The gruesome attack in Arizona has sent so many of us into shock and perhaps into prayer, or reflection. Shades of 9/11 again, or of Oklahoma City, or of so many like events in our history; and we may wonder if there is any true civility, or if anyone’s rage can erupt at any moment and destroy the tender fabric of what generations have tried to weave together.
President Obama’s speech offers hope and reconciliation. Again he has taken the high road and is somehow able to speak to the heart of a nation. Finally, I have found a public official who I can be proud of, who encourages me to try to stay in this game somehow. A week or two go by, however, and I am still groping for a way to respond to this latest incident in a way that can allow me to go on with peace in my heart, with some sustaining sense of integrity and purpose.
We call the shooting a “national tragedy.” We wonder why and how such a thing can happen. We look for someone to blame: the gun lobby, insane people running around wild, right or left wing politicians, and so on. Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives analyze and position themselves. We do our requisite mourning and then re-anesthetized, get back on the track, and “move on” with our busy lives.
What our collective psychic numbing does not allow us to consider, however, is that it is our very “busy lives” that allow this sort of thing to happen every day, just not in such a high profile way. Every day children are sold into slavery, every day people are shot by others who do not agree with them, and every day people in power vie to the death with one another. Violence is our way of life. It may not be overt, like gang violence or military oppression, but there are many types of violence. Look at how we reactively blame anything or anyone when we are frustrated: the government, the weather, former partners, etc. Even the way we look at nature–as if it is a thing or a mere backdrop for human society—is, in its own way, violent.
How do you respond to this every day? Do you get back on track, juice yourself up with legal stimulants, and try to be normally productive? Do you let out all your frustration on public figures who may or may not support immigration, and the like? Do you look for enemies overseas, in outer space, or in obscure corners of your neighborhood?
As with any symptom (and this is, indeed, a large one), empowering questions can help to engage the situation: What is this asking me to look at? What action is this moving me to take? When I play this through and think of an innocent person being shot in the head at close range, of children and hard working citizens senselessly losing their lives, where do I cringe, where do I check out, where do I switch off the screen?
Interestingly enough, I had seen parts of Bowling for Columbine the night before the shooting in Arizona, in which Michael Moore takes on the gun culture of America, seeing them as more or less the culprit in all of this. I see guns as a symptom, not a cause. If I had to point toward a cause, I might say “non-mindful reaction,” but reactive violence may just be another symptom: the symptom of a festering wound that has no place to heal. It may manifest as feeling deeply alienated and disenfranchised (the institutional way of saying “unloved.”) It can also be an overflow of the simmering frustration of millions who are caught in a cruel and reckless economy, in which you work harder and harder, more and more, and never catch up. There is such a manic mania, such a rush to survive and go forward, that we cannot turn around to see who is slipping through the cracks. When we don’t need guns, we won’t have them anymore, but for now: can I watch my own reactivity? When I feel cheated, exploited, ignored, disrespected, and helplessly small, can I breathe into that and just listen? Listen to how the depth of life is asking me to live with this pain, with this sense of aloneness; as opposed to what I am pushed to do from the pain itself. Is there anyway, is there anyone who can hear my call, who can listen? Can I listen? Do I dare listen to my better angels?
The prophet, Nathan, approached King David and told him of corruption and disingenuous manipulation of people in his own kingdom. “Who is doing this?” the King replied, “I will have him punished.” To this, the prophet looked straight at the king and said, “Thou art that man!”
Who among us does not pull the trigger every day? Who is truly free, clear, and generous? Who has the space around and within them to be open and generous? Are we to cast even more stones, or do we dare to look at our own violence, recklessness, and disrespect toward those who live, think, and believe differently than we do? In the face of both an overwhelmingly senseless and beautiful world, who has the courage to follow the threads of virtue to the heart of compassion and reconciliation?
What to do? Where to go? How not to go back to sleep? I have heard of people coming to see Nisargadatta Maharaj, the self-realized cigarette maker in Mumbai and asking him if they should go to the mountains to meditate and do penance. “No need,” he would say, “Your life will give you enough penance.” We are all on the earth walk, and anything can happen at any moment. This shooting makes me want to rip off my layers of psychic numbing and be present for everything and everyone. I ask for this remembrance in lieu of reactivity.
