Morality: what Goodness has to do with healing

I began my studies of the nondual with the intent to heal myself and the world. Surely, I thought, healing has much to do with doing good and being good. But from early on I had questions about where morality fits into a nondual scheme of things.

I sensed I had a moral compass that turned me toward right motivation, right discernment, even if that was not always enough to propel me into action. And I felt “bad” when I did something “wrong.”

But the nondual seemed to hold out something greater than my understanding of “right and wrong” or “good and evil.”

 

Childhoods lessons in right and wrong: I’ve thought a lot about how I first “learned” what it means to be a good person, to tell right from wrong. Religion had little to do with it. My father was a trial lawyer who took on hard-luck righteous-cause clients, cheated on my mother and tried doggedly to remain “friends” with her.

“Honesty”  in my home was deeply mixed up with privacy and poisonous secrecy.

I rarely took inspiration, guidance, or direction from rules. Rules were made to be bent, if not broken. Both were clearly best done out of plain sight. By the time I was in elementary school I lied to avoid getting into what I feared was bigger difficulty. I stole change from my mother’s purse and Jokers – and only Jokers – out of  decks at Woolworths to add to my trading card collection: I reasoned that whoever bought the deck could play gin rummy without the Joker. I knew I was wrong. That was not enough to stop me.

I often chose the right thing because I liked the way I felt – not merely an absence of guilt and not a smugness at “being right,” not even some parental acknowledgment but – well, there was some vague yet meaningful emotional reward.

There was no religious observance in my house, and no talk of God. I was sent to Hebrew school and remember having to recite the Ten Commandments as part of my Confirmation training at age sixteen. They were dry as dust. The view that the “mitzvot” of the Torah were binding on me seemed quaint, except maybe for murder – a heretical position even for a Reform Jew. It was decades before I would come to trust the workings of the world, of God as Good.

Nevertheless I was well-mannered (for which upbringing I am especially grateful in our uncivil times). I was useful, courteous and cheerful (three of the ten Girl Scout Laws I pledged to obey). I colored inside the lines.

Since I spent most of my life until my mid-thirties with people who looked like me and thought like me, my perspective on right and wrong was never seriously challenged.

 

A limited relationship with reality makes for a flawed moral compass: With the help of strangers – that is, people who at first were strange to me, who looked and thought and behaved differently. With the help of teachers and role models, religious, spiritual and secular, I did develop a moral compass that I trusted, but that was not always trustworthy. It remained flawed and limited by many defenses and fears that were not yet even visible to me. There were so many parts of me and the world that I had no relationship with at all. Hence it was a moral compass designed to align with my selectively filtered aspects of reality.  It was not true enough to keep me from being in denial in ways that fundamentally injured even those who were dear to me. This compass was True North only within the boundaries of my limited reality.

It has turned out that the key to moral maturity and trustworthiness has been the practice of waking up to one filter after another, one preference after another. The practice of coming into relationship with more and more parts of myself and the world. Of ceasing to turn away from, turn aside, and instead turn more and more directly into life, into discomfort, suffering, pleasure, joy. Nor is there an end point to this practice. It demands persistence and necessitates places of temporary refuge.

 

The Very Good does sometimes appear: This Very Good is the something that the nondual held out to me, greater than my understanding of “right and wrong” or “good and evil.” There are times when I am able to access a Totality of self that recognizes, re-cognizes right action: moments of brilliant clarity. Life quite simply parts in its direction and moves on, nourished.  How does this happen? It is, despite all appearances, the mystery of our inherent Goodness, of the inherent Goodness of creation: And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was Very Good (Genesis 1:31.)

And when I am not so able? Well-tested codes of behavior, it turns out, are essential to my doing good and being good after all. They support my practice and continue to help me to reflect, discern, and act accordingly.

 

The intent to heal: We each of us come into this world in a messy act of separation we call birth. If we are fortunate we attach to a nourishing adult, experience life as more trustworthy than not. We separate again and grow into our own wholeness, fully individuated and connected with our fellow humans. This adult may not be our parents, but a teacher, an uncle or aunt, a babysitter, a mentor.

More likely our early wounding takes us on a circuitous journey where we are pulled forward by our soul knowledge of the Totality of who we are, a soul knowledge of the Goodness of which we are made, and a soul intent to heal and awaken.

From the perspective of Kabbalah, the world into which we are born is  made of Goodness, is also broken, and also has an intent to heal and awaken. The world does not heal and awaken in spite of us.

The power of the world to heal and awaken depends on the Totality of each of us and all of us together who make up the body of the world.

