Psychology or Spirituality?

JW: You asked me to explain why I don’t want to come to dialogue groups. I am very religious as you know, but also very interested in spiritual practices, such as meditation, mindfulness and gratitude.  I am not particularly interested in solely dealing with relationship problems, because I believe that turning to our Source, our Creator, to God, is in reality the abiding solution to these and other problems.  What I’m trying to say is, I personally like you and your abilities as a facilitator, but I’m looking for the “divine spark,” that element in discourse and being which speaks of God.

Jay: Thanks for explaining. I have a better idea now of what you are talking about.

The issue of what is spiritual and what is merely psychological is one that I’ve looked at for a long time. My primary goal in dialogue is to work as directly spiritually as possible. This may not be evident all the time so I’ll try to explain a little how I see it.

First, what do I mean by spiritual? In the deepest sense, for me, a spiritual moment is a moment in which the feelings of separation have dropped away. Along with it, other things have usually dropped away as well, including a sense of being a physically limited body, of having problems that have to be solved, of antagonism or irritation with others, of the world being mechanical, dry, and empty. Such a moment, to me, feels infinitely expansive, timeless, not needing or lacking anything, full of simple beauty, in-touchness with the natural world, and radiant with affection, love, and wisdom.

All of these things that drop away are, in my observation, perceptions that come from how the brain tends to think about things. When the brain has become quiet, it isn’t making those interpretations. It is just participating in direct experience of this one, undivided world, which seems to carry with it love, affection, and wisdom.

So if we want to talk about the “truth” of spirituality, for me it is a moment or extended period in which this simple beauty of life is visible – not covered up by interpretations of the brain.

To put it in some other words, the brain has the habit of creating certain filters through which we interpret the world. For example, some of us are habitually suspicious of other people who treat us in certain ways. But this filter of the brain is not always activated. It can be “off line.”

From my experience I would say that there can be moments, sometimes extended, when the entire filtering process of the brain is not activated and instead of filtering, the brain is simply sensing, perceiving.

Of course most of us don’t live in that state most of the time. But if one has a strong sense of the importance of living without division and free of our painful interpretations, then one begins to wonder what’s happening the rest of the time. For me this means being very carefully in touch with WHATEVER state of mind is going on. In other words, most of the time our work is to let light shine on this filtering process – noticing it, feeling into what agendas are behind it, what keeps it going, what does it want, what happens if it drops.

I don’t think human beings generally are aware of these things or pay much attention to them. On the contrary, we firmly believe our interpretations about other people and our assumptions about who we are and what we need, even – or especially – about spirituality. But when one begins to examine these carefully and affectionately, the process of continually filtering life through blind assumptions begins to let up.  The more carefully we examine out filters, the more direct the process of them beginning to let up. And the more the filters begin to let up, the more frequently and groundedly they may drop away altogether for moments at a time.

In a moment when filters are not operating and we can see each other and the world clearly – with affection – it is possible to work together to shine light on these filters that we all have. This is the purpose of dialogue and of one-on-one meetings.

So if someone is angry at their boss and they bring it up in a dialogue, it may seem at first glance like a mundane, personal, psychological problem that doesn’t belong in a spiritual dialogue. But I have come to see it very differently. If the person just vents and other participants give suggestions for getting a better job or doing some breathing exercises to relax, then nothing much has really been revealed on a spiritual level.  But if we look together closely and try to open up the whole dynamic, we may both discover things about the filters of seeing people as “other” and of feeling threatened and needing to defend and the fear of not defending and the fear of the unknown.

When dialogue leads to a person coming in touch with these deep filters, then something begins to loosen up. In a moment of coming in touch, each of us is really letting go of filters for a microsecond and experiencing the profound spiritual power of listening to one’s inner workings without any defense or agenda. This is a moment of awakeness – the most profound experience – even though it is only for a fraction of a second.

If someone does not have much experience coming in touch with these inner motives and agendas, then doing this in a group dialogue may open up a flood of new energy and interest to watch oneself more closely. This movement of allowing the inner workings to become visible is exactly the function of One Mind. The whole universe supports this effort. And until a habit has been observed, carefully lived through, opened up, brought out into the light, it is very much an effort to live with it consciously. It takes a lot of energy. This is why we come together in a group to do this work together. It’s why we go off for seven days various times during the year to devote energy to this.

And the more this kind of work is done, the more frequently and deeply the moments of wholeness and love come to us and work through us.