Each New Year, each new cycle we mark, can be a turning point. Something inside of us recognizes that we have to settle our accounts, balance our inner as well as outer books, take stock of where we have come from, and prepare to move on.
And yet, with all the talk of “moving on,” few people ever do. Instead, we repeat where we have come from, recreate the old scenarios, perhaps with new faces, and wonder why things do not work out; why we make our New Year’s resolutions with the best of intentions and yet wind up sifting through the familiar wreckage a year later. What is it that keeps us running around the years like a dog tethered to a pole? Why do we announce great breakthroughs and new beginnings only to fall back into the same hole we started from? Sure, we tell ourselves stories, like “I’m improving,” “I’m evolving,” but they have a hollow ring to them, we kid ourselves into believing them so we can keep going.
In many of the world’s spiritual traditions, this sort of thing is recognized as sa?s?ra, the non-mindful repetition of the same sensations, perceptions, ideas, and narratives ad infinitum. Is there really a way through this, or is “liberation” something reserved for the most gifted and graced minority?
To debate, speculate, and even argue about what may be there if and when we break on through to the other side is just another way to keep going around the pole. Likewise with “resolutions,” step by step programs, and the rest: it is not that we are disingenuous, it is that we are caught in ever looking backward and forward, in reactions upon reactions, histories upon histories.
The sacred teachings are not new. They have always been here, but they are revolutionary, and they challenge us to be true. May we be willing this year to move into the great gift of the life we have been given and to live it so fully, that that there is no ongoing residue to have to continuously come back to.
Here is a New Year’s offering: three guideposts, signs, reflections for a New Year.
Presence: Everything begins here; with the willingness to embrace the present…the gift of being now. Buddha, Christ, and Krishna are now. Anyone you follow who lived long ago is now. Do we dare step away from the “safety” of yesterday and live out our own unique experiment and dialogue with life? Do we dare release comparing ourselves to anything or anyone and be just what we are in this moment?
Peace: Such a simple and overused word, but who has it? Who is truly free from anxious machination? The word “shanti,” usually translated as “peace,” has as its root meaning “to extinguish,” to release the grasping for tomorrow, to be so deeply alive here and now that you can face anything with your fullness. Peace is a prerequisite, the open door to “being with” instead of “looking at.” Peace cannot be “attained,” but it can be dropped into, accepted, realized by being oneself.
Prema: a Sanskrit word, but unfortunately there is no correlative in English. Perhaps “unconditional love,” but that does not necessarily indicate the flow of bliss when one is at peace and in presence with everything and everyone, the constant current of divine aliveness, and the play of divine moods (rasa) and situations (lila) in every moment of ongoing now!
Now, these are all ideals, not so easy to live, what to speak of “love.” But I ask, “Is there really any choice, and is it really that difficult, that heroic?” No, providing you are willing to live your life, not someone else’s, to accept the gift of your life this New Year. This is not some fatalistic resignation to the way things are, for when you accept your life, you are charged with making it all it can be, with giving, sharing, holding, and daring to be yourself in a world that has almost forgotten the reality of Grace, the shining redemptive radiance of awakening.
The 2012 phenomenon can easily become a form of the archetypal mass possession that has afflicted the West since at least the first millennium when thousands awaited the end of the world. While I do not discount prophecy, the turning of the ages, or the presence of new vibratory rates on the planet, the hope that some external agency will change the core of who we are is ultimately naïve and disempowering. Apocalyptic consciousness and concurrent beliefs that angelic or demonic cataclysm will fundamentally transform the earth takes on many forms, and the 2012 Mayan/Venus harmonic seems to be the latest version.
