I identify with Jack Kornfield‘s stories about the hard work between leaving everything behind and coming to a bit of self-knowledge and calm. In the 1960s, walking away from an unhappy childhood in a troubled American society, he sought out Asian teachers via the Peace Corps and apprenticed himself to Buddhist masters.
However, a warning maxim sums up what he quickly learned: “Wherever you go, there you are.”
When Kornfield – a senior founder of the mindfulness movement – sat in a far away jungle monastery practicing meditation, he didn’t experience bliss. Instead, what came forward was a powerful mix of painful emotions – buried disappointment, fear, rage, and hatred – triggered by memories of an abusive father which he’d failed to heal earlier.
His experience confirms another cautionary maxim. As I was warned early on, best not expect quick results from introspection. “It’s hard to remember you’re here to clean out the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.”
I wrote about my own personal challenges in Rethinking Survival:
Rethinking Survival is a hybrid. It’s part memoir. But far deeper, it’s the stuff of a paradigm shift. It voices the aspirations which everyone shares in common. But it also fingers the false assumptions that too often tie us in paralyzing knots.
Inevitably, shadow issues to face were embedded within the wonderful opportunities I’ve been granted.
Each opportunity that presented itself contained within it an opposite and equal challenge to divest myself of limiting myths and misconceptions. Yogis compare the process to peeling away the layers of an onion. The Taoist I Ching scholar translated by Thomas Cleary described it as stripping away artificial veneers of cultural conditioning to restore the original True Self. Another source likens the process to the Herculean task of cleaning out the Aegean horse stables.
The same friend who told me about neatsies also reminded me about R.D. Laing’s Knots.2 Undetected assumptions wrapped in twisted logic can tie people in knots. They act like a life-draining cancer. False beliefs can drive people crazy, even to acts of criminal violence. We agreed about the dangers of living a lie, as if there were no options. This is how individuals (then dysfunctional families and nations) self-destruct.
One benefit of respecting the wisdom to be found in ancient cultures is this: Those who lived simply, close to nature, remind us of timeless truths which we as complicated urban dwellers have forgotten. Asians seeped for thousands of years in the I Ching understood much that harried moderns dearly need to recover.
For example, Confucius understood the primary importance of personal responsibility:
Though stated in reverse order in the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tze also held that the world is necessarily changed one person at a time, and from the inside out:
With this in mind, I had mixed emotions about the recent American election. In Clarion Call I wrote:
Perhaps deeper than the President-Elect consciously knows (or even needs to), his words ring true across the full continuum of the Life Wheel. BUT: here is the danger . . .
Many people, due to a host of unfortunate circumstances, live primarily on the shallow surface of the Life Wheel. They haven’t the depth to recognize or respect what, for whatever reason, they’ve forgotten. Worse, some, unintentionally or otherwise, live at odds with inner truth. They will continue to spin, distort and attempt to delegitimize DJT’s victory . . .
They will definitely stir up unnecessary conflict to destabilize the world, as if to prevent his best intentions from coming True.
Today, looking back with the advantage of hindsight, I shake my head. What a noble but sadly mistaken approach, to focus on ending corruption on a national scale, while individual hearts, families, communities and states are, for the most part, alligator-infested swamps.
Changing the world, especially in dangerous times, is an overwhelming prospect. It’s also unnecessary. No matter how much is going wrong “out there,” the manageable unit that’s one’s first responsibility to change is the one closest to home: oneself.
Our best hope is, still yet, to think small. Begin with one’s self.
Yes, taming one’s inner alligators is hard work. Very hard. But it’s infinitely worth it.
. . . the worst is not inevitable. The keys to a fulfilling old age do exist, and it’s up to our generation to discover them and pass them on. It’s up to us, the baby boomers, to invent a new art of growing old – which is a paradox, as it means accepting the inevitablity of aging without becoming “old.”
