Okay… Let’s get boring. At least, relatively so. I’ve strung a few diligent readers along for nine weeks. We need to begin to pull this together, so, no more weird stories… just a scary one! And this – only because it will help bring all that has happened into focus.
It was late evening by the time my flight landed in Spokane. Karen was there with her Range Rover and after tossing my bags in back I got behind the wheel to drive us back to Sandpoint. Just like the opening lines of a bad mystery novel, it was a dark and rainy night. Drops of rain can break as they fall, creating a mist. That night a multitude of miniature rain drops obscured our headlights, scattering the light we needed to see our way forward.
I had just completed an eight day meditation intensive so our conversation was all about the effect and implications that participating with a serious Buddhist group represented to me, still at least nominally Christian. “What’s more important,” Karen had asked, “Enlightenment or Salvation?”
Back and forth we argued, looking for points of commonality but recognizing very different perspectives generally thought to be represented by these two words and their supporting traditions.
In the way of deadly things, it happened in an instant. Driving along, talking as we went, the head of a bull moose appeared over the hood of the Rover. Until that instant, we had not caught even a glimpse of the monster – just that Instamatic snap shot of a moose’s long nose and giant, shovel-like antlers. The moose had apparently been standing in the middle of the road as we approached at seventy miles an hour. In response, and at the last possible moment the huge animal raised its head just enough and we sailed under its chin. Had the driver’s side window post hit its jaw those heavy antlers would have spun sideways, crashing through the glass into my neck and head. Karen and I both let out startled shouts. But by the time we responded, the danger was already behind us, leaving us wondering if it had been no more than our imagination. But Karen described exactly what I had seen, her fright no less than my own. Just the briefest of instants – no sooner than we had seen that face and massive horns – and the Moose was behind us. With no room to spare we had escaped a sudden death.
It took another couple of miles to reach the lighted parking lot of a gas station – a “C” store where we stopped to shake off the last of the shock and fright. I got out of the Rover to have a look.
We’d heard no thud or bump, but there on top of the Rover caught in the threads of a bolt that secured the luggage carrier was a clump of hair. The long, course hair that grows from the underside of a moose’s jaw.
Back in the car and driving slower, we exclaimed and marveled at the pure, simplicity of luck. By an inch or some smaller measure we had missed connecting with the jaw of a moose. At the speed we had been traveling, just a touch of steel on the side of the Moose’s jaw bone and everything would have changed.
So when people face death or severe injury, what do they need – What do we really want? Is what we want the same as what we need?
Driving the last twenty miles to Sandpoint our conversation took on new meaning – relevance beyond conversational banter.
When faced with the end of mortal life, what would you rather have … Salvation or Enlightenment? What do these words mean?
In the fall of 2001 – standing at the Wall, in Jerusalem, I was reprimanded by a supernatural instructor. And my unseen instructor doubled down – to make sure I could not wiggle out of the message – by having a flesh and blood person – a Rabbi – somehow making him repeat the message. The rabbi was just as much of a chauvinist as I had been – he was just there to let me know that even though I could not see the person who had yelled at me – I was not imagining anything and I had better take it seriously.
“Stop judging! You do not understand!” was what had been said to me. I had been thinking that Christ died to bring forgiveness of sin to everyone who would accept His sacrifice. This is the central axiom of Christianity. “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!” And by this act a person was restored, relationally to God – you were back in the family – and that meant more than invitations to dinner on Christmas and Easter.
So lets’ run through it again. I was exercising my thoughts around the idea that Jewish guys needed to accept Jesus’ sacrificial offering. This was my, “Judgment,” Any other Christian would have backed me up. But according to the invisible guy with the big voice – I was wrong! I was told to stop judging – which meant – to stop thinking as I did – because, not only did I not understand what was happening around me, apparently – I didn’t understand anything about… anything! . I was wrong to hold the men I was watching accountable to Christian belief – even this most central one. I just quoted it – but…One more time; Christians consider it a cornerstone, spiritual imperative to: “Believe on the Lord Jesus… so that you will be saved.” Turn it around and you get: “If you do not accept the sacrifice of Jesus as your opportunity to be forgiven – you fall outside of the safety net – you are not a Christian – you are not saved. So, short of making this deal with Christ, you, by your own choice are separated from the life of God. And I had been told that this orienting equation was wrong! Uh oh… hear the rumble of not so distant thunder? This is big. No wonder The Voice employed the rabbi as a supporting actor! I walked away from that night not realizing the implications of the message. But looking at it now – considering it as I have for years now – somehow our doctrine is very mixed up.
I decided to write the Hearing Voices series because parts of it had already been completed and I had plans that would make it really hard to keep up with even a once a week column. I was headed to another Meditation intensive. This time it was to last six weeks and was being held at a Renzai Zen monastery in central New York State. Of the two predominate Japanese schools of Zen practice – Renzai and Soto – Renzai was for the Shogun – the military leaders or Samurai class and Soto was for the peasants. That’s a remark certain to insult devotees of the Soto school. But, like it or not Renzai guys are very strict – noticeably more so than their Soto neighbors.
