The spiritual path is simple, but not simplistic.
I suppose for a spiritual blog post about paradoxes that I might as well start with a statement that seems a little at odds with itself, but let me explain.
The simplicity of the spiritual path draws our attention to the present moment. It draws our attention to the breath. It draws our attention to the space of awareness within us. These are enormously simple steps, and yet there is a great power in them. But in seeing the truth of any present moment, we do not over-simplify. There are certain elements of life that have complication or challenge to them, and residing in the present moment allows us to see those realities. When people get too simplistic on the spiritual path, there is a tendency to denigrate or ignore things that are too complicated. You may hear people say something like, “That’s not real.”
And the question of what is reality is an interesting one. I’ll add it to my list of about ten topics that I want to write about next.
But while hunger is ultimately illusory, it’s a very real sensation in the body, and disregarding it as “ultimately” not real will cause a lot of suffering to someone. What some people have to do to get food may also not be easy, and so they may have to expend a lot of time and energy to eat. For something so basic as eating, the process to feeding oneself and a family can get complicated or impossible in areas of extreme poverty or famine. If you are so lucky as to not have to do a lot to keep a full belly, be grateful.
With simplistic thinking, there is a narrowing of understanding. There is a tunnel vision that does not allow someone to see life fully, and in American English and thinking, simplistic thinking tends to lead to overly black-and-white distinctions such as right and wrong, good and evil, winners and losers, and so forth.
As you open your mind, you’ll find that narrow, simplistic thinking is not ultimately very useful. Some of it causes people to act inappropriately or hurt themselves or others. Furthermore, the more you open to spiritual truth, you will find certain aspects of reality that are seemingly opposite to each other and yet are equally true. On this topic, I hope to shed a little light as to why understanding spiritual truth means embracing paradoxes–things that seem to be mutually exclusive, but are equally true.
Many of you are familiar with oneness and paths of non-duality. Many of you are also familiar with spiritual traditions focused on duality and separation. I embrace both because spiritual truth embraces both.
Non-duality and oneness essentially say, “We are all one.”
This is true.
Duality and separation essentially say, “We are separate beings, having separate experiences in a world of separation.” Those paths also tend to say things like, “All of life is change.”
These statements are also true.
How can all of that be true?
Here we see a paradox. Duality makes space for change, but in oneness how does anything ever really change? Yet we are one consciousness, all inextricably linked.
Such paradoxes can endlessly frustrate philosophers who want to come up with an acceptable way to justify a paradox such as what I am pointing towards. They can create long convoluted books in the process. Some people will then pick sides–choosing to believe in oneness or duality in this case–because the conflict seems to indicate that one must be right and the other point of view must be wrong. The need to “pick sides” is hugely simplistic and unnecessary. Life does not need you to pick sides in such an argument because ultimately only the ego is there arguing and needing a right and wrong answer.
The Ice of Separation and the Ocean of Oneness
When I am helping people to understand this particular paradox, I like to use my favorite ice and ocean metaphors. They seem like different things, but they are not. The are all water. They’re just water in different states. One is a solid. The other is a fluid.
When we expand our minds around this topic, it is helpful to think of all of the universe as consciousness. It’s so deeply bound up in everything that it is inseparable. It’s never separate. You’re never from separate. In this way, you hear spiritual teachers say that you are never separate from God or God has never left you. This is what we mean.
However, we all have different shapes and forms, and so I like to encourage my students to consider all of life like little blocks of ice floating in this ocean. The more we let go of our attention on our separateness, the more we seem to melt into a deeper experiential understanding of oneness. We really do sense the ocean all around us and within us, and when we leave our bodies, we re-merge with this beautiful ocean of consciousness until such time as we inhabit a new form.
The Objecting Ego Is the Real Problem
I’m sure the above metaphor has still raised questions for some people, but who is raising the questions? And what is the logical lens that is being used?
I have no problems with good questions. There is a lot we can do with an open mind to bring our intellect to bear in useful ways. But too often, people get stuck on paradoxes because their minds are closed. A closed mind is like trying to use the same lens to see everything. That lens may be useful for seeing your book or ereader, but it may be useless to see something further away. To then blame the external world for being blurry or misinterpret what you are seeing are fruitless and potential harmful actions. In general, we need to let go of our own need to see life according to our ego rules and beliefs and learn to see what actually is.
To do that means you question the “logic” you’ve been taught and the beliefs you’ve been given about what is possible and what is impossible.
This can be surprisingly difficult to do at first. We are so used to operating from our ego beliefs without question, and here you are having to question this questioner. If your lens is not clear or the correct size to see something, then things are distorted or invisible. So we must look at this lens before we try to grapple with some of the many paradoxes of life.
Spiritual Awakening Breaks the Lenses
You probably will find that you have multiple kinds of lens, and they create further distortions of what you see. Because of this, our current society cannot see some of the simplest of things. I know some of you are getting clearer and are discovering how miserable a lot of people around you are. Before it was invisible, so what happened? Did everyone suddenly get ten times more miserable?
They already were. You couldn’t see it. This is just one problem the unconscious ego and its many assumptions causes us.
A spiritual awakening helps you to see. It breaks those lenses distorting your understanding about yourself and about others so that you can start to see truth. As always, you have to do your inner work. As you do that, you see even more clearly. You start realizing spiritual truths and paradoxes, and let me emphasize the “real” part of realizing. Spiritual realizations are not guesses or leaps of faith. They are just looking at what is real. You see what is in front of you without filter. That forces you to open your mind whenever you are seeing something that you could not see before or did not want to believe in.
