I was part of a religious organization called Subud in my early twenties. At the time, I really needed something to ground me. It was a less than perfect environment because of the imperfections of the leaders. I imagine this is true of any religious group to some extent. We learned how to speak in tongues, often in a language that resembled Arabic. Eventually, the group’s dysfunction caused me to leave and I’ve never regretted it, though I still do speak in tongues at times.
The high point of our local group was for me a man who quickly became a significant friend. This is odd for men–to have friendship with another man on a spiritual plane. It has only happened once or twice in my life. With women it is natural. With men, rare.
He told me that I had made my weaknesses into strengths, a statement which I still ponder at times. Also, that we were members of this group as a way of atoning for our abuse of sex and power in this or previous lives. I think he was right about this. I had been opened to the true nature of reality too quickly by way of drugs, as had many of my generation, and the result was an obsession with power and sex that destroyed our connection to god.
It is the supreme tragedy of my generation. We could have done so much and, in the end, did so little.
I was a project manager and spent time with everyone in the small, telecom corporation I was part of. Two of the software developers doing diagnostic programs for a particular computer were great talkers, borderline competent, and had motivational posters on the walls in the space they shared. I often thought of the disparity between how they projected themselves and what they could actually accomplish, though one of the posters continues to stay with me to this day…obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal, or as my freshman English prof and mentor would say, the brass ring.
I roped this great and loyal man into helping me with my first novel, whose first draft was borderline competent. Without a hint of sarcasm, he called it kaleidoscopic. He really wanted to help. Somewhere near the tenth version, he said, “Just a little further and you will touch the brass ring.” At that moment he was more of a father to me than my own father. Only later would I discover that he had hundreds of sons and daughters. I was only one of many.
Recently someone said this to me, “Observe yourself without judgment.” Just that.
I had told her about the judgments I constantly make, after understanding that hard and fast judgments about myself and others are, in fact, thought distortions because they don’t include context. Context is everything. Most of our judgments stem from prejudice and create a false context I had said. And this was her response.
After practicing this for a period of time, my mind started coming unmoored and I had a minor satori. It was almost zen-like. Practicing observation without judgment leads to freedom and anyone can do it.
Another of Werner’s aphorisms that I particularly liked was this: Want it to be the way it is. Like the others, it sounds simple on its face. It’s a kind of anti-prayer. Instead of wanting god to change things for the better, you tell yourself to feel the full force of reality and get on with it. It is like a version of the Serenity Prayer. If you can’t change it, deal with it.
Over the years, however, I’ve come to realize that this saying doesn’t really make sense. It is impossible to know anything with enough certainty to change or accept it. Reality is not binary. Our perceptions can shift on a dime and are often beyond our control.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t have control at times. We do, but much less than we think. We are a bunch of contradictions held together by a very deep core of knowing, and, as such, mysteries. The sad part of living is that we put a false veneer of simplicity and control over everything. We constantly judge ourselves and others and imagine those judgments are true.
One of my favorite Werner Erhard aphorisms is this: Life works when you keep your agreements. From what I’ve heard and read, Werner wanted things his way, and I sometimes thought this expression was also a form of control. You know, Get off it! You said you were going to do it, now do it!
To me, this epigram is ambiguous for two reasons (1) I am not enlightened (as Werner briefly was), and (2), there are so many agreements in our lives we are unconscious of, or barely conscious of, that I couldn’t possibly manage them all. It’s a great expression though—pithy, ironic, and true—a koan.
Anyway, over time, I boiled it down to something much simpler, something I could get my head around. Here’s my way of saying it: Life works when you stop feeling sorry for yourself.