. . . we can grow old intelligently; we can accept what we cannot change, and look toward all that has yet to be discovered.
I totally agree. But there are issues. First, although she states the challenge (opportunity!) wonderfully and touches on important responses, she doesn’t really have The KEY.
In 2014, I wrote about “The Key to Everything” in Rethinking Survival – from my point of view. For me, it explains “The Mystery of Death and Rebirth.”Looking back, I was clarifying my thoughts for me.
Now the burning question remains, How do I bridge the gap between where I stood then and where you are NOW? For me, The Key and it’s implications for ultimate survival are breath-taking. How could I present them better, in a way YOU can usefully relate to and enjoy?
Or is all this something you’d rather not think about? If so, Why not?
Please tell me. And while you’re at it, it would help to know your (relative) age, gender, and location along with any comments on what shapes your current needs.
So, what do YOU think about “The Key to Everything” and “The Mystery of Death and Rebirth?”
The Key to Everything
My “take away” from yoga years was the parable of a young boy who asked his teacher, “What is that, knowing which, all else is known.” The implication to this question, put forth in the ancient Sanskrit Mandukya Upanishad,41 is that, with the right key, everything can be known.
It reminded me of the medieval masterpiece in the Prado Museum that grabbed my mind earlier, the one which showed me that it’s possible to see with a larger point of view, beyond time, where all history is like a static painting and everything is actually going on at the same time.
I ardently wanted that key to life and the universe. I asked myself this question over and over and compared everything I read to this standard.
Years ago, I put the question to a wise friend, “What is that, knowing which, all else is known?” His cryptic reply: “Look it up in the encyclopedia.”
I parsed this one-liner for every hint and clue. What does this riddle in answer to a riddle mean? “Look upwards?” And “en-cyclo-pedia?” That which encircles (cyclo, cycles). Pedia meaning feet. The foundation? The fundamental base which supports the whole body. Perhaps the functional impetus of movement and action.
According to Webster’s dictionary, “encyclopedic” means “comprehensive in scope.” All-encompassing view. Aha! I got it!The Positive Paradigmis the answer to the riddle. Look there.
I’m now convinced that thePositive Paradigm of Change is the ultimate answer to the ancient ultimate question. It’s the literal proof that humans are made in the image of the Creator — the microcosm resonates with the macro. I AM that I AM.
Put another way, “God don’t make no junk.” In this context, the exhortation, “Ye must be perfect like your Father in Heaven” makes perfect sense.
Just as Einstein had the Unified Field Theory, but didn’t know it, each and every one of us on the planet is perfect in potential: made in God’s image. But we’ve forgotten.
And tyrants want you to sleep on. They’ll do anything to prevent you from remembering that you’re inherently okay. Because once you do, as Einstein did, no one can intimidate, control or dominate you. You’re aware that nothing anyone has for sale can make you more perfect. Nor can anything that anyone threatens to take away alter your essential okayness.
It’s your inalienable birthright. A given.
The Positive Paradigm is the viable basis upon which to build valid self-esteem. It’s the key to personal freedom — freedom from ignorance, freedom from fear.
One minor caveat: it all depends. While we all have the option to remember who we truly are, most of us are like Lambert, the sheepish lion. It takes a smack with a two-by-four upside the head before we’re finally ready to wake up. Often it takes the form of life-threatening danger to those we care for.
A personal health crisis will also do the trick. So will job loss or a run-in with natural disaster.
But, like Dorothy stranded in the Land of Oz, when you want dearly enough to return “home,” you can click your heels whenever you chose — and come to find out, you’re already there.
The Mystery of Death and Rebirth
The yin-yang mysteries of life and death are embedded within every in- and out-breath of our lives. They alternate, however unappreciated, inside each unit of time: from minute-to-minute, day-to-day and season-to-season. They repeat on every scale of magnitude, from the individual, to families, corporations, nations, whole civilizations and even planets.
