These are excerpt from a little known but important book, The Choice of Emptiness by Jim Ralston.
We’ve published several chapters from this book before (Issue 86). Ralston’s story lives on in me, though; I’m moved, again and again, by his honesty, his passionate concern with real change, which always begin with ourselves.
A collection of essays, interspersed with journal fragments, about a man going through an emotional and spiritual coming-of-age, the book, Ralston says, emerged out of “a very difficult time in my life. My mother was dying. My best friend developed cancer. I was concerned with losing my children, losing m job, losing an intense love relationship. All connections to my past seemed to be disappearing.”
The second edition of The Choice Of Emptiness will be published this spring by the Adler Publishing Company, P.O. Box 9342, Rochester, New York 14604.
Our thanks to Jim Ralston for permission to reprint this.
(Canada — June 12)
— We have been in Canada two week now, and I am just beginning to grow my summer legs. The kids got here immediately, but for a while I felt like an outsider, an intruder into an innocent world. After all the drama of my last years’ life in Frostburg, nature felt to me disturbingly quiet and unconcerned. The sunshine, the wind, the summer shade of green and brown and blue, the wave against the shore, the birds singing at dawn and dusk—everything felt distant, almost boring. I could see these things, and hear them, but I couldn’t feel them. There was no room inside—I was too full of me.
But now I watch myself beginning to soften into her bossom, and I am reminded of nature’s wonderful forgiveness of man’s forgetfulness of her, which is no more than man’s forgetfulness of himself. But I wonder if the patience will last forever, if someday I will come to Canada and she won’t be here anymore.
— There was a windstorm last night that made the lake wild and shook the cabin. This morning Holley and I take a walk and find a fallen nest of baby Orioles, the mother and father buzzing around in futile concern, all their Spring devotion coming to disaster in the crack of a tree limb.
We look inside the nest, while the parent squawk at us from a nearby tree . Three of the babies are dead, two are alive. Holley suggest we put the nest back into the tree. I wonder if it’s possible to mend thing that are broken, but she insists, we do the best we can, removing the dead birds, balancing the nest between the trunk and the first big branch. Immediately the mother and father resume their feeding routine, first one, then the other flying off into the wood and returning with a grub or worm to put inside the surviving mouths. From a short distance, Holley and I watch most of the morning, now feeling a part of the family, and responsible.
After lunch we see the nest has fallen again. This time there is only one bird left inside. The other is gone and so are the parents. We put the nest back into the tree and wait to see what happen. Soon the father returns look briefly inside, then flies over to where Holley and I are sitting in the grass, chirps at us, and flies away. When we see he’s not coming back, we climb up the tree and look into the nest. The bird is dead, with it neck arched back and its mouth open in the feeding position.
Holley ask me if the baby died because the father flew away. I say I don’t know.
— Rereading Walden this morning (again in effort to get more in the woods than I presently am), I am moved by Thoreau’s injunction to simplify, simplify, simplify. He makes it sound so easy, but I know better. It is more a matter of consciousness than style. It is a matter of becoming deeply integrated, deeply comfortable with one’ s innerness.
I have talked a lot about wanting to simplify the details of my life, but the reason I have done so little is that the outside clutter keeps me distracted from my inner tension and confusion. Since I have come to Canada, there is part of every day during which I feel drearily bored, and another part during which I feel restless and irritability welling up inside me. My first inclination is to yell at the kid to relieve the tension (to put it outside me and inside them). But most of the time I see through this dog-kicking before I let myself get away with it. Or the kid will call me on it themselves, particularly Holley, who loathes to be scolded.
(She will say, “What’ wrong Daddy? Don’t you like me?”)
This restless irritability may surface in the morning when I wake up perplexed by dark dreams; it may come in the afternoon when I’m lying on the beach, half bored, tired of reading, tired of thinking; it may come at night when Ty and Holley are at last asleep and I find myself alone with me, and nothing to do. But sure enough, some part of every day, it will be there, reminding me how much I am still unresolved inside, how blocked I am to my flow of energy.
