Going with the flow

The lamp of the body is the eye: if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

Some contemplatives look outward and see the underlying flow, the pattern, the mystery governing all that is.

Some contemplatives look inward and find the divine being-itself within.

Whether inside or outside, they approach a unity of vision. Perhaps it’s just a case of where they first notice it, or where they are most at home returning to it.

Synthesis

I’m different from the contemplatives, mystics, and sages whose words I’ve read, because I’ve read all their words and put them alongside one another in my own mind.

Reading into different traditions from outside those traditions and looking for the underlying commonalities and themes, my perspective remains an individual one, not belonging to any single set of teachings.

I’ve tried to see “the way” described in Daoist and East Asian Buddhist literature, the mysterious unity dynamically at play behind all phenomena.

I’ve also tried to see the divine essence in my innermost being, either there, or near there, a presence of love and light and transcendent joy that is our true identity, whether it is described as a union with God that occurs through grace when we turn toward Him, or as a pre-existing unity with the divine that has been obscured by ignorance and illusion.

Finding God within themselves, they look out and see God in everything, just as the sages who saw everything following “the way” then knew to look within for their own intimate connection with it.

Reconciling the external and the internal

When I looked outward I could see the mysterious patterns of “the way” but it did nothing to change me.

When I looked within I felt the love and joy of the divine in my innermost being, but “the world” remained impassive and impervious.

I had a strong sense of the divide between myself and “the world”.

But through slowly improving my mood, recognising the legitimacy of desire and how my experience reflects my beliefs and expectations, I’ve found that I can bridge that divide.

By both turning toward the divine in my innermost being and then looking for the mysterious pattern in the external world, I’ve found that they are one and the same thing, mutually reinforcing, and unifying my whole experience.

I have to actively do both. Actively turn toward the spark of love and joy that resides deep within us, and, when secure in that, look to the sense of pattern and connection and flow in the outside world.

Go with the flow

The flow is difficult to describe. I get it by paying attention to my field of experience as a whole. For example, when driving we can pay attention to any number of things but we ought to be aware of the other users of the road around us.

If we were sitting by the side of the road at a busy intersection we might be able to look at the many vehicles as taking part in the greater flow of traffic. We could get a feel for the flow that transcends but is present in the multitude of vehicles and drivers and passengers and their individual actions and behaviours.

Can you do that while you yourself are part of the traffic?

The Zen monk Takuan Soho described this aspect of the way like so:

“When facing a single tree, if you look at a single one of its red leaves, you will not see all the others. When the eye is not set on one leaf, and you face the tree with nothing at all in mind, any number of leaves are visible to the eye without limit. But if a single leaf holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves were not there.”

Creation unfolds moment by moment, and there’s a correlation across all things in the one moment, just as much as there is continuity of one thing across many moments.

Attending to this correlation or flow points us intuitively towards the invisible “way” that governs the flow.

This “way” is the proper object of attention externally, just as the divine spark within us is the proper object of attention internally.

In other traditions this flow or way might be described as God’s will, or the sense of God’s presence in all things. Perhaps it takes different forms for different people.

It still takes practice. I find that fears and worries and grasping for certain outcomes obscures my sense of the flow. At the same time, there’s an inner reluctance to turn toward the love and joy within me, which is puzzling but points to the various traditions’ interpretation of torpor or sloth or an unwillingness to embrace the joy that is available to us right now.

Yet there is also immense consolation in the direct experience of union as the sounds of traffic, my baby daughter wriggling in her bouncer, the tweeting of birds, and the pulsing of my own heart-beat converge with the deep and mysterious sense of love and joy within me.

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The practice of love

Devotional mysticism is very appealing because it teaches that we can go through life immersed in a genuine and profound sense of love for God, for others, for ourselves and the whole of life.

This divine love is presented as the source of meaning, a deeper reality, a holy presence in which we live – even if we are not aware of it most of the time.

The poet Kabir likened us to a fish in water who complains of nothing to drink.

As he writes in another poem:

O seeker,

Where are you vainly looking for me,

For I am neither in your pilgrimage nor in your idols,

Not in your temples, not in your mosques,

Not on the holy river banks at Kasi,

Nor in silent lonely spots in the Himalayas,

Not in penances nor the routine of prayers,

I am not in fasts, nor in rituals,

Nor in renunciation even can I be found.

Do you not see my friend,

Who seeks me so earnestly, far and wide,

That I am here, beside you,

Where are you vainly looking for me

Who am here, close at hand,

Right within you,

To be found in no more than a moment,

If you ever care to believe,

Ever care to look. 

I read so many mystics when I was younger, it all blurred together, and I took from it what I wanted to see – which was an all-or-nothing effort of will to transcend the “ordinary” world.

I thought the practice of devotion was supposed to supplant all desires with a single one, and make us immune to the daily struggles of existence.

But that’s not really how it works.

I mean, it kinda is. Like a lot of mysterious things it makes sense in hindsight, but the descriptions don’t especially help you get there.

That might be because everyone is resisting it in their own ways. So even if someone tells you straight out “this is what you need to do…” you likely won’t listen.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”, but more likely the teachers were all around you all the time waving their hands in front of your face but you were too stubborn and too stupid to open your eyes.

Or maybe that’s just what it took to get you there.

Regardless, divine love is supposed to be transcendent, unconditional, and pure. What that means in practice is that there’s no obstacle to love, if you choose to practice it. There are no necessary preconditions, no requirements, no milestones, no knots to untie…unless you make there be.

If you sit at a piano playing low notes, there’s nothing to stop you playing high ones instead. You just have to do it. You don’t even have to understand how it works and why, though some of you will probably want to.

You just need to choose, for the sake of feeling better, to practice feeling love rather than the other feelings you’re more used to.

The whole idea that we’ll feel better once we do this or finish that, or achieve our goals…No, unconditional love means you can practice it with no preconditions; and if you don’t practice it you’ll never get there.