Saturday, June 14, 2008


this, not written by me . . . but which nevertheless resonates . . .

The Craft of Intimacy: Human Project

For a moment, when we are born, we are open, brilliant, faithful, living our most essential nature. Over time, through the common suffering of life, from having all too human parents with all too human limitations, from the simple friction between the natural and social, we begin to withdraw. We hide the essential parts of ourselves and present those which get us love and approval, or at least which limit the pain we face. The issues and details vary, the intensity of the fall may be different. Each of us fills our emptiness with a different dream. However, no one remains the pure open-hearted child, unafraid of life, curious about experience.

We become separated from ourselves, we hide from each other and we guard ourselves from the world. The innocent intimacy of a child with its mother, the wonder brought by the first taste of strawberries is finally replaced by the sophistication and cynical cool (or passionate fear) of anything we can not control. All inner work, whether in the context of psychotherapy or in the countless spiritual traditions, seek in one way or another to address the state of separation, the tear in the essential fabric, the loss of faith in the natural support of the world and the compassion and generosity of those we spend our lives with.

The process of self discovery, of self realization is as old as humanity. In each age, what we may call "the Work" or "the Path" takes on the face and language of the time, place and people it is designed for. It is formed and bound by the capacities of the individuals and cultures in which it arises and it is from those bounds that it frees itself and those who seek the truth.

There are those who say that there is a gnostic unity at the heart of all religions, esoteric mystical communities, and spiritual undertakings. That this unity is due to an ancient secret school, or a common divine or mystical source which stands at the core of all teachings, passing down through time and protecting the mysteries of the ages--a science of man which exists free--standing and perfect. Whether that is literally true or a metaphor is a matter of intense speculation amongst seekers. It is also almost certainly irrelevant to anyone other than historians, curiosity seekers and perhaps the few others who have some practical use for the information.

What we do know is that there unquestionably exist formal lineages within the various traditions, which attempt to preserve the integrity of the tradition, both with regard to the form and the accuracy of the information and more importantly, with regard to the heart of the teaching, the essential truths. However, without the direct transmission from master to student, those traditions die and become merely hollow shells whose animating wisdom has long since abandoned ship and rowed for shore, thirsty and tired.

The cultural landscape is littered with once great traditions, which have become fossilized leaving behind devout followers, marvelous buildings and legions of clerks and hierophants, going through the motions of what, at one time, was a useful and workable path to realization. This is one reason that Work schools are often designed by intent to survive for a limited period of time and then disband, their specific task completed.

This is not to say that by grace, accident or mystery, individuals are not from time to time graced with enlightenment arising out of their entirely independent efforts (this is perhaps the historical origin of certain of the existing traditions). However, barring such a cosmic accident, without the direct contact with the teacher, without the activation of certain "essential" aspects within the student, any spiritual or meditative practice will lie fallow. Bread-making without yeast, conception lacking sperm or ovum. Hence, the direct transmission from teacher to student is central to the Work. The student experiences the taste, the scent of reality through the direct transmission of the state of the teacher. This is the reality of initiation.

In this epoch's installment of the Work, it is may be possible and useful to incorporate the profound contributions of psychology, as new elements of the process of illumination. One difficulty with this integration is that psychology--with a very few exceptions--limits it's domain to the "self" of self-representation, to the self of psychological construction. In the mainstream of psychoanalytic and other traditional psychological theories at least, it does not acknowledge that there is a non-psychological, non-representational self which exists in its own right and as such unreasonably limits itself and its usefulness.

In contrast, the Work proceeds from a perspective which does not divide human experience into psychological on the one hand and spiritual on the other. The unfoldment of an individual is a unitary process and must be explored simultaneously from the perspective often associated with psychological awareness and insight and from the view most common in meditative traditions that we are more--and in a certain sense entirely other--than the sum of our personal histories, beliefs, self-images, neurotic conditioning and the like. Our true nature is both formed and formless, bounded and boundless.

Whether the Absolute, God, the universe, the Tao--or whatever we wish to name the un-nameable--has a "divine" purpose or order is not within the ken of human experience. We can speculate until the cows come home and know nothing more at the end than we do at the beginning of the inquiry. The simple uncontrovertible point of inner work is to discover what affirms life, what creates greater awareness and, by contrast, what puts us more soundly to sleep.

In a society that holds up an increasingly punitive work ethic above any ethic of love or compassion, it is risky indeed to assert pleasure (in our way of speaking, essence) as a legitimate social goal . . . If the "real issues" are economic deprivation, the threat of nuclear holocaust, the destruction of the environment, and so forth down the grimly familiar list, then we should perhaps acknowledge that the issue of human pleasure is not, after all, so marginal or secondary. For the "real issues" only reflect our vast, collective separation from the body, from the earth and other life on it, and from the possibility of delight in ourselves and each other. We may have come to the point where we no longer have the luxury--and puritanism can be a perverse kind of luxury--of dividing what is "real" from what is only personal; what is public, from what is most deeply felt. We may finally be obliged, by the very threats we have created for ourselves, to rethink pleasure as a human goal and reclaim it as a human project.

We are, each of us, unique. In our fundamental humanness, men and women are no different. We must be discovered, explored, cherished for who we are. We blossom when treated with respect, curiosity and compassion. For those willing and able to sacrifice their fixed ideas and preconception, their egotism--be that egotism in the form of grandiosity or in self denial--freedom and peace are a natural birthright. Over time, we come to see that who we are is a beginning point for who we become. We do not become different. We become ourselves.

If you really want your heart's desire, you have only to fix this desire firmly in your mind, not thinking of the fruit. You then have to take up some of the dried fruits, not the fresh, delicious ones, lying at the foot of all of these trees, and eat them. Then follow your destiny.

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