Considering Critical Mass

Imagine what critical mass consciousness might mean for our planet. That’s what I have been considering this past week. In this context, I am referring to critical mass as “a threshold value of the number of people needed to trigger a phenomenon by exchange of ideas” (Wikipedia).

In a recent Super Soul Sunday interview with Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra suggested the possibility of critical mass consciousness because of the advances we have made in technology.  Imagine all of us aware of being aware.

The idea of awareness or wholeness reaching such a threshold does seem more than plausible as we are able to communicate globally on a daily basis, if we are so inclined. Whatever technology may or may not be, it is bringing us together face by face, word by word, video by video, an ongoing parade of points of view. It seems there are few places or events that we cannot access.

The recent US presidential election is a good example of such an event. The reelection of President Obama revealed much about us as Americans, not the least of which is that we, too, are moving toward that segment of the planet where white is just another color. In revealing ourselves, warts and all, we relied on the risk that is hope, on the spark that is genius.

“Genius is a crisis that joins the buried self, for certain moments, to our daily mind” (William Butler Yeats). Whenever we are jarred into genius, we have the opportunity to become whole–once again aware—to perceive yet another perspective on what it is to be human. Through crisis, we absorb all that we have been so that we may be yet again anew and maybe, just maybe not as attached.

“The purpose in crisis, if there is one, is not to break us as much as to break us open” (Mark Nepo). Letting go is a lifelong lesson. To be broken open is to detach from the outcome of crisis, no matter how difficult it is or how long it takes. To become aware of all around us requires us to love enough to let go. As the Buddhists say, “to be a fisherman you must detach yourself from the dream of the fish. This makes whatever is caught or found a treasure” (Nepo).*

Perhaps that is what takes us to crisis, our ever narrowing inability to let go of the dream. We attach our lives to a candidate, to a belief, to a fish, and we close ourselves to any and all outcome outside of our narrowly defined dream. No such dream could ever come true for our attachment to its outcome is beyond the dream.

St. Francis told us that “[we] are what [we] are seeking.” As seekers, we break open, teetering on the edge of ourselves, where awareness begins. Extending all that we are to all that surrounds us is consciousness, motivated only by compassion, love, gratitude, and joy. Just consider that we have the technology to reach such critical mass consciousness.

*(All Mark Nepo quotations are from The Book of Awakening, Kindle version).

Inner Energy of You

My last two posts have explored freedom through the pause we all experience in every breath–if not in every deed–and through the unknown, where the risk of hope resides. To write of freedom is to explore the oneness of humanity for it is the freedom that connects us all.

When I began publishing this blog in January, I created a homepage of oneness to frame the concept for my blog posts: quantum entanglement, my favorite term for the pure energy of the consciousness connection. Within a few months, I began a study of ancient traditions, primarily Taoism, Hinduism and early Christianity (pre Saint Augustine of Hippo), having previously studied Buddhism, Zen in particular. I sought a synthesis and considered it the rest of my life’s work. Still do.

I have discovered writers, ancient and contemporary, who have written most thoughtfully, and some beautifully, of the inner and external worlds of humanity. Then, I read the “elegant simplicity” of Michael A. Singer in The Untethered Soul. Yet again, I have Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday program to thank for this discovery; currently, her website is offering a full episode replay of her interview with Singer.  Oh, that middle initial is important if you are going to search for Singer on Google.

Singer’s graceful prose is stunning. Quietly, he lays down one sentence after another, orchestrating a synthesis of thought, word by word. He  allows the reader to rediscover the spiritual energy within, as if it were the first time. “This flow of energy comes from the depths of your being. It’s been called by many names. In ancient Chinese medicine, it is called Chi. In yoga, it is called Shakti. In the West, it is called spirit.… All the great spiritual traditions talk about your spiritual energy; they just give it different names.” (The Untethered Soul).

We do seem to insist on labels for our innate consciousness and thus, the connection to one another. We identify with one label over another to preserve, and possibly to protect, the nuances within each of the spiritual traditions. It has been like this for over 5000 years, for one reason after another, both East and West.

“Consciousness is the highest word you will ever utter. There is nothing higher or deeper than consciousness. Consciousness is pure awareness…the ability to become more aware of one thing and less aware of something else…” (The Untethered Soul).

