Doctor My Eyes

Donald Trump is not our problem in America.  He is not the disease, although he is certainly a very troublesome symptom.  Electoral politics and the dash to polarization are not the problem, nor the antiquated function of the electoral college, not to deny that a few systemic tweaks might provide some small relief from our indigestion and pain.

Our problem is our eyes.  It’s literally that we have chosen and clung to a very limited vision, an illusion that we believe to be complete and real.  Whether we quake in fear and despair, watching blue states tumble to red and making frantic calls to legislators who seem deaf to voices without dollars.  Whether we fulminate from the brilliant ivory tower of The New York Times.  Whether we are certain that the immigrant other, seasoned with a dash of moral decline, is undermining our safety and the foundation of our American values.  Whether we shake our snarling 4×4 fist as big government swallows the last guppy in our hard-earned and well-deserved Mar-a-Lago koi pond.  Whatever our fear and angst, we are all, for the most part, just looking through the eyes of our chosen limitation.

And that’s just it, the eyes of fear and angst.  The thing that binds us together, the foundational truth of America today is eyes that see only my shrinking piece of American pie.

Jackson Browne laments:

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand*

Doctor, my eyes.  They see the hurt, petulant little boy spinning like a pulsar between his black hole need for adulation and his fits of distemper when we are unwilling or unable to pacify him.  But he is our little boy, and we put him in charge.  We must accept full responsibility.

Noble democracy, precious concept, is not our elixir.  Today it is our exfoliant.  It reveals the perilously thin skin of our fear, our polarization, our sorrow and longing, our greed, our corporate angst.

‘Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams*

From the Gospel of Thomas saying 22 or Gospel of Mary Magdalene 30:12, these confounding words are essentially the same:

When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will gain the Kingdom.

“When you make . . .” my, your, our making.  When we make our eyes something other than the eyes of our personal fear.  When we rebirth our limited sight with the panorama of the kingdom of the spirit, we see a different world.  It is not an American world, a Russian world, a Christian or Muslim world.

When we make these eyes, we might see the hurting little boy just as he is and take care of him.  Certainly we would protect him from the inappropriate terror, his and ours, of placing him in the most powerful political position in the world.

We might also see the broken dreams of the working class and the hopes of the refugee and immigrant, with or without papers.  Perhaps we would see through the paper money walls of our financial skyscrapers and over the bulwarks of our gated communities.  Maybe we would see that these gates, these flimsy walls, are built by and rest on the shoulders of the formerly invisible and now despised.  And we would have compassion for the hunger and fear of every being across this entire spectrum of humanity.

We might see that promoting hollow entertainment all the way to the doorstep of our nearly abandoned White House does not make for good governance.  We might comprehend that the illusionists of “reality TV” can never transform petulance into POTUS.  We might notice that fanning the flames of polarization to sell media ultimately burns away the bonds of healthy community.

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it’s too late for me*

Good news.  The doctor is in.  She’s got our eyes.  They are truly ours.  We can make them new.  We can use them to see a world without borders.  We can peer with them into the heart of each and see the need of all.  But let’s not stop there.

Let’s look up and down, left and right, in and out.  Take in the beauty beyond imagining, the world as it is without the borders of our old eyes.  Absorb the wonders of the created and the unfolding.  Rest in the assurance of a shared enough.

May our true eyes light the path of compassionate action with no attachments.  Perhaps in this way, we will pick up and wield the tool of democracy with better respect and to greater effect.

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development, Estes Park, Colorado.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

*Doctor My Eyes, Jackson Browne.   • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

The Super Bowl, Election 2016 and God in America

It was a whizz-bang week – the final presidential candidate debates before the New Hampshire primary capped off by the 50th Super Bowl.  God bless America, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Beyoncé and certainly Peyton Manning.  And fighter jets.  And the pyrotechnics.  And Wilson.  And Hyundai.  And CBS.  And the pill that remedies various colon related issues that prevent us from success in our daily conquest.

The Western Christian narrative of God and humanity has been one of separation and not connection, a fierce, frantic and fearful individualism.  A whole host of problems arise with this.  First, there is the underlying sense of alienation and isolation, resulting in chronic anxiety and uncertainty.  We are never quite sure, short of less than satisfying dogmatic formulas, whether we are safe or not.  Am I forgiven – enough?  Am I saved?  Is it really possible that God hears me when I pray?  How can I get that right and be sure?  Is there even God?

The flip side of the uncertainty is vain over-confidence.  I am all-powerful.  I can do anything.  The world is my playground.  You just don’t get it.  Get out of my way.  Stupid you if you don’t have enough.

Oscillating between these two poles, we exhaust ourselves.  The existential angst is never relieved, the material satiation is never enough, the domination is never complete.  We are a sometimes weary people in need of greater and greater assurance, no matter how shallow or hollow the language, no matter how sensational the show.

There are those that would say this separation, this individualism, is exactly the triumph of the West – that our belief in the power of the individual and the application of that belief in the material realm have created all that is good in the world.  We have imposed order on chaos, driven out superstition with real medicine, turned raw materials into comfort and pleasure and, through accumulation of wealth transformed into overwhelming force, assured the safety of humanity.

Certainly much that is good has been accomplished.

But back on the panic side of our void, our concept of prayer remains characterized alternately by begging or claiming – as if we are constantly but inadequately grasping at something that is not quite ours.  We need demonstrable proof, sure results.  The tornado lifted when it came to my house.  Or it didn’t because I didn’t pray hard enough.  Superstorms and terrorist threats are God’s judgment on “the gay lifestyle.”  We dash about and shout our certain proclamations.  And we allocate more money to put a material or military patch on the mess to keep it all from falling apart.

