Dear friends, and dear me,
What a fearful place I passed through not long ago! I had been striding happily along, never doubting the way forward – until suddenly, several months ago, the path caved in, and I fell into a dark realm full of disjointed impressions, strange phantoms, distant bursts of lightning, and threatening vistas – impossible to describe in any coherent way.
I spent some months there, thrashing about, which just made me sink faster, like in quicksand…
Now, thank the gods, I have found my way back here, to this relatively level path, and am again on the lookout for the intersection with the path of the Ascent. Or perhaps I am already going up, but so gradually that I don’t realize it…
In any case, I am no longer in the hells, and for that I am grateful. I did not escape without help from friends I met in that dark realm, who had charitably dropped in to see if anyone needed a flashlight or a map. I received some valuable gifts from them, which I would like to share with you.
To help you understand what I experienced, and how and why I found these gifts so useful, I would like to give you a brief synopsis of my previous experience.
Originally, I came from plenty, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The family of California WASPs I grew up in never lacked for material comfort, and my parents lavished affection, encouragement and inspiration on all their children.
Nevertheless, by age 37 I was lonely and terrified about the future, and desperate for meaning in life. So when I found the work of Silo, I was ready, and the path of nonviolence swept me up and magically transformed my world.
For more than three decades after that, Siloism sustained me. First the Movement gave me purpose and direction; and then, as an added bonus, it gave me Jorge, the “love of my life.” Later, when Silo’s Message appeared, I fell in love again, this time with the Message. That was when I took on the wonderful project of writing a biography of Silo.
For the next twelve years, it was as if I were riding an inexhaustible wave of energy, faith and inspiration. That wave carried me through everything, including the study of the Mental Discipline, the disappearance of my beloved Jorge, and the completion of the biography.
It was a wonderful three-plus decades.
Only recently did I recognize that, happy as I had felt during most of that time, I had also been fooling been myself.
Because instead of using Silo’s teaching to liberate myself, I had been holding onto it as a belief system that would save me. Adrift and clinging to my log, I had been sure it would carry me home. Only now did I realize that I had to let go of the log, and swim for my life!
Not that there was anything wrong with that belief – I am sure it did me no harm, and probably it was a necessary step.
I began to get an inkling of that illusion last June, after the biography had been published and I had returned home from my book tour. It was a confusing moment. With the biography finished, I could do whatever I wanted. But what, exactly, did I want to do? I had no idea. Anything would do – the only prerequisite was that it be something that would help me build my immortal Spirit. Time was running out, and I did not want to simply poof out into nothing!
I reviewed my resources.
Silo’s Message, and the School of Silo, were a given.
From the beginning, the weekly Message meetings and monthly Park gatherings had been islands of sanity and sweetness for me, no matter what was going on in my life. Walt and I had just moved to a new town, so I started a new meeting there. That, I was confident, would save me if nothing else did.
And of course there was the Ascesis. It was right there, lurking in my mental space as “something I should do.” The problem was that I had – and have – no idea how to tackle it.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. But I’ve never felt I was doing it “right.”
I don’t even know if I ever really “mastered” the Mental Discipline. I more or less got it conceptually, and had some level of experience, but only up through step 10 – and what experience I did have was on the “lite” side, never what I would call unmistakable evidence of anything. As for steps 11 and 12, they were, and still remain, pure conjecture.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. Despite my lack of clarity, I started out doing in good faith what I understood as the Ascesis as soon as we received it. The Lifestyle seemed a no-brainer to me, since I had been obsessed with self-liberation for decades, and found nothing else very interesting. My Purpose, too, was becoming clearer and clearer to me. The only thing that really mystified me was the meditation procedure.
Nevertheless, I gave that my best effort, being careful to follow the guidelines, and not to attempt the meditation as a routine, but to wait for inspiration. In those relatively rare moments, when I felt the necessary desire and liking for the work, I would begin with what I thought might be an appropriate “Entrance,” then jump to my favorite step, step 10, and see what happened.
I plugged away at this approach for several years. Never, however, did I feel as if I were “doing it right,” because I never had a clear experience of “setting aside the I.” And that was the whole point, was it not?
Finally, a couple of years ago, I had to admit that I was beginning to think of Siloism, and especially our precious “Ascesis,” as just too difficult. There had to be a better way to continue the on the Path. Perhaps I could just stretch the concept a little, while keeping Siloism as my center of gravity. That was when I began to look for help from other spiritual teachings, and also to renew my love of music.
At the same time, I poured myself into finishing Silo’s biography, until at last, by June of this year, that phase of my life was over. What a watershed! I was done with that, and this was a new moment.
Unfortunately, I realized that even though I had given Siloism my all for more than three decades, I was still, apparently, not liberated!
I did check to see if that were so. I began reading Steve Taylor’s The Leap - the Psychology of Spiritual Awakening, about how more and more ordinary people all over the world are waking up, becoming “enlightened,” whether suddenly, or little by little, and at last were finding themselves living fully and joyfully, without suffering.
I stopped reading the book after it became clear that I was not one of those individuals.
With that settled, I took the next step. If what I had been doing had not worked by now, it was time to try something new. Without intending to drop my formal work on the Ascesis, it just happened - I let everything I had been doing fall away. I stopped thinking about the Purpose or the Style of Life, and stopped trying to meditate according to Ascesis specifications. Of course, I told myself, I was still on the Path – but now, I decided, I needed to consider anything that brought me closer to the Sacred as part of my Ascesis.
This new, empty moment should have been a golden opportunity. There was so much I had been wanting to do; I had dreamed of spending time on more personal writing projects, especially poetry. But strangely, now that I had all the time I could wish, the well seemed to be dry.