Singer removes any mystique regarding consciousness and leads the reader into “the seat of self,” the center of consciousness [where] you are aware there are thoughts, emotions, and a world coming in through your senses. But now you are aware that you’re aware. That is the seat of the Buddhist self, the Hindu Atman and the Judeo Christian soul. The great mystery begins once you take that seat deep within” (The Untethered Soul).

It was Deepak Chopra who described Singer’s writing as “elegant simplicity.” If you watch the interview with Oprah, you will see it is an apt description for the man as well. Singer’s book is not about one set of beliefs or any religion. It is a book about consciousness: “The more you are willing to just let the world be something you’re aware of, the more it will let you be who you are–the awareness, the self, the Atman, the soul.”

For me, Singer’s book offers an unanticipated foundation for my  synthesis of the ancient traditions and thus, an added dimension to this blog. Abraham Heschel wrote that to live a spiritual life is not a gathering of information but it is “facing sacred moments,” the rediscovery of what has always been, one open door after another.

Another Stray

What if going into the wild is the way home? What if a wilderness journey awaits each one of us? The wilderness is the unknown, rarely appreciated and while sometimes faced, the wilderness is flush with fear. Yet, where “the wild things are” is where the infinite possibilities are for in the wilderness we bear what we believe we cannot bear.

When Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, she was “on a spiritual quest but what [she] got was a physical test.”* Before her 1100 mile trek, Strayed was not even a novice backpacker–she had never carried a backpack—thus, she seriously compromised herself in her selection of equipment and gear, especially her boots. She was not physically prepared or emotionally fit, and beyond her food supplies, she had almost no money. What she did have was unfailing support from her fear of failing. In other words, the wilderness provided—perhaps only as it can—for “the physical realm kept delivering the spirit to [her].”

Strayed’s writing is raw in the revealing of herself at twenty-two years old. Through Strayed, we see what masters we are at masking our fears, and how the wilderness will break us open if we are willing to replay the stories that are our lives. For 1100 miles, Cheryl Strayed revisits her life, comforted only by the constant pain of surviving each day, sometimes only step by step. She says, she “went wild into [her] life.”

Wild is a call to our own wilderness, a call to exploration of all that we are. For Strayed, it was an arduous trek through the high country of California and Oregon but Wild is more than that. If we go “wild” into our lives, we discover the rawness in our past not to relive but to observe the stories that are no more. What was then is not now, and it is a crucial distinction for once we discover it, we have found our own Pacific Crest Trail, a walk that will not be painless.

In the wilderness, we are not what we have been; what we are is in the moment. Physical existence in the wilderness depends on being completely present every moment. Each wilderness has its own miles, its own beasts, and no two journeys are the same, although paths do cross.

We come to recognize that we do want to know what is around the bend and over the mountain. Climbing rocks, stomping through snow, and trying to find water–literally or figuratively– may bring us to the edge of our existence but if we lean into each experience, we see through the fear and accept the pain. We may find places within the wilderness to stay forever but until we’ve walked our wilderness, we can only stop for a while.

We nudge ourselves along until we hit our stride—we just notice it one day–we recognize how our physical being strives to meet our spirit.  In facing fear, we clear a path through our wilderness because “being fearless is not being unafraid.”

Unknown is the nature of the wild–we are not tomorrow what we are today–such are the fields of possibilities in the wilderness. If we immerse ourselves in those fields—in as many possibilities as we can—we will travel less in what used to be and live more in what is.

That is what Cheryl Strayed’s book has given me, my own wild. For the last two years, I have been on a voyage in but until I read Wild, I did not lean into the pain as acceptance. Like Strayed, I am ill-equipped and utterly naïve in my quest; like Strayed, I am the cause of my own physical and emotional pain; like Strayed, I insist on learning the hard way.

Unlike Strayed, I was 58 years old when I began and have not yet walked all the miles of my wilderness but I have hit my stride. For the rest of my journey, the pages of Wild burn in my memory.

*All Cheryl Strayed quotes are from the Super Soul Sunday Interview with Oprah Winfrey, July 22, 2012.