Presidential politics in 2016 reflects the fever pitch of our bifurcated anxiety.  It’s as if the deep underlying infection of isolation and desperation is finally forming a boil, a small and intense festering that burns under the thinnest layer of decaying skin, ready to burst.

The infection is spiritual.  It is not religious.  It is not political.  It is not tied to one economic system or another.  One candidate epitomizes the bluster and desperation.  And only one comes close to naming the underlying spiritual vacuum and disconnect that rules our discontent – the fire that drives our fever toward the threshold between morbidity and mortality.  When Senator Sanders pulls back the curtain masking unfettered greed, he touches, without fully naming, our great hunger and despair.

I am not suggesting at all a vote of any sort.  No party, candidate or election can salve the infection of our soul.  Nor am I recommending that we shut off the Super Bowl.  But I am inviting us to see, to understand, to absorb and to embrace the nature of the illness.  And I am suggesting we can cure it with a change of orientation.

It is our isolation that fuels our insatiable hunger.  And it is our underlying narrative of separation that walls us off from the deep satisfaction and power of existence.  Believing conquest and satiation to be the elixirs of at least happiness, if not eternal life, we drive pedal to the metal toward the brink of extinction.

There is a different way, a different orientation, a different direction in which to look.  The forest sages of ancient India captured it so clearly in the Upanishads.  Through the practice of stilling the mind and quiet observation, these sages document a Self, immanent and transcendent, that is the loving essence of each one and every thing.  It is as if the flashing stream of still pictures that create the illusion of motion has been stilled, and the space between revealed to be something entirely other, a space without fear, a limitless expanse of satisfaction and creative bliss, a place beyond need or desperate grasping.

No matter what or how much it consumes, the separate ego is never satisfied.  And our belief that we are disconnected beings in a world we increasingly understand as only material, accelerates us exponentially toward exhaustion and annihilation on the wings of glittering despair.

Mastery of our lust comes from understanding and turning away from isolation and toward connection, away from insatiability and toward satisfaction.  It comes from abandoning fear in favor of trust, and willful grasping in favor of willing service.

And, ultimately, it comes from embracing our true Self, the Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source that is the light, the eternal energy and limitless love we begin to glimpse between the moving frames of our desperation.  We are not separate and fallen.  We only blind ourselves with the fear born of our limited consciousness and chosen view.  We are Spirit, experiencing the material.  Touch without owning, look without lusting, enjoy without hording.  There is enough.  Our greatness already is and has no vital connection to anything at all in the halftime show or ads or victor yet to come in Super Bowl 51, no critical dependence on the outcome of election 2016.

Embrace it under the Tree of Life.

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

It’s Not Always Clear

It’s not always clear, the path forward.  Our vision is limited.  There are far too many factors to weigh.  Feelings are a roller coaster ride from day-to-day, and then there is the vast unknown.  If I go left, will I be right?  If I go right, am I wrong and left behind?  Could‘a, would‘a, should‘a are crying from the back seat and the whole trip begins to seem like a sham.

“Home, James, and don’t spare the horses!”  (Fred Hillebrand, 1932)  We walk by faith, not by sight (Paul, 2 Corinthians 5: 7).  Fear and misgivings are the roadblock, the isolated ego cowering in the corner.

In the three worlds,
there is nothing I must do,
nothing unattained to be attained,
yet I engage in action.

What if I did not engage
relentlessly in action?
[Humans] retrace my path
at every turn, Arjuna.

As the ignorant act with attachment
to actions, Arjuna,
so wise [folk] should act with detachment
to preserve the world.

(Krishna to the wilting Arjuna in The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War, The Third Teaching:  Discipline of Action; 22-24, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, Bantam Classic Edition, 1986)

Creation is the path forward.  Something from nothing.  Or something new, something that has never been, as the next step from all that is.  Beautiful, joyful.  There is no wrong path in faith, there is only the next step of creation on the road ahead.

Faith, by nature, is blind.  It is not ignorant.  Faith is based on the experience of goodness and beauty that result when we act while resting in the Spirit of all that is.  Even God, I think, has no idea what is going to happen next.  Let’s take a step and see!

What matters is not where we are walking to, but where we are walking from.  If we are walking from a place of fear and defense, our steps will falter and creation suffers.  If our steps are from a place of joy, kindness and compassion, the beauty of the universe unfolds with us, just far enough ahead to meet our foot as it greets the path of creation.

When we are attached to what we think is/will be the outcome of our action, we falter.  We have no idea of any outcomes.  Or if we do have that idea, we fool ourselves.  We can never know all the implications before we act, or the outcome of a different course.

Home, James, and don’t spare the horses!  Home to the Tree of Life.  Create with joy.  Create with kindness.  Create with compassion.  Put the paintbrush to the canvas, in faith, and see.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

The Authoritative Word

Authoritative is a word often used in reference to scripture.  It implies a superior truth.  Paul claimed that his vision of Jesus, his gospel, was superior to and superseded the Torah of Moses, which he viewed as a temporary or even flawed fix of the human condition and our relationship to the divine.  Muslims claim that the book – the Koran – received by the prophet Mohammed is a more perfect revelation of the word of Allah.  Latter Day Saints claim that the books revealed to Joseph Smith are a more current gospel.

The natural result of any claim to exclusive authority is division and strife.  All are required to make clear cut, dualistic, judging statements of acceptance or rejection.  The response and action of those who decide in favor of a given authoritative word ranges from benign tolerance, to active proselytization, to violent vengeance and retribution.

