This post needs a bit of an introduction.
Coming into this Holiday season, 2 years into a process of reinventing my life — resetting Mindfulness practice and teaching as my priority mode — I find a lot comes up in my daily, personal mindfulness practice. For so long practice experiences appeared disassociated one form the other, even as insight deepened, and I could see disassociation as a reaction, another mind form, in its own right. Now I find practice experiences becoming more integrated, more clear. Jewels that never had a setting now find a solid base.
This theme resonates for me as we move into the full force of the Holiday season. I hinted at some of this in the last post, “The Real God Particle”, particularly in my words about the longing for context and silence. There seems to be more to say. More than one post will accommodate. So, the post that follows is really Part One of a run-up to Christmas Eve.
Born a Christian, like all humans, I have a deep resonance with the culture of my childhood. I am grateful that Mindfulness practice has brought me to recognition of how what resonates most deeply is universal, and not the property of my birth culture, or any culture. As I use Christian references here, please accept this as non-institutional expression, as one of the many outward forms that ultimately springs from our universal human experience.
Now, on to the first post. Take a breath. Leave the content above behind for now–its context will endure without effort.
There is a reason I choose “notflat” for my primary personal online identity. By the 1990’s my path found me strung up by a McLuhanesque dilemma of the first order: was I “hot” or was I “cold”? Or as Ken Wilber would put it in his later works: was I a pilgrim trekking across a dessicated, deconstructed “flatland”? Or was I in some kind of purgatory awaiting a breakthrough to higher consciousness, where, yes, there really is a qualitative difference in spiritual experience, where I would be “notflat”?
A little background.
Marshall McLuhan is not well remembered these days and ages. However, when I was a graduate student, he was widely acknowledged to be one of the most forward media and communication thinkers of all time. I read him voraciously and, as was so often my good fortune with teachers, was able to meet him and get a feel for the man. He did not seem to be oh so modern at all. As I would later learn, in his personal life he was a devout Catholic and expressed deep reverence for the rituals and imagery, some have ridiculed as magical, that animated his Christian experience. He found, “In Jesus Christ, there is no distance or separation between the medium and the message. It’s the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same.” I could not put a finger on my reaction to this, but some intuitive sense alerted me not to misconstrue the cool media he called out as anything other than half a message. I felt a hunger, similar to McLuhan’s, for some “hot” to go along with my “cool”. A stereo track, if you will.
My “cool” Zen and Mindfulness practice had progressed well technically in the 90’s. I was sitting extended meditation retreats. I could maintain solid concentration and good posture without many apparent distractions. I read extensively from the Hindu, Buddhist, Vedanta and Advaita traditions. I felt cool, competent, calm — I was a good Buddhist, I suppose.
But, the flame of my “hot” side was not extinguished entirely. Come the Holidays, I would find myself engulfed with the sweet mystery and sentiment I knew as a kid. Living in San Francisco, Christmas Eve would find me attending a sacred Holiday music performance in the nearest great church sanctuary/cathedral/temple I could find. Grace Cathedral in San Francisco fulfilled this passion beautifully for me, especially with it’s annual midnight full Christmas Eve mass. What a feast for my somewhat starved senses! 2 pipe organs, 5 choirs, the massive stained glass faintly back lit, shimmering jewels of the deepest colours imaginable, censers swinging dispensing scents and mystery, every surface resonating with the tried and true Christmas hymn/carol book music and verse, pews filled with a congregation dedicated to expressing the miracle of the birth of the true Christ’s unconditonal, all-inclusive love. The emotional effect was so powerful for me, I would arrive home exhausted—and utterly fulfilled. Was I simply coming off a sentimental spiritual sugar rush, courtesy of a “hot” experience, somewhat manipulated, perhaps, by a benevolent institution? Had I become flat and “cool”, and somewhat conflicted about the Buddhist spiritual path that had become such a big part of my life?
A few years later, living in Los Angeles, I found it harder to find my Christmas Eve fix. That would change, though, one Christmas Eve with Dr. Robert Bitzer. To be continued.
It is the season of miracles and wonders. Light a light for the peace that surpasses all understanding, may it be with all beings this season, and always.