I did not arrive at my understanding of some of the fundamental laws of the universe through the powers of the rational mind. (Albert Einstein)
A mother leaves her six-month-old baby with a sitter for a few hours so she can visit with a friend down the street. After 45 minutes she becomes restless and returns home early. She finds her baby has bumped his head – nothing serious but he’s still upset.
She barely notices the coincidence that she became antsy at the moment her baby was most distressed.
§ § §
Over the last few years, you lost touch with an old college friend – your lives were busy and communication fell off. On the way home from work, you start thinking about her for no particular reason. Later that evening, she drifts into your mind again. The next day at lunch you wonder what she’s up to. So you look up her Internet address and dash off a quick note, “Just thought of you and wanted to say ‘Hi.’”
She writes back: “Funny you should write now. Yesterday my husband got an unexpected cancer diagnosis. We’re both pretty shaken. I need somebody to talk to and you came to mind. We haven’t spoken for a while.”
§ § §
My mother came to visit me many years ago. I had been training with psychics at the time. She smiled in an indulgent way and asked, “So, what do you see in my aura?”
I didn’t see anything. However when I imagined what I might see if I could, I pictured a small cloud off her left side. Silently I asked, “Is it moving toward her or away?” “Away,” was the answer. “For how long?” “Ten days.”
Out loud I said, “I see a cloud in your aura. It looks painful. I think it happened a week and a half ago.”
She turned pale. “I had some chest pains ten days ago,” she said. “I feared it might be angina. I’ve been too scared to mention it to anyone.”
§ § §
You are sitting on a park bench reading a book surrounded by the sounds of birds and kids playing. You feel a faint strangeness, turn around and see somebody staring at your back. He looks away. You go back to reading.
§ § §
Your life came unglued a few years ago – perhaps the death of a partner, a relationship break up, the loss of a job. Something turned your life upside down. Not knowing what to do, you prayed, “I can’t figure this out. Please tell me what to do!” You didn’t even believe in prayer. And it was comforting to ask often.
Looking back, you see how your life turned for the better. It was a rough time. But something seemed to guide you through to a better place.
§ § §
Have you every experienced anything like these – you knew something but couldn’t explain how you knew?
I’d suggest there are ways we come to know things that have nothing to do with the rational intellect or the five senses.
Judging by the stories I’ve heard, I think most of us have experienced knowing things without being able to explain how we knew. In fact, I think more of us have experienced this than believe in it.
I will take experience over belief any day.
I’m not interested in what we believe to be the source of this knowledge and wisdom. Well, actually, I am curious. But I’ve come to accept that the universe is more complex and nuanced than my poor brain can grasp. So, as far as I’m concerned, you can name the source whatever you like: God, angels, divinity, collective unconscious, Buddha nature, intuition, super conscience, higher self, inner being, the high counselor of Atlantis, green elves… call it whatever you are most comfortable calling it. It doesn’t matter to me.
What matters is: How do we deepen our connection to this wisdom and knowing? How do we come into a balanced relationship with something we don’t understand that can enrich our lives?
It’s like asking, “How do we have a satisfying relationship with someone we don’t understand – like an adolescent, parent, partner, or ourselves?” When we are honest with ourselves we admit we don’t fully understand our teenagers, parents, partners, or ourselves. Yet despite the mystery, we can cultivate healthy, open, enriching relationships with them.
We humans have incredibly fine-tuned relational instincts. As we know, small children cannot survive without caring and attentive relationships. So we have sophisticated and nuanced relational instincts.
We all have the ability to accurately sense things we cannot explain. It’s like musical ability: some people are born with a lot of aptitude, some with a little but all of us have some. And no matter what talent we are born with, we can enhance what we have with practice.
So I’d like to look at how to leverage our relational instincts to tap into intuitive wisdom.
This is the third talk in a series on selflessness. It’s an extension of a series I did on the maturation of consciousness (God(s) and Consciousness ). As consciousness unfolds into higher stages, we experience some variety of selflessness.
In the last talk (Dissolving ) we explored the inner realm, meditation, and our ability to introspect – to explore our inner world until our sense of self dissolves into selflessness.
In this talk and the next we’ll explore the relational realm and how consciousness unfolds from separation to connection to selfless merging.
