Before the Battle of El Alamein, Winston Churchill summoned General Montgomery and suggested that he study the logistics of the battle. Montgomery doubted that he should become involved in such mundane, technical matters. "After all," he said, "you know what they say, familiarity breeds contempt." Churchill looked at the notoriously pompous Montgomery and replied, "I feel compelled to remind you, Monty, that without a degree of familiarity, we could not breed anything."
After thirty years of stumbling toward the light I was delighted to discover that I've at least cooked to the point of recognizing that Churchill's pungent insight is just as applicable to the process of spiritual transformation as it was to the Battle of El Alamein... a degree of familiarity with the "logistics" of conflict is essential to the birth of a peace that "passeth understanding."
If "a degree of familiarity" with the true cause of emotional turmoil has not been established, recovery from cognitive confusion and the painful feelings it generates will be a long and arduous ordeal. Now, if we accept that premise as valid, it follows that our journey of liberation from emotional suffering would most effectively begin with the inquiry "what is, in fact, responsible for the ever-changing nature of this phenomenon we call our "feelings?"
Consider this from Charles Fillmore's teaching in "Christian Healing," page 62. "Mental processes enter into all creations... Mind is the one and only creative power, and all attempts to account for creation from any other standpoint are futile... Our most important study, then, is our own consciousness." Thank you, "Poppa Charlie," for our starting ground.
In "Seeking the Heart of Wisdom" Joseph Goldstein confirms Fillmore's understanding when he observes that "in order to understand our lives it is essential to understand the nature of mind. Everything that we are, everything that we do, has its origin in the mind." As we begin this "study of our own consciousness" and the forces that condition it we see that mind is in a constant state of change. In an instant it can move from tranquil equanimity to burning rage or passionate desire. One moment we are focused and clear and the next moment lost in some compelling fantasy.
Careful observation of the mind at play soon reveals it to be a dynamic playground of constant change conditioned and reconditioned by a never ending flow of cognitive responses generated by our value systems frantic evaluation of the endless input provided by our senses. It's the phenomenon that inspired Chogyam Trungpa to observe, "The epitome of the human predicament is to be stuck in a huge traffic jam of discursive thinking" Ever been there? Welcome to the club!
As we refine our capacities for "paying attention to what we are paying attention to," we begin to observe certain patterns of thought emerging. We begin to develop a "degree of familiarity" with the kind of thinking that moves the feeling nature in the direction of greater rigidity, contraction and resistance, thus, more emotional turbulence and pain. At the same time, our diligent mindfulness begins to reveal the patterns of thinking that lead to a more open, spacious perception of our earth experience. The liberating effect of that insight empowers us to choose to use our minds skillfully in the service of a free and flowing relationship with that ever-changing scenario of form and circumstance we call our lives.
As we continue to cultivate and practice a deepening commitment to Krishnamurti's invitation to "watch our minds like we would watch a rattlesnake," the self-imposed nature of our emotional turmoil can become distressingly clear. So clear that we may find ourselves stuck in a fierce denial that prevents us from even considering that empowering bit of wisdom found in the Gospel of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us!"
The Master, Jesus, invited us to put away our pity-parties and our petulance and fearlessly embrace the "truth that sets us free" . . . namely, that emotional suffering (aka hell) is a totally unnecessary, self-imposed experience that flows out of our tenacious insistence that ISNESS unfailingly match our cherished models for how it should be. I don't know where you folks are at relative to this issue, but in my rare moments of authentic lucidity I must confess a sobering awareness that I still often find myself wedded to and motivated by the fantasy that I can somehow create a genuine sense of contentment by creating just the "right" mix of earth circumstances.
In my dreams there's that delicious moment when I'm surrounded by folks who always say exactly what I want them to, and, then, only when and how I want them to say it . . . Softly, adoringly, respectfully. unfailingly. Of course, in my dream world all appointments are kept punctually, my cars always operate perfectly, all traffic signals are green for me, no one ever travels slower in front of me than I want to go, my coffee's always hot and the cream is half & half, eggs are over easy and homefries are soft, seasoned and chock full of onions, two foot putts are never missed and every drive finds the fairway, "round" becomes the criteria for the perfect physique, board meetings last 25 minutes, the church family is never disgruntled, waste treatment systems never fail, sex is always . . . well, I'm sure you get the picture! Dream on, pilgrim. That's probably the kind of fanciful irrationality that inspired Willie the Shake to put Puck up in the laughing tree to observe, "what fools these mortals be."
But always, in the quiet times, another sense emerges... an uncommon sense of wide spacious wisdom that reveals with undeniable clarity that there simply aren't enough sense-baths or relationships in the Universe to cleanse my heart of its longing for an experience that no amount of "earth-stuff" can provide . . . the experience Buddha called "the greatest gift". . . a moment of pure, uncompromised contentment.
Thus the ."study of our own consciousness" will eventually bring us out to a clear understanding of the birthplace of our emotional experience. We discover we have been slowly "dying" of a spiritual malnourishment we simply didn't understand. This seems to be the inevitable outcome of all spiritual practice. The saving Grace of finally knowing that peace and contentment are not products of grasping and clinging to our notions of how the ever-changing world of form "should be", but rather the immediate outcome of grounding ourselves, unconditionally, in the sacred reality of what is actually present in each and every moment of our lives . . . God, showing up in drag to create the dance we call our lives.
Remember that with fierce integrity and you'll have no trouble with what Jesus called, " the greatest commandment in the law . . . "loving God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength and loving each other with the same sacred intensity.
Remember, it's always the Sabbath . . . keep it holy,