I think the reason I’m willing to stay with these feeling (instead of running away from them, or venting them, or rationalizing them) has to do with a subtle change in my consciousness. Though part of me is still inclined to long for the stimulations and distraction (even the problem) of the cities, jobs, and all that “civilization,” a bigger part of me can’t fool itself now. I know these nagging feelings are inside me, and anytime I stop the “world” to take a look, they will be there and I will be exposed. Whatever of the thousand of ways I choose to distract myself or to anesthetize myself, the boredom, the restlessness, the irritability will be lurking underneath, waiting, demanding to be dealt with.
It now appears that I am almost ready to sit still and look at myself for just who I am. Perhaps this is the true beginning of meditation.
Man does not sprout wings until he is standing on the edge of the abys. Thus spoke Zarathustra.
— Today rains, and the three of us are cooped up in our little cabin, feeding on one another’s irritability. I resent having to make their breakfast, and that starts the day wrong. The space between us gets smaller and smaller, and I feel guilty for my hateful feelings. I can’t find a corner to brood in, where I am out of earshot of their bickering, where I am not stumbling over their toys. I finally call a family meeting to impose some order.
“Oh no,” they both groan.
Holley says, “Daddy, you’re mean.”
I say I’m not mean.
She says, “Your eyes are mean.”
Suddenly I see them myself, from the inside, the hardness, the anger. All inside me. I am exposed. “Okay,” I snarl, limping off to a corner. “Have it your way.”
— I bury my head under two pillows and fall asleep. I dream I’m in the kitchen stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey for dinner. Denise knocks at the back door. She acts very sexy towards me, also cocky, self-assured. I return the facade, and ask her if she wants to stay for dinner. We stuff the turkey together, then put it in the oven and begin to make out, greasy fingers and all. As the kitchen gets hotter, I pull back for a moment and ask her if she’s on the pill. She says, no, but not to worry about it. I say I don’t want any more kid. She insist it’s okay—she uses the rhythm method now to get what she want from men. I wince. “… what she wants from men.” The word prick me like voodoo pins. Still I pretend to be cool. I ask her where in the rhythm she is now, and she laughs.
We eat the turkey drumsticks with our arms entwined, more like arm wrestlers than lovers. Then we make love in some strange fashion that I can’t remember, when I wake up.
—Later, as the afternoon wears on, the rain continues and the cabin shrinks smaller and smaller, until it feel more like a doghouse, or a dollhouse, and we are in all the rooms simultaneously, our arms dangling out the window, our feet pushing through the back door, our knees pressing against the ceiling. So this is Canada, I think. This is the idyllic cabin in the wood. I can’t contain my frustration any longer and begin growling and snapping like a tormented dog. I am bursting with irritability and go howling out into the rain for some space, leaving Ty and Holley behind me crying for my insults.
I take a long run in the rain, barefoot, in conversation with myself, feeling guilty and ashamed, trying to rationalize my hateful feelings and my anger. I blame them on my hunger for some adult companionship, on the lack of female in my life, my sex starvation. I blame my indecision over my job next Fall, the confusion, the uncertainty of it all. I blame my mother for dying. I blame Denise for leaving me. I blame Nature for being so boring. I blame the rain for falling. Anything, but not me. But all the time, every step of the way, the word exposed is 10 sloshing around inside my head. Exposed, exposed, exposed . . . . The rain, the tight quarters are only exposing a part of me I’d rather not look at, a part of me I’ve made a life habit of looking away from. Well, now’s the time. Now’s my chance. Here I am in all my unglory. See me for what I am.
Somewhere along the sixth or seventh mile, it occur to me that self-knowledge is impossible unless there is self-love for it to root in. And that self-love must include those “unsatisfactory” thing about me too. Not only include them, but begin with them. Because what is it to love the nice thing—the patience, the kindness, etc. Everybody loves the “good” about themselves. But if the real value of self-love is to unbind ourselves and bring our lives out into the open (to become whole), then it is the “bad” that must be loved equally with the good, because it is the bad that has gone underground, and thus it i the bad that is dividing me from me. And it will never come to the surface if I’m so judgmental and harsh with it. The first step is to see it for what it is and say okay.
