Updated April 5, 2017
My Spiritual Journey
Long ago, I used to go on month-long Buddhist meditation retreats with a group of about 100 other participants. During those 30-day retreats, we basically sat on our behinds the entire time – from sun up to sun down. We’d sit there without moving, legs crossed, for hour after hour. Except for the occasional crack and pop from the fire that blazed to keep out the winter chill, the hall was perfectly silent. The only respites we got from those long sessions came in the form of quick meals and pithy teachings. It was grueling, incredibly boring, and revolutionary all at the same time.
I loved the practice. The reason I loved it is because it contained variations on the exact same teachings I’d received in my Christian upbringing related to developing a deep spiritual life. These were teachings about commitment, deep surrender, brother/sisterhood, impermanence, and so on. By sitting for weeks on end, we were presented with the opportunity to come to know the workings of the intellectual mind and to learn how to fathom non-conceptual/spiritual aspects of our being. By the end of the month-long sit, participants were scrubbed clean of a lot of the typical mental ruminations that inflicts most of us leaving behind a deep stillness and non-conceptual connection with Life.
One of the teachings that inevitably comes up in these retreats centers around the fact that everything eventually falls away – changes/dies. In particular and from a Buddhist perspective, the teaching is that the sum total of physical reality along with every thought, feeling, and emotion a person ever has eventually falls away. Trouble arises to the degree that each of us “buys into” having stuff, or clings onto a particular conceptual view. Loss is inevitable, it’s important to deeply accept this fact so a lot of time and energy isn’t wasted on trying to maintain any particular state. The challenge that I personally undertook from this teaching was that it was important to try to find out if there was anything that didn’t change, that didn’t pass away, that was “beyond-the-beyond” as they say.
I wanted to find out if there was one true thing that was beyond thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In other words, is it possible to discern some aspect of Reality that isn’t subject to change? I suppose you could say that God is immovable but then who is God? He/she is many things to many people. Is God the story you’re told from childhood onward? If so, this is very different for the many peoples of the world. Is God the good feeling you get when you worship? If so, those feelings change from minute to minute and day by day. For me, I felt compelled to try to find one true reference point from which to understand life.
Believe it or not but I meditated for over 20 years on this single question. What doesn’t change; what doesn’t move. And although it felt like I was able to peal off many layers, I never felt like I found an answer. I never felt like any of the answers often mentioned really worked. For example, in Buddhism there is this understanding that at a certain point, those with deep insight clearly see that the individual is just a paper-thin representation that simply arises in the moment in response to the sum total of everything else that’s going on. In the end, there is no “you”, there’s only the flow. Likewise in Christianity, a person surrenders over to Jesus and in the doing is instilled with the Holy Spirit. They let loose their “white-knuckled” grip on life and embrace a deeper calling. The act of surrender sets them free. This is all quite beautiful but has always felt incomplete to me.
To get a sense for why these sorts of insights didn’t ring completely true for me, consider the fact that trouble often arises when folks associate their deeply felt connection with the Devine with a particular religion. While it’s natural to make this sort of connection, it can also be limiting. For example, it’s often not OK to question the workings of an individual’s religion because to do so is also taken to be an affront to their deeply felt and important connection to God. The two are considered to be one and the same.
From this more guarded stance, true God can only be found in their particular brand of religion. I can only imagine that God gets a big chuckle with folks that figure their brand of religion encompasses the vastness of His/Her being, and then in the next breath, begins to weep at the site of humans inflicting all manner of pain on one another for what are in the end petty religious differences. Consider the fact that there are many, many variations of the World’s major religions with many of the practitioners walking around thinking their variation represents the one-true path to salvation/freedom. This limited view often then leads to a lot of bad behavior.
So on the one hand you have wonderful teachings that lift worshipers up. At the other end of the spectrum, religion is used to justify cruelty. From my perspective, all religious teachings are riddled with inconsistencies and are subject to change. As such, I felt like I needed to break free of all paradigms and realize truth for myself by looking deeply into question of impermanence.