I’m telling you this because along the way – I figured out that just believing something would change nothing. Believing made room for change. But real change requires real work. The Voice was working hard inside of me. I knew I had to transition from a belief to experience. As biblical scripture recommends – I was now, “laboring to enter His rest.” As sweet as this little paradox sounds, the work is real. Concentration practice – being with the present moment – bringing every thought captive. This is the work that must be done if we want our “I” to be single. Someone should make a list as scripture is full is pithy little one liners pointing the observant toward the goal that necessitates the practices – the labor required to enter the promised rest.
No longer a spiritual seeker, I knew that the peace I was so hungry for was already inside of me. I’d tasted it – one taste is enough – and I’d be fortunate enough to have had many. This meant that, though I had never been a first rate disciple, it was not possible for me to quit. I’ll not say more to explain this. There are only so many of you that are going to understand what I’m trying to say – So for me to think that by adding more words, I’ll increase the number of readers who accept my way of relating this message – well, that’s not how it works. I am just like you. Some things, I get… and some things I don’t. Hit me with your best arguments. If I’m ready you could have used a feather. If I am not ready – leave your sledge hammer at home – carrying it will just tire you out. And in the end it won’t help you make your case.
And this, I see now was what The Voice had been trying to tell me. This was why the Voice didn’t simply say it straight out. I would not have understood – I would not have believed what was said! It’s always been this way – apparently always will be.
Our religious beliefs are so closely linked to our self identity – who we think we are. Our self identity is at the root of the error, original sin. As soon as somebody starts to mess with our self identity – we get mad or run or both! It’s really pretty funny. God is this infinite mystery, about which everybody is an expert! Don’t try to tell us nothe’n!
The Voice was wise enough to realize all this – knew that I was a runner – I’d have to be led stealthy like – like this was all my idea Gently, gently. Actually, not always so gently, but step by step – finally serving me up enough that would allow me to see a little deeper into what Jesus had been up to.
Stop and think – those of you who have done your time in churches and Sunday schools – Jesus was a trouble maker from the start. Before he’s even born, his mothers reputation is trashed. As an infant – he’s got magicians making long trips to see him and Kings, Herod – wanting the infant Jesus killed so bad that he didn’t mind ordering the murder of every little boy, two years old or younger in Bethlehem. Wow. Being a king, Being able to actualize anything that crossed your mind. Fear of imaginary things. If nominated I will not run – no! I will run –as far and as fast…
But his parents, Jesus’ parent – having listened to Angelic Voices, had already run off to Egypt to save this kid. Then they take him to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast and what’s Jesus do? Rather than staying with them, when they are leaving he disappears and they have to hunt for his thoughtless self for three days! Then he turns up in the Temple, lecturing the old guys – and how could Joseph whack him when everyone is saying he’s such a whiz kid!. Everybody talks about Jesus being perfect, but think about it – running off like that! What’s that little moral quiz game…“What would Jesus do?”
None of this is meant disrespectfully – The reason for running through this is to get a look at how different Jesus saw things. Jesus would be laughing at this recounting of his boyhood trouble making – all but the murder part – and that was Harods’s doing. Nothing funny about that.
Now – coming forward a few years – skipping speculation about what he was doing during his teens and twenties. Once Jesus begins his public life he’s right up the nose of the religious leaders. If the Jewish guys were following all the rules and still had it wrong – what was the point? Yes – we’ve heard about the self serving. Lying cheating and stealing. But think about it – Lying cheating and stealing are our favorite pastimes. The rules – keeping the rules is supposed to be like a vaccination – do enough Hail Mary’s and suddenly you want to be good! But that’s never what happens. And if that’s not what happens – If that’s not how it works then what is anybody supposed to do?
I was just another case that proves the point – here I was a couple thousand years later being about as good a Christian as most – better than some – worse than others. But I was working at it – I wanted to be good and still, the message to me is that I was clueless!
And here we are on the tenth installment of this series and I’m supposed to tell readers what all this Hearing Voices stuff is about. I’ve tried all week to figure out how to tell you what I figured out. As dramatic as some of the events had been you would not be expecting too much to assume that I had been preparing readers for a profound revelation – information so potent that your thirst for knowledge will be satisfied. And this with detailed instructions designed to deliver diligent practitioners all the way to spiritual perfection, perfect peace and eternal security!
So… here’s the deal. I did. I really did find the answer. I’m not the first – countless others have figured it out – anyone who really wants to understand – can figure out whats going on if they are sincerely looking. But finding the answer is not the end of the game – it’s the beginning of a deep dissatisfaction. A necessary step but not a fun place to be. Just when you think you are in line for a big, “Atta Boy!” well… that’s not how it works.