I remember reading in the gospels somewhere that Jesus asked, what is it to love your brother, or your mother, or your friend. Even the hypocrite and sinner love these. The religious man, the whole man, love his enemies too. And how can we love our enemies without until we first love the enemies within? Forgiveness of others comes only with forgiveness of ourselves. Otherwise it is impossible. It is pretense.
Rainsoaked and cold, I turn back toward the cabin with a new sense of the value of the day, in spite of all its trials …. No, because of all its trials. I am still grouchy and a bit sour, but it feels okay now. I am not against myself. I am watching me, getting to know.
— As the afternoon wanes, I see a ray of sunlight peeking through the window. We all three hip hip hurrah. We look outside and see the clouds and rain have blown away—the sky is clear again. We put on our boots and go wading in the huge puddles around the cabin. We play a game of tag, chasing each other through the water and mud, splashing each other and laughing.
At sunset we take a walk to the top of some overgrown sand dunes to watch the sun drop into Lake Huron. The whole world feels refreshed, new. There is a deep contentment in the flowers, the gras, the trees, the birds. I can feel it on the inside too —another mood, another part of life expressing itself. All is well. All is well.
— I wake up in the middle of the night, sweating from a nightmare. I dream Ty and Holley and I are caught in an undertow and are being pulled out into the deep water. I try to save them, but I can’t save them and myself too. Each time I get both of them in my arms, I go under, and then I lose them again. I see their eyes looking at me to save them, to save them, but I don’t have enough arms. Then they disappear. They don’t come up anymore. I scream out to them over the surf, but they are lost. The lake becomes suddenly very still and gray. I wake up with terrible self-hatred and that hollow feeling in my guts that life is all wrong, that life is cheap and ugly. I want to go home, back to Frostburg. I hate it here in Canada.
I fall back asleep and have another dream, this time a conversation with God.
First I ask, “How can you stand to watch it, all this pain?”
The voice says: “I don’t just watch it. It is my pain too.”
“Then DO something, for Christ’s sake.”
“In your moments of happiness, do you also ask for something to be done?”
“No. That’s how life should be.”
“You don’t question your happiness. Don’t question your unhappiness either. Then you’ll be ready.”
“Ready for real life, instead of all this ‘let’s wish.'”
“You’re saying pain has to be part of life?”
“Why don’t some get any then?”
“No one escapes.”
“Why do some get more than other?”
“You always compare when you think. So you never really think at all. Life isn’t a race. There aren’t winners and losers. Half the world is inhaling; half the world is exhaling. No time is ever lost. Give up your clock. Give up your yardstick. Bring your insides into the woods too.”
— Sitting in front of the cabin, warming myself in the morning sunshine and brooding on my dreams, I experience a surprise moment of relaxed energy.
All nature seems infused with light and delicate life. Every time I look up, a bird is flying out of my view, playing hide-and-seek, singing catch me if you can. Two bumblebees circle each other in endless figure eights through the flowering bushes, and a hummingbird treads air to pluck nectar from the Spring blossoms. Meanwhile, a chipmunk, for no apparent reason, runs back and forth from under the cabin to under my chair to under the cabin again, and a brown ant circles the rim of a white wash basin in the grass, where Ty is floating a toy boat.
Everything is so intently minding its own business, yet so involved with everything else. For a few seconds I see clearly that nirvana is now, only to be received. To be in eternity is not to go to another world, but to know where we already are.
This is what it means to be saved by grace. It is nothing to achieve or win, but only to relax into, to accept without effort. Any effort instantly destroys the miracle, like Peter’s walk on the water. When his own efforts become involved, he begins to sink.
— I think my mood fluctuations have become so sharp because I have few ways to get away from myself up here. Almost every day I try to find a reason to go home, and then later I find myself wondering how I might stay in Canada forever.
And in spite of our troubles, the kids and I grow closer. Since we can’t get away from each other, we work our problems through to a conclusion. And I become daily more aware that I have more to learn from them than they from me. I have only knowledge, whereas they have innocence. If there is any “rubbing off” to be done, let it be them on me.
I love their questions too, though I have few answers. Tonight at bedtime Ty asks me why there is sickness in the world. I start to give him some information of germs and viruses, and then I realize that his question is deeper than that. I say I don’t know.
