To The Zoo Fence: I am buying enlightening books like a man obsessed! I am completely obsessed with expanding my awareness. I’m even starting to daydream about being a monk surrounded by holy company. Is my routine of studying divine texts and meditating enough? Do I need a Guru?
Editor’s Comment: It sounds to us like you are doing fine.
We might be a little concerned at your use of the word “obsessed.” If you mean enthusiastic, determined, committed, single-pointed, focused, then obsessed is fine. Becoming a seeker is like falling in love. The Object of our devotion is all we want to see, to be with, to think about, to touch. The thought of It warms our heart, brings a smile to our face, a shiver up our back. There is nowhere else in the entire universe that a seeker would rather be than There, beside It, reaching for It, considering It, embracing It, loving It. That kind of obsession defines a seeker.
On the other hand, if your obsession interferes with your ability to function – to ride a bus, eat a meal at a restaurant, go to a movie with friends, perform your job – that is a different matter. In time, you will undoubtedly find, if you have not already, that you do not want to ride a bus or go to a movie or even eat a meal, but you do need to remain capable of performing functions necessary for the body. At least, that is the path we have walked. And, of course, if obsession develops into fanaticism, where we wear our commitment on our sleeve for all to admire, then it is time to level off.
But it seems clear you are using the word in its former, healthy sense, in which case it is a blessing.
To your principal question: Do you need a Guru? The answer, of course, is Yes, you do. It is impossible for the separative, egoic personality to heal itself, because there is nothing inherently wrong with it. What needs fixing is our conviction that the separative, egoic personality is who we are, and only a Realized Teacher, or Guru, can Show us That.
But, happily, you already have a Guru. The very instant you chose to look within, your Inner Teacher took over. From that moment, She took over your life, and She will never, ever let go. Nothing you can do will lessen Her tenacity.
This is the Holy Spirit. Your Buddha Nature. The Righteous Teacher. Your very Self.
Will you ever actually see or hear or otherwise sense Her Presence? You bet you will. She will appear to you in your dreams, possibly in visions and auditions, and certainly in the guise of people and events in your life. She is Every Where! Call on Her. Lean on Her. Look to Her. Pray to Her. She cannot fail to respond.
In fact, your life itself is Her Holy Curriculum. Welcome the lessons, whatever they are, and learn them. The more open you are to them, the faster and easier will you move along.
Your day dreaming about being a monk surrounded by holy company may simply be evidence of the Teacher’s active Presence. You feel your life becoming a spiritual adventure, and so you naturally seek to populate it with spiritual inhabitants in a spiritual environment. On the other hand, you may be being moved to take up residence at a spiritual community, an ashram. Although that has not been our path, it is common.
There are many spiritual communities, in this country and elsewhere. Some are excellent. There is a ton of literature, in libraries and on the web, about virtually all of them. We would read as much of that as we could. Discovering the right community can be difficult, and many seekers have stumbled over this decision. For now, walk slowly and carefully, but don’t let fear paralyze you. Remember, your Inner Teacher is always There, ready to pick you up, and dust you off. As long as you recognize every experience as a Lesson from Her, no harm can come to you.
There may even be such groups or communities in your area. Look for announcements of their activities on bulletin boards in health food stores. Attend some of their functions. Perhaps they offer free meditation classes. Observe how you feel in their company. Notice how they behave toward one another. How they speak of their Teacher, and of other Teachers. Do they seem overly anxious to recruit you? Is there a hidden price of admission? How do they feel about seekers who do not belong to their group? Take what precautions you can, but remember too that sometimes a seeker meets a Teacher, falls hopelessly into Love, and nothing else matters.
Editor’s Comment: What a great question.
If a genie promised to grant three desires, what would they be? To win a lottery? To live without fear? World peace?
But then what? A peaceful world would still suffer from disease, pollution, and overpopulation, so we would instantly need at least three more wishes. That’s the trouble with desire, it is insatiable. Whatever we get, we always want something else, something more.
Consider the expression “I want [whatever].” Metaphysically, it is an insane affirmation. The word want means to be without or to be deficient in. So, whenever you and I say we want something, the universe, hearing our affirmation of lack, manifests accordingly, and we continue without it!
