Now People Just Get Prettier

The world can seem inhospitable, or the world can seem a beautiful place that is getting more beautiful yet. The difference, of course, is perception.

In his song, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” Bob Dylan sings:

Now the rainman gave me two cures,
Then he said, ‘Jump right in.’
The one was Texas medicine
The other was just railroad gin.
And like a fool I mixed them,
And it strangled up my mind.
And now people just get uglier
And I have no sense of time.

For many years, I could relate perfectly to Dylan’s words. My mind was quite strangled up, and indeed, I had no sense of time. In that negative view, I thought I had a clear understanding of the world. I thought life was “nasty, brutish and short,” as Thomas Hobbs described it in 1651. I also believed spirituality was an intellectual fantasy. And I was drinking quite a lot.

Much has changed in my life since then. I’ve come to believe the world is charged with spirituality. I now believe the very molecules of reality are spiritual. This change didn’t happen because I was influenced by a book or by a teacher, but simply because I started to see that it was true. It became self-evident, just as waking from a dream makes the events of the dream intrinsically unreal.

Books and teachers have since supported what I see, and they offer ways to articulate what came to me through a crisis. I suppose my new view could also be seen like an intellectual fantasy. And I do expect I will wake up from this round of consciousness as well.

In the meantime, people just get prettier and everything seems so well timed.

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In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

When we have a spiritual awakening, it’s natural to ask the question: How do I live now? How does this change my life? Does the internal breakthrough come with external responsibilities?

The simple answer is no, nothing has changed.

The more complicated answer is yes, everything has changed.

The title of this blog comes from William Butler Yeats. In his own spiritual development, it became clear to him that great dreams come with responsibilities. Your response to the world will change as your view of the world evolves. This works both ways. Slip into a dark place, and you will see an unforgiving world that is hurtful. Your actions will follow: hurt people hurt people.

But when your spiritual life expands, you see more and you will begin to understand you are part of everything and everything is part of you. As the small and ever-pressuring self begins to break apart, you will see that your presence itself begins to have a healing effect on those around you.

Dark, constricted vision produces after itself. Light likewise, produces light. As you develop spiritually, you will automatically pull away from hurtful behavior as from a hot fire. You will gravitate toward healing behavior because it is nourishing and feels right.

Detachment from worldly pressures does not mean separation from others. Quite the opposite. It means freedom to do what is lovingly needed. In the dream of a greater, more spiritual existence, you will see where you can be helpful, and it will be your pleasure to serve.

You will see the thorn in the other’s palm, and you will remove it – not because you have new strength to take up this weighty task, but because you will see that it is so easy to do.

The Takeout Window at Panda Express

You’ve been through some changes. Something has happened in your life – either gradually or abruptly – and now everything is different. You can see, hear, feel, and touch a new world, right here where you’ve always been. The very molecules of your body and everything around you seem charged, bright and alive.

You see your life that came before as dreamlike. You’re seeing the world as if for the first time, and it’s infinitely larger. You can taste eternity in this new air.

So now what?

Do you still have to vacuum and take out the trash now that you see your old life seems just an illusion? Do you still have to do your taxes? With fresh joy in each breath, do you still have to do what your stupid boss says?

There is a Zen saying: “Before enlightenment you must chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, you must chop wood and carry water.” But our world is a bit more complicated than wood and water. What if the wood and water involves humiliation? Can you be enlightened while working the takeout window at Panda Express?

Of course you can. You cannot be humiliated any longer. Gradually – perhaps suddenly – the takeout window becomes an opportunity to serve and meet each new beautiful face that drives up.

I had a friend who was a Unity minister. Before becoming a minister, he did door-to-door sales. At first it was soul-killing work. With all his heart, he wanted to be a metaphysical minister. As he grew in understanding, he came to realize all his comings and goings in the world were charged with spirit. His attitude about his job changed. As he went up the walk to each new door, he sincerely asked himself, “What will the face of God look like this time?”

Needless to say, soon enough he was a Unity minister.

