These are excerpts from a letter Nancy wrote to a frequent TZF visitor, who had confided “I have learned so much; it is embarrassing at times to consider just where I came from.” Of course, all personal references have been removed.
How nice to hear from you and especially such happy news!
Never be embarrassed about where you were! Of course, despite what I say, you will be anyway, for we all are! But, still, try to remember that the only one who is embarrassed is the one who is getting dissolved by the process anyway, so it doesn’t really matter!
I have found that the only value in looking back is to assist us in helping others forward. Remembering where we were helps us to understand where they are (and reminds us why we may not judge them!). But that is as far as it needs to go. After all, we are all children, going through stages in school. We were not embarrassed to be first graders, or fifth graders, or high school graduates. Consciousness is a school, and we must go through each grade to reach the next. And each of us must pass through each grade just like everyone else! Some will deny that; nonetheless, they too went through it. Who was it who said, “You can’t get in through the back door, but only through the front door”? Well, it’s true, there is no way to skip steps. Some may move up them faster or slower than others, but we all have to walk them one by one!
Similarly, we go through periods of enormous struggle, primarily because of our impatience with the process. We are all children at heart; we want it NOW! Often, what appears to us to be stagnation or non-progress is actually a period of consolidation. Once that sets, progress then becomes daily, and, incidentally, incrementally exponential!
Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel! I am certain that metaphysically this can be explained by some mathematical equation, since as one progresses to a certain point, the movement becomes almost palpable, and fortunately, swift. When I look back at the changes in my own life and in my own consciousness, I am astounded. And yet, at the time, it appeared to me that I was going nowhere; indeed, in some cases, backwards! I think this can be explained by the increased attention and observation that comes with spiritual work. At first, we are so distracted and inattentive, we do not even notice our own behavior or the process of consciousness. Later, when we start to observe ourselves, we are appalled!!!! Then, as we begin to take ourselves and our behavior seriously, there is a sudden realization that YES, it is working, my consciousness IS becoming more disciplined, more benign, more loving, more expansive. I think when we realize this, it is almost unbelievable.
I am still in awe over how smoothly, in retrospect, everything works, once one commits. But, again, I must reiterate that AT THE TIME I thought I was going nowhere!
I wish to add my own recommendation to TZF’s editor’s about the movie “Meet Joe Black” which stars Brad Pitt, in possibly his greatest moment, and Anthony Hopkins, who consistently has great moments on screen. Kudos too to the rest of the cast, especially the lead female, whose name escapes me, but whose performance was every bit as strong as Pitt’s and Hopkins’. And to the writers, for a brilliant script. As must already be apparent, we really liked this film; it is virtually flawless.
While ostensibly about Death (in the form of Brad Pitt - nice paradox, this gorgeous human being carrying the “spirit” of Death around!), this movie is actually about living rightly, with magic and enthusiasm. Indeed, Pitt’s expression of Death is full of promise, childlike delight, and positive experience.
Now, of course, most embodied human beings (actually, I guess that’s what constitutes a human being – embodiment, right?) will initially most likely recoil from subjecting themselves to a confrontation with the prospect of death, even though it is in a movie format. In fact, that may explain why the movie has not enjoyed the great success it deserves! However, I urge you to resist the temptation to flee to other, more distracting subjects, and give this one a try.
At first blush, the movie’s lessons may seem incidental, even secondary, but they are the genius of the film. Death is presented with both humor and awe, as a concept not to be feared, but to be respected, and, if life is lived rightly and fully, welcomed, even loved. When understood in its fullest form, as transformation and evolution, change, and adventure, death loses its sting. Somehow, Pitt manages to capture and express all of this and more in his depiction of the character. It really is a remarkable performance.
In this same context, not long ago I watched a PBS television program about the restoration of Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, in which the artist was quoted as having said, “If life was found to be agreeable, then so should death, for it comes from the hand of the same Creator.” What a wonderful – and patently obvious – observation!
And yet, despite the logic of this statement, most of us fear death. Indeed, we are horrified by it, primarily because it reminds us of our total dependence on something other than ourselves, which, in turn, reminds us of our lack of control over life. At least while we are “alive”, we feel like we are in control, that we make things happen, that it is “our” life and our choices which determine its outcome.
Of course, none of that is actually true, but we enjoy the sense of power which our belief that it is true brings us. Indeed, at base, all of life, and therefore, by extension, death, is about this power. We spend our entire life accumulating it, bargaining for it, seeking it, using and abusing it, and finally, in the end, having to admit we don’t own it, and that we are mere “puppets” of God’s Power, seemingly cut off when the whim suits God, with no recourse on our part, but to surrender and succumb to it. This is the moment in life, the moment of death, when there is no recourse, from which we recoil so vehemently, either through denial, by distraction, or by fighting it to the very end. Of course, our reluctance to address it is not entirely of our making; we are programmed to survive, physically, and thus our knee-jerk reaction to the unknown, to powerlessness, is to recoil from it.
But, consider Michelangelo’s observation! If he is correct, and if death is something altogether different from what we think it is, then there is truly nothing to be afraid of, and everything to be hopeful about. Indeed, if life and death are alternating appearances on the surface of LIFE, then death is merely one of many changes in one’s LIFE, and the event, while frightening because unknown, is not necessarily bad, or powerless. Indeed, it might even be compared to the transformation that occurs from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. The adult is surely no longer the child it once was, indeed a near total transformation has occurred, both within the psyche as well as the body, and yet, there is no fear on the part of the child toward that unknown future transformation. Perhaps this may be attributable to the fact that children are not obsessed with power, nor have great fear of powerlessness, in part due to the fact that they actually have little power in their youthful position. Perhaps we could learn something from that state of mind within a child?