Getting back to the question as to whether there is anything that doesn’t change, when one looks at the various religions of the world and spiritual experiences, it seems clear that all of life is definitely in constant flux. If one turns deeply inward, the same holds true. Thoughts come and go, emotions come and go, feelings come and go, states of mind that arise out of thoughts-feelings-emotions come and go. When it came to CIRS and states of mind, it was truly stunning (mostly horrific) to experience first hand the extreme states that CIRS induces. This was everything from feeling violent rage to feeling as if you were going to go completely mad.
To give you a sense for the extreme states CIRS can cause, I recount dying over and over again in brutal fashion. My body was being disassembled from the inside out. On the one side, toxins had caused my brain to swell, drastically upset my hormonal balance, crashed brain neurotransmitters, and riddled me with pain. I can’t begin to describe the torture that is perceived when so many things are wrong. It’s like you’re being ripped apart on a psychological, physical, and spiritual level all at the same time. Imagine the face of the most disfigured wretch that you can, eyes popping out in horror and screaming mouth gaping wide as every last vestige of reality is being ripped away. That is what it felt like on the inside. It was very, very black.
It was like this much of the time for at least a couple of years. I remember sitting in a Walmart parking lot as my wife shopped inside. I was beyond exhaustion while at the same time, my body was stuck in a perpetual fight-or-flight mode. My body was trying to valiantly fight on while emotionally all I wanted to do was die. I thought, hell, why not get this over with.
And so, I stopped trying to resist. I embraced the fury, encouraged it to have its way with me. It was tantamount to asking the sickest, most perverse sadist that ever lived to do as they wished. It was terrifying. I got ripped apart piece by piece on every level imaginable until eventually I passed out. When I awoke 20 minutes later, to my dismay, the horror hadn’t abated in the slightest. My torturer stood waiting for me to awaken before resuming the assault. CIRS was vicious and unrelenting. I don’t know how many death-like experiences I had in those years when CIRS was at its worst, but it was a lot.
And surprisingly, this is where this discussion leads into what I call “full-stop”. I say this because from time to time while living through this hell, a very unsettling sort of understanding presented itself. Namely, that everything, and I mean everything, was temporal. That nothing was “real”. That on the other side of existence was the impeccable antithesis of being. To see it felt like when I accidentally touched the feeder lines coming into the main electrical service panel in a house. A huge jolt of electricity thumped down through my body and out the rubber soles of my shoes. Every fiber of my being had been shaken.
So here’s the deal. I’m not talking about another conceptualization here. I’m not talking about some sort of religious or spiritual experience. Rather, I’m talking about seeing a profundity that turns all of those experiences on their head. This is not an understanding that is uplifting or that carries a particular message in any way. In fact, any person that might try to couch this type of experience in poetic prose of one type or another isn’t seeing the thing for what it is. Like the savage torturer CIRS was, this sort of profundity takes every last hope and fear, every last thread in the fabric of life, and tears it into oblivion.
It’s “full-stop”. It does not lead into feeling like you’re merging with the sum total of life or any other such nonsense. It takes everything beautiful, everything horrific, everything that life has to offer and annihilates it in an instant. Having utterly obliterated every vestige of reality, the thing then turns upon you. At that moment, you look into an abyss that is beyond comprehension and it shakes you to your very core. It can’t be understood and to imagine as much is to have forgotten its absolute stark, life obliterating nature. Like a heavy jolt of electricity, the seeing shakes you to your core; all is completely broken and all traces are lost.
So what does this sort of experience leave a person with? Nothing. Actually, you’re left with much, much less than nothing. Nothing generally implies an opposite, meaning some-thing. This was beyond all duality. It was really unexpected and incomprehensible. I thought to myself that if all of life could be so thoroughly destroyed in an instant, then how could anything have intrinsic value? In other words, upon experiencing “full-stop”, it became utterly obvious that everything was simply a mental projection of one form or another. And I mean absolutely everything, including the thoughts you think and the breaths you are apparently take.
