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You Gotta Believe

Wisdom from clouds, and The Pointer Sisters.

Fantastic Four #391 Art by Pail Ryan and Danny Bulanadi, Marvel Comics

If you live in the US, you are probably aware that an election is underway. It's tense. Vote if you can, and haven't already. I have nothing more to add. When we have done what we can do, and it is time to surrender into the flow of natural forces beyond our will, what do we do with ourselves?

There is a dance of cosmic forces moving through everything that exists. Wisdom traditions from every part of the world have persisted to address questions about the human relationship with the larger context of life. Modern life is almost exclusively focused on the relationship between the human mind and the physical world. Even amidst this narrow sliver of the human experience, there are unexplored depths. Our thoughts, feelings, beliefs are dancers, like droplets of water flowing through clouds in the sky; there is no tangible structure that holds the cloud together, but it appears to be one thing. When we slow down to look up at the clouds, it would be offensive to evaluate the worthiness, purpose, or belonging of them, but we rarely hesitate to treat ourselves with the same latitude. A deeper appreciation for our nature would help us be more generous with our capacity to have more spacious and loving relationships with our self and each other.

Having our "head in the clouds" is often disparaged, but observing them can teach us about our own nature. We could say that it is the forces of the atmosphere, various interactions of molecular and chemical forces that create conditions for the cloud to form and behave as it does. But the collection of forces that form, move, and dissolve clouds is too complex to explain succinctly. In fact, we take for granted that each cloud is an expression that can never be duplicated, synthesized, or compared to anything other than itself.

We generally accept that it is the conditions of the body, brain, and nervous system that allow for the conditions of our mind to arise. Truthfully, though, we have no evidence that our mind is a product of biological hardware, or is something that operates independently from the body. Until someone has successfully transferred their mind into a computer we won't know truly know. What little we do know of our brains suggests to us that the parameters for its operation through the senses are not really made to explore existential questions. Body, brain, and nervous system are self contained and concerned with homeostasis (an internal balance that responds to external factors). The brain and nervous system operate through feedback loops in response to their external and internal environment, selectively. We have evidence that tells us that our brains choose what to let us see. We also have the capacity to direct our attention to filter out sense information, to discern between our senses and even our thoughts. Although it unfolds within the same space, this capacity for self-awareness is not necessarily a product of some biological process. It is rather mysterious, to have a mind at all.

Talking about the brain and mind, might be confounding, but it is vital to explore if we hope to become aware of awareness. To become close to the nature of life as it unfolds within the space of the body, through the vehicle of the mind, is to be awake to the presence of awareness. In order to awaken that awareness, we must address the places where we cling to struggle and suffering. The struggle serves to firmly root the sense of I around which our mind coalesces into a seemingly solid identity and sense of self. This is the cause of our questions of worthiness, belonging, and self-criticism (and therefore criticism of others). Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said, "To reach the deeper layers of suffering, you must go to its roots and uncover their vast underground network, where fear and desire are closely interwoven and the currents of life's energy oppose, obstruct, and destroy each other...This is the great work of awareness; it removes obstacles and releases energies by understanding the nature of life and mind." (I am That, Ch 59).

Just like the clouds, the invisible structure upon which the sense of I is resting is something inexpressible by language. Also like the clouds, the sense of I is observable. It has beginning, middle, and end like all other nature's expressions. Sri Ramana Maharshi said, "It is possible to go inwards until the last thought 'I' gradually vanishes." Beyond the sense of I dawns the light of awareness. The same awareness is present in all beings, and all beings have the same potential to become aware of awareness. When we are aware, we are free to dance with the cosmic forces that are present in and around us, and we can relax into the joy of our own being. There is no better use of time and energy than engaging with whatever form of practice that deepens our awareness of awareness. It is possible, but as the Pointer Sisters said, "You Gotta Believe."


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