As we each continue to invite in every single part of ourselves and grow into the Totality of who we are – as we become more and more who we already are – we cultivate a trustworthy True North. We grow in our capacity to marry our personal intent to heal with the world’s intent to heal. We marry our intent that the world not destroy itself with the intent of the world to heal. A totality of us within the body of the world.

Then, in the words of Suzuki Roshi, society and culture “grow out of us.”

An antidote to the excesses of the day

This week I offer

an antidote

to certain excesses:

Truth

אֱמֶת

Pronounced: Eh-met

Read right to left, it is spelled Aleph – the 1st letter of the Hebrew alphabet

Mem – the middle letter of the Hebrew alphabet

Tav, the final letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Truth is One Singular Thing from Beginning to Middle to End.

Show me One True Thing and I am yours forever.


 

More on Important Words: http://alifeofpractice.com/nondual-kabbalistic-healing/timeless-eternal-words-that-root-and-bloom-in-my-being/

Instructions to a gardener: know your gesture, praise life

I’ve been taking instruction from weedy plants now for some time.

Dandelions tell me where the topsoil is depleted of nutrients.

Blackberries and creepers teach me close and diligent observation and pruning.

Plantains reveal the paths that heavy rains travel across the surface of our back yard,  a low point into which the whole block drains.

Every  plant – and every human being – makes its characteristic gesture.

The plants remain single-minded in their praise-fest of life.

We humans, not so much.

 

Instructions to a gardener

by Sara Eisenberg

 

Let the dandelions

root

and carry buried nutrients to my soil

surface.

 

Give the thorny blackberries room to spread, increase their fruiting.

 

Let-be the creepers to shade

an interior

life.

 

Prune

the

mind.

 

Follow the plantains as they

follow the

water

path.

 

Every green thing is pre-

occupied with,

gestures us towards

redemption.


More praise for the plants: http://alifeofpractice.com/musings/915/

More on spring plants for cleansing: http://alifeofpractice.com/herbalism/choose-a-spring-cleanse-thats-right-for-you/

More poetry: http://alifeofpractice.com/poetry/still-life-with-cat-2/

 

 

The power of seeing exactly what is in front of you

There are consequences to not seeing exactly what is in front of me, whether it’s invasive bamboo or human need.

Bamboo-sprouting season has arrived. Practically-speaking, this involves a daily excursion to the rear of our property, Felco pruner in hand, to snip each new shoot flush with the ground. At the peak, I’ll find fifteen or twenty. If I miss a day, the next morning the garden will host a handful of 3-foot “sprouts.” If I miss the next day too, the shoots will have gone from soft to hard – hard enough to require a chain saw to take them down.

The idea here is to hold the line on the advancing edge of this highly invasive bamboo grove, which starts three houses down the block from us, to limit this grass to the helpful windbreak that it offers against storms that most frequently blow in from the northwest.

 

AT TIMES I can look right at a rising stalk of bamboo and miss seeing it, in spite of its distinctive shape and its reddish-brown color standing out among all the shades of spring green.

SOMETIMES we can become so accustomed to a chronic symptom that it disappears from view. It becomes the norm. The way we “normally” feel.

MANY TIMES we can live so deeply from within our own story that we forget it is merely our own way of making order and finding meaning in our lives. We just think: this is the way the world is, the way our life is.

MOST TIMES we forget that what we see through our near-sighted, far-sighted, or color-blind sight is a matter of our own limited vision. We mistake this limited vision for the way the world looks.

AND MOST TIMES we live in a trance of shifting identities. Practice is a means to proactively invite in awakening from this trance. Here are a members of the cast of characters who showed up this week as I practiced inviting in the parts of me that showed up. The lapsed calligrapher and the lapsed dancer. The one who mourns the lapsed dancer. The boundary-crosser. The hit-and-runner. The Wandering Jew. The one who is certain she eats to live and does NOT live to eat. I may instinctively reach for the psycho-spiritual equivalent of my Velcro pruner, but no: every part of me, attractive or no, annoying or no, is invited in to take its place among the whole of me.

Other awakening moments come by grace, gently or fiercely. Life shakes me gently awake with its beauty or poignance. Or my eyes fly open when life hauls me up short or shakes me by the scruff of the neck. Then I remember to question my own narrative so that I can see what is right there – whether it is a fresh bamboo stalk, a skinned knee, my own bogus identity, or a look on the face of a loved one I have failed to meet.

I am needed for bamboo patrol for only three-four weeks. Questioning the ways I impose my story on the world, so that I can tend properly to what is before me: that’s year-round and life-long.