The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, April 06, 2006

In the world, but not OF the world

“Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”—Zen proverb

So…I’m on a tight count-down to the very first “The Path” seminar with Scott Sonnon.  The Portland seminar (April 22d) and the June seminar in Los Angeles (June 24th) are both SOLD OUT.  We may open the L.A seminar for a few more seats once we know the exact square footage needed.

At any rate, I’m increasing my meditation and being careful with my rest.  The folks at the seminar are trusting us to deliver something important, and I think we can…if we keep our egos out of the way, and simply represent, as clearly as possible, the Path that we see before us.

It is very difficult to put it into words, but I’m going to try to do that over the next days, partially just to bring the information from my spine to my forebrain. 
Most basic is the idea that we are beings of pure light, having a human experience.  This is often glimpsed in the highest states of athletic expression, artistic endeavor, sexual ecstasy, intellectual clarity, spiritual revelation. 

In a practical sense, then, every action we take is merely an attempt to grow closer to the divine, whether we realize it or not. Becoming aware of this is a huge advantage.

We are distracted from this path by fear and want, or even imbalanced love.  It is so easy to go astray, and the pure spiritual path cannot really be seen directly.  I think it can be seen INDIRECTLY in the way we handle the three arenas of our lives.  Do you have a spiritual tradition that you follow? Wonderful.  You can accelerate your progress by asking yourself how its principles relate to your physical health and fitness.  How those principles relate to your family and intimate relationships.  How they relate to your community—providing goods and services to support them and yourself.

It is through these “mundane” windows that spirit can be glimpsed…

In the smell of a clean, healthy baby.
In the laughter of my partner when I perform a perfect Tai-Otoshi throw, controlling his fall so that he lands as lightly as a feather.
In re-reading a passage from one of my own books, and not recognizing it…realizing it came from a deeper, better part of myself.
In my daughter’s hug, when she tells me that I’ve never let her down.
In the silent watchfulness of my mother’s ashes, on my living room mantel.  Can she see me?  Hear me?  Know my heart?  I try to live as if she can.
In the perfect warmth of my wife’s arms, knowing that I actually am the man she believes me to be, that if she could read my mind, she would only be happier and more secure.

I can glimpse spirit, but not grasp it.  I can live within its flow, but not control it.  I can tack my sails to catch its wind, but not predict them.

I cannot know spirit, but I can live in the awareness that spirit knows me.
This morning: half hour slow breathing.  See myself in the mirror of my mind, focus my inner eyes on the light.  Focus my ears on the sound of my breathing.  Focus my kinesthetic sense on my heartbeat.  As I inhale I say “one.”  As I exhale, I say “I am.”  Then “Two.  I am.” And “Three.  I am.”  Up to ten, over and over again.

I watch the labels my mind tries to throw at me.  I am tired.  I am hungry.  I am Steven.  I am married.  I am a father.  I am a writer.  I am a man.  I am black.  I am American.  I am frustrated.  I am happy…”

All the multipliers.  It is like trying to reckon the trees in a forest by counting leaves and dividing by a thousand. 

No.  Stay with the simplicity.  “I am” is the root.  It is self-evident, and needs no modifier.  And in the process of reaching it, and dwelling there even for a few minutes, you must temporarily give up everything except existence itself.  It is cleaning the perceptual lens, without which we view the world only through the smudged, smeared, prejudices and preconceptions of yesterday, and yesterday, and the day before that.  Like lunchmeat sitting on the stove, after a few days our old attitudes start to stink, and the worst part is that we can’t even figure out where the odor is coming from.

Every day, clean that lens.  For me, that means giving myself completely to my family, to my work, to my physical practice.  Knowing that life ends, but light travels forever. 

To remember that my mother’s ashes are watching me.  Waiting for me to join her, to stand on the other side of the line called “death” and justify the days of my life.

Every day, the work awaits, and anything that separates you from the “I am” drains your energy, even if it is useful.  Be very cautious of the labels you hold dear.
And lest I take myself too seriously, or think myself too damned enlightened, my favorite demon raised its head yesterday while watching television.

For a long time I’d realized that it took until 1995 for there to be a successful hour-long dramatic television series with a non-white star (a successful series is one that lasts more than two seasons).  That series was “Deep Space Nine.”  But there have been tons and tons of successful comedies.  The reason (I think) is that laughter is a release of tension, and that old amygdalic response just builds up and up…unreleased, the tension makes one want to turn the channel without ever knowing why.

But here’s the question I have for you…Have any of you, ever, and I mean EVER, seen an hour-long episode of an American  television drama without at least one white person in it?   In fifty years of watching television, I can’t remember a single one.  What does that mean?  I don’t know.  But obviously it relates to the fact that anyone who watches the ratings knows that black dramas have ALWAYS struggled in appealing to a white audience.  So they add white faces.  And no one has ever dared not to.

So…what happens if you’re black, and have the same subconscious tendencies that, rather obviously, white audiences have.  Can you change the channel?  To what?  Can you change the channel in life itself?

You know, if you dive deep enough into the “I am” you get away from all this.  But only a tiny percentage of people have the discipline to go there…and a fraction of THOSE can both go there and remain grounded in the real world.

That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.  “To be IN the world, but not OF the world.”

That seems a worthy way to busy up my days while I wait to see Mom again, don’t you think?

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