Living With the Questions

You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.
Albert Einstein

Talking with a friend about questions of faith and practice brought out some thoughts on living what we learn. It is easy to get caught up in dogma and doctrine when our hearts really long for spiritual experience that can transform our lives as well as our understanding.

The deeper I go into spiritual practice, the more mystical and paradoxical it becomes. It is a both/and proposition, not either/or. We both claim our good and ask for help and guidance. We commune with a personal God of Love and work with an impersonal force of Law. We use mental tools scientifically and enter into spiritual mystery at the same time. We discover stillness and awareness, not dogma and one-size-fits-all answers. As I delve deeper into spiritual understanding I eventually enter into the territory of question and paradox. From my reading I see that the journey to the center of the heart includes the yin and the yang, the dark and the light, the answers and the questions. So there is struggle and discipline, but there is also surrender and grace. Each person, like Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord (see Genesis 32:22-32), defines and creates his or her own hero's journey. For in the end, it is our own limited consciousness we struggle with. 

But this is a deep mystery. If the rules you set in your mind are a product of a partial understanding, then you will experience the consequences of the choices that come from that limited understanding. Our task is to grow our consciousness so we can grow in our understanding, make better choices, and co-create a larger life with God's help. God is in the center of our hearts so God's help is always there. Yet it is we who have obscured the way for God to help us and must learn how to allow God to work in, through, and for us once again. I have come to believe that this is one of the reasons we are here experiencing this life we've co-created. And co-created is the term I would use. I may have the power and freedom to choose, but in this life I also choose within the context of limitations, most of which are co-created with others and with the nature of life as we experience it here in mortal bodies on planet Earth. 

My understanding of what knowing and having the answers is has evolved as I've grown older. I "knew" more when I was younger but now I'm spending more time in the territory of "not knowing." I am seeking a deeper kind of knowing than the easy answers and instant pigeonholing that passes for knowledge nowadays. There is a knowing that is an intuitive understanding formed by choice and willingness to seek the truth. There is another kind of knowing based in ego energies that feels "I have/should have all the answers" and either puffs itself up in human pride or grovels in human misery. 

It is all a form of missing or hitting the mark. What I think the best teachers are trying to show us is a form of spiritual target practice. A good teacher draws the riches of tradition and experience to see the commonalities in successfully hitting the target (i.e. not "sinning" through missing the mark) and outlines them for others. Whoever studies the teachings brings their own mental tendencies to the interpretation. If one man's wrestling point is law, doctrine, and an either/or mindset, he brings that to the reading and experiencing. If another man's skills lean toward a Zenlike paradoxicality (is there such a word?) he'll bring a different interpretation to his understanding of a tradition or system of thought. But the commonalities are still there, waiting for anyone with an open mind to discover insights on improving the ability to hit the mark of spiritual enlightenment. 

I personally feel my spiritual studies are an apprenticeship to great thoughts and to the collective experiences that have grown from different ways of understanding Truth. My deepest roots are in the Christian experience, but I have found a larger context for that experience by being open to other practices and traditions. Like learning a new vocabulary or a new skill, I find that everything I learn (whether I eventually choose to agree with it or not) enriches my understanding and builds my life skills. I embrace the larger community of thought and human experience. 

I have read Sufi materials that offer insights similar to those found in favorite Christian teachers about the spiritual journey, using different words and cultural concepts to explain the same process. A mystic's book and an architect’s meditation on ultimate reality bring greater insight on what I have read and learned before. And many, many other writers from a variety of backgrounds and traditions have enriched my understanding (the resource list in the back of The Art of Simplicity gives you a taste of books that have been helpful, and the second half of my blog will continue to offer helpful and interesting resources). Being a bookaholic, I’m always wandering into different sections of the bookstore to find that there are interconnections everywhere, and a business book or a book on the arts may offer me jewels of spiritual understanding as rich as any I would find in the religious section of the library. For example, Richard Smoley's book, Inner Christianity, gave me insight on the question of why we often find that the deeper we go into the mystical paradoxes of spiritual evolution, the more we discover commonality with those of other faith traditions who are closer to the inner mystical center than the more outer-oriented, fundamentalist folks from our own faith tradition. 

As I’ve expanded my understanding there are times when I feel I’ve both lost the faith and found the faith (as any student of church history or divinity school graduate will attest). I’ve discovered that this opening to new ideas eventually put the heart of the faith I loved into a larger and more generous context. I now have a faith that is unafraid of questions and paradox, for I know it is in the exploration of those questions, paradoxes, and mysteries that I find more than mere correct answers—I discover a transformed life unfolding like a beautiful rose. I’ve just transplanted the rose to blossom in a larger and more wondrous garden, making room for the plant to unfold into a fuller glory. 

