At One


 Three years ago, I listened to the poet, David Whyte, friend of the late Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue, for a full day at the University of British Columbia. I felt attentive and alert the entire time. My attention never slackened. 

 David made it easy to be rapt with attention. Why? Because I felt his state of oneness with his poetry. He wasn’t merely reading or reciting poems. He was somehow at one with them. I felt his integrity and wholeness.

 David was so immersed in poetry that it radiated out of him. At one with his subject matter, David Whyte, had the effect of bringing into play that energy, which, when felt and shared, creates unity. He created an atmosphere where strangers become friends for life.  

 David, coming from a background in science, and having worked closely with business people, seems to me to be as able as anyone to analyze and dissect in a left-brain mode. But it was plain that that part of him, such a dominate force in many, bows continually in a freeing submission to his heart. 

 My sense of David Whyte is of a man with a finely tuned intelligence in harmony with the heart. 

 Abraham Heschel, the Jewish theologian, similarly lived in such a state of integration and wholeness, at one with himself, at one with God. He lived in a state of wonder, a mode of apprehension, that he called "radical amazement.”

 Surely, to choose to live one’s life with a sense of “radical amazement,” is a better option than most!

 Perhaps you have heard it said that the clearest thinking is when one is in such a state of deep contemplation, radically amazed! To think at this level, is the human being at his most authentic, for his thinking is arising from a state of wonder, awe and mystery.  

 John Henry Newman, the Catholic theologian, also understood and lived this felt oneness, this level of integration, this state of knowing. He therefore said that "real apprehension involves not only reason but the imagination and the affections.

 Thus to know truly is not merely to know about something or to know of something, but to be at one with it, to be somehow embraced and graced, to the point of becoming at one with the Ultimate. 

 In such a luminous state, it is reported that the subject and object dichotomy vanishes. One is no longer aware of one’s separateness from the Divine. ‘I no longer live but Christ in me.’ 'I am the Father are one.’ 

 The sense is of being transparent to transcendence. All the barriers have been busted and the unobstructed Divine energy now flows freely.  

 Thus smitten, the human being is humbled so deeply that when finally he can speak of the experience, he can only say: 'I am not worthy of such knowledge.’ It is too wonderful for me.’  

 Now, I am sharing examples of men who either lived, or are living their lives in a profoundly integrated state, a state of congruence, a condition of being at one.

 In such a state of inspiration, it is not possible to be stiff, dry, cold, rigid, contentious or argumentative. Elevated beyond space and time, there has been a breakthrough into another realm.

 In the presence of someone who lives in this zone of knowing, there is a sense of barrier-breaking immediacy. Such blessed persons are the bearers  of a moist and tender knowledge.  

 This is a reference to That knowledge which is called by various names, the Dao, the Logos, or Atman. These are terms used to describe the indescribable, which is that essence, or heart of reality, sometimes simply called That "from which intelligence derives." (Huston Smith, The Way Things Are, p. 195)  

 Intelligence as here understood has little, if anything to do, with the ability to be sharp and quick. It is not about mere cleverness and the ability to deliver knock-out blows against all comers. It is on an entirely different level.  

 People who dwell in this sacred space, will avoid party talk or pub talk, or verbal jousting, at all costs. They have grown weary of the unfeeling exchanges that go on between people who disagree and who do not listen to each other. As Heschel once said: "When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people."  

 Thus we have here a definition of the truly intelligent person as someone whose life reflects “That intelligence that produces everything.” (Smith, p. 195) He is a channel or vehicle of that knowledge.

 Such a one, I will repeat again, lives his life in a radically open way, continually aware of a deeper dimension of energy pouring through him. He lives in that sacred dimension of knowledge, allowing That to flow, unobstructed and unhindered.          

 So what it means 'to know,’ to be truly intelligent, involves an openness to Being itself, to the Ultimate, to God, which is an encounter with Being that is a charged and inspired intimacy.    

 A former English Literature Professor, Swami Shankarananda, of the Shiva Ashram in Melbourne, writes that there was a time in his life when he was known as “the quintessentially rational man," (Swami Shankarananda, Happy for No Good Reason, p. 21) 

 Perhaps we could say that he was at the time something of a 'one-dimensional man,’ which is like, not a few, who have not yet learned how to live in the greater and deeper levels of their being. They are stuck in their heads.

 This is a constricting and confining state. People living thus sometimes demonstrate an ability to run others into the ground with their arguments. And so they tend to have a disturbing and stifling effect rather than an inspiring one. Those around them are often cut off from the possibility of intuited discoveries. 