What can occur in many forms of visionary, prophetic discourse is an effort to escape from current conditions through a desperate hope that some future event will settle the scores of unjust and inexplicable happenings on earth. Although such messages may offer hope, and even a vision of what can be (and this one is certainly appealing in its expansion beyond the traditional Western, Christian world view), they also point to an inability to live in and appreciate the present moment in all of its fullness and glory. In the Biblical sense, any speculation about the future violates the commandment, “Thou shall not bear false witness;” for the future is not given to us to know, and every form of futuristic speculation takes us out of the present moment where all resolution lies.
So why do people jump in the bandwagons of Y2k, 2012, and the like, as lemmings rush down to the sea? I suspect it has as much to do with the poverty of our own lives as with intimations of a glorious rapture. The day, with its glorious sunrise and sunsets, is no longer enough. The divine songs of the birds, the rustling of the leaves in the wind, and the beautifully profound faces of people pass us by unnoticed. For beauty does not demand our attention. We are free to ignore its divine calls. Hence, we are afflicted with the fever of becoming, egged on by the media and constant economic pressure, our lives become so fast and meaningless that we need the injections of a cataclysmic hope for tomorrow.
Apocalyptic prophecy has traditionally served as a last bastion of the disenfranchised, as in the Ghost Dance period of Native America. If I am not getting a piece of the pie now, if oppression becomes overwhelming, I can project a better time to come, and allow my unwavering belief and commitment to it to get me through another day.
This is not to say that visions like 2012 do not have value. They can be tremendously helpful if we do not take them literally, but rather see them as visionary constructs that can allow us to see what kind of world we really want to create, and what legacy we want to pass on to our children’s children. Then, when we wake up on “the day after” and see that the same world is present before our eyes, and that our ongoing challenges remain, we can role up our sleeves and commit to the real work: the step-by-step purification of our lives, the visioning and creation of community, the honoring of the earth, and the humility to accept the life we have been given, receive its gifts, and offer them back to the glorious mystery of life.
The Bengali Poet, Rabindranath Tagore put it this way: “God respects me when I work, but loves me when I sing.” If “singing” exemplifies the life of the soul – creative expression, meaningful sharing, circles of ritual, and all sorts of play — one may ask, “Why do we keep our nose so close to the grindstone, and just what are we working for?”
Why do most people stop making art after first grade? Why do schools throw kids to the slaughterhouse of standardized testing by age eight? Why do people have brief flashes of poetic awakening during adolescence and then go dormant for the rest of their lives? Why have we allowed our souls to be collared and colonized by such a brutal economy? Is this really the Life that we and our loved ones were meant to live?
The Purpose of the Life Alignment and Manifestation Work (Creating the Work You Love/Alchemy of Abundance) is not to continue to beat this dead horse. It is not about perpetuating the scarcity laden myths that a good education, dream job, or a high salary will make one happy. Rather, the “Anti” part of the “Anti-Career,” is to have the courage to honor the soul first. Make quality time and space for ritual, for being with nature, for meditation, for building community, and above all – for following the call of your heart. Then, let your work – your way of making a contribution to your community – align with this.
Scott Nearing, one of America’s great “simple living” activists framed this along the lines of “four, four, and four:” Spend four hours a day working for sustenance, four hours a day doing one’s art, and four hours a day hanging with friends. This is so simple and elegant (and Nearing did this on very little money), but how many people can even begin to approach such a life… and must you be a member of an aristocracy to do this?
A number of years ago, I met a man aptly named Caesar who ran one of the largest law firms in Florida. Caesar told me that out of the eight hundred lawyers who worked for him (with a mean salary of $450,000 a year) eighty percent of them were in chronic debt. Therefore it is not a job or a particular amount of income that will buy the time to care for the soul. Rather, it is the focused application of creative intelligence which arises when one makes a commitment to become conscious, to faith (i.e. open to abundance) and to live for something greater than socially perpetuated pettiness. This is the process of alignment, and work is only one petal on the flower of our life-offering back to the divine.
Can one live from the core and still thrive in this world? Yes, yes, yes! It doesn’t happen by magic, however, but as a consequence of the choices we make on a daily basis, and by our willingness to open to community support (and this is why we do our yearly Manifestation Gathering). This is how and where the power of love manifests, not just as an inner feeling or awareness, but through the risk of putting your heart on the line and doing what you really came here to do.
