Enlightenment seems to be difficult to find mainly because it goes unnoticed by the soul conditioned to ignore the obvious essentials in life. The essentials are these: That the sun rises and sets; that we are born and breathe and live and die; that when we are wounded the world grows smaller and when we are healed we are healed by love. When we are healed by love the world grows larger and there is room for every thing where previously there seemed to be none.
We are also thwarted because we make more of spiritual attainment than we should. Someplace inside of us, we believe enlightenment will set us free from our suffering. Sometimes we have come across misleading or incomplete spiritual tales and writings that underscore this romantic notion. But what awakening actually does is to open a door to our suffering, while simultaneously redeeming it in a new idea of what freedom actually is. We also sometimes believe it will give us new powers and insights: things or thoughts or feelings we have never had before. But what it actually does is make the full spectrum of our birthright—all the things we have always had but either did not believe in, see as important, or even have access to—available to us. We remain essentially the same, but different. The only surprise in awakening is that it was there all along. When we see that, things begin to unroll. We begin to believe that we can feel deeply and wonderfully; we begin to understand the fact that the world is imperfect and perfect at the same time and that when we hold the imperfect world close to our imperfect heart—the world and ourselves being the same thing—laughter and tears are brought together as well. We and the world are made to be a single thing. Finally, we are free. But this freedom is not a freedom from, but rather a freedom with.
What we call “life” is the union of the faraway and the near. The faraway is the seemingly outer world. The near is ourselves. A nameless, characterless quality pervades and supports both. When this quality is concentrated and localized, we get people and things and worlds. When it is allowed to express its vast nature, we get boundlessness. When both are brought together, we get a boundless continuity. “Boundless continuity” might also be called a “bound infinity,” that combination of the mortal and the time-bound with the timeless. That is us. And that is actually the best description of what it means to be alive. As people who are in the process of awakening, we have the opportunity to experience the true connection between the faraway and the near. This lets our small and imperfect lives enjoy and depend upon the fruits of eternity.
The texts in Ecstatic Speech are all teaching pieces that arise from the place where the particular—that is individuals with pain and sorrow, laughter and joy—and the Silent Eternal meet. They are utterances that give shape to the Absolute and allow this vastness to enter the small chambers of our infinite hearts. In this way we learn our place in the Great Place, a place we sometimes lose because we don’t know how to hold our personal suffering along with the Great Perfection we sense within and without our selves. The pieces in this book exist to help us learn that our suffering and our awakening are a single thing, that our imperfections and the Great Perfection arise at exactly the same time and have the same aim, which is freedom.
These pieces are not meant to continue the spiritual exercise of giving us peak experiences of unification, which simply lift us up only to set us down later. The view from the mountaintop is wonderful but so is living in the valley where our towns and neighbourhoods are. These pieces extol both views since it is only by union that union is achieved. Said in other words: this is not a book of information but a book of practice.
We achieve the unification of both views—that of the mountaintop and of the valley, of the Absolute and the Relative, and thereby enter the awakening process—by practice. These pieces are meant to be used, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, by our body, mind and spirit. They are not meant to simply give another psychological or spiritual viewpoint or to add to the conditioned responses we have to the world. They are meant to disarm us so that, arms open, we can embrace who we truly are. We might say that we are meant to be used by them; that to use these words rightly we are meant to throw ourselves into the practice of taking each word seriously, working through whatever each sentence brings us and seeing that as the on-going content of enlightening itself. By using them in that way, they become both a living map and a moving vehicle that can take us home.
Some of these pieces are meant to inspire, others to challenge. Some are meant to explain and others to mystify, because real mystification does not obscure, but brings us to things we cannot learn in any other way except by having our conditioned responses to life and learning stopped in their tracks: surrender, love, exquisite quiet and joy that has no reason for being except that it is. Above all, these pieces are meant to bring us into a deepening relationship with all that is, so that our already established partnership, our prior engagement with the world—before we were confused and which is our awakening itself—becomes not only visible, but workable, something we can depend upon moment by moment in our daily lives. Enlightenment is not a theoretical position: it is meant to be dinner table conversation and the manners of everyday life.Enough said. Expect it all. Please go forward.
3 October 2015