with time. I have had to set aside the desire to “be right.” I have to work to not get caught up in stories that protect my self-image or that protected a false understanding of myself. I have to be open and accepting in every moment, trusting that in every moment, what comes through me will be a gift. I’ve learned to appreciate that I don’t own the truth; the truth is something that owns me. 

Putting the Science of Meditation into a Spiritual Perspective

In my last post I referred readers to the Psychology Today web site where Rebecca Gladding, M.D., author of “This Is Your Mind On Meditation” does a nice job explaining the science of how the mind responds to meditation in a relatively short article. She takes on a very complex subject, but in a short article important information gets left out. The key information in her article is how the self-assessment function of our brain, when strengthened through meditation, helps us to respond with compassion and empathy for others who are not like us. A reader posted a question, “What about those who typically fail to think about themselves, but can empathize with others, and are, in general, more concerned about others than self? Will the meditation harm them?” The question, referring to this movement toward compassion and empathy, seems to ask if the “direction of change” during meditation is one-way. Dr. Gladding responds by referring to a previous post on the Psychology Today site, “Is Compassion For Suckers?” Dr. Gladding describes compassion as “…concerned with understanding someone’s situation, being present for them, loving them and wishing for things to be different…compassion is other-focused. It is not about us or what we need.” She goes on to say that compassion for others must be balanced by compassion for oneself and having appropriate boundaries. Without self-compassion and appropriate boundaries we are susceptible to being abused and taken advantage of by others. We can give so much of ourselves that we end up exhausted, without resources, and unable to continue providing help.

Dr. Gladding’s articles provide valuable insight, but there is more to understand about how meditation functions and how the mind contributes to our well being, especially from a spiritual perspective. Let’s sort through the issues.

One of the most important results of meditation is perspective. Meditation helps us to see other people and the world around us for what they are. We should not place intention or motivation in places—like inside another person—when we do not have knowledge of their inner condition. This perspective includes the ability to see oneself truthfully. In other words, a better understanding of truth is an important result of meditation. In understanding these principles of perspective and truth, we understand that the self-assessment function enhanced by meditation that Dr. Gladding describes is not one way. That is, something is wrong if meditation leads us to use compassion and empathy in a way that could harm us as the giver. Meditation will eventually reveal self-destructive behavior because it moves us in the direction of truth, the direction of seeing clearly. The spiritual corollary of this is found in Jesus responding to the question about the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). To love God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul is also to love the truth. We find that in the Oneness of God love and truth are joined together and cannot be separated. What we might identify as love without truth is not love. Without truth we confuse obsession, infatuation, physical sensations, and other forms of selfishness with love.

Understanding why we are in relation to others helps us work through the dynamics she is describing. We are in a mutual relationship with God, where God, through the world in which we live, provides us with everything we need physically and spiritually. Again, taking note of what Jesus taught in Matthew 25 and John 14, our relationship with others is a reflection of our relationship to God. There is a synergy that Jesus is describing. Here are all the related components:

-Love and truth are joined together and are part of the Oneness of God.

-What is true for us is true for every human being: God is within us and we are within God.

-Having love for Truth, love for God, love for others, love for oneself— are all related, like mirror images of each other.

This world functions synergistically when everything is in the proper balance. If we lose truth, our love loses perspective. If we love others, but not ourselves, we deny God as the source of all life and love because we deny ourselves. If we love only ourselves and not others, again, we deny God.

Meditation helps us gain perspective, it helps us acknowledge our wholeness in God, it functions to restore balance. Compassion and empathy keep us functioning well in our relationships—love and truth energizes this vast network of mutuality in which we exist. Our relationships are like mirrors that reflect back to us the information that tells us when we are in balance and when we are out of balance. Giving and receiving become acts of restoring balance. We experience this balance, or lack of balance, through the absence or presence of suffering in our lives. When we are selfish, or unnecessarily generous (both are an imbalance of giving and receiving) we suffer because the process of mutuality is violated, our wholeness is temporarily unacknowledged. We are nourished by life, nourished by giving, restored by love, transformed by truth. Suffering is essential because it is the clue that our network of mutuality is out of balance. To repeat: Meditation helps us gain perspective, it helps us acknowledge our wholeness in God, and it functions to restore balance.