He asks me if I will die sometime.
I say, yes, but probably a long time from now.
He asks me if I’m scared to die.
“Sometimes,” I say.
Holley asks, “After you die, are you born again?”
“You mean as another person? Some people think so.”
“Do you think so, Daddy?”
“I think it might happen that way. Some people say they can remember other lives.”
“Can you remember?”
“I can’t remember.”
“I can remember,” Ty says. “I was a cat.”
Holley says when she comes back, she wants to be a girl again.
“Why a girl?”
“I don’t want an ugly old penis,” she says.
Ty says he wants to be a girl, too. Then when I die, he’ll have a baby, and it will be me.
— I sit up late into the night, listening to the waves on the shore, the wind in the trees, thinking, thinking…. About four o’clock I take a walk down the beach. Something seems to be pushing inside of me. I can hear my heartbeat, and underneath that, another smaller one, like I am carrying a baby inside.
I take off my shoes and feel the cool sand. There is a three-quarters moon about to set over the water. I let the waves wash up over my feet and soak the bottoms of my pants. As the moon gets closer to the water, it squashes into the shape of a football and turns orange. As it drops beneath the horizon, I have another small moment of spontaneous identification, and then the darkness is me.
Walking home. I see a faint streak of white in the eastern sky, and I compose a short poem in my mind.
Only through that narrow slit,
The first thin white of dawn,
Does the SECRET peek,
Then is so quickly gone,
In the broadening light
The colors come.
The world grows bright,
The secret fades away.
For twelve weeks this summer, my son, daughter, and I lived in a cabin in a little woods, a couple hundred yards off the Canadian shores of Lake Huron. It wasn’t exactly a return to primitive living. We had a kitchen sink with cold running water, a Franklin stove for the cool Canada nights, an outhouse that we could flush with a bucket of water…. But it was a return to nature in many ways, a place away from paved roads, radios and televisions, power lawn mowers, brief cases and committee meetings, mapped-out days and structured-up lives, and such. It was a place of song birds and sea gulls, a hundred subtle shades of blues and greens and browns to rest our eyes, a long empty horizon (with no buildings or wires in between) to gaze on at sunset, a steady wash of waves to fall asleep to at night, the expanse of Milky Way to ponder the clear nights we slept on the beach.
It was a barefoot, bareback place to be, sand between our toes and in our bathing suits, lots of outside space to absorb our summer growth, weather everywhere seeping into our bodies, a yellow-green squall rolling into shore and bending the poplar trees and blowing our hair back, endless sunny afternoons soaking into our pores, and clean Lake Huron water to swim and play and renew our lives in.
Now here we are, home again, and it’s always a bit of a shock to me coming home after these retreats into nature and more simple living. Having opened up some quiet spaces inside my own nature, I am amazed to rediscover how much noise and confusion we live with every day, how overstimulated our lives are, even in a “quiet” little town like Frostburg. For a few nights I have trouble sleeping because the noise of the street traffic wakes me up. My ears have opened up again, and I can’t block it out. Only three months before, cars seemed normal enough, but now they puzzle me. I keep wondering why people are driving around so much, or, in the summer, why we are driving around at all. After Canada, cars seems so wasteful of summer air. And so isolating. Why are we closing ourselves off like this, from the birds’ songs, from the warm summer rain, from the August flowers and our next-door neighbors, whom we whiz past with barely a wave or a friendly word. As I sit back on my front porch swing and observe, I can’t help wondering where they are all going, these cars and cars and cars. Where is the hurry? I become lonesome for the waves to rock me to sleep at night.
The first day back, I spend the afternoon walking around the college, to see if there is anything of Canada inside me that I can keep here where I work and live. But campus feels strange too, heavy and listless. All these square and rectangular buildings cornering off the earth, squaring off the clouds they don’t feel right to me now. I ask myself why civilized, bureaucratic man is so obsessed with rectangles in the things he creates. Where is the original model for all these right angles and corners? Nature is all wiggles and curves, or if it takes a geometric shape, it is the circle. One won’t find a rectangle anywhere, except that which is filtered through the mind of man.
