Presence and Teaching

When I wrote a poem about presence and teaching, I had just come from a 30-day retreat at Spirit Rockmeditation center.  I was tired from driving eight hours from the Bay area up to Eugene where I stopped for the night at a motel, but felt such an incredible energy and peace it was hard to sleep. I began thinking about a retreat for teachers, called we Teach Who We Are, that I was going to put on in about a month, and out poured this poem I called Omega.

The poem opens with: “There is something of immeasurable and imponderable beauty in every person  which cannot exactly be seen, but rather touched inwardly from one’s own depths, a deep connecting with and speaking to deep in a language beyond word or even breath.”  Talking about teaching,  I then go on to conclude:” I think the lessons we teach may only be way to occupy time and space, while this something hidden and unrevealed in us is waiting to be sensed in the mutual embrace of hospitality  that a loving heart, a patient gaze, a kind word, and moments of silence…..moments of continuing…… and deepening silence, can invite into our midst.”

Being present to  the fulness of life within and around us is the core pedagogy as well as principle outcome of education in the awakening world. The only way most young people come to see and feel into their own nature is in the mirror of a loving adult whose inner being has been mentored into life and who are able to do that for others. Said differently, the growing child sees themselves as they are seen by those around them. And those who do the seeing, see as they were seen. So, an adult who was criticized, berated and not seen for who they were as a child will pass on that same experience to others, unless they do the courageous and often painful work of healing their inner wounds, waking up in the process to their own inner beauty.

As a teacher of teachers and former family therapist, I have often thought about what is most important for any teacher, and I’ll include parents in that because our parents are our first and most significant teachers. I believe that the great work we all must do is to awaken to the greatness, the inner loving being within–and in doing so to know ourselves as love, courage, wisdom, compassion and all the virtues that come from this realization.

I believe this distills the message of the world’s major religions too. We all possess the Buddha nature, Christ in us, the “hope of glory” Col 1:26-27. Our purpose individually is to realize that nature. With humanity now at a crossroads, the lesson we’ve cooked up for ourselves globally is to also experience this “big mind” collectively. 

There is no amount of skill training as a teacher or content knowledge in a subject that can compensate for a lack of being. Someone could be the revered expert on a subject, a humorous and skilled lecturer, and they will inform and entertain, but they will not awaken others unless they themselves are awakened.  That’s the way awakening works. As my poems expresses, it’s deep speaking to deep.

Of course we’ve all had this experience of deeper connection to our parents, siblings, children, close friends, and to many or the students and other young people who come into our lives.  So what I’m talking about here is no mystery to any of us. Well, perhaps it IS a mystery, but we do have experience enough compassionate and empathic connection to recognize it when it happens. 

The real question for me, then, is how can we become more present more of the time and in all circumstances. That’ll be the subject for much more writing than I want to do in this piece. 

 

 

 

About Mike Seymour: author of this blog

I was raised in New England in a culture of social privelege and spiritual unconsciousness, a troublesome combination because I thought I was at the apex of society, but actually in the deepest delusion.  I externalized my unhappiness by being a trouble-maker and getting kicked out of the same school twice. My teen years were really lost. This was the good news. Something in me knew I was living a false story.

Sometime around my first marriage and after lots of therapy, I had an initial sense of something bigger beyond the material plane. That led me west to Washington state in 1978 where I had a significant spiritual awakening, leading to further unfoldings to the present day. The writings of great teachers from Christian, Buddhist, and non-dual traditions, workshops and meditation retreats have been a staple for my inner work. At some point, I realized I had most of the key teachings I needed. Then it became a matter of making them my own in an authentic way–understanding the one and greatest teacher is in me and how I engage with life experience–and taking what I had learned out into the world to serve the needs that called to me.

I have a heart calling to work on behalf of youth either directly or through working with their parents and teachers. In the mid-1980’s I became a family therapist, and then a consultant and trainer working with schools and teachers. That led me to do workshops and consult with the organization I now own and am President of, which is The Heritage Institute–a program of continuing education for teachers which operates mostly in the Northwest, but with distance  courses reaching teachers anywhere. I founded Youth for a New World, a non-profit whose first program, AfricaAmericaExchange linked students from Washington State and the central African country of Burundi through email and letter exchange. Kids here also got a wake-up call learning about the social injustices and civil wars in that region, and were involved in raising funds to help the victims of ethnic violence to rebuild their hearts and homes. I wrote a book about the Burundian peacemaker whose connections to youth in Burundi make this project possible.