For a while, I was happy to spend more time with music. I diligently practiced Bach on the piano, took up the study of music theory, and began playing recorder with a talented guitarist.
After a couple of months, I came to a disturbing realization, and had to question exactly why I was doing any of this. By the middle of the summer, I had to admit that I was – for the first time in years – unhappy. More and more, I was finding myself submerged in negative thoughts and feelings. In this strange state, the weekly Silo’s Message meetings and monthly visits to the Park were still islands of relative luminosity and clarity. But the rest of the time, no matter how much I called on my Guide, no matter how many Askings I did, I felt myself sinking, increasingly helpless and struggling, into a morass of negativity.
At first I told myself it was just another cycle, and determined to stick it out. But the negativity also stuck it out, and soon it was clear things were only getting worse. I hadn’t experienced this level of suffering, this intensity of doubt, since my thirties.
I began to get scared. What was happening to me? Was this the result of too much self-absorption, of no longer having a compelling project that went beyond my little self? Why wasn’t the weekly meeting enough? Was I going crazy???
Floundering and anchorless, I cast about for anything that might help.
Soon I remembered that once, long ago, I had read books by Eckhart Tolle. I found him on YouTube and began to listen to his talks. This had a profoundly soothing, calming effect on me, and I sucked it up, spending hours taking walks and listening to that sane, simple, humorous voice being piped into my ear through my earpiece.
In my enthusiasm, I felt a bit guilty for my disloyalty to Siloism, until I happened to mention Eckhart to a friend from Argentina, who told me she too loved Eckhart’s teaching. She’d been to hear him in person, and along with several Siloist friends had even formed a group to study his work. Relieved by this corroboration from the south, I began to read Eckhart’s books more carefully, finding them deeply relevant to my current process. At first I criticized his thinking for its individualistic approach – what about helping others? But as I continued applying his insights to my life, I began to see that it was simply an approach through a different doorway.
I also continued to apply what I had learned from my daughter about Nature Awareness, in particular the teachings of Jon Young. This approach has been profoundly useful to me ever since Jorge’s passing, when I began to find solace in simply sitting in nature in a meditative state, working with the Force or just watching, observing the life around me.
Tibetan Buddhism is another important reference for me. While I was still living close to his center in Point Richmond, I found great benefit in attending Anam Thubten’s meditations and Dharma talks. A couple of summers ago I also attended a five-day silent retreat with him, finding it both harrowing and inspiring.
Finally, after still another friend introduced me to it last month, I have been exploring a current called Heartfulness, which I find refreshing and profoundly useful.
And as I have since I was twelve, I often resort to different kinds of sacred music to lead me toward contact with the Sacred and the Profound.
It is clear to me that all of these streams, like so many others, are flowing in the one “known direction,” carrying us inward, toward the same Center.
That is my summary of my tangled journey.
Now I find myself here, sitting under these old oaks, with the leaves falling and falling all around me through the golden light and the silence.
Now and here, at this intersection in time and space, where the illusory “I” stands at the cross-hairs of past and future, memory and imagination, sensation and representation, I would like to attempt my synthesis – what I can see from this juncture:
The Force – the Vital Energy – Beauty – Inspiration – Meaning – all are connected with the same Center, the Sacred and the Profound.
Silo’s Message works with mastering the Force.
The Mental Discipline says, “Learn to see” – in order, at the end, to “see in one and all the same.”
Eckhart Tolle says “be present” and “be ok with what is.”
Nature Awareness says “pay attention.”
Anam Thubten says “love everything - don’t fight anything.”
Heartfulness says, “meditate on the divine light in the heart.”
And so I drink from all these wells.
At any moment in daily life, I can “be present” as Eckhart suggests, just as I can at any moment “learn to see.” When I manage to be here, present, feeling the aliveness in my body, I feel the Force - sometimes too the Silence, or the Light.
When I sit in Nature, and am present, I can feel the surging, silent aliveness in the trees, even when they are completely still. And I can feel it in the wind, and the rocks, and the light. Then I feel the Force, and the Silence, and the deep Light within.
At other times, when I join hundreds of Tibetan Buddhists in their temple, and feel the powerful quiet of our collective Presence, then too I feel the Force rise within me, and the Silence, and the Light.
And at home in the morning, when I go into my heart and meditate on the presence of a divine light, my whole being fills with Peace and Light, and the Force arises.
At my weekly meeting, when we carry out the Service and the Wellbeing, I feel each person’s humanity, and their ordinary divinity, and feel the Force alive in each of us, and among us.
Whenever and however I feel the Force, or the Silence, or the Light, or Gratitude, then my heart begins to open. Then I feel that I and all the world are all one and the same.
In difficult moments, all of this experience comes to my aid.
When a loved one is going through hard times, I can offer more than what my “I” can give. My “I” loves to suffer with my loved one, swelling up with its fear of the future and its resentment. If I stop there, if I identify with them and their suffering, I am of no help to them or to myself. But if I can step back, and look for what I am afraid of, or for what I resent in them, reality hits me like a blow.
Because I see that my loved one is simply reflecting myself back to me, showing me bigger than life, the blinding, unmistakable reflection of my greatest fears and resentments about myself. I see that what I fear and resent most in myself is my profound desire to sleep, my overwhelming compulsion to spend my life in avoidance and distraction, because I fear Death.
And when I see this truth, I laugh, and all differences between us dissolve, because we are one and the same, all of us blameless.
Then my heart opens with immense gratitude for all the help I have received, and the help I am able to give.