And as I sit in the Lane Center and watch the people a bit, the answer comes to me again. The mind of man is the problem. These square buildings and square rooms of square buildings are no more than our own square minds externalized; they are another expression of our resistance to life. We have spent our whole civilization trying to fit the quare pegs in the round holes. But now our perversity has become so common that it has also become normal, and thus difficult to see. You have to be coming home from Canada or some faraway place to see again the strangeness of it all.
For a moment my own mind gets carried away. The people seem extended from the snack bar tables that we sit at, all lined up in rows and four to a side, something like the rows of desks in the classroom or the rows of facts that are filed in our brains. Only a momentary illusion, but is there a real separation between the hand and the briefcase it carries? And these buildings, these tables and chairs and desks—weren’t they once forest trees, mountain rock, seashore sand themselves, and now we have squared them and polished them into the shape of our own inner (air conditioned) lives, through which the real breeze doesn’t blow, into which the rain and sun don’t soak, though we have plenty of showers and soap, fluorescent lights and high priests to keep the dirt and the devil away. I am reminded of the mountain man’s or Indian’s weathered face, as opposed to the pallid professor or to these cosmetic sun tans all around, which look and feel so shallow, and which I now understand you can get without the sun, with chemicals or lamps, take your pick.
For all of these neat, clean corners here, is there anything half so clear as the whippoorwill’s evening song, which I can still hear softly echoing in my ears all the way from Canada? Is there anyplace here for the freedom of an animal, or a child, or for even the fun of a domestic dog or cat? Would they be out of place amidst all this antiseptic professionalism, getting “ahead” in life, going to classes, studying our lesons? In a moment it seems no wonder that we have put the Indian on his remote reservations. Where would he fit, really, inside these scrubbed out rectangles. Or the farmer, with a bit of dung on his shoes. We are all safely tucked inside our cars here too, even unknown to ourselves, mapped out on the architect’s blueprint, following the master plan and pretending very seriously to call it learning and life.
Fatigued with campus, I walk downtown and sit on the Main Street park bench for a while, perhaps looking for a surprise moment of life or even a rough edge somewhere. But it is the same here too, I think, as I watch the cars, the endless lines of cars drive past. Where in the world are they all going, all these driven people? To the grocery? To the hardware? To get their hair done? To do the banking? To drop their kids off for swimming lessons? … It all seems innocent enough, so what’s the trouble? Why are they staring so intently straight ahead? Even when the traffic jam forces them to stop, why are they still watching the road? What are they thinking about? Why don’t they look around a little bit? Everywhere I see this restless tranquility, this mesmerized peace. Is anybody alive here now? In this moment, in this place? Any more than the town drunk sitting on the other end of the bench from me, and half asleep? Or are we all too busy going somewhere, even after we arrive? .
I go to Canada almost every summer, and each year I can get less and less back home. I am coming to deeply suspect these civilized environments (and habits) that we have sunk our roots into, and our homes, and our hopes; to question if they are not really deadly, howbeit slow working poison; to wonder if they don’t isolate us from nature and from each other, and finally from ourselves as well, and far more than we presently imagine.
I am beginning to seriously wonder.
(Michigan -April 19)
— In some strange way, I am the center of the universe, and all life lives through me. Without my ears to hear, the birds do not sing.
I know I am also a grain of sand, stone among stones, but that part is easier for me. What is difficult to embrace is this other half of the truth, that the intake and outflow of my own breath is as great as the rising and setting of the sun, than my unfolding is the meaning of evolution, that my life is of central cosmic significance.
I resist it. I deny it. I reject it as superstitious, proud, egocentric, selfish, unreal, but another voice keeps pushing back at me, almost nagging me into awareness. I am the center of life. The world is a circumference around me. To find God I need to begin my search with my own heart.
What keeps the vision from being egocentric is that it is not the ego, but the self that is central. (Life is not so fascinated with our egos as our egos are fascinated with themselves.) Also this sense of supreme significance is not mine alone, but for each who can awaken himself, find his way out of the mesmerism of culture and rediscover his child within. For as adults, we are not sufficiently tuned into the dimensions (or non-dimensions) of eternity and infinity. We have words for them but they are concepts and not felt things. They only hide our ignorance rather than make us more aware. Culture conditions our minds to think in terms of the finite and temporal and hierarchical —to think, for example, that when a man discovers in himself the seed of God, there’s no more room for another to discover the same truth for himself.