Now back to you readers. Having found it, I can, (could), tell you just what you think you want to know – the whole thing. But it won’t help you very much. I squirmed for a week knowing I was going to have to say this. But it’s true. Think about it for a minute. Don’t you think that The Voice would have liked me and a bunch of others to be Saved – if Saved were the point? To be Enlightened – if Enlightenment were the ultimate objective? So why don’t these angelic messenger people just tell us what we need to know? What we need to do? Why don’t they – like the UFO’s that fail to do the obvious – why not land on the White house lawn – give a briefing – set us all straight and then get on over to the next screwed up planet?
The Answer: We don’t want to know the answer! If I told you the answer – you would have to kill me! Ya – a laugh line. But what I’ve just said is true.
Let me tell say one thing that might really be useful. You really do want to know the answers to the big questions. You really do want everything about your life fixed up, nice and neat, etc. etc. You want it – but not if it means that you have to change. You’ll pray or do fancy yogic postures as long as they mean you are only twisting your body around and that in reality you are not going to have to change anything – lose anything – do anything that will result in you being genuinely different. That’s what it means to be ego centric. Hearing that phrase we tend to think somebody is being accused of indefensible selfishness. The self that is required to die in order to experience perfect union with god is much more personal – it’s me. It’s you. Saying this does not bring the reality of ego death into focus. It required an act of grace – meaning that for some reason that can’t be predicted or scheduled the love of God is expressed in such a way that we get our pants scarred right off of us. Suddenly a pious phrase becomes real – real personal. And there we go – running again.
That’s what happened to me at the Zen Center in New York. I’d gone there knowing that my spiritual practice needed a jump start. I wasn’t screwing around. I knew that I really needed to get serious and still here comes the Angelic messenger – whoever the agent was – and I’m shown what serious really means. In an instant, I was undone – scared and angry, The quiet, subtle control of mind that I need to maintain to do the work I’d come for was blown to pieces
The subtle balance between effort and no effort. Expending effort to be effortless. Getting out on the edge where you are genuinely free from wanting to get anything – in an instant it was blow to hell. All the effort is had taken to get myself to this special practice center had been ruined – so it seemed – I could not hope to do what I had meant to do – what I had traveled so far to do.
I’m relating this because it is one more reason why it’s best that I say little about what the past nine weeks of articles was about. The broad strokes are these. There is an interior reality that can be expressed and experienced in our day to day lives. It is worth all. The scriptural picture of a man finding a treasure in a field and then covering the treasure to give himself time to sell all he possessed to then come back and buy the field so as to own the treasure – this is an accurate picture. The treasure is that valuable. The catch is this. What the man sells is his own soul – at least his mental conception of his soul – They are not the same – your minds idea and real thing – very different… But the mind is so dramatic and it doesn’t want you to do this so it throws up a smoke screen – adding to your fright. Even so, to posses the treasure found in the field will require a frightening sacrifice.
In the past ten, eleven, twelve years – actually for the balance of my life I had been searching. Having found it I have been evaluating the treasure – all the while, attempting to purchase the field – to own the treasure which I now am even more convinced, really is worth all I might be required to pay. My first glance at the figures, the numbers shocked me badly. I was shamed by my cowardliness. Others, I am told have done the same – so it is no more that an example of self indulgence to spend time flapping ones arms in shock and surprise. Grace led me to the edge and invited me to jump, my humanity recoiled and I stepped back. Grace may offer another chance and possibly more courage. This is not my work – I am only responsible for completing it. Paradox again. Like puns – fun in their way but occurring so often they feel a little cheap – certainly not profound. The subtle way the world is woven.
The stories I told are true but they are not as serious as the actual act of self sacrifice The stories here, were lived through me, offered to me to pass to you. Maybe they will lead you to a deeper experience, Not my business. I wish you grace and courage and more than a little good humor. I hope you understand that it is not for me to sum up the events of the past stories. Stories are material for the imagination. Your imagination could be intuition. Best that I not impose any further.
Remembering the evening where we encountered four men in Jerusalem – having met them again and again, until an unexplainable bond had been built. We’d been meeting singly, But here they were – together for the first time. Everyone stopped but no one spoke. The air around us was subtly electric. All of us just looking at one another nodding, acknowledging this very portentous moment, none us of knowing what it meant – I didn’t – apparently none of these others did either. Nodding and more smiling for some few seconds – much less than a minute, and then we passed each other, passing through that center of convergence, continuing along our separate ways. This unusual meeting serving to remind us that though we often walk alone, we are partners in a larger enterprise.
We have gathered for a series of stories. I hope we continue to gather – each of us taking what seems worthwhile, Answers are just answers – but good questions and good conversation is priceless. I’ll be back here next week and we’ll see if there is more to talk about.