Christians in the United States busy themselves with bloodying each other and the society around them with special authoritative words for or against select issues of morality.  Islamic fundamentalists feel righteous zeal and justification, based on their authoritative word, in delivering death to the infidel.  The West responds with “justified” violence.  Latter Day Saints take their authoritative word, two-by-two, from door to door.  Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to get by with just one carrier.

I believe – I know in my heart of hearts – that the Authoritative Word is, indeed, one.  It’s just not this one or that one.  The Authoritative Word is beyond the limitations of language.  It is bigger than any single revelation.  It is greater than any set of rules or code of ethics.  It includes all scriptures.  It is none of them.  It is read on all pages, but seen only in blindness.  It is heard by the ear, but known truly in silence.

In essence, the Authoritative Word is.  It manifests in creation and evolution.  It is glimpsed in beauty, felt in kindness, spoken in healing and known intimately in the depths of the heart.  It does not judge and is not judged.  It is not born and never dies.  Found in book, in song, in story, it is none of and beyond all of those things.

All our scriptures exist within the limits of our bodily manifestation.  They are temporary touches and glimpses of the eternal reality, as are the bodily manifestations inhabited by you and me.

When we claim any manifestation as completely and exclusively authoritative, we stay stuck under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We judge and are judged.  We participate in aggression and defense.  We find ourselves threatened by the enemy or deluded by a false sense of security.

Be still.  Be still and know.  See all, hear all, experience all.  Judge none.  Encounter the Authoritative Word.  Be the timeless, Authoritative Word that you are, through and beyond manifestation, under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

Second Birth: The Upanishads, Jesus and the Journey to Self

Recall that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is a metaphor for the first awakening of human awareness: the ability to perceive a discreet self; the ability and propensity to judge phenomena as good or bad, depending on how we think we are affected; the ability to contemplate life, death and the nature of the universe.  It is, in short, the realization of ego.  In its immature form, the ego only perceives separation and vulnerability, and the response is fear along with a desperate grasping for protection at any cost.

The metaphorical Tree of Life represents a maturation of awareness.  It is achievement of a stage of realization that recognizes the interconnectedness and spiritual nature of life and all that is.  We are no longer just isolated selves, dependent solely on our ability to protect our body and our fragile ego.  We achieve a realization that we are part of something larger, something that transcends time, space and physical manifestation.  We are, in fact, living sparks of the very mind of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, breathed full of the breath of life, the creative thrill of the universe.

The garden trees themselves are, in reality, only one.  They simply represent the manifestation of all that is, the complete creative activity of C/S/M/S.  They are the source and stuff of life, the universe and everything (appreciation and apologies to Douglas Adams).  The two trees are not distinguished by their unique and independent natures.  Rather, they are distinguished only by how we view them.  Their names – Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or Tree of Life – are just indicators of the level of our own spiritual maturity.  Have we grown to a level of trust and comfort with our place in the universe, a place of willingness to give and to receive without fear or grasping?  Do we trust that there is “that” of us that transcends birth and death, space and time?  Or do we see only as much as we can through the blinders of separation and scarcity, good and bad, physical life and death?

The journey from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life is, in reality, the journey from small “s” self to capital “S” Self.  Nowhere is that journey presented with more clarity than in the Upanishads, wisdom teachings attached to the Hindu Vedas that grew out of the merger of the Indo-European speaking Aryan culture and the resident culture of the Indus Valley.  This merger of cultures is believed to have happened about 4,000 years ago, placing the Vedas among, if not distinguishing them definitively as the earliest of what we would call scriptures.

The relevance for those of us in the West, particularly as we move away from a spirituality based on original sin and redemption through blood sacrifice, is tremendous.  Here are writings, among the earliest on spiritual reflection and experience, that discover and declare the difference between these two different levels of spiritual maturity.  There is no presentation or burden of guilt, just recognition that we are born into small “s” self and that our task in life is to grow, to mature to capital “S” Self, our connection with and existence in timeless being.

We are, in truest essence, born again when we make this move between the two trees, the journey from disconnected ego to connected essential being.  We achieve this step, our second birth, through renunciation of attachment to the senses – the mindless drive to chase what we think is pleasure and safety and to run from what we perceive as danger and pain.  Renunciation is not separation or disengagement from these life experiences.  Rather, it is to live them fully without attachment, without being driven and governed by them, recognizing their passing existence as opposed to our eternal being.

From the Isha Upanishad*:

6 Those who see all creatures in themselves
And themselves in all creatures know no fear.
7Those who see all creatures in themselves
And themselves in all creatures know no grief.
How can the multiplicity of life
Delude the one who sees its unity?

8The Self is everywhere.  Bright is the Self,
Indivisible, untouched by sin, wise,
Immanent and transcendent.  He it is
Who beholds the cosmos together.

From the Katha Upanishad*:

Part I [3] 15The supreme Self is beyond name and form,
Beyond the senses, inexhaustible,
Without beginning, without end, beyond
Time, space, and causality, eternal,
Immutable.  Those who realize the Self
Are forever free from the jaws of death.

Part II [1] 2The immature run after sense pleasures
And fall into the widespread net of death.
But the wise, knowing the Self as deathless,
Seek not the changeless in the world of change.
3That through which one enjoys form, taste, smell, sound,
Touch, and sexual union is the Self.
Can there be anything not known to That
Who is the One in all?  Know One, know all.

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3: 3, NRSV).  This is indeed second birth, to renounce the fear and slavery of small “s” self, and to engage our true Self, at peace, at one with all there is.  Experience without fearing.  Enjoy without grasping.  Share without owning.  Choose, practice, to be born to Self under the Tree of Life.