— I begin to see more clearly now. There are two stages of life in which we are truly alive: the first and the last. The first is our childhood innocence, that short period before we are warped away from our original integrity by the forces of culture: schools, churches, governments, languages … and parents too, insofar as they prepare us to adapt to these. The second is the second innocence, sometimes called the second birth, or the wise innocence. Not many find this second life, because most get lost in the vast desert that lies between the fall and redemption, the wasteland of conventions and symbols that we call culture (or, on the individual level, the ego), that we take so deadly serious and so often mistake for life.
It seems that human life has evolved in such a way that our growth patterns include a long barren period lost in ego, lost in culture —a period in which we go through the motions of life but are not quite alive. The religious person is not one who doesn’t get lost, but one who is willing to recognize his lostness and begin to search for the crack in the structure. For once the search is seriously begun, the way out is inevitably found.
Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you.
— Dane’s Marxism, Doug’s libertarianism, God’s World’s vegetarianism, Denise’s woman’s liberation .. . each of these outlooks is quite right, but for its possessor quite wrong in the sense that it provides a covering for a deeper truth of who he is. It becomes a sophisticated form of hiding, curling up inside of ego.
Even our best, most noble causes often serve to keep life tight in the ego circle of operation. In the end, the “liberated” views are only more subtle versions of suburban home, shiny new car, stereo sound systems, college degrees, etc. In the cases of Dane, Doug, God’s World, Denise, it puts them into apparent rebellion against culture, but in comfortable rebellion and still engaged. The transformation (the transcendence) becomes difficult because, as Krishnamurti says, fighting culture from inside culture is like decorating the prison walls. The transformation is stepping outside, seeing through culture, ego, and moving our identification into a larger circle.
— At first it is difficult to see, and then it becomes clear. Culture is not invested in a search for the truth, or enlightenment, or salvation, but in maintaining the status quo. So for the person on the spiritual path (the growing person), culture must become the background of his search. He must disengage, or his efforts will be perpetually caught up in a very small circle going nowhere. Culture represents man’s collective fear of having to move on to the next stage of his evolution, the same as the ego represents our individual fear. We are lost inside lost. Ego exists in a cultural framework. These are mutually supporting limited viewpoints that make it very difficult to see, to even glimpse, the larger truths.
— I think about my own clothing, my layers of protection against being naked. One thing surely is my niceness. I’m not so nice, so patient and forebearing, as I act. My smile is not always intrinsic, but many times another posture (or perhaps just a habit) to get approval and acceptance, to feel that I belong to life, which I also mistake for culture most of the time.
My intellectualism is also a kind of clothing, mostly —a child of ego, and not at all the same thing as awareness (thinking and seeing). Fortunately both the intellectuality and the niceness are falling away, though I sometimes feel confused and alone (naked) without them.
— I knew it before, somewhere, but today I know it better, deeper. The ego is not the self. At most it is a smaller aspect of the self sharply attuned to the survival instinct. But at worst, it is more like a parody of a deeper identity. It is the self adjusted to culture and alienated from nature. It is the smallest circle within an infinity of circles, which are also me.
And as the ego is a parody of the self, so are the creations of ego parodies: the schools are parodies of learning, the churches are parodies of religion, marriage is a parody of love (or partnership), sex is a parody of sensuous surrender, etc.
— The matter is simple enough: to be in rebellion against God is not at all what we are subtly taught it is, a kind of bad citizenship. Rather, just the opposite, to be in rebellion against God is to be invested in culture’s values, to believe in them. (Even a desire to reform them is a kind of believing.) Rebellion against culture in the sense of rebelling against believing in culture (taking it deadly serious) is the seed of the religious life. It is the first step, not the fruit, but the seed.
I am beginning to better understand what Thoreau meant when he said that his greatest regret was his good behavior. What possessed him to behave so well, he asks himself.
