22 - Energy in the Center - Part 1: Energy in Transformation
I suppose we could start anywhere, in explaining how this God-energy works in all our parts. But I’ll start with where God started with me. Remember, we’ve been talking about awakening to the energy of God in all our parts as a new kind of deepening sensitivity. I’ve also tried to make it clear how and why this awakening can, at first, feel awkward and painful. I’ve described it like an ever-expanding container of self, or like maturing from baby to adult, and talked about it in terms of a "Reveal and Heal" process. I also said it was like a baby being born, a seed being planted, or dying and coming back to life. It certainly felt like dying when I went through my breakdown. There were times I felt like I really was. It still feels that way sometimes. Of all the metaphors used to describe the process of personal transformation, I think death works the best. But it’s also the one we run from the most. No body wants to talk about death. It’s a bad word in our culture, because we’ve tried so hard to ignore it, all the way to the grave. But so many cultures in the past had well developed systems and metaphors built around death in more positive ways. Most cultures dealt with the reality of death as a natural and good part of life, from the beginning of life to the end. These cultures taught about a good and bad kind of death, and they worked hard to explain the path the lead to both. Christianity did this with the ideas of heaven and hell. Western Christianity oversimplified that as a place in the afterlife, something we didn't need to think about except long enough to repeat a salvation sentence and get dunked in some water. As a result, every part of western culture, including religion, has done more to ignore and shy away from death instead of embracing it as a gift. I know how strange that may sound, but stay with me, because this is going to get good.
As I’ve already said, going through my breakdown felt like dying. But I don’t mean that in some figurative or detached sense. In the first weeks following my breakdown, I really felt like I was nearing the end. It was more than some phycological or emotional effect, more than just a pervasive thought in my mind or feeling in my body. I literally felt the weight of death. It was like a dark cloud descended over me and sucked all the life out of me. I felt like an old man, creeping along the last few miles, watching the fuel gage of life hover just above empty, waiting for the moment when the needle would finally fall. I could describe it as a kind of oppressive hopelessness, but whatever the words, I just had this heavy sense that I was facing my last days. That was over four years ago. And guess what. I didn’t die. In fact, I’ve never felt more alive. But it was important to face that death. It was actually an amazing starting point for the new life that was coming next, though I didn’t know that at the time. Throughout these last four years, I’ve had a lot of similar moments that have pushed me towards a kind of death in order to become more alive. Death, we could say, is the best kept secret of great transformation. I think that’s quite shocking information, but surprising since it was one of the central ideas of the main religion of western civilization for over two thousand years. But I think it’s been more recently that we’ve lost the beauty of death, and seen it only as a problem to solve instead of the solution to our problems.
I read an interesting story a few years ago about a set of wealthy entrepreneurs pouring money into lifespan research. Basically, they were trying to crack the code of biological death, in order to figure out how to beat it. Death, in our culture, is a problem to solve. It’s also true that we really don’t know why we die, from a purely biological stand point. Not that we don’t understand the biological process that eventually leads to death, but that we don’t know why it happens. It’s like a switch gets flipped in the body one day, and things stop working the way their supposed to, and no one knows why. But my question, and the question of any good religion, is why would anyone want to live forever in a broken world? I understand wanting to live forever, and avoiding death, but what if the life we’re living is already a kind of death? Why would we want to prolong it? What I’m trying to say is that I think it’s much more important to figure out how to live life well, no matter how long we have, than to keep our bodies from dying without ever figuring out what life is really for. If we did our homework, we’d find out that life is meant for dying, and then we wouldn’t waste time trying to stop it, because dying is the best thing that could ever happen to us. How is death the best thing we could ever experience? Good question. Let’s get into it.