There is Life – this overwhelming mysterious power that surrounds and permeates us. There is Light – the open luminosity of our pure existence, beyond time and space, glowing with fullness, abundance, radiance, and compassion. There is Love, the “work” of the Light, entering the visible word, putting our feet down, and daring to live from passion and purpose.
Life, Light, Love – are these not the true principles, the true potentials that can emerge through sordid conditioned histories that can shine on? Sustained by grace, we walk through the door, all the way through! This is a great moment for us. This is our time. Let the beauty we love be what we do.
The Esalen workshops in August were among the most moving and powerful workshops I have even been a part of. What was this magic that brought just the right people together in such a supportive and intentioned environment? What allowed us all to open and flower in such beautiful and mutually supportive ways? I was inspired to be working with so many clear, powerful, and spiritually intentioned beings. And I know that we are just the tip of the iceberg; all over the world sincere, heart-centered souls are awakening to the demands of this time, to act in abundance and compassionate power. There is a tipping point and we are headed in that direction!
On the way back from Esalen though, I turned on the car radio. I had been on a ten day media fast; and the levels of anger and the number of people venting frustration (more often than not in the name of God) were jarring and depressing. So, how are we to proceed in light of this? The “see no evil” section of the consciousness movement tells us to “ignore them, they are in their own illusions” and to go on envisioning only light. The “alarmists” remind us that such a strategy was employed with regard to Hitler and the National Socialist Party before the outbreak of World War II, and that we must be on vigilant guard against governments and corporations promoting genetically engineered crops, non-reproductive seeds, numerous vaccination scams, and the manipulation of the world economy by banks and multi-nationals, etc.
I often try to placate my heart when it cries for justice, telling myself that human evolution is an extremely slow process, that one needs patience, and that we are all in this world together. The fantasy of a “rapture” in which the “good stay and the bad just disappear” is un-redeeming and hence unappealing to me. Would a loving mother or father exclude some of their children from their unconditional care and not others?
What I learned at Esalen was not an “answer,” but a clarifying strategy that may be helpful. Instead of only trying to “do good” (and risk seeing oneself in opposition to others “doing bad”), how about opening to “feeling good?” What if one form of kneeling and kissing the ground five times a day would be to stop at opportune times and ask, “How am I feeling in my body right now?” “Am I breathing in and out into the glory of this moment in the most open, conscious, and effective way possible?”
A number of years ago, I was accosted by a “true believer” who looked at my workshop offerings and asked. “Aren’t you afraid of going to Hell? It’s mighty hot down there?”
“Not really,” I replied, “I’ve already been there. It was hot, it burned a lot of pain, regret, and disease out of me, and I’m still here.”
So, I am with Adlai Stevenson on Eleanor Roosevelt, “She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness.” If we could tune in a few times a day to feeling good, right here, right now, in this body; it might become a habit. And feeling good in your body, not just your physical body, but all the way to the expanded body of Gaia, is hard to argue with.
When the heart/mind opens to a certain perspective, the mythic dimensions of pilgrimage, its great quests and fantastic voyages, its meetings with remarkable people, and its exaltation beyond the mundane all reveal themselves in common day to day life.
James Joyce demonstrated this decades ago through his groundbreaking stream of consciousness novel, Ulysses, in which the main character, Leopold Bloom, walks the streets of Dublin on a routine day, all the while recapitulating the paradigmatic return of Odysseus to Ithaca.
What Joyce saw was more than poetic fancy; it was a psychological insight into the mythic dimensions of the quotidian. Every day, after all, is a new incarnation filled with potentials of glory. The amazingly emotive backdrop of the ever-changing weather, the various beings who come into our sphere with their dress, mannerisms, and mini or maxi dramas, the sights, sounds, and atmospheric resonances with our ongoing inner conversations, recollections, hopes, fears, future projections, and the like; this synchronistic play between the inner and outer worlds is epic material.