Buddhist teachings reflect these mysteries, compatible with the Positive Wheel model and its central hub. For example, in Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death, Roshi Joan Halifax explores the transformative power of the dying process, advising readers to be still, listen and open to the unknown.
Indian film actor Rajini captures the Rethinking concept succinctly in his review: “This book helped me touch that divine part that we all share; it is the Deathless, eternal part of us that will never die because it was never born.”
“The strange thing about growing old,” Einstein wrote, “is that the intimate identification with the here and now is slowly lost. One feels transposed into infinity . . . ”
In the year before his death, commenting on the passing of colleague Michele Besso, Einstein wrote, “He has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. It means nothing.”
Making an observation that could have come directly from the Yoga Sutras, consistent with the Positive Paradigm, Einstein consoled Besso’s family, “For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubborn illusion.”
It is said that in the middle ages, Carmelite nuns retired to their cells each night to sleep inside the wooden casket in which, when they died, they would be buried. Taken out of context, this may seem morbid. But in fact, they had it right. They were aligning themselves with the patterns of nature, the better to ultimately survive them. For each in- and out-breath repeats the cycle of release and renewal. Each night that we sleep, we let go of bodily awareness and return refreshed the next day.
On every scale of magnitude, the pattern is the same. Paradoxically, survivors who have released unfounded fears of death are freed to live to the full, here and how.
Lao Tze’s work, which breathes I Ching wisdom, illumines this paradox. He describes the relationship between the Creator and creation in the first aphorism of the Tao Te Ching. From Two Sides of a Coin: Lao Tze’s Common Sense Way of Change:
Figure II.8 shows what this vision looks like when the words are properly placed within the Positive Paradigm Wheel. To the uninitiated who live exclusively on the surface of the Wheel, the eternal may seem illusive. However, the inner vision is accomplished by daring to let go of the familiar surface to travel true home to the center, from which, completing the cycle, blessings then flow outward.
(Reminiscent is God’s promise in Genesis, “Return unto me, and I return unto you.”)
In Passage 16, Lao Tze goes even further:
Here, Lao Tze’s sage not only repeats the vision of the hero’s journey. The methods of the journey are given — the meditative practice of stilling the mind and emptying the heart, followed by contemplation from the detached observer’s perspective. Lao Tze also details the consequences of failing to complete the life pattern: misfortune, pain and suffering.
Those who attain the source, however, (usually with the guidance of an enlightened teacher) achieve the overview which leads to acceptance, compassion and omniscience. Those who survive intact, merge with the eternal source and begin anew, like the New Adam and Christ in The New Testament. (See Figure II.9.)
Preparation makes the difference, deciding who is most likely to survive coming transitions, emerging better than before through the experience. Here is the root of Positive Change, described in Hexagram 49 from The Common Sense Book of Change:
49. CHANGE. Day and night replace each other in endless cycles of CHANGE. The same natural law generates flux in human events. The unprepared see Change as a threat, but the well-prepared face the unknown calmly. They know that after degeneration reaches critical mass, regeneration follows. Welcome the new. Avoid short-sighted fear.
So, now it’s your Turn. Please tell me what YOU think about all this. And, thank You.
During a critical transition point in my life, books by Swiss analyst Carl Jung had a magically powerful, formative influence. After leaving the United States to tour in Italy and Austria with a Brazilian chamber orchestra, I auditioned to join the master violin class taught by Sandor Vegh at the Robert Schumann Konservatorium in Düsseldorf, Germany.
The following year spanning 1970-71 was one of self-discovery and reinvention. [See Discovering the Missing Link, His autobiography Memories, Dreams and Reflections provided the clues I needed to reexamine my relationships and purpose in life. In conjunction, his introduction to the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the Chinese I Ching initiated a life-long relationship with the text that continues to validate intuition and in-form important life decisions.