In 2004 I wrote and edited a book titled Educating for Humanity: Rethinking the Purposes of Education, which was my attempt to define what I think education should be all about given what’s important to people at this time in history.

I also loved my work as board member and interim Executive Director of Community for Youth, a Seattle mentoring program for at-risk inner city students operating in three high schools.

My vision is to help young people see the beauty, goodness and heart within themselves and find their own special way to bring that bigness to their communities and the world in need.

Schools that Limit or Liberate our Children

 

 

 

Above:

A hierarchical (left) vs. democratic classroom setup.                                           

How do we know if our children are getting the kind of education that is worthy of the special gifts each child comes into the world with? Let’s visit two schools. One I’ll call Edgewood Elementary– a neighborhood public school in a typical suburban community. Let’s call the other Greenfields Community School, a K-8th grade public, suburban school started under the inspiration of parents who wanted a different kind of education for their kids.

While these names are imaginary, the programs accurately portray the kinds of diverse educational choices you will find in many American communities. It’ll be obvious that these schools are very different. However, it’s easy to see the externals and miss completely the deeper meaning of those differences.

At Edgewood we would see the usual well-equiped building for 400+ students in grades K-5, complete with technology lab, a large library, an indoor gym, one classroom after another off of several long corridors that crisscross the building, and large playing fields outside for soccer and baseball.  We might feel at home here because Edgewood looks and feels like the kind of American school we’re used to. We might be happy with the many amenities we Americans have fallen in love with.

Alternative schools like Greenfields may not look all that impressive in terms of facilities. Classes might be in portables, or a renovated older wooden school building or house. There would probably be a modest library kept up mostly by moms, a few computers in classrooms, and a small play field—perhaps with trails going off into the woods.

Walk inside each school and watch a class in progress and the differences begin to mount. Chairs in the typical Edgewood classroom combine seat and writing surface, and are in rows facing the front where the teacher has a desk, can project videos and write on a blackboard. A combination of student art, world maps, the school honor code and enlarged photos of notable people—like M.L. King, Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and John Kennedy—neatly line the walls. Greenfields looks casual by comparison, and perhaps even a bit disordered to some. Individual chairs are grouped around small tables, and you’ll see different centers, or areas where kids can congregate for various activities—like group reading, a center for science projects and so forth. The ceiling might be draped in a huge paper depicting the Milky Way galaxy, and there could be an 8×12 raised platform which children access by a small ladder if they want to go and hide out or just be quiet.  Perhaps children of different ages and grade levels attend many of the same classes.

If you used your watch to time how much of a 55 minute period the  Edgewood teacher was talking, you would find that she took 75%+ of the talk time, and it would be to convey the content mandated by the school district and state. In fact, one of the things teachers at this school might stress about is how much “coverage” of all the curriculums they need to achieve to make sure their school passes “annual yearly progress,” or the year-to-year gains in “student achievement” which the states under federal law “No Child Left Behind” are looking for. Typically, the teacher would go from one subject to another in successive periods.

Greenfields might start the morning with children in a circle sitting on the floor sharing something special to them, and they might do a ritual going around the circle of greeting their neighbor by name. The teacher may have had one of the students prepare the agenda for the morning’s activities on a flip chart—covering news items, the theme for today and inviting students to pick their work buddy for the morning with whom they will share a project. Kids might then open up their portfolios and choose a series of learnings they will do that day from a pre-arranged list of choices. After that, the class could engage in simulations of social interactions, learning to model through role-playing healthy attitudes and behaviors. Some kids might not feel like being in class for a time, so the teachers might have a small area in the building where children can go and be quiet, doing their own thing. You would feel the relaxed family atmosphere and little sense of pressure that “we’ve got to get somewhere.”

Aside from the written mission statements, the Edgewoods and Greenfields of America operate on profoundly different sets of largely unspoken assumptions about human nature, how children learn best, what’s important to learn and why. In “education talk” these unspoken assumptions are called “the hidden curriculum.” In short, how school is done communicates silently and powerfully to children about who they are or ought to be.