*From The Upanishads, introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran, Nilgiri Press, © 1987, 2007 by The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

The World We Dream

In his book, Mending the Past and Healing the Future with Soul Retrieval, medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo describes the shamanic/spiritual practices of the Laika, an indigenous community of the Peruvian Amazon:

The Laika believe that everything is imaginal.  Whatever we perceive is a projection of our inner world, and the world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.

“The world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.”  I believe that to be true, individually and collectively.

So what does that mean?  Does that mean I can imagine great wealth and it will happen to me?  Maybe.  The prophets of positive thinking would say so, and Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates certainly imagined something.  I have actually heard people say that the entire universe is constructed, at root, to conspire for our greater good.

But there is something about this glib thinking that is potentially shallow and backwards.  This thinking tempts us to focus on changing the reflected image – the world we create or manifest – rather than the underlying reality, the condition of our soul.  We act out, we manifest, what we have allowed ourselves to become.  And the work for a better world is done not by sitting around and imagining a better world, but by working on the condition of our souls.

If I focus chiefly on the universe conspiring for my greater good, I will get a world that looks like my soul – a manipulative and selfish world with relationships and outcomes to match.  When I move my focus to outcomes, I lose track of who I am and I become, perhaps unintentionally, but truly, the picture of my neglected soul.

This is true collectively as well as individually.  The United States has begun air strikes in Iraq to counter forcefully the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  Our focus is on outcomes.  But the real world, the world that is, reflects the condition of a collective soul that wanted wealth and oil at any cost.  The condition of our soul manifested a world that supported oppressors like Saddam Hussein – or the Shah, or Somoza or any number of puppet regimes – in the oppression and pillage of people to yield the comfort we thought was our greater good.  And the perpetual wars that result, whether the violence in the Middle East or the violence in Central America beneath the current child refugee crisis, truly mirror and are an accurate manifestation of the condition of our soul.  When our soul, anyone’s soul, is sick with greed, we manifest a world of oppression and violence.

I remember bumper stickers that said “Visualize World Peace,” as though sitting still and picturing a peaceful world in our mind would make it happen.  But that is magical thinking, no better or more effective than the satirical bumper sticker retort, “Visualize Whirled Peas.”

“The world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.”  Mirrors can be useful.  Any one of us can look in the mirror and learn something about reality.  I might learn I am aging and wrinkling.  I might learn that I am contorted with anxiety, or that I am satisfied and radiant.  Certainly I can paste on a different face if I want to imagine something different than what I see.  I have manipulated the outcome of an image.  I have not changed the underlying reality.

There were two metaphorical trees planted at the center of the Garden of Eden:  the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and, beside it, the Tree of Life.  We ate from the first and were given the gift of conscious awareness.  We could see the mirror image of all that we had manifested.  It was frightening and disconcerting.

Our reaction was to try to manipulate outcomes, to make the picture we saw safe and comforting.  Seeing only ourselves, we resorted to fear and greed.  We created religions in an attempt to get the gods to conspire for us, to cooperate with us, or at least not to work against us.

But there were – and are – those who grew up, who awoke to a different truth.  These prophets, saints and mystics realized that the world was just a reflection of something deeper, of the condition of our true spiritual selves.

Their call in all times has been to turn from the mirror, to embrace and nurture the reality.  The reality is the quality of our soul.  If we cultivate peace and harmony in our spirit, the mirror reflects it.  It’s not that we changed the picture.  It is that we changed our being.  We made the choice to grow up.  We nurtured the condition of our soul.  And the picture around us – the manifested world of relationships – reflects our nurture.

The two metaphorical trees in the garden, as I have noted before, are really only one.  When we focus on the mirror, we see only the image of the tree.  That image is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and we bang into the mirror, over and over, trying to get what we want, what we think we need from that picture.  And the picture only gets worse, because it reflects our frustration and unhappiness.

When we turn away from the mirror of our manifested world, and cultivate the quality of our soul, we find that we are living in true reality, under the Tree of Life.  We manifest peace.  We manifest kindness and compassion.  We manifest abundance – the power of enough for all – because we have cultivated those things at the root of our being.

Turn inward.  Cultivate your soul.  Live in reality under the Tree of Life.  You won’t need the mirror to know the outcome.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

Born in You this Day

“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”   Luke 2:11, NRSV.

There are so many ways to wreck a good story.  In fact, we might as well call it Christmas Cancer for all that it has become in the last two millennia:  grafted onto holiday trees from other traditions; the insanity of soldiers stopping to sing carols to the enemy across the front lines of WWI, resuming the fight in the morning; Santa Claus and Rudolph; enough lights to outshine a supernova; a worldwide binge and burp of the economy big enough to make us confident that Jesus has finally entered the temple and whipped, once and for all, the rogue dogs of evil empire.

What was born?  Who was born?  Lamb of God?  For all our focus on blood sacrifice to grab salvation, Jesus might as well have been a 4-H calf, corn-fed and off to the fair, sold at auction to the highest bidder, the owner of the fanciest restaurant in the state.

What was born?  Who was born?  The birth narratives of Matthew and especially the iconic scene of the stable, manger, angels and star in Luke, are memorialized annually from the tiniest of crèche scenes reconstructed in the shell of a bird’s egg, to the bigger than life plywood or even living crèches that, despite our silly doublespeak laws about what religious freedom is or isn’t, stand in front of churches or town squares worldwide.  God almighty, the things we fight about to avoid our own truth.

What was born? Who was born? Without doubt, a true Rose of Sharon, a balm in Gilead, a little Prince of Peace.  And stories like these pasted onto the front of Matthew’s and Luke’s life narratives are effective “sit up and take notice” calls that here was a birth and a life of great importance.