The Book of Change has been applied to countless disciplines for every imaginable purpose for over eight-thousand years. Leaders have respected the fundamentals of human dynamics to guide their businesses and nations. Military strategists have avoided no-win conflicts and won necessary battles based on the same principles. Healing sciences based on this wisdom, notably Traditional Chinese Medicine, balance extreme emotions to alleviate symptoms of physical disease.
Jung explored the universal experience of the dynamic inner-life which influences human behavior. These intangibles lie outside the parameters of empirical science, which deals exclusively with tangible, measurable experience. So he looked elsewhere for clues, including not only dreams, but ancient scriptures which can explain formerly taboo subjects. For example, both ancient Egyptians and Tibetans recognized the existence of the “bardo,” an intermediate level of existence to which departed souls travel. In each case, a Book of the Dead gives instructions on how to facilitate the process of “crossing over.”
More “A-ha” moments followed during the decade spent making acquaintance with the scriptures associated with yoga practice. I began to see the intimate connection between the Book of Change and yoga philosophy/science. Each informs the other. Conversely, each without the other is insufficient. It seemed that, throughout history, mosaic pieces of universal truth have been placed in different cultures, waiting to be reassembled into a larger picture.
Yoga scriptures included not only Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, but also the Upanashads. Yoga anatomy, including an evolutionary scale of subtle energy centers, is an invaluable concept for psychologists and healers. Whereas Chinese medicine focuses on internal organs and three energy centers — the lower, middle, and upper Tan Tiens — yoga anatomy names seven basic centers located at intersection points along the human spine. Their correlation with the repeated number “7” in the Old Testament is not coincidental.
But it was the premise posed as a question in the Manduka Upanishad thathaunted me for years. “What is that, knowing which, all else is known?” I repeatedly asked myself that question, and applied it to everything I learned.
When I recognized the correlation between Einstein’s famous formula, e = mc2 and ancient teachings from around the world, I used the Positive Paradigm of Change to picture their common understanding. Then came another Aha! This Unified Wheel is fact That, Knowing Which, All Else is Known. It puts the mosaic pictures together in a way that is larger than the sum of its parts.
Why then, I continue to ask, if this information is readily available, do people balk at the marvelous possibilities inherent in the Positive Paradigm of Change, refusing to go through the doorway it opens for those with the courage to enter? I addressed this briefly in The Fateful Fear of Self-Awareness, This blog contrasts the hollow shell of the prevailing empirical science paradigm with the universal, complete paradigm of diversity on the surface with timeless unity at the center. Bottom line: incomplete, inaccurate paradigms generate resistance to the unfamiliar.
But there’s more. Additional blogs expand on that fateful fear: “The Only Way Out is Throughand Know When to Mistrust Inner Voices,The Chapel Perilous journey through the middle level of the Wheel takes soul seekers on what comparative religion legend Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. Not everyone is equipped to face and survive that dark night of the soul alone.
Here’s where feedback from others more experienced and wise than ourselves can be invaluable. Those whose understanding encompasses a complete and correct reality map (Jungian therapists and self-aware Christians who adhere to the Bible, for example) serve as the agents of positive change, one person at a time.
With the combined tools of reason, empathy and intuition, they are the most qualified to help those willing to face their fears. Understanding discrimination in the full meaning of the term, they can skillfully steer us safely through the danger-fraught middle level of irrational prejudice, fears and delusions, to attain fuller Self-Awareness. They can lead us on the road to recovering the infinite store of treasures available on the far shore of life, ever present and waiting for us in the innermost center of the life wheel.
Here’s the picture of full-spectrum discrimination in Positive Paradigm context. It includes not only the rational and sub-rational definitions, but also the super-rational. In the Buddhist tradition, discrimination (buddhi) is defined as the ability to see through illusions and recognize the eternal at the center of change.
In the past, those in psychological pain, suffering from self-doubt and looking for a better way to live, would have turned to sages or kings for guidance. At this stage in history, however, therapists as healers (meaning “to make whole”) are often the best secular refuge.