—How simple can I make it without losing the insight back into complexity. Culture is the established attitudes and life styles and outlooks that are handed down from one generation to the next. Originally, as with primitive cultures, they were more or less identical to nature, and these hand-me-downs fit fairly comfortably, even if they were the beginnings of clothing. As cultures became more sophisticated and removed from nature, these graftings became more troublesome to fit onto new people, the babies who had the nerve to continue to be born into the world in a primitive nakedness.
In time it was not only necessary to graft habits and life styles, but a whole new sense of who we were that could support all of this external weight. This became our ego, which is our survival instinct adjusted to the strange rules of civilization, blown out of all proportions to its original size in our life, and abstracted and removed from concrete reality. (Anxiety, for example, the plague of modern man, is unfocused fear, or the fear of being afraid.)
In an analogy then, culture is to mankind what ego is to man, a tyrant and dictator. The more sophisticated the culture, the more egoistic its citizens must be, and the deeper we must bury our lost child within, our original human nature.
— If we look closely, we will see that most of the time what a culture says about itself will have little or no correspondence to what it is. For example, culture in the form of the various churches has expropriated religion away from life (away from nature, the creation). The churches say, you want religion? Here, we already have that worked out for you. Here is the “house” of God. Here are the words to pray. These are the feelings to get close to him. Here is the ritual for worship …. But if we penetrate beneath the surfaces, we see that culture, and the church as its agent, is anything but religious. It is greedy, self-interested, narrow-minded, worldly (and not worldly in the sense of loving the creation, but in the nonsense of dominating it, having power over it, raping it).
There are so many other contradictions. We call ourselves peace loving while we make war and produce weapons of destruction to sell to others to make war. Or we say we value individuality while our schools and factories and bureaucracies produce automatons and despise individuality. What we have on the one hand is what the culture is, and on the other hand the culture’s myth of itself, what it would like to pass itself off as being. And the same is true for the individual. In saying what culture is, we say what we are also, as its creator and creations. We contain the exact same contradiction and inconsistencies within our selves. At least until we are free, until we have our new birth, which is the exit out of the womb of culture into a new universe.
— This is the central conflict in life, the conflict between culture and nature (between what “should be” and what is, between control and spontaneity, sophistication and innocence, ego and self). The fall of man is his loss of innocence to culture, which become his clothing to hide behind, to cover his nakedness, the bare truth about himself. The clothing can come in a thousand colors and patterns, but in the end it is still clothing, a hiding. We may claim that the clothing has a function (i.e., to keep us warm), but its real meaning is to hide our nakedness.
Man’s redemption begins with his return to nature, his own nature, his innocence. A cultural man, we will never be free. Culture is limiting, prescribed, imitative. It works from the outside-in. You want to be thi skind of man, or that kind of man, it says. Then wear this clothing, or that clothing. On the other hand, nature is inside-out, limitless, infinitely creative. Jesus was illustrating this when he said that if we have the faith of a grain of mustard seed, we can move mountains. The mustard seed, the smallest seed, barely visible to the naked eye, unfold (explode) into the greatest tree.
And if this small seed contain within itself such large fulfillment (without thought, without effort), what are the possibilities of regenerated man?
—The question becomes, how do we become aware of the limitation culture imposes on us from inside those limitations? How do we see through blind eye? How do we begin to unclothe ourselves to return to our original nakedness, when we are taught that the clothes are us?
It would be hopeless, I think, unless we had an intuition (an inner voice), and a strong one, that told us something was wrong, something is amiss. Not just a little bit wrong, but deeply wrong with our live as they are. Something is wrong in the way we do business, in the way we consume our “fun” and pleasure, in the way we “love,” in the way we parent, in the way we build our houses, in the way we wake up in the morning, in the way we go to bed at night—in everything and anything we do, small or big, something is missing the mark, something is wrong. And no amount of tinkering, hanging one lover for another, or one job for another, or one house for another, or one pastime for another is going to change the wrongness of who we are.
Once we are able to respond honestly to this intuition (form it into an insight), once we truly see that our live depend on unlayering down to our original selves, unclothing ourselves of the falseness, then we will begin. There will be no choosing involved; we will just begin the journey. The only choice in it will be whether to live or die, and I think people rarely choose to die, rather die out of ignorance and pain, reaching for life in the wrong place.