Sure, I could start with the whole, “when you die you get to go to heaven” line, but that would be too predictable and cliché. What I’d really like to start with, then, is a tree. Not just any tree. The tree my three kids and I saw on our last hike through the woods near our house, which had fallen over during the high winds of a recent storm. It’s not like we could have avoided that tree. The root system was standing up sideways about ten feet in air, exposing a huge gaping hole in the ground where the roots had recently been. It was a massive ball of dirt with rooty fingers pointing higglety pigglety every which way like white carrots poking up backwards through the ground. I can’t help but think about just how cozy those roots had been in the deep, dark, earth just a few days ago. But this once thirty-foot-tall pine tree was laying sideways, now only a few feet off the ground in. If trees could talk, or have facial expressions, I think this tree would been wide eyed and open mouth in a gasp of shock and disbelief. And my kids, scrambling along the path had stopped in wonder too, paused to look at this once magnificent tree now so fully humbled. They were quite intrigued, asking what happened, and wondering why the tree had fallen down. My socially intuitive five-year-old daughter even expressed her deep sadness at the tree’s death. I was able to lift the mood of the moment by explaining that the tree hadn’t really died, but that it would eventually just get recycled into the new life of another plant or tree. But even on a deeper level, the atomic particles in that tree had not ceased to spin, they were just currently engaged in a long, slow process of change, of what we might call dying and getting reborn, but in what could also be called the process of transformation. It’s the deepest message of the whole world around us; of changing seasons, planting seeds, melting ice, rain storms, and even human frailty. And the message is that the apparent fatality of life is really the key to immortality, because nothing really dies, it just keeps moving in a never-ending cycle of becoming new over, and over, and over again. Transformation is all about the beauty of rebirth, the reality of leaving something old and becoming something new, the process of adaptation and evolution. This message is built into the energy of the universe, but it is a deeper message we cannot hear when we don’t understand the full extent of all that we are, that we are not just a mind and a body, but so much more. It’s that so much more, as I’ve already said, that grounds our more mortal self in our immortal self, and allows us a view of reality where we truly know nothing ever dies. It is the fullest picture of this transformation process that helps us see beyond the first step of death in order to understand it’s beauty and gift, to see that death is never the final stop, but just a necessary step in the journey of resurrection, which was the central message and metaphor Jesus himself tried to teach. If we can’t come to terms with the necessary first step of death, we’ll never get through the burial stage and on to the next step of new life. We will never truly experience transformation when we’re running full tilt from the very thing that instigates the whole process, which is death. When we begin to reconnect to the eternal energy of God in the world, we begin to hear a very different message than that of our superficial, external, body-based culture. We can begin to hear, beneath the message of “grab as much of life as you can, while you can, because you’re going to die,” the deeper message of, “slow down, settle down, you have all the time you need, things are only going to get better.” It is the message of life verses the message of death. Ironically, the message of life is to take hold of death and let it do its work, while the message of death is to avoid death in every way until we no longer can, and only face it when it’s too late.
About five years ago I reconnected with a girl I’d been close friends with in grade school. We’d gone to church together, been in bell choir and church musicals together, and I’d really developed a good elementary school crush on her. When we reconnected, I found out that she was no longer a Christian. She’d become an Atheist. I was rather surprised, but did not take the tact of trying to attack or discredit her view. We did have a few conversations about the likelihood of God’s existence and all that. The discussion lasted over a few weeks, via social media, and ended with this question from her. Ironically, it was a question about death. “If I walked into your church,” she said, “and told you that I was afraid to die, what would be your response.” My response was, “the very fact that you fear death proves that it’s not really real.” I’m not sure I gave a very good answer, but I can say that both the question and answer do point to an important truth. It’s not that death isn’t real. It’s that what we think of as death isn’t really death. It’s really life turning into more life. We think of death as a final conclusion to a finite existence. But death is actually the process of revealing those things in us which are holding us back from the next transition to that larger container of self, and that’s why the beginning of the process must feel like dying, even though it’s going to lead to an eventual rebirth. There actually is something in us which must die, but it is never the essence of who we are, but the auxiliary attachments of the false self which are holding us back. When it comes to death, the only part of us which must die is that part that really wasn’t us to begin with. The part of us that must die, in order to enter into life more fully, is the ego-centric self. This is the false self we have created in order to avoid the vulnerability we thought would kill us, but which has the power to reconnect us back to the Divine energy of all life. Death is a gift, precisely because it kills in us that which is killing us, that which is keeping us from new life. Death actually liberates us from death, but only as we stop running and turn to embrace it. But I can tell you, it takes a strong experience to get us to that place. It can often take something like a breakdown. That’s what it took for me, and why it felt like dying. All the ways I’d learned how to cope with my own sensitivity to a dysfunctional world were completely broken. The lesson that I had to learn, in the breaking of my those mechanisms, was that those were the real thing putting me to death, and the sensitivity I was running from actually had the power to bring me back to life. It’s been a long journey out of that broken place, and it’s landed me in continued lessons of dying, as I’ve had to deal with the ways I try to manage my life in stead of surrendering things to God. Letting go of my need to self-protect and control feels scary. The ego-centric self can't imagine anyone else making life happen for it but itself. In that paradigm, if I’m not drawing the energy of life to me, then it won’t come. Surrender is learning to leave behind my efforts to generate and sustain my own life, purpose, meaning, identity, significance, and value, and letting the energy of God do that for me. But it’s that pause in between the end of my efforts and the beginning of God’s that feels like death, because every seed must lie dormant in the ground for a time before it is ready to grow. Transformation requires death, because it is a transitioning from the engine of our abilities to the energy of God’s.