Many years ago, we heard Terry Cole-Whittaker, author of a book whose title is one of our all-time favorites (when applied gently, with love), “What You Think of Me Is None of My Business,” say that she makes it a practice to give away what she wants, because only those who have in abundance can give away freely, and so, the universe, perceiving her as one who has abundantly, gives her plenty!
For our part, our wish would be that our response to the genie could honestly be, “Desire? What’s that?”
Perhaps some day.
A Special TZF Comment: During a recent prolonged, severe ice storm, which brought down countless trees and power poles, we, along with the rest of the state of Maine, were without electricity and telephone service for eight days. During this period, TZF readers graciously sent us their encouragement, and generously shared their energy. We are extremely grateful.
We perceive every event in our lives, however apparently distasteful or uncomfortable, as a lesson from the Teacher. This storm is no different. The enforced inactivity and darkness served to remind us that it is far too easy to get caught up in distractions, however important and meaningful they may seem to be. As seekers, if we are to succeed we must constantly remember to remember. That means setting aside frequent and regular quiet times, even just a few minutes each, devoted to silent reflection and meditation, and choosing carefully what we focus on the rest of the day. We hope that lesson has now finally sunk in, as we do not want to take this course again!
And we were reminded how easy it is to take for granted the nice things in life — a warm home, electric light, running water. Not to mention good friends, like these.
My thoughts and prayers are and will continue to be with you through the hardship you are enduring during this ice storm.
Sending warm, gentle thoughts and energy your way.
You are in my thoughts and prayers as you go through this natural disaster.
Editor’s Comment: It is inevitable that along the spiritual path every seeker sooner or later encounters some very weird stuff. Visions, auditions, vivid dreams, precognitions, strange memories, inexplicable experiences, extraordinary powers.
Our perspective on these kinds of things is that they are not where we are going, and so, when they arise, we welcome them, but continue on. More than anything else, we want to Know Who and What we Are, and so, in our prayers and meditation, we seek Wisdom and Love. Whatever else might accompany those is fine, but it is those, and those alone, that we seek.
After all, when you know, truly know, that there is only the One, and that you and That and All There Is are One and the Same, with whom are you going to telepathize? Likewise, if you realize that you are Infinite and Eternal right Now, and that Now is all there is, what future is there to foretell?
We suggest that a seeker simplify his or her Path by simplifying the Goal: The Truth of the Universe. Pray for nothing more. Settle for nothing less.
To The Zoo Fence: [In February 1998, we moved The Zoo Fence from America Online to GeoCities. As part of that process, we sent a “change of address” notice to everyone on our mailing list. In response, we received some wonderfully heartwarming messages, all of which touched us greatly. Please permit us to share these here. (Editor’s Note: Since this entry, we moved The Zoo Fence again, to OLM, where it has since remained.)]
· Your site continues to bring me such pleasure. I have recommended it to everyone I know as a source of intelligent, meaningful conversation. Most of all, your writing and thoughtfulness bring a new dimension to spiritual practice. Too often, as students, we become caught up in the “buzz” words of a particular study. Your expanded vision takes that vocabulary, and gives it a whole new understanding. It’s wonderful to see things differently!
· I love your Monks, and the Sacred Riddle is close to my heart.
· I am so grateful for the time you have put into this site and for all the joy it has brought to so many.
· LOVE your site. It is FABULOUS. Thank you for being there!
Editor’s Comment: In our view, there are few questions more important than this one, and in fact we suppose one could make a strong case that all the other important questions are this one said differently! Thus, this question alone, posed continuously with honest and sincere determination by a seeker to himself or herself, is probably enough to propel us along the spiritual path, for it introduces and sustains the deepest inquiry. Of course, each seeker must answer it in his or her own way, for it seems universally true that one’s definition of what is sacred evolves as one’s awareness awakens. In the end, of course, what each of us holds sacred ultimately defines us.
The dictionary defines sacred, in part, as “devoted or dedicated to a deity; consecrated.” We understand that to mean that what is sacred for each of us are those aspects (concepts, relationships, moments, things, whatever) of ourselves, our lives, and our realities that we assign to, associate with, set apart for, or consider appropriate to the Divine.
Speaking for ourselves, when we first set out on this path, we placed mostly just the obvious things in that category, like prayer & meditation, scriptures, and the spiritual path itself. That we considered everything else to be other than sacred was not necessarily a judgment against it, so much as it was a sense that most things exist apart from, or are different than, the Divine. So, on the one hand, we perceived a few Divine Things, things that belonged to God, and on the other hand, everything else. The former were sacred, the latter mundane. Both had a place in our lives, but not the same place.