The Edgewood type school is an institutional culture where how things are done lets kids know that authority and what’s valuable to know is outside of them. Achievement, measured by doing well on tests and in proscribed class activities, is prized and reinforced through verbal and other rewards. Order, uniformity, and obedience are praised as means to assure that kids get to where they are supposed to be in order to get to the next level. Here the hidden message is “you’re worth what you achieve,” and achieving gets defined “being and doing good” according to schools expectations.  

Now, a lot of folks might think this type of institutional approach is not so bad.  After all, they might say, don’t we need an ordered society and responsible people who learn to work hard and get ahead to build strong communities and a strong America?  Well this is one viewpoint held in varying degrees by many Americans—whether they’ve fully unpacked their thinking or not. But what are the costs to your child in this kind of environment. 

Well, I would say that you have to work hard as a parent in the Edgewood schools to rescue your child’s authentic sense of self from the distortions that go on in these environments, where the inclinations, unique needs and subtle feelings of children do not have a home. When kids are mostly talked to—and not so much listened to—they learn not to listen and connect with their own deeper knowing. Child or adult—we all want to fit in, be accepted and liked, so kids will do their best to rise to the occasion and play the success game, which dominates the modern world and its schools. Without realizing it, children can lose themselves and that deep connection to heart and spirit we are all born with.

You see the aftermath of this kind of education in the many youth who look like wilted flowers by the time middle and high school come around. Or perhaps, they are the over-achievers who’ve learned to play the game well—and they make the institutional schools look better than, in fact, they are. In the race to success, everyone is at risk of becoming some kind of loser. Kids who do less well risk feeling less about themselves.  Students who succeed risk losing their authentic selves without even know that’s happening, because the culture shapes them into achievers and away from their own core personhood.

When I look at things like environmental devastation, people unhappy with their work, the spiritual and social ravages of materialism, the loss of community and meaning, I can’t help but think about the institutional classroom and its role in this messy world we live in today. After all, one could not design a better way to separate children from their authentic selves than the modern schoolhouse and the state-run systems that make this possible in all developed countries around the world.

And when you’re not connected to who you are deep down, how can you really be connected to others in a compassionate and sensitive way, nor to the Earth which is our home, nor to the subtle callings of spirit? As I explain in my book, Educating for Humanity: Rethinking the Purposes of Education, if we want a peaceful, sustainable and just world, we need to start in the world’s classrooms by connecting young people with who they are, and then building on that by making connections to others near and far, to the Earth and to spirit and how we make meaning in life.

Goals like this go beyond national agendas, and define the kind of education we will need for the world we want. And the good news is, the schools we want are right here and now in the Greenfields model. We know how to educate right—we just need to wake up and gain the wisdom that a truly child-centered, personalized education is good for the individual and the broader society—you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.

In the Greenfields type of schools, children learn to trust and honor what is inside of them. They learn that the most important questions have no one right answer, and that curiosity—as messy as it gets sometimes—is fun and good. They learn about cooperation and the value of kindness by doing it—not by being told to do it. Making their own educational choices lets them know they are competent and worthy of making their own decisions, and so they learn to grow in wisdom and smarts at the same time. With less “stuff” at school, Greenfields-bred students may be less inclined to get hung up on the latest gadgets and technology, and perhaps learn the value of simpler things. Similarly, they’re more likely to follow their own heart and path and less likely to get sucked into the maelstrom of success.

In the end, it’s a question of being more as opposed to having more.  If we truly believe that our children have a unique and special calling in life, then one of our greatest responsibilities and joys as parents and teachers is to see that who they are is honored in their school experience. 

As parents and teachers, we can advocate with our community leaders for more child-centered schools. In fact, this trend is happening all over the USA.  Join the movement, and, as Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” 

Context for Planetary Awakening

Something began to happen in the thirty or so years since Limits to Growth was first published in 1972 by Dana Meadows and others. The social justice, environmental and spiritual movements  of the 60’s which were separate went, like rivers, underground all over the globe. The mysterious and wonderful matrix of the deep human mind became a vessel in which these seeds of change, like a soup, began to blend together into something tasty and intelligent for a world that was waking up slowly from its slumber, as human population exploded from about 3.5 billion to almost double that in 30 years. What increasing numbers of people began to see all over the world was the iceberg, so to speak, that humanity was headed for in what had become a titanic voyage toward an unpredictable and chaotic future.

In other words, faced with the mind-boggling idea that humans might actually no longer inhabit planet Earth the way we had been doing, people began to connect the dots. People began to see a pattern among what had before looked like seemingly unrelated issues.