Alas, we are so prone to losing ourselves in icons, drama and worship – anything to avoid personal responsibility.

The real birth of Jesus, good friends, took place in the silent stretch of nearly twenty years between Luke 2 and Luke 3, a gestation of learning and practice, of formation in the womb of wisdom and spirit.  The real birth of Jesus was the birth of authentic Self, the hero’s/heroine’s journey to which we are all invited when we are silent in the presence and willing in spirit.

Luke tries to hammer this home with his genealogy, the long list of names at the end of the third chapter, almost entirely ignored by 2,000 years of Christianity, that ends, for both Adam (read “you and me”) and Jesus, with “Son (child) of God.”  This genealogy marks the line of transition, the end of gestation.  It is followed immediately by a baptism of grown-up spirit and the launch of Jesus into his brief public life of healing, bathed and swaddled in an honest and consistent call to peace, compassion, fairness and, most of all, the pleading invitation to each of us to join him in our own true birth.

What was born?  Who was born?  A human was born, like every human, who gained his life with the whisper of prana, the tickle and nudge of the breath of God, the life force of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Self.  Born a human, you and me, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This one grew up.  This one accepted that suffering (true love, while it may cast out fear, just as often draws fire) was the price of second birth, the true and human birth to capital “S” Self, the birth canal of silence, prayer and practice that bore him all the way to the Tree of Life.

How utterly astounding that for all the effort to tell us in symbol and story, for the repeated invitation of Jesus to each of us to grow up, to enter and to walk through the inevitable suffering of birth to true and mature life, we choose instead to worship the stories.  We shield our eyes in the waving of palms and drown the voice in our din of praise.  Truly, for the most part, we would rather kill the guide than hear the call, hear the invitation and embrace the path.

Born in you this day.  Born in you this day, kind friend.  The invitation to embrace the path, the invitation to second birth.  Born in you this day.  The call to accept, without judgment, the pain and suffering of growing up.  The call to embrace and transform it with the practice of peace, of compassion for self and others.  The call to be authentic sons and daughters of C/S/M/S, true birth under the Tree of Life.

Born in you this day.  Let it be.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Share what is useful.  Please quote the source.

Willingness vs. Willfulness

Two hearts diverge in the center of my chest.  One is right, absolutely certain of what it deserves, red, furious, sulking, adrenalized, ready to explode.  This one does not like change, at least not change that does not go in the direction it wants – the right and fair direction, the direction that I can see so clearly.

The other is quiet and at peace, in relationship, observing, taking in the whole, engaging without attaching, nimble as a stream flowing over rocks, flexing with what truly is.

What a grip the first heart has, and how complete the blindness and stranglehold.  And how utter and painful the defeat if it carries the battle to the end and loses.  Or how empty the victory if it wins and beats its perceived opponent into the ground.

It is all the same heart, of course.  It is mine and I make the choice, just like choosing whether or not the giving tree under which I live is going to be the Tree of Life or the other one.

But how can I make that choice when I am so thoroughly blinded?  The truth is, sometimes I can’t, or don’t, and I drift further and further into the hell I create with my own sightless determination.  How difficult, but how important it is to change course and to bring it all back home.  Sometimes the path is long and painful because of the bitterness built up inside and the damage inflicted on others around me.

What are the turning points, the places of repenting?  Sometimes it is awareness of the misery, sometimes it is the voice of another who can see me more clearly than I can see myself.  Sometimes it is the practice of quiet prayer, the prayer that seeks, in a mantra of willingness or a broken open silence, to let in a small sparkle of light, a trickle of healing water, finding the pinhole through which a larger landscape can be seen.

Always the turn involves practice.  It involves breathing and conscious letting go.  It involves releasing my death grip attachment to a self-determined and willful outcome.

We do not diminish ourselves when we choose willingness, the open connection to the whole.  Rather, we become our true selves, the Self of paradoxical oneness with all that is.

The picture is always larger, and I am only a part of the whole, not the entire thing, as I want to believe.

When we practice willingness, when we practice being open and available, expanding our vision and releasing our determination to have the speck of sand we thought was everything, we experience healing.  We find that the ache and inflammation begin to subside.  The poison is leached little by little from our system and the blinders fall away.  We are able to see both the detail and the landscape.  The stream flows in its ripples and pools, turning with ease to follow its natural course.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10, NRSV)  It’s not so much a new one, but rather a connected one. And it is already there.  We don’t have to beg or grovel for it, nor do we have to tear out anything as though it is wrong or defective.

Rather, we choose.  Will we be willing or willful, separate or connected?  Our spirit and our heart are not other than that with which we are gifted in our creation.  There are no defects.  There is only choice, the choice of isolation or the choice of connection.  When we are real and whole, we are both individuated and connected.  We are the gift of our own place and being.  And we are the gift of the entire universe.  It is the paradox and beauty of being a thread in the fabric.

In any case, our heart is truly only one, our very own, offered willingly in connection to the whole.  Ah, the wonder and taste of the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Rights reserved and offered.  Make use.  Share the source.

The Day of Non-Judgment

Check yourself when you wake up in the morning.  What’s that first feeling inside?  Is it angst about the things you have to do?  It might be worry about meeting with certain people or concern about the pile of unfinished tasks that lies ahead.  Or maybe it is relief that this is a day off, or excitement about an especially anticipated event – a birthday or the beginning of a long awaited journey.

Whatever the feeling, it is almost certainly one of prejudice – pre-judgment.  We are pretty sure that things will be this way or that way.  And we have pretty much decided that this way is good or that way is bad.

