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December 2018 Musings
I recently came across something the Guide had written as part of an email class response: Spiritual practice is far more difficult than awareness practice because spiritual practice requires us to see “God” in everyone and everything.
Wait, what?
God in Zen?
Gradients of difficulty?
Awareness versus spiritual practice?
Breathtaking Zen paradoxes are meant to flummox conditioned mind while rescuing practitioners from karmic tangles. This practitioner eagerly and gratefully seized the lifeline that was proffered.
The Doldrums
I was at a place in my practice that I would term a dry spell. Ghostly shapes of dissatisfaction subliminally lurked despite every attempt to redirect the attention. Karmic upheaval has a signature of turbulence. Whether one’s struggling with how things are, or how “I” am with how things are, the constant in that kind of suffering experience is struggle.  It has juice. But when circumstances are not challenging one’s identity, when ego has no “other” to wrangle with, when there’s no content to bring the crucible of transformation to a roiling boil, might there be another kind of spiritual experience that we’re being invited to participate in?
When nothing reflects the ego, the ego often says it's “bored,” hoping that we will take the bait and “do” something, anything that moves us away from being here. This line by the Guide suggests  that when nothing reflects the ego we have the exquisite opportunity to train to reflect the Intelligence That Animates.
An Alchemy of Seeing
If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to us as it is, Infinite. --William Blake
We could say that a practice of awareness results in a transformation of seeing. Before a practice of awareness, “seeing” is limited to what we’ve been conditioned to attend to.
In the Buddha’s words, attention is habitually on a “mental construct of reality,” a stream of beliefs, assumptions, memories, perceptions, sensations, accumulated through a collision of karma and conditioning that coalesces into a notion of “me.”  “Me” is the lens through which the world is witnessed, understood and referenced and, subsequently, everything outside “my” version of the world is gradually filtered out of “my” awareness. We’re trapped in a “limited edition of reality,” without awareness that we are trapped.  Perhaps the only symptom of living in “ignorance” of how things are, is that we suffer. Could we say that suffering is an unconscious awareness of dissonance, a subliminal comprehension that what we think is so may not be?
This dissonance brings us to a practice of some sort.
Through Awareness Practice, we become aware of awareness as a mode of seeing. It trains us to “see” beyond the limitation imposed by “me.” We not only see “me” for what it is, an illusion, we get to watch the process in conditioned mind that creates and maintains the illusion. With practice, not only do we become more skilled at recognizing conditioned mind, we also increase our capacity to attend to awareness. The scope of our vision expands. If we’re lucky, the amplitude of oscillation between unconsciousness (attention on conditioned mind) and conscious awareness (attention on awareness) becomes less and less, and we come to rest at Center, in the bliss of Presence.
At least that’s the theory…
A Spiritual Practice
There is another step or two in the process it seems! The transformation of seeing that occurs when we develop the capacity to be aware of “ego-I” in operation does not necessarily result in having the “sight” described by Meister Eckhart. To be aware of the ego is not the same as being able to say, “The eyes through which I see God are the same eyes through which God sees me.” To see “God” everywhere requires cultivation of an altogether different order of seeing.
Perhaps this is the point at which awareness practice morphs into spiritual practice. If awareness practice trains us to become aware of how we see, maybe spiritual practice trains us to identify with that which sees? Seeing ego, seeing the human incarnation, seeing the Mentor, even seeing “God,” still retains some residue of a seer. It’s still a limited awareness, perhaps because it’s still dualistic?
How then do we achieve a one-ness of seeing, the perspective that Rumi describes in this line: “You are not a drop in the ocean but the entire ocean in a drop.”
It seems that shift cannot be sought.
It happens.
In the words of Annie Dillard: The secret of this seeing, then, is the pearl of great price. But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought. The literature of illumination reveals this above all: although it comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, a gift and a total surprise…. I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.
Seeing with the Eyes of Love
To sail on a solar wind? How far beyond possibility that seems! And yet a practitioner of awareness is well-equipped for such a venture. Practice gives us many tools to put ourselves in the path of that light beam. And the tool that has been helpful to my practice is writing love letters to myself that I record and listen to daily.
Initially, this practice “repairs the damage” caused by attending to a voice of self-hate. We cannot see “the divine” everywhere if the one place that’s excluded from all that is sacred is me, not the me of ego, but the spark of life that is the human incarnation. We’re deeply conditioned to believe that we are not sufficiently worthy to participate in Existence. The ghostly echoes of unworthiness taunt us as we walk the path. Are we really worth saving? The question of deserving has to be snuffed out of existence. Writing a love letter does that.
As we witness a human being’s life, we fall in love. Everything about that person becomes endearing. We applaud their courage, commiserate with their misfortunes, share their heartbreak, celebrate their triumphs, encourage their endeavors and reflect their lives. On a content level, it seems as if we are embracing a person, but on a process level there’s a transformation of seeing occurring. In bringing all that is negated into the light of unconditional acceptance, we’re honing the ability to see with the eyes of love. The result is a totality of awareness, where nothing is excluded.
And then we go further.
As we listen to those recorded letters, awareness becomes aware of itself as that which is Unconditionally Loving. That awareness expands from seeing the divinity in the human incarnation whose life is witnessed in letters of love, to seeing the divinity in everyone and everything. This alchemy of seeing is best captured by our practice adage, “How we see anything becomes how we see everything.”
Suddenly a tree is not a tree anymore in any sense that we have witnessed it before. It appears before us. There is an instant of mutual recognition. Life mirrors Life, in perfect reflection. “Authentic mirroring,” someone said, “can only call forth what is already there.”
The moment passes…the doldrums return. We feel the anguish of separation. That’s the signal to pick up recorder, pen and paper, to bear witness to that anguish in a letter of love… As the words form on paper, we’ve hoisted the sail…we are riding the solar wind, once more in the path of a light beam…