We began to realize the wisdom of indigenous peoples and listen to their admonitions that human peace, justice and prosperity was linked to the Earth and our own attitudes to nature and each other. Social activists began to be worn out by their own angry rhetoric, and felt a need for consolation in nature and in observing their own breath. Seekers and religious church-goers felt a hollowness in their spiritual lives and saw a decline in congregations which were not following the example of their great teachers. So, religious revivals began around commitment to preserve the Earth family, and join anti-poverty activists in the fight for economic and social justice. Environmentalists began to explore the spiritual roots of their love of nature in a wave called the deep ecology movement.

People began to realize that all the social, spiritual and environmental ills had a common cause, and that was disconnection. This is a disconnection from our deeper selves, disconnection from other humans and the natural world, and disconnection from a spirit or ground of being in which we find unity and a greater meaning in life. People began to find common ground in the need to come together and become reconnected. From those roots a global civil society started growing which is dedicated to realizing an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on Earth.

I call this coming together and reconnecting the emergence of an integral culture—same as the word integrated, bringing together. The deep human desire to be more whole is happening all over the planet and gaining more momentum every day. There are too many elements in the soup of the authentic, planetary culture rising up today to mention them all here. But I will mention three that are most significant—the first being our view of Earth from space, the second being the proliferation of world and local problems and the third being the Internet.

Perhaps the most significant single shift in human consciousness came from man’s first view of Earth from space from the moon-bound Apollo 8 flight in 1968. Astronaut Bill Anders said “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.” Astronaut Jim Lovell said: “It gives you in an instant, just at a position 240,000 miles away from it, (an idea of) how insignificant we are, how fragile we are, and how fortunate we are to have a body that will allow us to enjoy the sky and the trees and the water … It’s something that many people take for granted when they’re born and they grow up within the environment. But they don’t realize what they have. And I didn’t till I left it.” These words and the Earth photo spreading around the globe gave something none of our human ancestors could possibly have had without the technology making space flight possible. For the first time all humanity saw itself as a totality—all peoples, water, land and air and life forms—as a solitary ship floating through the vast, black oceans of an infinite universe.

Seeing the whole beyond the limitations of looking only at the parts no doubt played its role in helping folks to connect the dots—to make sense of the growing amount of bad news in all aspects of life including the environment, society and individual health and happiness. And there were not just a few dots, but a vast proliferation of problems, and these problems began to form a pattern. You see, in this thirty years period since 1972 things in all areas really got worse. More and more people began to notice how serious the local and global situation was becoming. I’ll give a partial list here:

  *   The Earth is getting overcrowded. Population has soared in the last 150 years from 1 billion people to more than 6.5 billion people and doubled from 3.3 billion to almost 6.6 billion in the last 40 years alone. While the rate of growth is slowing, by 2050 Earth is projected to have 9.2 billion people.

  *  Global wealth and spending has been unequal and enjoyed mostly by the rich, industrialized northern countries whose level of consumption is depleting world resources, polluting the planet and seriously undermining the Earth economy.

  *  The gap between rich and poor has grown intolerably large. The top fifth of the world’s people in the richest countries enjoy 82% of the expanding export trade and 68% of foreign direct investment — the bottom fifth, barely more than 1%. In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% — in 1997, 74 times as much. A few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion people.

  *  Meanwhile, a third of the world’s population—or 2+ billion people—lives in poverty and make an average of $2/day or less.

  *  Human activity is causing the largest extinction of plant and animal species seen on Earth in the last 65 million years. Elephant, tiger, lion, chimpanzee and large fish populations have declined in many instances by as much as 50-90%. By the year 2050, it is estimated that half of all plant and animal species alive 100 years ago will be gone forever. These are facts assembled by the scientific community which the world at large is barely aware of.

  *  The increased emission of C02 and other greenhouse gases is causing global warming. Current trends continuing unchecked could result in sea level rises of 20+ feet around the globe, dislocation of hundreds of millions of people and death from food and water shortages as well as diseases.

  *  We are quickly running out of cheap oil, as global oil production is now reaching its peak. This situation is made worse by the explosive economic growth of the world’s two largest countries (China, India), accounting for 1/3 of world population, and putting more demand not only on oil supplies, but food supplies as well. Rising energy prices are expected to cause world-wide economic shock waves in the future.