Over the years, the gap between these two has narrowed, and the distinction blurred. In a sense, God has taken possession of all the stuff (concepts, relationships, moments, things, whatever) we used to think were outside divinity’s purview or interest. In the end, we expect, God will claim it all, and these two categories, along with all other categories, will merge into one, the One. There, presumably, we will spontaneously recognize everything as priorly and inherently Divine, and therefore sacred. In the meantime, it is our practice to remind ourselves as forcefully as necessary, and in as timely a manner as we can, that whatever is happening, whatever we are perceiving, whoever we are relating to and however, wherever we are and whenever, is the Divine One manifesting as that, and is therefore sacred, and if it does not appear so, it is because we are still holding on to some separative concept of who and what we are, who and what our reality is, and Who and What God Is.
That is the long answer to your question. The short answer is, we consider the One to be sacred, and we seek to recognize It equally in and as everyone and everything everywhere always.
To The Zoo Fence: How right you are that we must constantly remember to remember. The question is, How! I promise to do it, and then don’t. When I awaken in the morning, I promise to set aside moments throughout the day, but then hours slip by without a single thought of God! Finally, I remember, and realize that half the day or more has gone by as I relapsed into old patterns of thinking. So, I take that moment to remember, and I promise to stop again in a few hours to remember again, but then another half a day or more slips by! Any ideas?
Editor’s Comment: We read somewhere that Gurdjieff used to tell his students the greatest service he could perform for them was to be an alarm clock, a reminder to remember to remember.
First, consider this: You are not alone. Every seeker on every path throughout all time has struggled as you are struggling. Even the great Teachers. Take comfort in that fact. Also, do not be hard on yourself. Anger and frustration only complicate the picture, and make matters worse. Ultimately, those reactions are themselves a form of self-indulgence, and so accomplish nothing of interest to a seeker.
As we see it, the mind is like a puppy. Left untrained and undisciplined for several decades, it develops terrible habits that to it seem perfectly normal, natural, and appropriate. Quite simply, it does not know any better because no one ever said anything.
Then, one fine day, we stumble across something which puts us onto the spiritual path, and we start thinking about disciplining the mind. By now, the mind is thoroughly entrenched in the old ways, following patterns of thought and behavior that are set into mental concrete. The puppy is now an adult dog that is confused by change, and therefore resents and resists it.
Every spiritual tradition offers its own suggestions for breaking these habits. Our experience suggests that all of them will work to the extent that the seeker is serious in applying them. Here, as you so rightly suggest, promises are one thing, delivery is another. A professional dog trainer once told us that the best way to train a dog is to reward good behavior, and ignore bad behavior. Evidently, as everybody really likes to be rewarded, and nobody likes to be ignored, the dog gets the message very quickly. Undoubtedly, the mind is the same. But again, even this technique must be remembered in order to work!
Speaking for ourselves, we use an ordinary kitchen timer. Every morning, after arising, we set it to one hour. Then, we go about our day’s business. In an hour, the timer dings. Whatever we are doing, we stop doing. We remember. Then, we reset the timer for one hour. And so on, throughout the entire day. And we do that day after day, every day of the week, week after week. We take a timer with us wherever we go. Obviously, there are times and places where a ticking timer does not belong, so we turn it off. But we allow very few circumstances into that category.
Is it simplistic? Obviously. Even a little contrived? Certainly. Sometimes a nuisance? You bet! Does it work? Yes.
To The Zoo Fence: [In response to the item “Do not resist evil” on TZF’s Open Space, we received the following from a Registered Nurse] Amen! During an exercise in centering at a training for nurses in Healing Touch, I learned this simple, but powerful lesson. There is a great difference between “PUTTING UP WITH” and “LETTING GO OF.” The first is tense, resistance, a holding in with clenched teeth, that takes much energy, and prevents connection. But, ahhh, the other is peaceful, like breathing, or releasing a helium balloon, and the feeling of oneness is as palpable and unmistakable as a smile.
Editor’s Comment: Healing Touch. Two words that belong together like bread and butter! And, clearly, you mastered the exercise.