What if we would dare to slow down enough to see it, what if we would turn off the blaring media noise and begin each morning listening to the glorious music of the birds, if each night we would retrace the day, then great patterns of meaning would reveal themselves. We would be less inclined to leave our land and our homes because we would truly experience their fullness for the first time. Instead of being wrapped up in our own plans, we would respect coincidences, and instead of seeking meaning on some far off distant shore, we would delight in the unbelievable, unpredictable, beauty and wisdom that arises in every moment.
The Bengali poet Rabindranth Tagore reminded us that beauty makes no demands. We are free to ignore it and go about fulfilling our various plans and ambitions. But this is to our peril, for the glory of every moment; the pilgrimage of the ever present now awaits us in its depth and silence. From this space of the open heart/mind, every day, every way, and every life indeed becomes pilgrimage.
Some time ago, an aspiring poet searched over India for Nirala, “the strange one,” who was the avant-garde poet of his time. He finally located Nirala and followed him home. Just as Nirala was about to enter his door, he turned around and growled at the young seeker, “What do you want?” Taken aback, the young poet said, “Excuse me. I just wanted to have your darshan, your audience.”
“If you want to see me,” Nirala, replied, “You need to see everything and everyone.
Career counselors and job placement agencies are well intentioned when they give clients a variety of assessment tests in order “place” them in a position or career for which they would be best suited. But if you are to discover your true vocation and create work that is aligned with every aspect of your being – your values, your priorities, your spiritual perspective – you need to approach your search from a soul level, from the inside out. When you start processing internally in this way, it immediately affects what shows up in your external world.
There are step-by-step processes to help you discover your true vocation that includes meditation, visioning, and a kind of remembering, all of which allow you to open the book of your own life and pay attention to the creative wisdom that is already showing you the way. As you enter into these processes, what you are here to do becomes obvious.
One of these processes uses the chakra system – the energy centers of your body. As you explore the major issues associated with each chakra, you can integrate all of who you are into the vision of your vocation.
The first chakra is about Abundance, or self-esteem, or your sense of wellbeing. This chakra also involves your willingness to come from your own truth instead of living for someone else’s agenda.
The second chakra is about discovering and connecting to what you truly care about, not what you’re supposed to care about.
The third chakra is about power, decision-making and clarity. This is where things get real and concrete. For no one creates a career by just imagining “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice.” They do it by setting a very particular focus and following through.
The fourth chakra is where you create your vocational vision in terms of a greater community and open to greater possibilities. This is where you go beyond the idea of “How can I survive,” which is based in scarcity, and instead ask, “Where can I offer the best of me?”
In the fifth chakra, you use the power of the imagination in visionary ways and acknowledge people who have inspired you. Just as Bob Dylan had to find Woody Guthrie in order to become Bob Dylan, you need to find people who can show you the way to what is possible.
The sixth and seventh chakras are so ethereal that they generally don’t play a large part in this process except as a way to understand what you believe about reality, and your vision of reality is going to directly affect your potential to manifest the work you love.
The value of the process is increased a thousand-fold when you move through it with others who’s intention is the same: to finally know the work they were meant to do, work that will sustain them at all levels of their being. When you bring people together who are intentioned in this way, and you have someone who can hold the space, then what is created becomes incredibly intensified and amazing things happen.
To work without a sense of calling is to literally work for nothing.
Perhaps the sage, who has become free of any need for meaning, can do this. Or the fool, who is content as an animal is content. But for the rest of us, our vocation (our calling) is the vital, ongoing connection of our work to integrity, to significance, and to God. Money, fame, and even success at work may sustain you for a while, but sooner or later, the greater part of you arises and yearns for its call. A place inside of you knows there has to be a greater purpose for your days, for all of your hard work. This knowing doesn’t spring from a sense of lack or fear of what might be, but from some relentless energy within that moves you toward your calling.
Your vocation, which cannot be manufactured, may go underground, but it cannot dissolve. It needs to be nurtured, offered a possibility, and recognized by a mentor and even a tradition. This is because a sense of calling is integral to who we are as a species, not just as individuals. When a nation or a people lose their sense of calling and their notion of their particular abilities, sensibilities and relationship to nature and to history, they are pried loose from their archetypal moorings and are easily captivated by all sorts of distractions, ideologies, and the like, in an unconscious effort to fill the void of meaning.