It’s not that I merge with God and become better than you: I’m more God-like and you’re more dirt-like. It’s that our connection with wisdom and knowing becomes so strong that we see all of us as being different facets of the same intelligence and compassion.
Next time I’ll talk about channeling – full bore, trance state channeling where we take our sense of self and set it aside and invite into our psycho-physical being what seems like a wiser, disembodied entity – a teacher or a guide – and invite them to speak through us. For many, this requires a lot of what Samuel Coleridge called “willing suspension of disbelief.”
So I thought it might be helpful to move gradually. So in this talk we’ll explore a lower calorie version of channeling – a “channeling-lite,” if you will – called “guidance.”
There is a general attitude that is helpful with guidance and channeling. We call it “openness and curiosity.”
We wouldn’t expect to have a fruitful conversation with a friend if our ego was in the way, if we paid no attention to where our friend was coming from, if we didn’t listen, and if we greeted every word with skepticism or complete lack of discernment.
The early 20th century Russian mystic, Gurdjieff, said that one reason many people find prayer ineffective is that they don’t take the time to align themselves. They attune to their fears, aspirations, needs, and desires. They express their gratitude, yearning, or questions. Yet they don’t take the time to align with the web of life, the divine, or anything outside themselves.
Aligning means letting go of ourselves, emptying out, and turning our sensitivities outward with openness and curiosity. It’s like raising our hands to the sky and saying, “What would be helpful for me to know? … I’m listening.”
The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, wrote that there are many people with enough faith to pray, but few with enough faith to listen.
These practices require aligning and listening. They may also require this willing suspension of disbelief. But we don’t have to throttle our skepticism or bury it in the backyard under a rock never to be seen again. Skepticism and discernment have an honorable role to play in the process. I’ll talk about this shortly.
But for now, let’s turn to specific practices.
One easy form of guidance is to align ourselves and ask, “What do I do now?” or “Which direction?” or “What do I do with this one?” Then we listen: suspend preconceived notions as to what the answer might be, and wait patiently and receptively to any impressions or ideas that come to mind. It’s a kind of feeling with the mind or thinking with the body. The Quakers call it “holding the question.” We don’t grasp for answers, but trust that they will come to us from a source wiser than our ego or self-centered will.
After “listening,” if we don’t “hear” an answer, we’re either too noisy inside or no answer is available now. We don’t force the process. We just come back to ourselves and figure out what to do.
There’s a catch-22: if we don’t trust the process, our skepticism can create enough static interference that the process doesn’t work. On the other hand, the only way to develop real trust is to experience it as reliable, which we cannot do because we don’t trust it.
However, there’s a way to ease into it and develop some faith: We set aside a block of time when there’s nothing we really have to do. Then we use guidance to make every decision during this time.
For example, I set aside some time one summer morning. I asked, “What do I do now?” The thought lightly went through me, “Bike ride.” So I hopped on the bike.
“Which direction do I go?”
“Left,” was the first impression.
“What do I do now?”
“Turn around.” I didn’t question it. There was nothing I had to do anyway. I just turned around and went back the other way.
“Now what would be best to do?”
“Sit on that boulder in the sun.”
And so on. The specific guidance you get will be different. Do it lightly. Don’t make a big deal of it. Just listen and trust.
As simple as this seems, it can be very rejuvenating, especially for those of us who tend to be compulsive, controlling, or over-structured. It’s relaxing to let go of being in charge of our life for a short time.
As we develop some familiarity with this practice, we become more sensitive to the difference between the voice of old habit patterns and the voice of wisdom. We begin to learn how and when to trust the process. We can use it in more demanding situations: “Which job should I do next?” “Should I buy this or not?” “Would I be better off continuing or not?”
The processes of imagination and intuition are similar. So if you have an affinity for images or visualizations, you can use it to cultivate an image of a guiding spirit to consult.
Over time we develop in an image of a very wise and compassionate being. We don’t worry about whether we’re discovering an entity or making up an image – it doesn’t matter.
We picture what she or he might look like and do. Where does he stay? What would we have to do to visit her? The image might be very clear or it might be nebulous yet have a definite feeling to it.
We imagine visiting this guide, settling in, asking questions, and listening.
A variation of this is imagining us as the wise being. If we had 200 years to do nothing but deepen our wisdom, what would we look like? We “visit” this person – our wise self. They know us better than we know ourselves. We ask for guidance and we listen.