What does someone do with this sort of insight? I know what I did. The shock of the thing led to confusion and heartbreak. This insight certainly was not at all what I’d expected to uncover decades ago when I first began pondering what the nature of reality was – that which isn’t subject to change. I never could have possibly ever imagined such an encounter, let alone at a time when I was so very sick.
For over a year, I was unable to make any sort of sense from this encounter. I muddle along but my life lacked any real substance. Of course the lack of substance had been around from the very beginning; the trouble was that now I was acutely aware of it. Maybe it sounds like I’m making a “mountain out of a mole hill” but for me, this experience really hit me.
Moving forward in time, I recently watched a documentary on the Christian rock group Hillsong. At first flush, what was striking was the sincerity of the rock group and the effort they made to reach out to their audience and God. I have to admit that when I was young, I would have been sorely tempted to label this group as a bunch of misguided enthusiasts. In mid-age, I’d gained enough wisdom to at least be able to appreciate the importance of surrendering to the Divine and the value of brother/sisterhood. From my current vantage point, what I saw was a sea of people that had come together for the expressed purpose to reach beyond these worldly confines; they carried the inspiration to reach out and come closer to God. It was truly beautiful.
So here’s the jest of why this movie was particularly striking for me within the context of “full-stop”. When I looked out across those massive crowds of people that had come together to worship in such a sincere and honest way, I was struck with the fact that people carry at their very core the inspiration to be more. In fact, I would go so far as to say that all of life seems to carry this edict, to rise above their current situation and be more.
Think about it. We’re never satisfied; we’re always working to understand more and rise to higher levels. This nature appears to be embedded within the very fabric of Reality itself. For me, this very simple understanding is profoundly impactful because it says something about divine nature of life. It’s as if all of Reality has been left wide open for our interpretation except for this single quality. That is, that regardless of where we are at in our lives, and regardless of what form is being discussed (a rock, a tree, woodland creatures, mankind, and everything in between), everything aspires to be more.
In being more from a human point of view, I mean working with and raising our current makeup to higher and more refined energy states. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that life was limited to very simple forms. Over millions of years, this very simple inspiration embedded within the fabric of this reality to “be more” has uplifted life to its current form. Currently, this consists of a human being sitting at his computer and attempting to reach out to you and share with you a profound and inspirational understanding. And that this is even possible, that we all are connected in untold numbers of ways that allows my heart to pour out to you is extraordinary. It is a continuation of the Divine, the calling to rise up and be more.
They say we’re roughly made up of 10% human DNA. The rest is other stuff. And yet, somehow it all works together. From what I can tell, this amalgamation is constantly striving to come into greater harmony, to lift itself up to higher and higher levels. In fact, one could say that at least part of what it means to be human includes the inspiration to take on this conglomeration of 90% other DNA and bring it into greater congruence. And how is this best done? At its core, it’s done through some form of spirituality. It’s done by reaching beyond the day-to-day and thereby inspiring this sum total to move to the next level.
So how does this calling to be more relate to “full-stop”? I can’t say for sure. Actually, I don’t think it’s possible to directly connect “full-stop” with Divine inspiration except to say that they appear to be exact opposites. I suppose it could be said that “full-stop” provides the one true reference point from which the movement of life may be accurately discerned. Having seen into the abyss, one develops an appreciation for the variety of life and is at the same time, able to see through its myriad forms and get to the heart of the matter, to see the workings of the Divine at the center. That’s the way it was for me anyway.
From a more practical point of view, what I’m finally coming to understand after being on this planet for some 56 years is that it’s OK to feel good. I don’t necessarily have to suffer. That everything is imbued with a higher purpose and that at its core, this purpose consists of the simple message to be more, to rise above. Furthermore, that by feeling, by allowing goodness to pour in, by embracing those many moments in each day when bits of joy show up, I’m actually going beyond this mish-mash of DNA and encouraging it to rise up. It’s OK to feel good. Isn’t this amazing?! I’m embarrassed to say it; it sounds so simple.