  *  Fresh water in lakes and underground aquifers is being depleted world-wide, and there is growing pressure on the world’s basic food supplies (grains) due to population growth and greater world wealth. Already some 1.1 billion people have inadequate access to water.

  *  It is increasingly apparent that large, transnational corporations have begun more and more to determine the political agenda and legislation of nations, causing governmental corruption, loss of democracy and personal freedoms, and destruction to local cultures and the environment. 51% of the world’s wealthiest entities are corporations.

  *  As throughout human history, the relentless development and land acquisition by aggressive nations and peoples has all but caused extinction to indigenous cultures, which are the only remaining examples humanity has of how a human society can live in peace and balance with itself and the natural world.

  *  There is a trend, especially in the USA, toward corporate media consolidation and less freedom for the media to tell people of the truth about what’s going on in the world. The result is that as the number of serious risk factors in the world increase, and major global crises are coming, few people are aware enough of the gravity of the situation to be mobilized toward action. If the media had been looking for and telling the truth, it is very likely, for example, that the tragedies of 9/11 and Katrina could have been minimized or avoided altogether. It is also likely that the American political landscape of the last thirty years since the Reagan administration would have been very different.

Well, this list could on and on for many pages. But when you see all these problems here and around the world the mind is weighed down, perhaps even into depression and denial. But then in a few people a light goes on and they start to see a connection between all these issues. A vision making sense of the greater whole starts to take shape. Some see a pattern in corporate greed and irresponsibility and point a finger at the corporate world where globalization and the network of transnational corporations and their agencies hold governments, people and nature captive. The anti-globalization protests which made their debut at the “battle of Seattle” in 1999 helps people see the emergence of a global civil society movement against control by transnational corporations and their agencies.

But the analysis needed to go deeper, and did. It brought in great cultural scholars like Thomas Berry, who told us that we had to evolve a new human presence on Earth and see reality not as a “collection of objects, but a “communion of subjects.” We could not live as if we were better than and above nature. We are part of nature, and needed to act accordingly.

Suddenly, the echoes of older writers came back with greater meaning to shed light on our times—people like Albert Schweitzer, the Swiss doctor who worked in Africa and made famous the notion of what he called “ a reverence for life,” the single greatest contribution to humankind one could have. Could we revere all of life, not just humans, and not certainly just people of our own ethnic background or skin color?

We began to read again the writings of thinkers like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit Priest, philosopher and paleontologist who in the Phenomenon of Man began to explore the idea that humans were evolving a noosphere, or mindsphere (which like the biosphere or geosphere) was an actual field moving toward greater integration. The idea is that humanity as a whole is like a single person, with its own interconnected mind, a notion taken up by biologist Rupert Sheldrake and, in a different way, by physicist David Bohm.

These intriguing ideas of one planetary human mind moving toward unity within one Earth community revolving through space called upon us to question why now–some 70,000-100,000 years since homo sapiens evolved—had we brought ourselves to what looked like a possibly tragic decline. And why indeed end this celestial journey when we were just beginning to glimpse the magnificence of life, as astrophysics began to explain in greater depth the incredible beauty and mystery of this 13.7 billion year cosmos from which we all have come? Did human life evolve against all odds on a once boiling and often terrifying planet only to perish in great numbers?

If we humans are part and product of that 13.7 billion year evolution, was there not some purpose for which we were destined? After all, homo sapiens are the only life form on Earth capable of realizing its own existence. In fact, we are actually called homo sapiens sapiens, or doubly wise. We don’t just see like animals and birds. We can see seeing itself, being conscious of our own consciousness. Cosmologist Brian Swimme says we are the cosmos seeing itself, the universe singing songs to itself. Why would destiny want the unique beauty humans contribute to the universe to be overwhelmed in the flames of our ignorance, fear and greed.

With all these marvelous reflections, it’s as if humankind at the very threshold of species tragedy were going back to school—not a school made of brick and mortar but one made through intense reflection and interaction with one another. These reflections went into overdrive with the third major catalyst of the last thirty years—and that was the personal computer and the Internet. Never before in human history had we enjoyed the technology that allows humans to communicate with others all around the globe about things that were vital to them. As non-profits for peace, social justice and environmental causes proliferated in response to the looming world crisis, so has the level of dialogue and speculation about something critical going on today that we have to do something about if we want to preserve a planet worth living on. The level of dialogue among peoples living far away from one another has never been more widespread or more intense. These conversations in millions of Internet sites, blogs, discussion forums and social spaces are beginning to weave the fabric of thought for a new world society.