Guidance may not come in the form we expect. It may come in words, images, a sentence in a book, or a chance word from a stranger. It may come immediately or show up two days later in a dream. But when we have enough openness, it is available even in adverse circumstances – a tangle on the job, a snarl in a relationship, an organizational brouhaha.
Another method of guidance is simpler. Most of us are wiser than we think. So we ask ourselves, “If I were wiser than I am, what would I do in this situation?” Or we invoke a person we instinctively trust. “If I were Gandhi, how would I respond to these maneuvers?” “If I were Jesus, what might I say?” “If I were Uncle Ned, what would I do in this situation?” “If I were Mother Theresa, how would I handle these three upset children?”
Then, as before, we suspend our thinking and sense what this greater wisdom would do. It’s amazing how often this simple device brings insight.
There are many variations on how to do this. This last one is one of my favorites:
We’re having a hard time with someone. In a quiet place, we close our eyes and imagine a difficult conversation with them. We may recount an actual conversation or imagine how bad one could get.
When the conversation reaches a crescendo – yelling at each other, an intimidating silence, or feeling so awful we don’t know what to do – the doorbell rings.
The ring freezes the scene – everyone stops mid-sentence except us. We answer the door. There is our teacher, our guide, our wise old Aunt Rhoda who always knew what to do, Jesus, Buddha … someone who epitomizes wisdom.
He or she bows and says, “Are things a little tough? Want to talk about it?”
We converse with them. We imagine what they might say. Perhaps we switch places so that we’re this wise person looking at us. We feel from inside what they feel as they listen to us.
When the conversation is over, we bow and say goodbye.
Then we go back to the person we’re having difficulty with – they are still standing frozen. And the movie starts up again. We take up the exchange. Now we carry a fresh connection with wisdom and compassion.
A few words of caution: First, even if the guidance we receive is clear and on the mark, it’s best to assume it’s appropriate only to our direction at this moment. It may not be appropriate tomorrow. At one time, it may be wise to drop everything and leave for a few days. Another time, it may be wise to pick everything up and push forward. One day we may need to be more assertive, the next we may need to listen more carefully. One time we may need to exert control, another time allow ourselves to be led. “There is a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3).
Guidance can attune us to what we need to do now. We shouldn’t assume it won’t change. Within reasonable limits, there’s nothing wrong with repeated use of guidance, particularly if we’re traveling through dark or unfamiliar territory.
A second caution is more fundamental and hopefully apparent:
All of us carry repressed feelings and destructive tendencies. Sometimes it isn’t clear if we’re drawing on these or a greater wisdom. We might ask, “What should I do with this mess?” The thought comes to mind, “Get out of here.” That might be the voice of wisdom or it might be the voice of fear. It may require some of our powers of discernment to sort it out. Just because something comes to mind through a mysterious route does not mean it is wisdom.
Next time when I talk about trance channeling I’ll have more to say about this. In general, if the message we receive would lead to needlessly hurting others, if it would inflate or deflate our ego, if it’s coercive, dictatorial or autocratic in tone, or if it clashes with our highest values, then it is probably distorted by repressed feelings.
Prayer, guidance, assuming wisdom, channeling: the common thread through them all is a shift in attitude. Out of faith or desperation, we stop trying to figure things out. We allow thoughts and impressions to come to us. The various techniques merely use relational instincts to bring forth receptivity so that we may feel, see, hear or know more clearly.
With a little lightness and practice, guidance opens easily and naturally. After a while, we become less concerned with the particular guidance – doing this versus doing that – because what is received is so much more. We find a very tangible participation in and merging with the deeper dimensions of life, the Tao, the Way. We feel a selfless sense of being that includes us all.
If you like, take a moment right now:
Close your eyes if that’s comfortable.
If there is a specific question in your heart, ask it quietly. If you don’t have a specific question, simply ask, “What would be helpful for me to know or see or feel today?”
Then let it go. Let go of self. Open your sensitivities to the energy of life and spirit: “I am listening.”
Listen patiently. Openly.
Whether you heard, felt, sensed, or thought anything or not, say, “Thank you.”
© 2011 Doug Kraft. First delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento, on Sunday, October 16, 2011.