Several times over the last week, I found myself in conversation discussing the changes in my life since living in Atlanta. I thought I’d publicly mention the largest of those.
I’ve used a series of vectors to describe a way of languaging what I see as the progression of human consciousness. It goes:
Awakened Adult with intermittent non-dualistic awareness
Awakened Adult with sustained non-dualistic awareness…
And after that point language breaks down, although the state referred to as “enlightenment” is a part of that territory. My favorite definition of that state is one used by Sufis: “enlightenment is the door of awareness that opens at the moment of death. The spiritual Seeker attempts to open that door before that moment.”
While still unable to quite “get there” do to the limitations of language, this addresses the cross-referenced hints on the topic as offered by the most advanced minds I’ve been able to study in multiple disciplines, and makes perfect sense of the literature and my own infrequent glimpses. I’ll stand by it.
All right. Bear with me, please. We are born, and form our identities largely in response to the world. We need protection, care, tribe. Have survival and comfort and approval needs. And form our ego cocoons in response to the world and people around us. There is nothing wrong with all the labels and programmed responses—they keep us alive and allow us to communicate with the adults who control our world. The problem is that we begin to mistake this avalanche of conditioned responses for “us.” It is as if you have so many travel stickers on your luggage that you can’t see the luggage any more.
One of the things meditation does is allow you to peel back the stickers, examine the beliefs, values, sensations and emotions that construct the cocoon called “you” so that you can touch the original essence that began the journey. If you want to know why Buddhism doesn’t tend to make Buddhas, or Christianity construct Christs, it is primarily because of an old expression:
“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” In other words, the part of you that wants the experience of Truth will not survive the experience.
So…most religious doctrine is not about “waking up”, let alone achieving enlightenment, but rather how to live together in peace, with love and hope. But woven into the doctrines of any major religion are the threads of a deeper path, and those threads can be “teased out” by a seeker determined to find truth. That is a tiny percentage of people, and a tiny percentage of those have the ability to go “all the way.” I would personally estimate that there are maybe a dozen of what I’m defining as “enlightened” people on the planet at any given time. In a lifetime of studying these things, I MAY have encountered two of them. That’s another discussion.
At any rate, as with many, many things in life, there are points of no return. You do a certain amount of work, and reach the point where the momentum takes over, and “you” are no longer in control. It becomes like roller-skating downhill. All you can do is let gravity do what it will with you. (No, the analogy isn’t exact.)
So…about six years ago, I reached the point in my meditations where the non-dualistic clarity was becoming more consistent. Becoming the “base line”, with “dualism” becoming less and less frequent. And I realized I was approaching a kind of summit, and that a few more pushes and the “I” that had begun the journey would begin to unravel.
And that I didn’t have the right to do that. (Yes, I know it is a dualistic contradiction to speak of “I” when discussing this stuff. But we’re stuck with the language we have.)
The reason was…Jason. You see, when I first held my son, I did that great ROOTS thing of taking him outside, holding him to the sky and saying: “behold! The only thing greater than yourself!” and that was wonderful. But more seriously, I promised that I would be his father, and do all in my power to deliver him safely to his adulthood, so held me God.
And, well…let’s say I turned out to be one of those few capable of actually completing the spiritual journey. Such a thing unravels the “Steve” who began it (nice metaphors can be found in sacred text: Moses didn’t get to enter the promised land, now, did he..?). And that “Steve” is the one who made the promise to Jason.
This isn’t a hollow concern. The Buddha abandoned his family to complete his work, and the literature is filled with instances of people who, when struck by the light, change completely. I believe that this happens when a person has not been prepared by a lifetime of work, such that the actions and values necessary to operate within society are as natural as breathing. And as automatic. Such a “householder yogi” generally conducts his worldly business until his children are of age to protect themselves, and only then wanders off to complete his inner work. Whereas being “awake” has real benefit in the material world, “enlightenment”…not so much. You are more likely to be crucified than materially enriched. The only reason to pursue it is that you must. It is your nature, and you cannot do otherwise.
I realized that the promise I’d made to Jason was sacred, but that I couldn’t be certain that, on the other side of such work, such an unraveling, what I would be would keep that commitment. “Steve”, to the degree that that identity was incongruent with my true Self, would no longer exist.
And I had no right to deny Jason the father I had promised him at birth.
I went to Atlanta because Tananarive’s mother was dying, and she had to be there. And my place is with my son. And my son needed a mother and a father, IMHO. That gave me no alternatives, regardless of how much disruption it caused—and it was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most painful thing I have ever experienced. There isn’t even anything in second place. Not sure there’s anything in third. Yeah, that bad. Quantifying it on the scale of life stress, the only way I can describe it is that the stress level was equivalent to my mother dying every month for three years.
But in the middle of it all, I realized something: this wasn’t the first time I’d walked away from my life, my dreams, my hopes. The first had been twenty years ago, after the 1994 L.A. Quake when my first wife Toni decided she was getting the hell out of California, and I could come along if I wished.
I was in the midst of establishing a life-long dream, writing in Hollywood. But knew that my daughter Nicki needed her daddy. And I wasn’t going to put her in the middle of a war zone—that had happened to me, and it was devastating. So I walked away.
And here, twenty years later…I’d walked away again. For the same reason.
Now, there are many things that can be extracted from this, and believe me, I’ve probably thought of most of them. The “meaning” of the event, and its outcomes, and what will happen now that I’m on the other side of it, will be wrangled over endlessly by me and my eventual biographers (smile).
But one thing jumped out at me: despite the pain, and the fear, and the (perceived) destruction of plans and dreams I’d carefully constructed since childhood, despite the shredding of an entire map of reality that left me literally not knowing who I was or where I was, despite knowing I was heading into an isolation, an exile almost totally devoid of friends, teachers, relations, or business opportunities—the very things I’d constructed my sense of Self from, creating existential terror such as I’ve never experienced…
I hadn’t hesitated. Jason came first. As Nicki had come first.
In other words, whatever is true about me, whoever I really am, at the core of me…I’m a daddy. That’s just the truth. I’m a dad. And I know that, no matter what else is true, no matter what I find as I, or if I, unravel the illusions, what I am would never, ever, hurt a child. Especially my child.
I need not worry about it. In other words, however much emotional or material discomfort the Atlanta Adventure caused/triggered/whatever, there was also a phenomenal gift of Self knowledge there, if I could see it.
Freedom. Permission to continue my journey. It is as if a gigantic stone has rolled off my chest. Now it really begins, then. Everything I do: parenting, writing, teaching, working out, loving, learning, giving…
All are in service to asking two core questions: “Who Am I?” And…”What is true?” Those two questions are the most important in human life, and all others connect with one or the other, are are beyond trivial.
I’d like to thank Tananarive, and Toni, for giving me the best, and most painful gifts I’ve received since clawing from my mother’s womb.
I have permission to seek the answers now. The only remaining question is if I have the capacity. No worries…I’ll eventually get there.
I’d just like to get there before I run out of time to enjoy the view.