Being Seen

They say that if you hold eye contact with someone long enough, you will start to feel something pass between you: a strong connection.

I remember a small fountain in front of my San Giovanni apartment in Rome. The water wasn’t very clear, it was actually a bit milky, but if you sat and looked at it for a minute or two a delightful thing might happen. The goldfish might slowly rise to the surface, like diamonds. It gave me such a thrill to see them appear.

We all like to be seen. We honk our horns, trying to get attention. We go out in public, hoping to lock eyes with someone. Anyone, really. We grow up and wonder why our parents don’t look at us the way they used to. That once unconditional love now seems to have faded. Only in a love affair do we imagine that we are being seen for who we really are. Desired for being who we truly are.

“I love you and I love to look at you and be with you.” Isn’t that what we would all love to hear the most? But how long does it last? Not long, usually. Over time these nice strong feelings tend to dissipate.

No, what we’re really looking for is much stronger stuff. What we really yearn for is for God inside of them to come out and look at us. No, it’s even more than that. We want the God in them to come forth and see the God in us. Pure consciousness meeting pure consciousness; God meeting God. Now that’s an unforgettable experience.

But it takes patience, friends. Gotta sit for awhile, park yourself and wait. Those fish don’t come to the surface right away.

Unblaming Myself

Mamma Mia, we are all so complicated! There are all sorts of problems inside us, some of them going back 50 generations or so, passed from father to son, mother to daughter. Like a virus that no one in your family has taken the time to find the antibody for. “I’m not good enough,” “Better to hide your feelings,” “It’s probably your fault that no one is happy,” “Mother always knows best.” . . . Will you be the one, the Louis Pasteur in the lab, who breaks the curse? Or will you duck out, simply passing the virus along to your children?

Then there are cultural conditionings, TV shows and nightly news and pop culture, telling you what to think and what to do.

There are even reptilian fears and mammalian needs and bodily functions to contend with. Basically the whole history of the species is lying inside you.

So suddenly you’re on the spiritual path and you’re trying to get rid of your ego. And your ego is not ready, so he’s asking you to take the blame for all of your shortcomings and wrong attitudes. But almost all of your attitudes have literally been created by the world, long before you were even born!

It’s like a single leaf taking the blame for a 100-year-old tree. Would the leaf say, “It’s not the tree’s fault, it’s my fault that I’m this way?”

So a good starting point for a spiritual seeker is this . . . yes, you can fix that limited belief, but you didn’t create it. It was handed to you. It was passed along to you. Everyone before you thought they could carry that burden. Perhaps they even imagined that, in some twisted way, they deserved it. Only you can begin to solve that virus today . . . by not allowing it to exist in your universe. By simply not believing it.

How Much Sacrifice?

All of us have been making little sacrifices to God our whole lives, trying to give the smallest amount possible. All this while keeping score, of course: I gave this, where is my payback?

And who among us hasn’t complained when He takes something away? So there we are, always asking Him, “Isn’t it enough, yet? Haven’t you taken enough?”

But what you’re giving Him isn’t what He wants. He’s not interested in all your hard work, nor your mental acuity or your spiritual sacrifice. He wants you to give the whole game up. And until you do, you are always going to be thinking that You Are Not Good Enough. That’s how he ropes you back in. You are always going to be restless.

But we are each like a wild horse, needing to be exhausted in mind, body and spirit, before we are ready to give up everything and let Him take over.

So, in a way, having the rug pulled out from under you is like finding the fast lane. You are suddenly in deeper than you thought you could handle, and you won’t be bargaining any longer.

Gladiators

Even Christ says, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

In the Gladiator movie, Comodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the son of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, is told by his father that not he, but Maximus (Russell Crowe) has been chosen to be his successor to the throne. Maximus is the natural choice, owing to all his good qualities.

Comodus is very disappointed. He replies that he had once received a letter from his father listing the four chief virtues: wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance. He says, “As I read the list, I knew I had none of them; but I have other virtues, Father.” He then lists these: ambition, resourcefulness, courage, devotion. “But none of my virtues were on your list,” he adds.

“Your faults as a son is my failure as a father,” says Marcus, right before Comodus cruelly kills him, accuses Maximus of the murder and snatches the throne for himself.

This story of a last-minute switch of command is a theme in many stories, notably the Hindu mythological story of spiritual rebirth, The Ramayana, where a similarly unworthy son replaces the worthy and beloved son on the very evening before the coronation, while the latter is sent into exile.

Still, after watching the film a number of times, I could never quite digest the fact that Comodus didn’t simply acquiesce to his father’s wish and accept the superiority of Maximus. Why couldn’t he have become Maximus’ loyal servant, serving by his side for many years and eventually learning—and acquiring—those chief virtues himself?

“Because he can never acquire those virtues,” said Domenico. “Those virtues belong to God alone.”

Sadly, he was right. Our ego is like Comodus; we usurp a power that has not been given to us, and eventually we find out that we are not fit to rule. If we want those chief virtues to win, we learn to step aside.

Waterwheel

Had a fun conversation with my dear friend Domenico yesterday, in which we spoke of the kind of arrogance that can sometimes come from thinking that “the light” needs you to promote itself to others. I remembered two bozos on a stage in Milano once, congratulating themselves for “bringing light to the world.”

“It’s like a waterwheel thinking that it pushes the river,” Domenico said.