 The one-dimensional man has the effect of clipping your wings as he takes the mystery, music and poetry out of life. This is because the stream of spiritual spontaneity, joy, delight and wonder is dried up and damned at the core of his life. His limited way of knowing, left unchecked, will at least choke and sometimes strangle the people he meets.

 Shankarananda lived in this limited state of mind until the day when he met an inspired man who so clearly lived on an entirely different and deeper level or plane of knowing. 

 In his presence, Shankarananda, a word master, could not even speak. He felt his own emptiness and lack in the presence of the sage. 

 But instead of being threatened by the inspired man, he chose to search for what was missing in his own life.

 The result was that in time,"the quintessentially rational man" became a monk in whose presence people to this day cannot help but laugh and cry tears of joy. 

 Swami Shankarananda, in his book, Happy For No Good Reason, distinguishes between what he calls his first education and his second education.

 His first education was about “exploring the outer world in detail.” This was his conventional education, the effect of which was to become “embellished,” but not “transformed.” 

 A conventional education, says Shankarananda, leaves out the inner life, and any emphasis upon the necessity of inner work. 

 The Swami’s second education, begun after he had met the sage, was less about "science, technology, facts, events and history.” It had to do with learning wisdom and empowerment. Its bedrock, says Shankarananda, is meditation. 

 As I relate Shankaranada’s experience to our own, I wish to say that we can so easily, I think, tend to live everywhere but in our own deep knowing. We can live somehow separated from the power and energy of our souls, which lie buried and dormant, deep within us.

 Out of touch with that dimension, as St. Nikolai states: “People carry on foolish conversations as soon as they move away from Your Presence, my Wisdom.” (Prayers by the Lake, Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich p. 160.)

 Conversations that go on without that essential, inspiring and informing sense of soul, tend towards pointlessness and foolishness, a mere filling up of empty space with noisy chatter, or a competitive one-upmanship, arguing about this or that.  

 Thus disconnected from our inner knowing, we really have nothing to say, though we may talk a lot. The talk is empty, for it isn't the overflow of a rich soulfulness, but arises rather from restlessness and agitation.

 Says Nikolai: "They have slipped away from You, my Joy, and therefore engage in foolish discussions.” (Nikolai, p. 163)   

 How can we avoid slip-sliding away from the warmth and glow of living and being in the heart of reality? 

 A daily climb up St. Teresa’s ladder is in order. It's the way to go, to find that inner dimension of experience, neglected by most in our day and age.

 Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Carmelite nun, taught her students a clear description of a possible spiritual ascent into the soul’s depths, into deeper and deeper levels of knowing.  

 There is first all, according to Teresa, as the inner plunge begins, a prayer of recollection. This is the first stage of a spiritual ascent towards deep knowing. It involves a deliberate, active and determined effort to collect oneself, to bring oneself together. 

 She calls attending to the soul in this way, "cultivating a garden from a very barren soul, full of weeds.”

 The weeds that block and clog the life of the soul are our many ‘tearing thoughts.' These need to be uprooted, pulled out and cast away. Space must be cleared for the soul to burst into life! St Teresa calls this a “great labour." 

 For me, the process of attending to the garden of my soul involves a daily practice of sitting on a meditation cushion.

 Usually I wake up in the early hours of the morning and plant myself in front of a table populated with colourful, holy icons. Upon lighting a candle, I begin to repeat holy words to give the mind a focus, coordinating these with the breath. 

 Teresa says that after a while, as in my experience, after thirty-five minutes or so, there is an entry into quiet. The soul begins to rest in a profound contentment in God.

 In this state, says Teresa, there is a sense of “unutterably sweet, peaceful joy and contentment.” The sense of quiet is a relaxed and receptive state of being. Theresa calls this a taste of real prayer through a deepening state of meditation.

 A third level of ascent into the soul’s depths is described by Teresa as the prayer of union. The soul sinks into a "celestial inebriation" and "floats in the purest and highest bliss.” 

 All that remains at this level of knowing, is a yearning for God. At this level of the soul’s ascent, there is but the slightest activity.  

 There is then, fourthly, the prayer of ecstasy, a state in which all inner activity has ended. This is a state of total immersion. Teresa compares this state to like being flooded by “heavy rain.” 

 Teresa of Avila calls this fourth state of ecstasy, a “highly favoured” state of prayer to be in. “Love,” she says, “continually bubbles up” at this level of experience. The soul is being soaked in the water of God’s grace.

 St. Teresa’s ladder of ascent into the soul’s depths is a reminder than we are capable of levels of spiritual experience far beyond the normal and everyday. 

 We were made to be at one with Him who calls our restless selves into union with Him.