I’m back from a long, extremely hot, nine-day Ridhwan retreat on Maui. Believe it or not, I had a hard time uprooting myself from Vashon to head to the Valley Isle. Summer was just beginning to bloom in Washington, and folks who live here know that when summer starts displaying the goods, you gotta savor each golden day. Still, I made it to Hawai’i.
The retreat’s theme, the material presented, was incredibly challenging to articulate, and once again I’m in awe of the teachers’ focus and presence. Guidance on the subject of absence can easily devolve into acid trip-like meanderings (ask anyone that’s ever attended a bad Buddhist retreat on the subject). But our teachers’ transmission was crystalline, palpable and impacted me in a profoundly deep way.
This is all part and parcel of the process of the attempts to understand absence. The mind can’t absorb and hold on to the concept of emptiness because the observed and the perception of what is observed (in absence) are one and the same — there is no mind present, weighing and touching and parceling reality into familiar boxes. In fact ‘you’ aren’t even there to ‘have’ the experience — and yet there is the moment. So you can see the mindfuck of the whole subject.
But rather than ramble any further I’ll shift gears and go to a segment of one of Mary Oliver‘s poems, What Is There Beyond Knowing? — one of my favorites. Poetry being a fine way to trace the mind’s finger against the outline of emptiness (which is the best the mind can do — poor thing). Read more
“The core of ego is a feeling of deficiency, of poverty, of emptiness, of saying: “I am no good, I am worthless, I am empty. Give me, give me, more, more, more, more.” In this state of deficiency I don’t love myself, I don’t accept myself. I reject myself. I want to run away, distract myself; maybe go to a movie, see a friend, have sex, eat, fill myself with knowledge, or pretend I am O.K. I am always wanting to fill this emptiness, always rejecting it, always afraid of it. In fact, we are all terrified by it. Most of the time people don’t know that this emptiness, this deficiency is what is driving most of their actions. It’s such a desperation, such a race to fill this bottomless pit.
But how sweet it is to say “yes” to this emptiness. How courageous it is to say: “I feel empty, I feel deficient, and I won’t attempt to fill it. I want to see the truth. I want to experience the reality of me. I refuse to manipulate. I want to wake up regardless of how painful it is.” Only the hero will take this attitude, for it is a heroic act to see your deficiency, your neediness, your emptiness, and yet not try to manipulate your life to fill it. We are so compulsive, so driven to manipulate, to avoid feeling this basic deficiency of our personal ego. But believe me, my friend, there’s no other way towards fullness. God will not pour His grace if you don’t accept your deficiency and stop manipulating. Manipulation, striving to fill this emptiness, is only the devil doing its efficient work. It is constantly working to hide its weakness.”
I’m back on Vashon after visiting the island of Kauai for a ten day Diamond Approach retreat. Having lived in Hawaii for twenty years, I feel slightly immune to the tropical wonders most folks find so beguiling. I do appreciate Hawaii’s beauty, but the rigors, schedule and excitement of ‘retreating’ leans my attention to the material we’re working with — not the beach. And holds it there.
Of the archipelago, Kauai is the oldest, the wettest and the furthest removed, the most northern. In a word its geography is eerie. Approaching the craggy coastline and tremendous, towering sea cliffs, from air, I’m always hit with a distinct sense of the otherworldly, or you could say the other-timely. Landing in Lihue I almost expect to see dinosaurs roaming around the airport’s parking lot, gnawing the tops off of palm trees.
The teaching centered around time, change and the now. This was the first time a retreat coincided with A. H. Almaas‘ (the school’s founder) latest publishing project The Unfolding Now. A book that outlines an understanding very different from Eckhart Tolle‘s teaching in The Power of Now.
Tolle’s view, based more on the shock of revelation rather than an empirical experience of a specific process, as is Almaas’, resurrects erstwhile New Thought concepts regarding the nature of the mind, an incomplete understanding that pits the ego against the desired experience of ‘living in the now’. The equation is simplistic. Ego/mind/emotions not good. Being in the now very good.
I’m not doubting Tolle’s personal experience, I’m just saying it’s extraordinary and not the norm. Given that his awakening was discontinuous — following a condition of near-suicidal hopelessness, I consider it a freak happening, akin to winning the lottery. Read more