A new consciousness is awakening, and we are all part of it.

 

Some Inspiring Words

The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Taka (the Great Spirit), and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”
 Black Elk, Oglala Sioux
Holy Man  

“I am part and parcel of the whole and cannot find God apart from the rest of humanity.”  Ghandi

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” 

Anais Nin

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bounds.  Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world.”

Patanjali

“There is something greater and purer than what the mouth utters. Silence illuminates our souls, whispers to our hearts, and brings them together. Silence separates us from ourselves, makes us sail the firmament of spirit, and brings us closer to Heaven.”

Kahlil Gibran

“Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others… And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“You nourish your soul by fulfilling your destiny, by developing the potential that the soul represents. When you fulfill your soul’s destiny, you will feel “right.”

Rabbi Harold Kushner

“…To a child I shall give wings, but I shall let him fly on his own.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“…All things are connected.  Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.  We do not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” 

Chief Seattle

“ When we bless others, we free the goodness in them and in ourselves. When we bless life, we restore the world.”

Rachel Naomi Remen

“The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.”

John F. Kennedy

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but reveal them to their own.” 

Benjamin Disraeli

“… for we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things come into being.  Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality.”

Thomas Berry

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched… but are felt in the heart.”

Helen Keller

“Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People.”

Mohawk thanksgiving prayer.

 

Awakening to Peace

As a therapist I found that people seeking personal growth, awakening or just getting happier would have one question on their minds “How do I get better?” This question gets more urgent the more pain we’re in, the more we desire to be in some different state of mind than our present one. We want the discomfort, depression, embarrassment, loneliness, restlessness, anger or any number of other so-called undesirable states to go away. Or we want to feel more accomplished, successful, spiritual and fulfilled. The problem is the very effort to  “do” anything itself becomes part of the problem. It is the doer and thinker that got us into the unhappiness in the first place.  

The doer & thinker is our ego self, the small self–which by its nature is very limited.  We need an ego to walk on the planet, get to school, for work and to navigate the mundane aspects of our earthly lives. But the small-egoic self that is in pain or wanting life to be different is the very reason we have suffering of all kinds–even the most subtle.  It this small self–the ego–which we must leave behind if we are to find authentic awakening into a bigger part of ourselves in which the trials of life don’t cause us suffering.

The ego’s tool is the active, out-of-control mind. The business of that ego/mind is to make our reality the way we want it and think it ought to be. We press people, work, expectations, dreams for our future into some pattern our mind conjures up from cultural models and what others we admire or envy are doing. Unaware we live out of various roles–father, mother, husband, wife, child, teacher, president, the in or out group–thinking that we are those roles. We are so much more than the roles we play, but many don’t know that.  The ego is like an insatiable animal, abhoring a vacuum. Ego wants to fill us up with a sense of wholeness through things, accomplishments,love relationships, social status, spiritual experiences, money and all the other things by which we define ourselves and what we “think” of as good or the way it is. 

But, did you ever wonder why when you get what you thought you wanted, it is never quite enough. It’s as if the imagining of that better job, new love relationship, larger circle of friends, more money was more satisfactory than the actual reality. The fantasy is more nourishing in some ways than the reality, leaving the ego still hungry for more.

Think about the epidemic of food-gorging in developed nations and how many in the USA or England are overweight. We have enough food; but enough is not enough for the ego mind. Americans continue to stuff themselves to excess. This is an example and also a metaphor for the over-consuming ego.  Consider how the better job and the ecstatic love relationship both eventually come into hard times and stress. Friends we thought we were close to move away, or prove not to be as trustworthy and faithful as we would have hoped. That great community organization we volunteer with winds up not fulfilling completely the needs we had when we joined it. 

So, lesson number one is this…and it is simple. Outer things don’t ultimately make you happy in the very deepest part of your being. I like what Eckert Tolle in his great book A New Earth says about this. He says we need the “human” part of human being for practical matters, and this is where most people  live. But when you get stuck mostly on the human, practical plane, you rarely get a real break from doing, and don’t fully come to recognize the real freedom that is possible in just “being,” the only space where true peace and happiness are to be discovered.  Inner peace and happiness cannot be made, bought, sold or achieved. We cannot “do” happiness. We either are or aren’t happy–and happiness lies in the realm of being. 

