Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent. It's a time when the whole Christian world begins the month- long process of celebrating the fact that a new force can enter our world. That the old order can be turned upside down and a new one established.
Christ called on us all to become open to an inner light. We remember His birth as an occasion of Joy because of His message to all mankind that everyone can become available to this light of God.
Christians aren't the only ones who cultivate this practice. The Buddhists refer to enlightenment- the process of becoming filled with light. The Mevlevi Dervishes whirl not just to pray, but because they understand they have a sacred duty to bring light down into the world from above. The Jews celebrate Chanukah, the festival of lights.
This idea, it seems, is shared by most of mankind, and it offers us all hope- hope that things can improve, that the dirty little crevices of darkness we all covet and carry around inside us can be illuminated, then swept clean with a broom made of sturdy twigs. All of this to leave room inside us for something much bigger than ourselves.
The idea even goes a bit deeper than that. Suns are the engines of creation. All of the elements in the universe begin as hydrogen, which in the vast nuclear crucibles of suns are fused into the heavier elements.
Creating an inner sun within ourselves is analogous. We can literally begin to create new substances in our bodies which are, under ordinary circumstances, either completely lacking or in very short supply. This is important, because in order to erect a more durable and useful inner structure, we're going to need all those additional elements. If all we have in us is that elemental hydrogen, we're basically nothing more than bags of hot air.
It's often helpful to me to understand by analogy in this manner. It helps me to form a deeper sense of the absolute interconnectedness of all things, and of how every level of the universe works in a similar way : from suns to bodies to cells, everything engaged in one perpetual act of creation.
There is no destruction. Everything we call "destruction" is just transformation, as new states continuously emerge from old ones.
When speaking of this unity, Dogen once said, "In the great way of going beyond, no endeavor is complete without being one with myriad things. This is ocean mudra samadhi." ("Beyond Thinking," p. 78, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambala Publications 2004)
When we open our eyes, we all find our dwelling place in this ever-emergent ocean of truth and light.
I hope December affords us all myriad opportunities to open ourselves ever more deeply to this light and to love, and to share the gift of life as openly as possible with others.
The inner solar system
Yesterday I said I'd make a few more remarks on the idea that during our life, we are in the process of forming an inner solar system. Agreed this idea is a bit theoretical, but we can't discuss practice without occasionally delving into analogy.
Think of it this way.
Life explodes around us like a supernova. Outward events are a massive, seething sea of energy that pours into us from the instant of birth to the moment of our death. As these impressions of life arrive in this vessel we call the body, they are completely disorganized. Until we begin, as an infant, to form the basic inner structures needed to understand them, we can't see, we can't walk, we can't talk.
It becomes the work of a lifetime to bring an intelligible order to all of these impressions, and, as more and more impressions fall into the "event horizon-" the place where the outer world meets our inner world- that becomes more and more difficult.
At first everything is a disorganized gas cloud. The materials attract each other and begin to coalesce into "inner planets." These correspond to various elements of our psyche. Some are aggressive, like Mars. Some are loving or sensuous, like Venus. You get the idea.
But inside there is no definitive center of gravity, or if there is one, it's weak. At best the sun inside us- the part that is supposed to provide the central force of gravity around which the other planets orbit- isn't well formed. So the elements of our personality are chaotic; they orbit errtically, crashing into each other and creating all kinds of havoc in our lives. Our inner sun is a massive planet like Jupiter- a "failed sun," a gas giant that has never quite acquired the materials or gavity it needs to ignite. Like Jupiter it's a troubled planet, obscured by clouds and fraught with mysterious, massive storms. It's not even the center of the system as it should be. The other planets are racing around inside, each one trying to become a sun themselves, even though none of them are properly suited for that work.
It's a mess. There's no one in charge.
In the diligent inner work of meditation and life-observation, we discover an opportunity. We can gradually begin to create a gravity in ourselves that brings a new kind of order to this "inner cosmic chaos." As the inner planets align themselves there are less collisions. And we slowly begin to draw new material into the center of our solar-system-in-formation.
With the practice of discrimination, we begin to realize that our inner sun, if it is ever going to ignite, needs certain kinds of material in order to form. We can't just take in any old set of impressions willy-nilly. For example, if the sun needs more "hydrogen" in its make-up, but what we're taking in is "iron," we're creating an imbalance. We have to begin to know what the inner solar system needs. We also have to be careful that Venus or Mars, for example, aren't sucking up most of the "hydrogen" our sun needs. They want all that good stuff for themselves, too, and if no one is in charge- well, they'll just take it.
Even more important we have to learn you can't get rid of anything. In our inward solar system, everything that comes in- all the impressions of a lifetime- stay in there permanently. Once impressions have arrived, there's absolutely no practical way to get rid of them, and enough disruptive impressions can create inner situations that are difficult, if not impossible, to correct. We all know people, for example, who are relentlessly pessimistic or negative.
Some instinctive part of us knows we can't fix that problem, and fear arises. Some ways of trying to escape the tyranny of our existing impressions are drugs, alcohol, excessive work, escapism, hedonism, and so on. Most or all of them are destructive, and since these escape mechanisms are exercised strictly within the confines of our inner solar system, the ultimate result is that they destroy any possibility of order. They burn up valuable fuel making us temporarily feel better, and in the end they all rob us of the very material we need to set things right.
It's our responsibility to see this and to assume responsibility. If we see, for example that we took in too much "iron" earlier in life, and are consequently too hard on ourselves or others, the best we can do after we realize this is to learn how to compensate. Acceptance is part of that practice.
So we agree with ourselves to become engineers. We begin to attend to our lives through discrimination and right practice to first put things in order- as Gurdjieff said, "repair the past"- and then try and acquire useful materials- "prepare the future." To do this we use the present- that is to say, every immediate moment of practice can be turned to this effort.
As we progress on this path the inner sun-in-embryo begins to gain in strength. Eeventually it has enough gravity to right the orbit of the planets, and then things inside us change a lot. Instead of every planet pulling us in a different direction, each one begins to orbit in an orderly manner.
Eventually, we begin to bring the light of this new inner sun to our solar system. That's the aim of the work- to illuminate. We gradually become a light unto ourselves- at which point we may begin to participate in a much larger structure called a galaxy.