You know, I come from a stark Protestant German background. Often, if you ask this sort of person how it’s going on the most delightful day of their entire lives, the best you’ll get out them is “Not too bad”. You won’t even get a “pretty good” because that might imply that one is actually allowing some of the goodness to seep in. There’s a lot of self deprecation going on. I guess I took this message on in full; I never expected life to be anything more than a lot of hard work and sacrifice. You know, it’s all pain and suffering with a little bit of goodness sprinkled in here and there.
Wow, what a journey. It takes decades of meditation and a brutal illness that launches me into the abyss followed by witnessing a throng of worshipers at a Christian rock concert before the message is finally able to get across. And that message is that where we are going doesn’t so much matter. What matters is having a deep appreciation for the Divine inspiration that compels life forward. By deep appreciation I mean that embedded within the very simple edict to be more is a profound message of Love. That message of Love says that we’re not alone, that life isn’t completely random, that Divine inspiration sits at the seat of life and is profoundly loving.
We are loved. You are loved. I am loved. My “job” is simply to allow love in, to embrace feelings of health and joy, to be inspired. It’s so simple, so beautiful. It all seems so fitting giving that we are entering into the Age of Aquarius, the age of upgraded values of love, brotherhood, unity, and integrity.
Bits of Wisdom
When I reflect on what I’ve written, I’m guessing that many will have a hard time relating. After all, who spends decades meditating on a single question? For me, it was a singular quest compelled onward by ever deeper and deeper levels of stillness in meditation. In fact, the question as to what didn’t move could be rephrased to “what is perfect stillness”. I felt like if I could know that state directly, without any over-layers of conceptualization, that I would know Truth, that I would have something of value to share with the world. As described, experiencing “full-stop” provided a reference point from which life could be seen more clearly.
So who cares? Maybe just me. For those with CIRS that are wondering what the heck they just waded through this entire article for, here a few more practical pointers that may be of some use.
- The impeccable in life remains. We all have at our core, the Divine inspiration to lift up and embody all that life has to give us – the good and the bad. Persevere and see for yourself how Divinity will work through you to create something truly wonderful. It will happen.
- Take great solace in the inspiration that we are all called to be more. Embedded within this inspiration is unconditional Love. It is our shield and armor. Know that you’re loved and use this knowledge to rise up, to be more, to find wholeness.
- For those in the “thick of it”, a lot of this kind of talk may seem like rubbage, or at least completely irrelevant. When illness is pressing in, notice how there is resistance and try to figure out a way to let go. For a bit, see if you can’t figure out a way to find a place in your mind where you aren’t doing anything, period. It’s OK to disconnect. I found for myself that letting go of everything was really all I could do many days. Surprisingly, when you basically stop caring, unexpected inspiration has a chance to bubble up to the surface. This inspiration carries messages that you would have likely otherwise missed. Let your right brain, unconscious, your body, or however you want to put it, have a chance to speak. This can only happen when you stop and do nothing.
- You don’t have to necessarily get better to be OK. All of life in physical form eventually comes to an end. Life is a bitter sweet story. Trust that the life you’re living has deep meaning and impacts us all. Your life makes a difference and has deep value.
- We are all warriors. Others may never know of the valiant battles we fought, of our great courage, of our pain, of the love in our hearts, but Life knows. It always knows and it matters. I know and bow in gratitude.
- To me, it seems as if there are many now that are moving through “the dark night of the soul”. Having been through hell, I can appreciate the importance of the journey. You can’t have meaningful change without struggle; it just doesn’t work that way. Having been shredded by illness, I take great solace in the realization that we have embedded within us all the inspiration needed to turn any adversity toward the Divine. Said another way, part of the journey seems to be about learning to listen, to feel, to engage life in completely new and novel ways.
- When little bits of goodness or joy peak through, cultivate them. Dance with them, nurture them, hold them in your arms. When you do, you send the message to the whole that this is the way, that you understand your Divine nature and are engaging it. You might be pleasantly surprised at how life listens and responds.
- You are going to be OK. You are going to be OK. You are going to be OK. You are loved.