This past month we have been enmeshed in a karmic struggle that might have been designed by the karmic architect from hell! It has involved a family whose life was turned upside down three years ago by the unexpected death of a parent, and from which event the remaining parent, and by extension the family situation, has progressively deteriorated. For three years in my own small way I have tried to affect positive change, tried to help avoid the inevitable; I have watched, and indeed, shared with them their suffering from the fallout of this situation, only now, finally to witness the initial expectation of disaster come to pass. The other day, the youngest child was taken from the home by the state, and for a time, placed within the protective custody of our family. Being something of an “empath”, it was some kind of experience! The other members of the family, as well as those others who have cared for them and about them, have suffered equal emotional turmoil. I see no end to the pain, and only a worsening.
The lesson for myself, of course, has been what I have known all along, but consistently refused to fully surrender to; that there is nothing any of us can do for any one else in a lasting and transforming sense, other than to hold one another’s hands, and even that sometimes prolongs the pain, for it is all written ahead of time, and we only dance the dance as God, or the Universe, or fate wills it. The lesson for all the others involved in this particular situation will vary according to that individual’s placement in the dance; they are equally important and vital to the individual understanding of his or her life, of course. But this lesson for myself, and others within my immediate family, was awesome, horrifying in one sense, and incredibly liberating in another. While undergoing the lesson, however, I would not wish it on any human being. And yet, and yet, without it, I would have been the poorer. And the most amazing part of it all is that, with the growing understanding of the truth and reality of life, revealed in all its horrifying aspects, and all its bare-boned starkness, including my realization of my helplessness, there is an underlying certainty that all is well, and all is right, despite my helplessness and uselessness.
Once I saw clearly, not through theoretical reasoning or conjecture, not through recall of previous lessons learned, but only through the intense heat of the melodrama of directly and vicariously experiencing a child suffering at the hands of a careless world, and being unable to heal the wounds, soften the pain, change the history, change the future, did my helplessness and total impotency within the drama become glaringly and painfully obvious to me. I found that whatever I did currently, and indeed, whatever I have done over the past three years, no matter how well intentioned, no matter how substantive, how informed, how wise my action, all the actions I took resulted in at best delay or even stagnation, at worst, a worsening of the situation. It was appalling, and it was humbling. I was confounded, and confused. Nothing worked! I was reduced to the acknowledgement that I had no power; I could not prevail upon God, no matter how often I tried, nor upon all the other powers of the universe, to change the direction and destiny of this particular drama. I suddenly realized that this was the Mahabharata in microcosm! I was incidental to this dance. It had been written and would be fulfilled, whatever anyone thought, wished or prayed for. I was reduced to an inconsequential, and totally dependent individual; I had realized that there is nothing I can do to help, and that each of us cannot be helped by another, except perhaps to be consoled and to put off our destiny for a period of time … maybe not even that! I realized that my part in this drama was equally unimportant or important to that of any other person. And I finally realized that there is truth to the old statement that we are nothing but creatures.
The surrender required in this instance was one of acceptance of the loss of illusion and delusion. I originally had called it a kind of death of innocence, because at first it felt like that. But innocence in this case could be another word for blindness or delusion. We feel innocent when and because we do not know our true situation, and in that respect, yes, perhaps it is the death of innocence. But I think it is actually a delusion. We are instructed and programmed to believe that given enough education, knowledge, the tools of power, discipline, cultivation of faith, etc., we can affect lasting and consequential changes. I no longer believe this is true. Call it what you will; karma, destiny, justice, whatever, it remains that there is a wheel or unwinding of action within this world which is incidental to us, beyond and transcendent to us, but to which we are subject by virtue of our being alive, and our participation within that wheel is, while individually experienced, inevitable, and in the most important ways, predetermined, I think. Perhaps, perhaps, in a wider and more transcendent perspective, our attempts at change, our intervening and our offered assistance has some kind of over-all lasting effect; I do not know, since I do not live long enough to see the eventual outcome of all our multitudinous actions over a large expanse of time. But I do know that short term, our efforts to change situations that are set by innumerable prior events, by literally millennia of ancestral genetic memory traces, will more than likely delay or even exacerbate the situation, unless (and only if) those individuals with whom we interact ask and accept open-heartedly any intervention from any individual. (And that is a big “if”; even when we seem to ask, we may not be asking. We may just be running.)
Thus, it seems to me that the only action necessary is surrender by each and every one of us, usually in increments, not to each other, but to the bare facts of our existence, and only that. We cannot do it for others, we cannot coerce others to do it. Often our intervention merely enables others to refuse to do it, or simplifies that refusal. Karma is the best explanation for it. But I would take issue with the opinion that we are capable of personally directing or “cleaning up our karma”. Maybe we can lessen future karma, but I am not altogether certain about that either. Not to mention interfering within the karma of others, much less finding an individual who can “take on our karma for us”, be that in the form of a Guru, Teacher, or Christ. I think that here Karma is another word for God, and that God is the power behind all our experiences, all our consciousness, and all our belief that we have power. And no one can, nor should, take on God for any of us. This is a personal one-on-one thing, I think. ( I suppose one could quibble here and thus say we have power because of God. But it is not OURS, and we do not ultimately control its exercise, as I understand it now.) And so long as we are alive, being, conscious, we are subject to that Karma, or God, and we WILL dance that dance, until we are no longer alive, being, conscious, whether or not we wish to. Perhaps, from an ontological point of view, this might explain why “rebirth” or “death” is so prominent in the esoterica of spiritual seeking.