Think of it this way. If you want to make friends with someone you have to spend time with them–quality time where conversing, listening, feeling into each other’s being can take place. This is true of ourselves. We have to make friends with our inner beingness, just as if it were a person. 

The good news is we don’t have to do anything active on the human plane to “be” this friend to ourselves. Rather, it is a matter of letting go of the ego and its incessant thinking, planning, pushing, trying and all the emotions of wanting, grasping, efforting,being fearful, angry, frustrated–all those emotional and mental states associated with the doer/thinker. Let go and rest. 

Letting go is no mystery or big deal. You and I do it many times a day, but most people may not recognize it for all the good it does. The ego devalues being. Being is so simple we can’t believe that’s all there is to awakening into happiness. The doer mind is convinced there is more to happiness. In fact, from the point of view of the doer/ego, letting go may seem like laziness, missing one’s goals, not working hard enough. That’s because the ego is sort of a workaholic–busy justifying its own existence in order–supposedly–to make you feel good. The doer wants to look good, and feels there is some skill, education, level of achievement that surely must be necessary for happiness.  And once we’ve invested all our time, effort and years in education degrees, promotions, fame, a circle of important friends, we have built a stalwart defense against the truth that all that effort was wrong-headed. We’ve hardened our heart–our being–against its own purity and softness, and lose our ability to discern what is truly good for us and others.

Try this simple exercise. Sit down in a chair, lean forward and think about all the things you have to do. Think about the problems or projects in your life and what you feel is urgent to attend to. Put some mental muscle into this, perhaps tense your hands a bit. We all do this lots every day.

Now take a deep breath and let it out slowly, drifting back into the chair naturally as you let go of your thoughts. Observe lightly for a moment your state of mind and body–how easily they relax when you do this little bit of letting go. Notice too how the mind released from efforting takes a momentary pause-if only for a few seconds- before continuing its chatter. 

In that space of no thought is where your liberation and awakening arises.  Now, you cannot make thoughts go away, nor can you will your own peace into being. Wouldn’t the ego love that! It would be another project of ego. “Now I’m peaceful and at rest.” The effort for peace and happiness in service to the ego is no peace at all, but another source of stress.

It has been said that the mind is a terrible master, but a wonderful servant. Servant to what? To the heart, or to our being. Let your being be master and guide the mind. That way, we live from peace. We come from love and happiness, and we breath being–minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day–into virtually every action of our lives.

Christian Scripture (Romans 14:17) says “…that the kingdom of heaven is not food and drink but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” To awaken–or to be in heaven–is to rest in the beingness, which in Christian terms is the Holy Spirit, that unity and spaciousness informing and connecting the whole of creation. Jesus instructs us to “behold” the lilies of the field which are at rest in their being and not toiling or suffering like we humans. 

I take this to mean that all of what is around us, but particularly what is most beautiful and attractive to us, is a revelation of the rest, peace and unity that is forever available. 

Just behold, and in that gaze be held. 


 

Omega: a poem

Omega, a poem by Mike Seymour

There is something of immeasurable

                 and imponderable beauty

                  in every person

which cannot exactly be seen,

but rather touched inwardly from one’s own depths,

a deep connecting with

                  and speaking to deep

                  in a language beyond word

                                             or even breath.

To call this something a gift

                  would be limiting,

because we think of a gift as given,

and this boundlessness I speak of

                  was never given as such,

                                             but always was,

and there was never a time it was not.

Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that

this beauty is an opening,

         a portal to the truth,

                  another world in this world,

                           a mirror to unchanging space,

a presence.

I like the words God or love,

but even these terms and notions

are still only

                  pointers

to something finally wordless…….nameless.

And so what of our lives

                  and of our professions?

Teaching for example,

                  which is my vocation at this time.

I might ask what is teaching? 

                  and who is it that teaches?

                           and who is taught?

I think the lessons we teach

                  may only be ways

                           to occupy time and space

while this something hidden and unrevealed in us

                  is waiting to be sensed

in the mutual embrace of hospitality

         that a loving heart,

         a patient gaze,

         a kind word,

and moments of silence…..

moments of continuing…… and deepening silence,

         can invite

                  into our midst.