I am not an advocate of positive thinking, of trying to manipulate actions and outcomes by painting them bright yellow and giving them a spin to the left or to the right.  Positive thinking is only what it is – a veneer we try to paste on our muddy core of judgment.

Nor am I an advocate of denial of feelings.  Feelings are simply the natural reactions to reality as it is perceived and experienced by small “m” me, the me I discovered when I awoke to my surroundings under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The very name of the tree implies exactly what it is – the tree of judgment.

Waking up under that tree, we believe that our life task is to sort our pile of baby blocks just as quickly and effectively as we can.  This block is good . . . It goes in this pile.  This block is bad . . . It goes in that pile over there and I hope I can figure out a way to trash it so it never comes back.  And, oh my goodness, worst of all, I can’t decide about this one.  What will it become?  How do I know?  What should I do with it?  What will it do to me?

I think I will bury the feelings, maybe over here under positive thinking, so I don’t have to feel this way anymore.  Shit!  That didn’t work either!  And now I am late for my meeting!

Chill, baby “m”.  Let “Me” (big “S” Self) hold you and tell you that we are here together.  And we are not, as you believe, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We are under the Tree of Life.

We are not our feelings.  We just experience them.  And our true response comes from the source of everything we need – the fruit of the Tree of Life and the living water of the river by which it is planted – the gifts of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source – our essence, breath and true being.

The essence of that water is love.  It nourishes the sustaining fruits of the tree, which are peace, true joy, patience and compassion.  Whether baby “we” know it or not, that is what we truly seek.  And when we open the eyes of our Spirit, on any given morning, we know that we have exactly what we need.  And we can offer it to our small “s” selves.  We can live it in all of our actions, in the touch of all whom we encounter.

Let’s hold that little fearful self for a moment to calm its terror about the day.  Let’s sit with it in joy and help it to let go of the angst that the things we have judged to be good might not work out.  We can tell it that all is well, that we can choose to be and to act, in each moment of each day, without judgment.  We can choose to be and to act as our true Self, the one that is fed and cared for – by and one with C/S/M/S – under the Tree of Life.

The practice of stillness, at one with the action of willingness, creates the doorway to non-judgment.  It is the practice of being the center of the spinning wheel – completely at rest and fully in motion.

Our focus and activity, in each moment and without judgment, is to drink the living water, which makes it possible for us to be the very fruit of the Tree of Life.  We offer this nourishing fruit, we offer Ourselves, in each moment and in each action.  We offer it first to the little one, the little self, crying in our arms.  We offer it to redeem and to transform the false vision of all who find themselves anxious and unhappy under the tree of judgment, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

A peach, for you and for me, together, under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote as useful, with appropriate reference.

Deep Wounds, Pure Hearts

About ten years ago I heard a bright young praise band at a church singing a love song imploring Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source (C/S/M/S) to “Break me, Lord.” I am sixty-one. I, and likely you, have been broken. At the time, I was pretty much shattered – not by the music, but by the events of my life. I actually felt anger as I listened to the song, and after the service I felt compelled, firmly, to address the unsuspecting singer. I looked the poor girl straight in the eye and said, “Don’t you ever ask God to break you. You will, indeed, be broken, whether you ask for it or not. And when that happens, you just pray your heart out that you live through it.”

Who knows, she had probably already been broken. She certainly did not deserve my hurt projection. I hope that she has forgiven me and, perhaps, that she even found, sometime or other, something useful in the experience.

We speak of a broken heart. But somehow I don’t think it is our hearts, really, that get broken. Our hearts are only found. And generally that takes some heavy duty cracking of shells and some serious excavation.

We get what we seek from our tree in the garden. Stuck in our perception of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we get a calcified hardness. Wounded as children and watching so much of life and relationship in the world around us, we paint ourselves with layer after layer of lies. Year after year, layer after layer, we build up our defense.

Mostly we try to create an image, a projection of something. Like Alice, we may make our images bigger or smaller. We may give the appearance of hardness, of knowing, of being aloof. We may project power, weakness or defense. We may paint ourselves servile or happy or the color of pity. We bake our colors on with fear, anger or greed.

And after a while, we actually begin to believe in what we have created – to believe, in fact, that we are what we have created. Our belief becomes the motor and wheels that move our bigger than life image around under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

We meet and confront other images. We create alliances and do battle. We bully and jockey for position, seeking protection through both defense and offense, wheeling around in our armor, busy being the thing we have made of ourselves.

Sometime, some place, our illusion is shattered. The bigger we become, of course, the harder we fall. Hitler, Qaddafi, the various empires that have come and gone, Elvis – any one of us, or any communal collection of us, can only push this thing so far.

Let’s bring it home. Whether it is in a violent, surprising or dull demise, whatever it is we have created comes to its end, at some point, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We die, and while we may have done some damage, the illusion we have created is gone. The shells fall away and turn to dust.

Our shell is shattered in the relational, institutional and political pile ups we engineer on the autobahn we have built around the base of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we are fortunate enough to walk away from the wreckage with breath and years ahead of us, we have a choice. It’s the same choice, of course, we had before we painted on the layers. It is the choice between willingness and willfulness, the choice between experiencing the giving tree in our garden as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or the Tree of Life.

Our hearts are not broken. It is only our shells that shatter. Our hearts are pure and supple and everlasting. Gandhi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa all knew this. To the extent that they were able to set aside ego and fear, they expressed their true selves, their pure hearts. They chose the fruit of the Tree of Life.

None can avoid the end, or protect themselves from the hazards of mingling with all in this life. The little hard-shelled knights with their wheels and motors of fear and greed shot Gandhi and King to get them off the road. Jesus got nailed to a tree. Mother Teresa, well, I think she pretty much died every day she went to work.