 

Awake and the World is New

Sometimes we rouse from sleep slowly, grab a cup of coffee and nurse it quietly on a cool spring morning as the sun warms our skin. Other times, we jump out of bed and dash at the day, waking at full speed. Spiritual awakenings are no different. They can come as a gradual unfolding of light and understanding, or they can feel like a jolting breakthrough that disrupts everything.

I love the gentle percolation of the slow awakening. Years might go by gently on a soft plateau – a pastoral spirituality. I also love the thrill of getting rocketed from slumber.

There is a third way. Instead of a progression or journey from sleep to wakefulness, we might experience a different form of waking, where suddenly everything changes in the blink of an eye. There is no sensation of travel. It’s like a light gets switched on suddenly. Darkness goes away in an instant.

We travel a great distance from the old world to a fresh new world with no sense of movement. This has happened a few times in my life.

One day the world has a particular texture with specific challenges and pressures. The next day, the very nature of reality has shifted. The old physics no longer apply. We have become a new creature. We have to learn how to walk again, learn how to be in relationships again We have to discover who our friends are and who our family members are.

This sudden change is not isolating. I’ve found myself quickly surrounded by new friends or old friends who are now different, glowing in new light. Family members once distant are suddenly close. The world becomes warm and welcoming where it was once full of tension and difficulties.

I don’t know whether I changed or the world changed. But it was clear there was no going back, and the world had taken on a bright sheen that glowed down below the surface of everything.

The Lunatic Is in My Head

“There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”

This line is from the song “Brain Damage,” by Roger Waters. The song appears on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, released in 1973. In the song, a lunatic is approaching. First it’s on the grass, then in the hall, and finally, “The lunatic is in my head.”

Waters tells the story of seeing a “keep of the grass” sign on a beautiful patch of lawn, a place that was welcoming. He thought that was crazy.

The powerful song sends a simple message. Given time, and given the lack of a creative or spiritual force in your life, the messages and pressures of the world will grow near and ultimately become who you are. What seems crazy in this world is at first on the outside. We see it as teenagers and swear we will not become part of the craziness. Yet, unless we know how to outmaneuver it, the insanity moves to the inside. Few of us are given any instruction in how to outmaneuver the madness.

When I first heard the song as a young man, I felt it as a potent warning . I was at the stage where the lunatic had moved from the grass and into my hall. I felt very much in danger of losing the battle of the self to world. There is a passage in the children’s novel, A Wrinkle in Time, where a character faces a similar battle. Charles must maintain his identity in the face of life-threatening darkness.

In spite of my noble attempt to stay sane in this world, the lunatic did eventually enter my head and I succumbed to the darkness. For many years, there was someone in my head and it certainly wasn’t me. The world, of course, saw it as sanity. I tried to see it as sanity. I thought I had finally come around. But it was not sanity, and I suffered for succumbing to the world’s madness.

During the time when I was young and I felt so threatened by the world, there was something very important I didn’t understand. The light may go out in your head, but it hasn’t gone out in reality. The light surrounds us, and our failure to perceive it does not diminish its power.

Willingness was all I needed to step back into the light. The lunatic is still in my head. It comes with our DNA, it’s in the drinking water of our culture, and it gets passed from generation to generation like a virus. But now I’m aware that the lunatic is the lunatic and it’s not me. Likewise, it doesn’t have to make my decisions.

Yes, there’s someone in my head and it’s not me. That “someone” does a lot of thinking. It’s a whole committee. But I don’t have to believe the thoughts that rattle in my brain. There is also light in my head, and I can trust that light. The light doesn’t make me suffer, and it can actually untangle the darkness of the thinking brain.

I Am What I Think

 

We are what we think. This idea goes back centuries. It has been used to encourage people to put spirit first; it has been used as a way to get ahead in business. Here are some quotes about how our thinking affects our reality:

  • Proverbs 23:7: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.
  • Henry Ford: If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.
  • Buddha: We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.
  • Albert Einstein: The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.
  • Earl Nightingale: You become what you think about all day long.