Or rather, you are offered the opportunity to open your mind, or you can cling to false beliefs.
The Open Mind Receives More Information
The closed mind and unconscious ego do an amazing job of keeping information out. What do I mean about information?
I mean sensory information. I mean emotional information. I mean intellectual information and energetic information. There is sooooooooooo much information flying about in daily life. It can be extremely overwhelming if you had to absorb all of it without a filter.
Oh wait. That’s what a spiritual awakening does, doesn’t it?
Yes, when awakening breaks your filter for life, you are suddenly deluged with a lot of information. You are deluged with unprocessed pain inside of you that comes rising up without something to repress it, and you are hit by the enormous amount of information surging at you from daily life. It’s why so many of you want to seclude yourselves after a spiritual awakening. For a temporary fix, that’s not a bad idea. Finding your sanctuary to process through things can be a helpful step in the short-term.
Eventually, your mind can become even more powerful at processing and interpreting what’s going on around you. You also learn how to intelligently and consciously filter out things, but you retain the ability to re-absorb such information again if you need to see it. For instance, if you notice someone in pain at your office, you may casually tune out from that energy. But then later in the day, you may tune in again to see what is going on if you feel called to help. So as we mature on the spiritual path, we can tune in and out as we so choose.
Before you didn’t know what information you were even tuning out or tossing into the trash pile. Our unconscious ego can very easily throw out the $5,000 check from mom and keep the junk mailer promising you riches via a pyramid scheme. Now, you can become better at understanding all the things coming your way, but it tends to take time.
Spiritual Truth and the Reality of Paradoxes
While I don’t like to get into science, there are interesting observations in the world of quantum physics about how one thing can occupy multiple positions–a seeming paradox. I like to bring up stuff like this because it helps us re-wire our brains to appreciate that we live in a world of paradoxes. Most of our atoms are empty space. We are emptiness walking around in human form. How does that work?
Yet it does.
Thus, the more you open to spiritual truths like “we are all one,” you will find yourself also embracing how prevalent paradoxes are in life. It’s just how the world is. That’s not the world’s issue. The real issue is our own simplistic, closed-minded thinking that objects to the world not being the way we think it should be. This kind of objection is the very definition of madness. To continue to open your mind to new levels of perception and intellectual understanding means dropping your need for the world to be any other way than it already is. This kind of deep acceptance opens your mind further.
As you grow, some paradoxes simply stop being paradoxes because they were based on misconceptions. When we don’t understand how breathing and relaxing into the moment work, we think we need to do a lot more to achieve inner change. To someone with this mindset, the relax and let go aspect of spiritual growth seems paradoxical. How can we become clearer and stronger while essentially doing nothing?
But this is how a lot of spiritual healing and growth works. We are getting out of the way of a deeper intelligence inside of us, and in understanding how that intelligence actually works, the concept of a conflict–a paradox–goes away because we realize there is no conflict/paradox. That was just a concept arising from our own misconceptions.
Melting Into Silence
Guiding the River and Being Guided by the River
In one of my earlier posts, I talk about guiding the river of life. I am speaking on the topic from a surrendered space. The unconscious ego space tries to control life to make life conform to its ideas, and that is not a surrendered state. It is a fear-based one.
However, we are part of this river of life. We are one with it. The more we understand this reality, the more we melt into it. We then actually have the ability to guide it. We can do so because we are not doing it. It is working through us. But we also are working through it. This kind of paradox sounds mixed up, but as you open your mind, you will see the truth of it.
I want to further emphasize the “seeing” aspect of understanding spiritual paradoxes like the river metaphor here. We are not “believing” in paradoxes or spiritual truths. Belief is not necessary. Most beliefs are part of the problem because we do not understand life, and they are derived from misunderstandings. So don’t worry if you “understand” this river metaphor of not. Instead, go inward to discover the truth to which I am pointing.
The more you go inward, the more you see the truth and power of spiritual paradoxes. You can perceive this because you are observing and now are understanding life itself. That’s an amazing kind of knowledge, and all we need to do is to accept these spiritual discoveries and revelations as they come.
Deep Understanding Arising from Spiritual Simplicity
If any of this seems hard, don’t worry. Return to the simplicity of the present moment. Give your mind time to grow and expand. Do your best to let go of the rejections and objections from the ego. There is nothing you need to do to understand any of this. You simply need to stop trying. That is, in essence, much of what letting go is. It takes so much unconscious energy to cling to our ideas and beliefs. It takes a lot of energy because they do not exist, and that energy blinds and exhausts us to dealing with reality.
If you stop believing in your beliefs, they vanish. They are gone. They are one of the things that are the least real in this world, yet people go to great lengths to act on illusions, do they not?
With spiritual truth, the opposite is true. You do nothing, and spiritual truths become apparent, and you tend to feel energized because it takes none of your energy to believe in them. It’s a double bonus.
Spiritual paradoxes and other seemingly conflicting truths become obvious as your mind opens. We are all one, yet we are separate. There’s nothing you need to do about that truth to reconcile with it. It’s truth.
As your mind comes into greater humility by observing reality, it’s easier to understand life and to take conscious action. Through that action, you become more powerful, loving, and wise than you can possibly understand, Much of that may even seem paradoxical. You just sit quietly and observe life without doing anything, and suddenly you are gifted with amazing love and wisdom?
Such are the many paradoxical realities you may yet find and learn to embrace on your spiritual journey.