But when we are open, when we are open and willing, we stop painting on the layers, and the layers get stripped away, and away, and away. They crinkle, break and roll off. They peel and are rinsed until all that is left is our heart, the one we were given from the start. All that is left is the undefended. All that is left is kindness, regard and compassion. All that is left is true creativity, a creativity that gives and receives, rather than forces and grasps.

All that is left is what always is, the heart and breath of C/S/M/S that we truly are, under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden. Quote as useful. Please reference the source.

George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin and the Path Between the Trees

I speak of this journey on the path between the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life as though it is an individual adventure.  It is, certainly.  But it is also a social journey, the journey of the family, the journey of the community, the journey of society, the nation and humanity.  Yesterday George Zimmerman was acquitted, in the State of Florida, on the charge of murdering Trayvon Martin.  There was never any question that Mr. Zimmerman shot and killed young Trayvon.  The question had to do with the crime of murder.  And by Florida law, which says in essence that if you are afraid of someone, you can shoot to kill, Mr. Zimmerman was not guilty.  He was afraid of young Trayvon.  He is exonerated under the law.  The case is closed.

I believe, truly, that Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, with infinite compassion and wisdom, will in good time call everyone involved to healing and to home.  But somehow, in this twisted travesty, I have difficulty imagining the task complete in my lifetime, or in yours.  Who knows what the path holds for Mr. Zimmerman.  Nor can I imagine any quick and easy cleanup for the Florida legislature, and their voting electorate, that chose to pass laws that embrace and codify fear and its cousin, hatred, as legitimate bases for the function of society.  And what of this life so rudely cut off for young Trayvon?

We have a common phrase in English, “the straight and narrow.”  It is an allusion to a teaching of Jesus quoted in Matthew that many of us learned as kids: “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  (Matt 7:14, NRSV)  The common meaning of both the phrase and the way it was taught is, “Be good, really good, which is really really hard, and you might, after you die, get to heaven.”

But that is not at all what these words are about.  They are about finding our way, as individuals, as communities, as societies, nations and humanity.  These words are about finding our way off the merry-go-round of fear that keeps us travelling round and round the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, one lifetime after another.  As Joni Mitchell wrote, “We’re captive on a carousel of time.” (Joni Mitchell, “Circle Game”)  The lights are bright and the music is loud.  It’s hard to imagine, riding in the nighttime of this blaring sorrow, that the Tree of Life is just a few steps away.  It’s hard to leave the cotton candy and the popcorn.  It’s hard to venture into the quiet darkness.  And when we do, there’s a pretty good chance that our leaving will threaten the whole show enough that someone will just shoot us in the back.  Because the merry-go-round, friends, stops when the riders all walk away.  And that’s a major threat to those who can’t imagine anything besides that ride.

The way, the truth and the life, friends, looks like a tiny path in the darkness from up here on the merry-go-round.  It is not illuminated by the lights of fear or greed.  It is not paved and policed by laws that say the right thing is to live behind a gate, to be afraid and to shoot to kill whenever we have the least worry about our seat on the painted pony, or that someone might have the audacity not to be aware of or paying attention to us and to our rules about our street, full of our possessions.  Too bad about that, young Trayvon, too bad.

It’s hard, today, not to run right back to the merry-go-round and jump on a pony and just chase Mr. Zimmerman down the same way his neighborhood and the laws of Florida are set up to hate and chase down folks like young Trayvon.  But friends, the way, the truth and the life demand that we close our eyes to a false light that draws us like moths back to that endless circle of fear, hate and despair.

Yes, we must, with complete detached engagement stand in the path of fear.  Yes, we must with complete detached engagement let our government and the Florida legislature know that these laws point us down an easy path to certain destruction.  Yes, yes, yes and YES!!!

But we must do these things from the clear path that leads to life.  It’s not really that the path is so small and narrow.  It’s more that we refuse to look for it.  It’s more that we keep coming up with reasons, even when we have found the path, to stop singing and to turn around and run back, get on our pony, claim our seat, hold on to our righteous stuff and hate someone.  We dare not.  We dare not forget our song.

We sing it with confidence, forward to young Trayvon.  We sing it with confidence to Mr. Zimmerman.  We sing it with arms around mom and dad Martin.  We sing it with clarity to the Florida legislature, and to the judge and to the jury, and to all the corners of our own hearts that want to turn our tears back into bullets.

The way, the truth and the life leads only one way between the trees.  It is lit by one light and sung by one song.  Let us close our eyes.  Let us open our hearts.  Let us sing our song and let us walk forward on that path.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Quote freely, with reference.

Deteng, Baby, Deteng!

I keep talking here about letting go, relinquishing attachment.  You might get the impression that I am advocating the life of a hermit or an ascetic.  Not at all, not at all.  In fact today let’s talk about engagement, true action, the kind of action that happens without grasping, without attachment to outcomes.  Perhaps there is a good word in English for this.  Since I have not found it, I have invented one – deteng, or short for detached engagement.

What we seek to relinquish is not action, but the grasping at hopes or the shrinking from fears about outcomes of our actions.  These things, in fact, obstruct pure action in life and destroy the beauty and benefit of true living experience.

Take the moment I am in at present.  I have committed, right now, to write this week’s blog entry.  It is very tempting to worry about what the little readership graph on my blog administration site will look like tomorrow.  Will there have been more viewers than last week?  Any comments?  What will you think of me after you have read this, if you have read this – if anything at all?   This represents the attachment of desire.

And sometime soon I really should build up the email list to expand distribution of the blog.  I could be distracted by that thought, which feels like work, a chore.  I don’t want to be bothered, which is the attachment of aversion to action.