If one considers every night, when one willingly and hopefully falls into deep sleep, as a process almost identical to that of death, which in many ways it is, then death becomes a moment of supreme rest, peace, and bliss, similar to the experience of a good night’s sleep. It is only because we believe we wake up the next morning the SAME as we were when we went to sleep, that sleep does not strike terror in our hearts. Is it possible, then, that we awake from death, the SAME as we were when we died? Seems logical, doesn’t it? Indeed, Tibetan Buddhist teachings confirm that this is essentially what happens. Thus, we take with us into death, as we do into sleep, all that we are, all our tendencies, joys, sorrows, fears, and certainties. And, we carry on, just as we do when we awake from sleep.
Thus, it seems apparent to me that what is important for each of us is to get our act together now, become what is most agreeable to us now, and then our future, both “alive” and “dead”, will reflect that. After all, surely the concept of death applies only to the body, to our material aspect. It does not apply to the soul, the consciousness, the essence of what we truly are. Thus, paradoxically, we do have power, and we are not powerless at the moment of death. We can control its outcome and its process by our choices now, today. If we live a good life today, we will die a good death tomorrow.
And, of course, a good (or easy) death is what all of us want anyway, and hopefully that will come as part of the spiritual process. In the movie “Meet Joe Black”, the Hopkins character turns to Brad Pitt (playing Death), and, referring to his own death, asks, “Should I be afraid?” To that, Death responds (I do not remember the exact words, but this is close), “Being the man you are, there is nothing to fear.”
”Dusk” by N. Nadzo
All of my “spiritual life”, I have struggled with the seemingly contradictory statements regarding the necessity of having “A Guru” (or Teacher) who personifies, or incarnates, one’s concept of God, and refraining from submitting to that Guru (particularly if he or she is presently incarnate, as opposed to a “dead guru”, such as Jesus or Buddha), because of the entrapments implied in that submission, such as a limitation on God’s possibilities, the exclusivity implied by one being incarnating God, the externalization of God, and so on. Indeed, my own “Gurus” have both suggested it is essential to have one, and on the other hand, something to be avoided at all costs. I have managed to live with this contradiction, and managed to obey both requirements at the same time, but not without extreme difficulty.
However, from my present position, there is no contradiction any longer, and indeed, the genius of my Teachers is that, despite the seeming contradiction, they both managed to live within my heart in symbiosis, and have brought me to an understanding which unites the two.
It is now apparent to me that my only problem with these seemingly opposed teachings was my lack of understanding of the part that time played within these teachings. It is always a simple missing link, isn’t it?
The process of submission to a Teacher as a personification of God is extremely important, and vital, in two ways. First, it humbles the ego by virtue of its submission. If one needs to turn to another in order to survive spiritually, then, the ego must, by that act, admit its limits and its impotence. That admission is vital to transcendence of the ego, and to its ultimate transformation, and it is essential in the learning process, and to one’s capacity to listen and hear. If one relies on one’s own capacities, instead, then one is automatically limited by the limitations of one’s own capacities as expressed through one’s limited ego. No way around that. At the same time, the grace that is bestowed by the Teacher to whom one has submitted is vital in filling the void created by the submission of one’s ego. The Teacher, if he or she is truly enlightened (and God willing, the Teacher is!), but even if not truly enlightened, by virtue of the student’s belief or doubt as to that enlightenment, stands within the mind of the student as a “transmitter” of his or her own consciousness to the student. This is true whoever the Teacher or whatever the tradition. It is no more miraculous than the transmission of a parent’s consciousness to a child’s. It is done subtly and inevitably. And it is primarily accomplished either quickly or slowly based more on the capacity of the student than any miraculous capacity on the part of the teacher. (This so-called “transmission”, incidentally, is equally true in the world of mundane education, and depends primarily on the capacity of the student to submit himself or herself to the consciousness of the teacher and to assume that the teacher has something to teach him or her.) It is this transmission that we call Grace in the case of a Teacher, because it is so expansive, so loving, so unconditional. Kind of like God, right?!
However, at the same time, there comes a moment in the understanding and spiritual process where the integration of God “within”, or the understanding that God is all there is, and thus, is unlimited, develops or evolves (and is inevitable), which also implies an expansion from the limitations implied by a Guru. It is this moment, when one begins to feel the presence of God as personal, not without, but as part and parcel of one’s consciousness, that the conflict between externalizing God and integrating God becomes glaring. However, with the consideration of time in this process, there is no conflict. Indeed, the ability to feel God within and all inclusive ONLY comes about as a result of the submission to an external Guru, who, through Grace, has transmitted that all encompassing presence or feeling of God at the appropriate time in the life of the student, while at the same time the capacity and receptivity of the student anchors it. As I begin to understand this, I see that there cannot be the integration without first submission and sacrifice. It is simply a process, and a time for each moment is according to the capacity of the student. Each step of consciousness follows the preceding in a very orderly fashion.
Indeed, there is a problem only if, after the fact, one stubbornly hangs on to the past and insists upon the exclusivity of God. Then the conflict frequently expresses itself in fanaticism, intolerance, or repression of the true unfolding of consciousness in the spiritual process. It is this unwillingness to let go of the security and comfort of an exclusive external God that creates the suffering and misunderstanding that go on within and between human kind. But of course, we cannot release that comfort and security until God is anchored within, and that requires much devotion to and study with the God without. It is a razor’s edge, this spiritual process. The ability to let go of the past and free fall into the next step is a courageous and daring one. It requires enormous faith and discipline. Little wonder it is a rare achievement.