When vocation reappears, and it will, it does so through less than expected routes: in the guise of seeming misfortune, the death of a parent, the loss of a partner, or a challenge to one’s health or very life. It can even appear through the humiliating experience of walking into work to find you no longer have a job. Any of these experiences can shake loose a lost vision, even a vision that has never before been consciously recognized yet is part of one’s ancestral heritage.
These unexpected events, whether on an individual or societal level, communicate the urgency that, if a person’s life is going to have a true sense of fulfillment, he or she must take the risk and responsibility of vocation. The risk is to open to a new path, a place where outcomes are no longer guaranteed. The responsibility is to follow the promptings of one’s inner being by acknowledging one’s feelings, speaking one’s truth, and finally having the courage to act on it.
One man, who started his own successful financial planning business, told me that he left a secure military position because he wanted to be more than a functionary in the eyes of his family, and a when I asked a women who had developed a very successful educational testing service, what got her started, she said simply, “When my husband left me, I had to do something.” Vocation may appear through an agonizing sense of failure, through the realization that being part of a market economy does not substitute for being part of the fabric of life.
How can you, now, uncover and honor your life’s calling? Perhaps you already are. But you probably know many people who are not. Your friends, members of your family, perhaps even your colleagues. Too many of us toil through our days without any sense of greater purpose, without an ideal of vocation to ennoble our work or a sense of connection to who we really are or long to be.
Walking through the streets of Warsaw: a city that has been repeatedly and brutally destroyed now rises in peace and reconciliation with a beautiful breadth of soul. Yes, scars remain as reminders, not to be bitter and vengeful, but to forgive and transform.
The energy of one heroic being pervades this city, Karol Jozef Wojtyla, later known as Pope John Paul II. Whatever you may think of the church, its dogma and its politics, this man risked his office by using its power to singlehandedly rally the forces of truth and conscience against overwhelming political, military, and social oppression. The spirit of his ministry saturates this city. The most hardened anti-clerics salute him. His aura is like the sunlight burning through the clouds. Here is a testament to the value of a life sacrificed to truth, to the power of the soul, and to the ability to confront and transmute toxic darkness.
Maybe Pope Paul had the advantage of a well-defined adversary. Our adversaries are just as dark, but perhaps not as blatant. The best way to get around Warsaw (especially during rush hours) is the tram. These electric vehicles operate for pennies. They are convenient and quick. We had such trams in many U.S. cities, but they were ripped up and destroyed by the auto industry. Now the oil they demand gushes out into our waters.
Oil is ruled by Scorpio and represents excretions from the body, from the body of the earth, as well as representing that which is hidden coming to light. The great waters (Neptune/Pisces) are our collective consciousness. The poisoning of the world cannot be hidden, whether it is through radioactive military waste, industrial subterfuge (like the aluminum industry funneling their waste product, fluoride, into the drinking water), or mandated swine flu vaccines.
It is said in the classical Indian myths that when the waters were churned and poison arose to engulf the world, the god Shiva drank it and forever more displayed a blue line on his throat. Shiva embodies the power of transmuting poison, of taking it in without taking it personally, and turning it toward the Light.
To be willing and able to absorb the “toxic” and transmute it is an initiatic art which takes many forms. Jean Paul allowed the light to shine through him and confront the darkness. Lord Shiva drank it and held it in his meditative consciousness until it turned to nectar. These strategies are both instructive and necessary in these times.
There is a new world waiting to be born, and our planet shakes in labor. May we be inspired to open to the best in us, to confront what needs to be confronted with wisdom and compassion, and to become a conscious part of this emergence.
"I attended your Creating the Work You Love workshop at Esalen a few years ago, and it still resonates with me. It truly was a powerful experience and I often think about the tools I obtained, the folks I met, the truth of each moment and how it has propelled me in my life. I just wanted to let you know what a great influence you have had on my career/vocation. I also have a copy of your 'anti-career' tapes that I have listened to throughout the years. They have been very helpful as well."