We had a good laugh at that one.

For a while we puzzled over the implications of wheels and water and pride and self-definitions, then we became quiet. The waterwheel actually would have been slowing down the river, due to friction. So as the flowing river spun the wheel faster and faster, what would the wheel be saying a few years later—after being totally demolished by the strong current? Would it still be bragging then?

We had a good pause at that one.

Boat photo

I dreamed last night that I was sitting in a boat. It was like a canoe but maybe a little bit wider. Strangely, I was posing. Then I could see why. Someone was taking my picture from over my shoulder. We were trying to set it up so that it looked like the boat was in the water.

At a certain point, I thought, “What the heck am I doing? Either the boat is in the water, and it’s a real picture . . . .” Of course, if the boat were really in the water, we wouldn’t be able to take the picture at all.

So I had to decide whether or not I wanted to go somewhere . . . or whether I wanted to pretend to be going somewhere. Just to have my picture taken!

I remember feeling a moment of shame, as if I had just discovered a hidden prankster stowing away in my heart. I prayed, then and there, that the boat could be instead pushed away from the shore and into the water. My dream self was telling me that it could no longer stand pretending to be in the river.

It wanted real self-discovery.

Beach house

I dreamed last night about a beach house in Malibu, all wooden floors, floor-to-ceiling windows and white furniture. It wasn’t my house, but I was living there. I was house-watching for a friend.

I put everything in order and was about to leave, when I saw them coming: a rowdy group of about 30 partyers, friends of friends, boisterous and rowdy, walking up the street and looking for a house to play in. And they were heading straight for this one!

I knew that if somehow they got inside, they would be shrieking and spilling and abusing this place for days. I would get absolutely ZERO SLEEP the whole time. As they barreled towards me, I turned off the lights, locked the front door and quickly slipped out of eyesight. If they thought no one was home they’d simply move on to someone else’s house.

Knob turning, pounding, bell ringing. I sat stock-still with my heart beating fast. Just move along, now. Please!

Suddenly a doubt sprang to mind: I hadn’t checked to see if the back door was locked . . . and now a group was moving along the deck, headed right for it! Staying low to remain out of sight, I scurried over and stuck the key in the lock. Too late! Before I could lock it, the door burst open and the whole noisy crew swept in and filled up the place from one corner to the next.

I awoke kicking myself for not having been better prepared, for not having kept better vigilance over my little empire. The back door is how they always get in. All my bad habits.

Staying inside tonight

Sitting on my sofa tonight, feeling good and musing over all the options that are calling me to go out: a party at John’s, a live concert, or simply a walk in the park with friends.

The stars are out now. Maybe just a little stroll in the spring air.

But tonight, maybe for the first time I can remember, there’s a different offering. Tonight something is calling even louder for my attention: my heart.

Yes, friends, I lie down on my sofa, close my eyes, and feel that rare warmth spread all over my body. Have I been looking all my life only for this? What is this delight coming over me, this sheer joy?, me and my heart finally free to feel one another, without distraction . . . interweaving themselves in appreciation and attraction and gratitude, making everything else unimportant.

As if we’ve had this date planned for eons. Ancient Lovers finally meeting again.

Gone missing

My cat Buddy has gone missing again, I haven’t seen him for three whole months. In fact, this time he’s been gone so long that when he comes around he sneaks through the open kitchen door, steals food, and runs off if I call him. He doesn’t even remember that this is his home, where he lived for two years! He’s forgotten that he could just come through the front door without any fear at all and take as much as he pleases.

Similar are we when we’ve been away from the Divine for too long. We take a little inspiration, a little warmth, a loving conversation… then we run off and hide. We don’t stay long.

We’ve forgotten that it’s our home, too.

Tornado

Well, I made it. I’ve faced all manner of whirlwind and danger to arrive, and here I am, standing perfectly in the middle of a small circle, an island in the eye of the hurricane. Here there is only perfect stillness and peace. Here all is quiet and serene.

Outside, well… that’s another matter. Outside reigns confusion, outside the world is spinning in a kind of distorted frenzy, teetering crazily up and down, the air choked with flying bullets, tomatoes, dust, turds. If I even crane my neck slightly and tilt my head out of the safe zone, towards any story of future or past, I risk being swept back into the fray. Then it’s touch and go. At the very least, if I do make it back to this safe haven, I’ll be covered in mess and confusion.

So I’m holding strong in my 2×2 foot square, my mind still as a rock, then something strange happens. Someone asks me how I’m doing.

“Don’t do it,” I hear myself saying, “pretend not to hear them.”

Because to find out how I’m doing, I’m going to have to step outside of my island. I’ll have to venture outside, just to see where I am. It’s like the uncertainty principle in quantum physics – you can either know a) where an atom is, as a point in space–but not in which direction it’s heading, or b) you can see it as a wave–you see the direction it’s moving in–but you can’t say where along the wave the point actually lies. You can’t know both.

So I can know that I am sitting in the present moment, but I can’t find out where I am. And that makes it hard for me to find myself, because we almost always define ourselves in terms of direction (career, relationships, etc.).

Most incredibly – and don’t tell anyone I told you this – from inside that circle, it really no longer matters where I’m going, because all I had to do was get to this central place and then let the tornado guide me where it wants me to go.

Just don’t ask me how I’m doing.