When I do electrical work, I literally have to turn off the power for a time in order to get it done. When I was struggling to wire that light in the kitchen, it just so happened that the same circuit powered our internet router. It was also at the same time when my kids were allowed to have screen time on their tablets. We don’t let them get on till after 2pm. So, almost as soon as they jumped on, I turned the power off and they couldn’t play most of their games without the internet. Needless to say, the whole time I was struggling to figure out the crazy wiring, I also had to hear my kids yelling and complaining about not having the internet. Spoiled, first world kid problems, right! But that’s just the way it is with us too. God’s transformation work entails the process of death, burial, and resurrection. It takes turning our power off so we can learn how to let God's energy flow in. That is painful in many ways. It takes the pain of realizing our own good efforts may be what's hurting us, and the pain of learning how to let those go. It also takes the pain of waiting in the darkness for new things to grow. Then it takes the pain of learning how to walk in those new things. But, eventually, those new things bear out to new life. The process of death, burial, and resurrection gets repeated over and over again as God helps us work our way back to him/her. It is a process that never ends, and so, we must be prepared to keep dying in order to keep growing. That's what the meta-physical formula for transformation. Are you ready for that?
In the song “Equal Rights” Peter Tosh sings this lyric; “Everybody want to go to heaven, but nobody want to die.” I mean, who isn’t into self-improvement? We all want to become better versions of ourselves. We just never thought of self-improvement in terms of self-destruction. But how can we enter our bigger self until we’re ready to leave our smaller self behind. The problem is often to much attachment to what's familiar that’s keeping us from what is new. It’s hard leaving the comfort of all we've known to step out on a journey with God to new places. All we can really know, at first, is that it is better, and it is good. If we don’t believe that, we’ll never step out to begin with. I guess that’s partly my job, and my desire, to help you get a taste of what your life could be, if you’re willing to leave your current life behind. To do that, I realize that I’m starting with a negative. I’m starting with death. But that’s where transformation starts. I hope you’re beginning to see that death is not really a negative. It’s simply the necessary beginning of so many good, and better things. If we’re going to keep moving on this path of personal transformation, we’re going to have to learn how to take a different view of death. We need to learn how to embrace it as the key to life; as it’s inevitable fulfillment, not it’s inevitable demise. I know how daunting that can seem. I also know how hard that can be to go through, experientially. But I also know how much easier it can be when we don’t have to go through it alone. The truth is, whether you believe me or not, you’re already experiencing the ill effects of running from death. It’s just that the reality of that running is what you might call life, and what you might think is keeping you safe, but it’s not. It’s really what’s keeping you from the vulnerability of a surrender that seems as unbearable as death itself. But you don’t have to go through this alone. We can walk through it together. And we also have the guidance of God, though it might take you a while to really get a sense of his/her presence. Either way, let’s keep stepping towards the darkness of death in order to get to new life in God.