Sunday, October 28, 2018

Knowing Who We Are

     It's awfully easy to find oneself feeling desperately alone, lost in darkness. While those, under the illusion of control, may quickly judge this as abnormal, there are far wiser, nuanced explanations. Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl MD wrote: "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior."
     A stunningly, qualitatively alternative worldview, shared by shamans, meditators, contemplatives, mystics & saints throughout time & all around the world, is that essentially, everything is perfect as it is! These representatives of all the world's different wisdom traditions, who appear to have reached, or come very close to the summit of human psychosocialspiritual evolution ("awakening" or level 6 of Culliford's stages of maturation:, characterized by peace, love, connection, equanimity, harmony, wholeness, empathy, spaciousness & joy within this very human life we all share. 
     One might assume that such a positive worldview & way of being comes from being lucky enough to live an easy life or is purely delusional. However, shamans, meditators, contemplatives, mystics & saints usually arrive at their worldview after living through serious hardships, including one or more "dark night of the soul" experiences. They are fully, experientially aware of, and in open, empathic connection with the very depths of human suffering. AND, they're EQUALLY fully, experientially aware of, and intimate with, the very depth of who we are - something beyond common human conceptual understanding.
     All wisdom traditions claim that in order for us to thrive, to live full, happy lives, we also must learn to open up to this uncommon dimension of who we actually are. Many times each day, all of us experience, though tend not to deeply comprehend, the inherent unsatisfactoriness of ordinary human life. Working harder, smarter, longer hours, being harder on ourselves, running away, distracting ourselves, dissociating, - none of our mental or physical gymnastics can possibly fix, control, or change existential realities.
     Perhaps the "easiest" & most common pointer towards our own depth is experiencing disillusionment with the rat race inherent in ordinary human life. After stewing in stress hormones (adrenalin & cortisol) of the fight-or-flight adversarial survival instinct for decades, we may finally discover the power of self-kindness and tap into our natural mammalian caregiving system ("tend & befriend" instinct), releasing oxytocin - the hormone of love & bonding. "The emotion of care comes naturally to us, because without it our species would not be able to survive. This means that the capacity to feel affection and interconnection is part of our biological nature. Our brains are actually designed to care." In our fear-dominated world, we can & urgently must realize & embody the critically-missing ingredient of love - the polar opposite & potent antidote to fear & stress - see: Kristin Neff. “Self-Compassion. The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.

     We live in an age of dangerous imbalance between masculine & feminine energies. Shadow patriarchy - the dark side of masculine energy (which can also operate in women) - is running wild with unrelenting drive to power, dominance, & control. This is a doomed attempt to compensate for the loss of (healthy feminine energy) connection, love, & belonging, and ultimately for the loss of our ability to feel intimacy with life - see: Kittisaro & Thanissara. "Listening to the Heart. A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism." North Atlantic Books, 2014. 
     Balance is essential, especially between worldviews! At the level of common, consensual reality, there appear to be differences & thus adversarial relations between individuals, animals, environment, etc. Not just shamans, mystics & saints, but many serious meditators & contemplatives have non-dual perspectives ie live equally in both the ordinary world (common, consensual reality) as well as the non-ordinary, where everyone & everything is known to arise from the same source: "Numinous Ground of Being," "Emptiness," "The Godhead," "The Dazzling Dark" etc. Each of us is being called to return to our true home, to truly feel at home, to have a felt experience of nonduality. This is the only cure for the darkness of feeling trapped exclusively in ordinary reality.
     An interesting, hopefully helpful metaphor for non-dual perspective comes from nature: The largest organism on earth is thought to be Pando, a colony or clone of 46,000 aspen with a common root system, in central Utah’s Fishlake National Forest. Pando, also known as “the trembling giant,” covers over 106 acres, has a total weight of 6,000 tonnes, and is estimated to be 14,000 years old. This “huge underground singular root system sends up tens of thousands of clone aspen trees, each one genetically identical to the next.”


  1. Hello John, it appears you wrote this reflection and I appreciate the concerns you are exploring. I conclude that I see the world with a fundamental dualism, which I believe will be disappointing to you, but I hope it will not mar our long and respectful friendship. As I explore my dualistic worldview, I suppose that I insist on a cause of the Big Bang, and I am fundamentally committed to reconciliation as a deep need in so many areas of life. Interestingly, reconciliation presupposes some dualistic realities that conflict, but aims at moving to peace and wholeness. Having said that, I also appreciate wisdom, as you clearly do, and there are many other thoughts you draw on that I resonate with, such as nurturing and the power of love. Cheers.

    1. I'm neither surprised nor disappointed in your professed dualistic perspective Jim. It's a perspective we seem to acquire in early childhood and tends to remain with most of us throughout life. The shift to nondualism is by no means easy or quick, for me at least, but I'm starting to sense that reconciliation, peace & wholeness come with it as part of the package. We're all very different wrt personality, life experiences etc. I certainly respect you Jim and value our long friendship.

    2. Wrt the power of love, here's a quote I find inspiring:
      “Your task is not to seek for love,
      but merely to seek and find all of the barriers
      within yourself that you have built against it.” Helen Schueman