This problem of surrender has plagued my own spiritual work throughout my life. I have known that it is essential, I have occasionally convinced myself I have done so, but despite all that, and all of my own understanding, in this instance for three long years, I obviously still thought there was “something I could do”. Clearly, the striving for power, in whatever guise it may appear, is the lifelong pursuit of all unenlightened human beings. It is only when we truly realize that in fact, no power resides within us except that which is flowing through us as life, or that which graciously appears to be a direct result of something that we have done, and yet far transcends our apparent power, that we truly surrender and understand the deeper meaning of life.
When I ran across U. G. Krishnamurti about a year ago, and read his outspoken and raw statements in this regard, I saw the truth of life clearly, and concurred with his position, thanks to his clarity, but promptly reserved “the right to hope” as a shield against the awesome ramifications of this realization. I am after all human, and the enormity of this realization at that time, obviously, was too radical to accept fully. (We always reserve a little corner of the mind to keep spinning its web and its illusions and delusions! The more is the pity; a clean, sharp cut, deep and fully and lasting is far superior a form of surgery!)
Finally, but not least of all, despite U. G. Krishnamurti’s position and clarity, I am still amazed at the resourcefulness of the mind to shift the burden of truth out of sight, to put it off, to deal with it at a later time once encountered and unsuccessfully rejected. (It is hard to reject the bare rationality of his position, after all!) Thank God for this ability; we can only face what we can face when we can face it. So it is a kind of fail-safe device sort of built in. However, it is interesting to note that as these kinds of understandings occur within one’s consciousness, that coincidentally, there is always, without fail, a settling of peace and certainty, a kind of widening that comes with that acceptance and understanding. I guess what I am saying here is that there is no need of fear, despite the fact that we will always continue to fear it. Boy, it is some kind of web we weave, isn’t it? Of course, instantly the mind rushes in, and asks, “well then, now what?” I’ve effectively eliminated all my reasons for living; all my consolations, all my sources of motivation. I suppose my only refuge is in the Sufi understanding that you do the right thing, and you do it knowing full well that it won’t change anything. Stand back a little and see the insanity of it, and you cannot help but fall down in laughter at the absurdity and bizarre character of it all!
[The following was written in response to a question about the value of disciplines like astrology, Tarot cards, and the I Ching, specifically as predictors of the future. Of course, all personal references have been omitted.]
Like anything else in life, the value to astrology depends on who is doing it, whether the reading is good or just watered down consolation. Certainly, I have seen the lives of people I know turn out just about exactly as some parts of their chart predicted, so it is hard to argue against it. For example, some years ago, I cast a chart, and found that it predicted death through sex. I warned the person about it; but unfortunately, the person ignored the warning, and went on to die of a sexually transmitted disease.
Ultimately, I believe an astrological chart is more about tendencies, talents, predispositions, weaknesses, and other psychological characteristics, and less about irrevocable destinies. Think of it as an early warning system alerting us to challenges and opportunities, and a confirmation system about how we are doing as we plod along. We can choose to heed the information a chart offers or not. If we heed the warnings, we can avoid disappointments and struggles that might otherwise loom larger. From another perspective, however, I see a chart more as a reflection of our mental state, rather than a determinant of that state. In other words, it is a picture of our consciousness. The more important question, however, is which came first, the chart or our consciousness? Working on that is where the real action is.
As for astrology as a predictor of the future, by date and time and so on, I am not certain what I believe. I have come to the conclusion that knowing too much about the future is bad for us; it takes the whole point of life out of life. Additionally, the power of suggestion is enormous, and too often self-fulfilling. Indeed, I knew an astrologer, a woman who happened to be a rather well-known writer in the field, who died of a stroke after having “seen” it in her chart. Well, I wonder if she may not have convinced herself the chart was right, and that therefore there was no way out; so, she died!
There is no question in my mind that great moments or movements in history, for example where the entire world seems to turn either vicious or benevolent, can be charted by the heavens, suggesting there is a kind of radiation or vibration that permeates all of us all of the time as a mass of living biological beings. On the other hand, the inescapable question remains, where do these moments or movements start? In man’s mass consciousness, or in the heavens? Increasingly, I am coming to the belief that it is the former, and that the astrological heavens reflect rather than dictate. The outer reflects the inner.
The mind of a human being is the co-creator of the universe in which he or she finds himself or herself. To the extent that we choose to give that authority to others, be they people, or systems, or cosmologies, or sciences, our universe will unfold according to THAT authority. To the extent that we recognize we are our own authority, and thus have responsibility for our lives by virtue of our own decisions and choices, and that we literally determine the outcome of our lives moment by moment based on our state of consciousness at every moment, to that extent, we determine how our lives unfold. Thus, astrology is useful up until such time as we feel comfortable making our own decisions. Until then, it can be a useful and valid kind of guide. Beyond that time, however, it can become an obstruction to growth, just as any dependency upon any outside authority can.
About the Tarot and I Ching, yes, I have practiced both, and they have both proved very effective as tools for answering thorny questions. But, here too, I urge you to remember that all methods of “fortune telling” are really assists toward quieting the mind and focusing it, to allow your own native intuition to work. The cards in Tarot, or the coins or sticks in I Ching, fall as they do as a REFLECTION or picture of what is inside your head all the time. They just help you to expose it. There is nothing magical or mystical about this, other than what is magical and mystical about all life! All of us have intuition, and we all know what is right and wrong for us personally. Most of us aren’t quiet enough to hear the answers that reside within us. Astrology, Tarot, the I Ching, and others, can serve to help create an environment for that quiet.
Finally, here is a very nice website on astrology http://www.cainer.com/kathryn/satmove.html. And I heartily recommend NASA’s site, http://www.spacescience.com. It is full of fascinating information. (Don’t forget, astrology and astronomy are two faces of the same discipline.) NASA has a really nice feature called “Thursday’s Classroom”, designed to bring astronomy into education.