I still find myself swinging between the poles of understanding and struggling to believe. But if I treat my spiritual growth more like an art than a religion, more like learning a skill than getting the answers right, my experience of spiritual understanding grows richer. Yes, there are days when I think I should have done more, done better, and been a better believer. And there are days when I think God should have done better by me. But often there are other days when it doesn't matter because some form of grace unfolded and my soul is satisfied. 

The weather of the heart is never predictable. On a day I create a beautiful rose photo I can be exhilarated because I have the power to create such beauty and to hope that it can also help lift me out of my lower energy wrestlings with finances and a sense of personal failure because I am not as successful in life as I wish I could be. On another day (or even the same day) I can be in the depths because no matter what I do, I can't seem to make things add up or turn out right. In the end I have to do my wrestling and limp away, trusting that it is the mystery of grace that carries me through my triumphs and tragedies. It is the Angel of the Lord that I wrestle with to find the blessings in the mystery of life. 

A change in meaning is a change in being.
David Bohm

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves.
Abraham Lincoln 

The unfolding of the human heart is artful and mysterious.
Jack Kornfield

Affirmative Prayer

Today I open my mind to new ways of thinking, new ideas, new partnerships, and new insights. Instead of answering new questions with old answers, I allow mystery to have its way in me, trusting that even in this time of change and chaos, a better life is being born. I meditate on the questions and release my resistance to change and open my mind to a greater Wisdom. I am present to Spirit and trust that the right answers are already unfolding like a rose in my heart of hearts. 

The Joy of Community and Interconnectivity: Inspiring Friends and Resources

Life is far more interconnected than we realize, and the Internet teaches us this if we are willing to learn. Part of my adventure of interconnectivity was seeing a musician friend at a local café. Charles Alexander (http://CharlesAlexander.com/) told me about Seth Godin’s blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/), which let me to Chris Guillebeau’s blog. And bingo! Interconnectivity and community happen. Here’s a link to a TED presentation by Seth Godin that explains this tribal fusion that is happening: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/538 
or use this link directly to the TED site: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/seth_godin_on_the_tribes_we_lead.html

As I’ve been searching the Internet, I’ve found many conventional, commercial approaches to blogging. But now I have found a model that is less commercial and more about community building that is more my style. It's definitely the route I am taking on this new adventure of creating a presence on the Internet with my website and blog. Here's the link to the website: http://chrisguillebeau.com/3x5/overnight-success/ 
Chris Guillebeau's second manifesto, 279 Days to Overnight Success has been helpful to me already, and I'm just beginning to explore his ideas. You can download his free PDF at his website. 

But the connections do not end there. I left a post on Chris Guillebeau’s blog (because it’s all about creating community and supporting one another and making a difference in the world) and later went back to scroll through other comments. One comment stood out, using a teashop analogy that resonated with me, because I had recently had an inspiring encounter in a local Nashville teashop (thank you, Seth at Teavana in Green Hills Mall!) that introduced me to a heavenly Jasmine Oolong tea (I’m a jasmine tea fanatic—more on that another time). So on the spur of the moment I sent a note to the person who posted, just to acknowledge the gift of his insight in the ongoing discussion. Lo and behold, an answering email and a new conversation has begun. His name is Michael Max and he practices Chinese medicine. Not only that, I am sure I will be quoting him frequently, for the wisdom in his emails and on his blog has nourished my soul and given me food for thought. He writes evocatively of his experiences in China and I am transported to a teashop on Yong Kang Street, sipping tea and enjoying a feast of friendship late into the evening. His August 21, 2008 meditation on Asking the Right Questions offers additional insight on today’s subject. I have copied Michael’s addresses below after the opening of the blog post. I encourage you to go read it in its entirety and enjoy the photos. 

“There is a method of telling fortunes in Taiwan. Actually, there are many methods of telling fortunes in Taiwan. 算命先生 fortune tellers in Taiwan are as numerous as psychotherapists in any trendy west coast American city, and for the most part serve the same function. Which is to help us ask the questions that get us to the right answer…”
Michael Max
read more:
blog page August 21, 2008 Asking the Right Questions http://www.yongkangclinic.com/blog/?paged=2/
Michael’s blog home page: 
http://www.yongkangclinic.com/blog/

One last piece of wonderful for an unusually full Inspiring Friends and Resources section: 

My dear friend Donna Michael has just posted a video that is the perfect illustration of the way we are all interconnected. I adore her music. Go check it out at:
URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKdcelU4DFc

Listen and Purchase the CD "Into the Light"
http://cdbaby.com/cd/donnamichael5

Donna's website: http://www.donnamichael.com/