Some have been skeptical about the power of thought. Lao Tzu held an interesting view: “Stop thinking, and end your problems.”

Some spiritual teachers warn about the tricks and trapdoors that come with too much intellectualization. A friend recently said, “Don’t trust the intellect except as it comes from the heart.

My favorite quote about the power of thought comes from “The Course in Miracles” on the subject of vision and wholeness. You’ll find it in Lesson 56, paragraph 27.

“Recognizing that what I see reflects what I think I am, I realize that vision is my greatest need. The world I see attests to the fearful nature of the self image I have made.  If I would remember who I am, it is essential that I let this image of myself go. As it is replaced by truth, vision will surely be given me. And with this vision, I will look upon the world and on myself with charity and love.”

That’s clear. Let go of the fearful ego and its troubled thoughts. Let your true nature and true vision look out on the world with love and compassion. The Christ/Krishna/Buddha within you looks out on the world with love. If you allow that vision to be yours, you will live in peace. Spirit is present within us all. It is infinite and eternal. Its influence on our lives depends on how much of our self we’re willing to surrender to its light.

Let the light inside cleanse your thoughts of fear. You’ll then see the world as it truly is – a reflection of the spirit light within.

Holy Instant Is Meant to Last

Most people I know have experienced moments of spiritual experience or insight. My research sample of friends is too small to assert that everyone has experiences of being in the presence of spirit. But probably everyone has these experiences at different times in life. While some believe these are momentary flashes that come on their own, I’m convinced they can be encouraged and sustained.

I experienced spiritual moments when I was young. I didn’t think anything of them. They were simply moments of feeling that all was well. Usually I experienced this while I was in the woods or trudging through fields in search of snakes and toads. I was complete. The world was complete. And there was no difference between me and the world.

Later I experienced spiritual epiphanies during my late teens and early 20s during experiences with psychedelic drugs such as LSD, DMT, and psilocybin. The drugs delivered a much different holy instant. They produced spiritual sensations, but those experiences were laced with an edgy chemical feeling. When the drug wore off, so did the spirituality.

Shortly after that period, I met a girl who had a strong commitment to spirituality. We attended Self-Realization Fellowship classes at the Detroit Institute of Arts. She would have direct spiritual experiences with friends. She described this as “clicking.” She told she was waiting to click with me. I had no idea what she was talking about.

Then one evening as we pulled into the parking lot of my apartment, a feeling started coming over me. It was a strong physical feeling that was both light and comforting. There was nothing subtle about it. We were both looking straight ahead. Softly, she said, “This is it. This is clicking.” I had no fear, no anxiety, just a strong sense of love and presence.

I started to ask what it was. She said, “No, don’t disturb it.” The feeling lasted for about five or ten minutes. When it faded I finally asked her what it was. “That was clicking,” she said. When I pressed, she said, “I don’t know what it is. It’s clicking. I think it’s God.”

The clicking never happened again. She moved on to another boyfriend. I moved on to another girlfriend. I have felt the sensation again – though in a weaker strength – during meditation. As my spiritual commitment and activities increased in recent years, I’ve felt it again, many times, but not with the same intensity or the same mystery. These days, when I experience the presence of spirit, it’s not mysterious at all. I’ve become convinced it’s our natural state of being.

Holy instants sometimes last only seconds. They are precious moments when we finally see reality. They’re like a moment of sunshine on a cloudy day. When the sun pokes through, we know the sun is not being inconsistent. The sun is never diminished by the clouds that block it.

 

Likewise with spirit during a holy instant. Our experience of the presence may be brief, but that doesn’t mean spirit is any less complete. Spirit is never inconsistent, never brief. Celestial light is constant. It’s not distant. It’s present and complete at all times, in our heart, in our breath, in our very being. The holy instant is our true nature, our true identity. This waking life is the illusion. The holy instant is the truth, and it can be called forth to the center of our being, to the center of our experience of this world.