In either case, desire or aversion, I am distracted by my attachment to outcomes.  I want to have, or to avoid, a certain result, and that becomes my obsession.  And In either case, I compromise the fullness of current action, which is to sit in the recliner with my laptop, writing exactly what I am able to write, without concern that it will not be complete or enough, in the time that I have at present.  Deteng.  I am doing what is before me.  I am relaxed in spirit.  I am fully and completely doing what I am doing.  I am at peace.  Deteng.

I believe that the best result of my action, my writing in this case, always happens when I have “given up” on outcomes and have gifted and immersed myself and you, to the extent that I am able, in Spirit, before, during and after the process.

How do I do that?  Very simply.  Call it prayer, call it meditation, call it relinquishment.  I engage in the act of bringing you to mind in the all-encompassing presence of Spirit before I write, and I pray the prayer I pray throughout every day – “Thy (Spirit’s) will be done.”  I breathe Spirit into me – Thy will – Spirit’s will.  I release Spirit to you – be done.  This is for you.  It is through me.  It is of Spirit.  It is interactive.  It is one.  It is just us together, at one, in the breath of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

The more I am mindful of that before I write, the more fully I am engaged and at ease in the act of writing.  And the more open and engaged you are with Spirit as you read, the more complete, blessed and useful the outcome is for all.

The same is true for us in every action.  Life in Spirit is not about inaction.  It is about moving in Spirit.  I encourage you, if the language or some form of it works for you, to practice this before every action, before every interaction; to ground yourself in Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source by bringing the action and its intended recipient to mind.  Hold them in heart and mind.  Breathe in, “Thy will.”  Breathe out, “be done.”  Bless them, experience being blessed together.

And then act, in complete trust, with full engagement in your action – so much engagement that there is no room for worry about results or outcome.  Trust that you are in Spirit, in the flow and beauty and power of the universe.  So is your action.  And if they choose to be, so is your recipient.  Nothing could be better.  Nothing carries more health, peace power or goodness.  Nothing could possibly require less worry.  Nothing will ever find us more at home under the Tree of life.

Deteng, baby.  Deteng.  Will will be done.

Scripture today is from the Fifth Teaching, Renunciation of Action, of The Bhagavad-Gita:

A person who relinquishes attachment
and dedicates actions to the infinite spirit
is not stained by evil,
like a lotus leaf unstained by water.

Relinquishing attachment,
people of discipline perform action
with body, mind, understanding, and senses
for the purification of the self.

Relinquishing the fruit of action,
the disciplined person attains perfect peace;
the undisciplined person is in bondage,
attached to the fruit of their desire.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to use, referencing the source, if you find it helpful.

Redemption

Redemption is the follow-on act to forgiveness in the transformative process that moves us from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life.   It is the action that makes our human experience useful for a life of spiritual growth and compassionate service.

Recall, again, that we are journeying from attachment and revulsion, to detachment from the controlling power of both our desires and also the burdens and pains of our human experience.  Detachment, in this context, is not disengagement from life.  Rather, it is a choice about control.  We detach by deciding that neither our desires nor our fears will have authority over who and how we are.  That authority comes from a different place and will be the topic for another week.

For the person engaged fully in this journey between the trees, forgiveness – relinquishing control – and redemption – accepting back as useful – are the paired constant tasks of life.  They are no more nor less than breathing in and breathing out.

Remember our experiential list from last week:

  • Desires that we chase, never to complete satisfaction
  • Fears and discomforts that we avoid
  • Wrongs that we inflict on others
  • Wounds and injustices that we receive

Forgiveness is the act of letting go of these things, of stepping off the merry-go-round, of no longer chasing our tail in our mad dash around the trunk of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Redemption is when all these things we have chased or run from, and now release, come back to us as useful tools for life.  Notice that I say tools.  We do not have to use them.  We do not have to go back to them.  Some we may choose never to touch again in any way.  Some traumas are too deep and the healing too long and painful to be picked up and put into active use as personal tools for the healing of others.  And I would never imply some kind of cosmic purpose dictated by the learnings from a horrible accident, for instance.

But at the very least, redemption is an action of sufficient personal healing to make it possible to move forward in life.  Perhaps, in fact, it is that very act of moving forward once we have been able to forgive and relinquish:

  • When I have let go of my attachment to a desire, I may choose to experience that pleasure when it is available if I know that it will not harm me or another, no longer controlled by my attachment to it. Or I may know that the possibility of reattachment holds too much risk for me.  In that case, I might choose to live my life without touching that experience again, while neither despising nor praising it.  I have experienced forgiveness.  I move on through redemption.
  • When we have let go of a fear we have long carried, we may simply move forward without it.  Or perhaps we will be comfortable enough with what we have learned that we can, in turn, help others on the path to name and to release similar fears.  Redemption is the move forward.  Redemption is also the new tool we have in service of others if we choose to use it.
  • When we have been able to give and to receive forgiveness for things we have done or for wounds we have received, redemption makes it possible for us to remind ourselves, with humility, when we might become critical or judgmental of others.  Or it may help us to empathize, to hear and to participate in the healing of another who has experienced a wound similar to our own.  In either case, it clears the path for us to move more freely and openly toward the Tree of Life, where all people experience and share healing.

Redemption touches and heals memory.  It does not take memory away, but it can make memory our teacher.  Redemption is our constant companion, if we are listening for it on the path, conversing with us, drawing wisdom and understanding from our experience.  If we allow it, redemption opens the ear of our hearts so that we can hear others with compassion.  It is the gift we become for each other on our journey to the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.