Sunday, May 30, 2004

Thoughts, returning from retreat

1. Silence is invaluable. When you make the commitment not to speak, you stop trying to impress. In most conversations there's the desire to project an image of the self. Out in the real world, we fear silence because we're not comfortable with the unadulterated moment. It comes from an ingrained sense of our own inadequacy.

2. Giving up on communicating with peers can force us to really confront and engage with things. We tend too much to rely on other peoples' opinions, and this stops us from developing. Of course we can trust the wisdom, intelligence and experience of others, but only to a certain point - then you have to take over. Those people are not you. They have a different set of issues, circumstances and understandings. Two people can speak the same language and use the same words but still talk at complete cross-purposes. Progress - in anything - has to come from personal work. That's why you can't really change anyone. They have to want to change and the best you can do is give them the tools.

3. There isn't very much to know, it's just really hard to know it. Knowing something intellectually is a world away from grasping it deep down. That's why, for me, studying the truth isn't enough. It needs to be accompanied by meditation and practice.

4. Meditation is meant to reinforce truths but also to wipe clean the lens of our perceptions. Without our false beliefs and the confusing assumption that we need something to be happy and whole (a self-fulfilling prophecy), those truths are already there.

5. There are doctrinal differences between various religions and spiritual philosophies, but mainly the differences are in approach. An example: Yeshayahu Leibowitz contrasts Christianity's crucifiction story with the Old Testament akedah, the near-sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham was required to overcome his personal desires, emotions and ethics to kill his son for God. In the crucifiction, God allows his own son to die for the sake of humanity. The difference seems massive. But both are stories of human completeness in God. The Christian myth requires its adherents to trust and know that God's love is real. It exists. We don't need anything. The Abraham-Isaac model is a call to let go of the things we think we need, of the need to need, and to discover that God's love is real.

6. Leibowitz says that nothing in this world is inherently holy. The bread isn't sacred until you say the blessing. He's right. Our experience of the divine, which I understand as virtually identical to unsullied awareness, can't occur in any external object. It can only take place at the site of our consciousness. That's why the bread is only holy when we deliberately act to bear witness. The link between observation and observance is more than linguistic.

7. Shabbat is a taste of the world to come. What do I mean by the world to come? The state of knowing peaceful completeness. Not attaining but knowing. Shabbat is rest, rest is this realisation. There's a danger for someone who hates their job and feels they need shabbat in order to escape and become themselves. Their shabbat rest can't be perfect because they believe that without it they're incomplete. Instead, we should try to take that realisation of our own completeness and bring it into our awareness throughout the rest of the week. Shabbat is not a thing acting as an addition to ourselves. It is rather the space to see ourselves.