When I first started participating in groups, I used to hear other people’s psychological problems and think “I’m beyond that. Why can’t this person live in the present right this moment and drop their problems?” But I began to discover that this was a very naive view on my part. First of all, I usually noticed later on that I DID have that problem. I just never had noticed it. Secondly, I began to realize that in the immediacy of a moment with someone else – sitting together in dialogue – this pattern that they were bringing up, this filter, WAS exactly what was here in this moment and we had a very precious opportunity to open up this filter together, for the benefit of both, or all, of us.

So for me if someone brings up a psychological or relationship issue in dialogue, it is far from mundane or superficial. It is a human being beginning to look into these hidden filters that operate automatically and blindly and cause so much pain and suffering in the world. It is the beginning of wisdom functioning and of wholeness blossoming. It is the most precious moment possible. It is all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas coming to us to shine light thoroughly on what a human being has started to become aware of.

I hope that gives you a perspective on what I see going on in dialogue.

If  you don’t relate to the kind of issues that people bring up in our groups, you’re welcome to meet with me just the two of us to explore what you see as spirituality. What I described above is only one way of working together.

Also, I’m experimenting with a first Thursday of the month event in which there will be some quiet sitting but no dialogue. After the sitting anyone can bring up an issue or question or explore something, but there will not be cross talk. I may respond, so it is sort of a one-on-one meeting time but with others present in the group but not responding.

JW: I believe I understand much of what you are saying, and am impressed with the depth of your insights and feelings.  The only major disconnect in our viewpoints is what can I say but “The God Factor.”  Those feelings of expansiveness, loving-kindness, evanescence and radiance emanate from God.  It is God speaking to our hearts, and that should be acknowledged.  “Love Me [God] that I may love thee.  If Thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee.”  (Baha’u’llah)

Jay: Toni Packer would sometimes be asked by people why she didn’t talk more about love or Love. Her response was that Love takes care of itself and manifests in us when we are willing to be open with ourselves. The more openness and vulnerability, the more Love can work through us.

She did in later years refer to Love a little more but my feeling is that it doesn’t always necessarily needed to be given a name or a personification (God). When we are really listening vulnerably to each other, then it is felt very strongly.

Now it may be that there are some things about the image or sense or identity with the sense of God that are important images for you. Most of us feel more comfortable with an image of a caring “being” rather than a non-personal sense such as Love. But my feeling is that that is something important to look at. How does that function in my life? I’m not saying it’s not a valuable thing for you – how could I know what’s valuable for you or not??? – but it may not be important for other people.  And yet the work of uncovering the fears, anxieties and defenses in each of us is something that we can all participate in and which – I’d say without fail – brings that “divine” love into action and can be felt by all.

I’m just thinking that if the concept of a God is important to you, from my experience I would want to suggest that you treat it as a question, an exploration, rather than a fixed something to take refuge in.

By question I don’t mean something to think about necessarily or to “doubt”. However, there are many questions that may come up naturally for you. The whole sense of a separate being outside of me may feel very helpful but many “masters” and teachers actually negate this, so you can question for yourself “What are they talking about? Why doesn’t the Buddha refer to any god? Why does Krishnamurti point to concepts of heavenly beings guiding us as a false hope?”

I’m not saying to believe Buddha or Krishnamurti or other teachers who don’t refer to a god. But on the other hand it’s hard to discount such people completely. So you have to look very carefully for yourself.

I don’t think it’s productive to consider whether or not there is a God but to question things such as if there is a God and it is everpresent, where is it right now that I’m not experiencing joy, love or divine presence? If I am essentially of God, how is it that I feel very separate, even from God?

If one wants to find out for oneself, then questioning, looking freshly and ever more deeply, happens naturally, I feel. If one makes every moment an opportunity to feel more deeply into what one feels God is, it will begin to unfold in a fresh way.

Our natural tendency is to take refuge in certain types of feelings and concepts and no matter how noble, taking refuge in feelings and concepts can lead, in my experience, away from looking directly into myself and my relationship with the world, with life, with God. Looking this very moment is a different energy than resting in certain feelings and beliefs. If this is clear, then it can become increasingly clear what I am, how I really live, and the vast loving space in which everything happens – without separateness.

I just wanted to share these thoughts. I personally am very wary of the sense of a being – no matter how lofty. In my experience the reality of what the Buddha and so many other people have experienced and talked about is a living that is not divided up into separate beings and objects – nothing more holy or more profane than anything else.

This may not be at all how you see it but sharing our experiences when there are stark differences in perspective is one wonderful way for all of us to look more freshly, more clearly, and more deeply into ourselves, which is where the fears that keep us from opening up reside.

I hope this comes to you in the spirit of affection, sharing, and interest in which I feel I’m writing it!

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