December 17th, 2020
“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
I wrote the first version of this essay nineteen years ago. It was titled, “9-11, The Tower, and the Apocalypse.” It began:
The U.S. is preparing for war. Possibly World War III, possibly the last war for humans, period. Every day I ask myself, am I preparing?”
They say that if you toss a frog into hot water, it will jump out, but if you place the frog in cold water, you can slowly bring it to a boil without the frog ever jumping out. Part of me says we need to think ahead, to talk about where we’re heading now before it’s too late. I think of the film, The Day After. I remember the Holocaust. I picture martial law, phone lines cut, the internet shut down. That’s for starters.
My worries may seem premature, but in a few weeks or months, they may not be. How do I begin to face the possibility of catastrophic change, disaster, even death?
It turns out that a frog will jump out. With humans, I’m not so sure. We get used to bad situations. We sweep things under the rug. To see this in action can be alarming. So, for almost twenty years, I’ve been getting in touch with another part of me, the part that knows that everything is actually OK. That part of me knows that everything is going to be OK because everything has always been OK. How is that possible?
When I first wrote this essay, I had been thinking a lot about the meaning of life. I’d studied Eastern religions along with Christian concepts like evil, Satan, and The Apocalypse. I realized that those big words sound scary because they all point to the same thing: fear of change. What I didn’t realize is that you don’t get less fearful just by thinking about it.
What really matters is not what you think but how you feel. How you feel is what you really believe. You can change your ideas, but that seldom changes what you really believe. How do you react to what happens in your life? How do you react to your reaction?
My goal, if you are at all fearful, is to encourage you to embark on the process of changing how you feel. Because the opposite of fear is another feeling: love. Actually, fear is just love narrowly focused. You always care about something. The more fearful you are, the more specific that something is.
Expanding the focus of our love is seldom easy. It’s easy to say, “love is all you need,” but aphorisms and affirmations don’t turn a needle into a haystack.
What does the haystack look like? Love, among other things, is a sense of security. Living in love, that is, loving life, means knowing that everything works out for the best. It means knowing you are safe. No one can ever hurt you, nor can you ever hurt anyone else. Do you believe that? I do. I try to. Here’s why.
When I’m living in love, I know that we aren’t just human. We are immortal souls playing a game we can’t lose. If I fear death, it’s because death seems like the end. And it’s true that life is like a soap bubble. But the soul is blowing them. A lifetime is but a day in the life of the soul. Like The Bhagavad Gita says, “death is certain for the born, and rebirth is certain for the dead.” My soul changes bodies like my body changes clothes.
Remember, fear is just loving something very much, especially who we think we are. But death is just change, and every change is a little death. “The changes we go through on a daily basis are miniature mirrors of the entire life, death, and rebirth process… Each day we are challenged to let go of the old and create the new.”
Changes are challenging because we are creatures of habit. Everything that exists has inertia, a tendency to remain the same. This tendency manifests as our physical bodies. This is the game we play when we incarnate, when we put on mortal clothes. Death just starts another round.
Life is play in another sense. To be a person is to impersonate, for persona means “actor’s mask.” On the worldly stage, we hide our true nature, who we really are. We even hide it from ourselves. This is how I interpret “original sin.” Original sin is “original” because, from very early on, we identify with our bodies. We think the mask is who we are.
This view of the world is known in Hinduism as Advaita. One well-known Advaita teacher puts it like this: Let’s say John is playing King Lear, and King Lear is having trouble with his daughters. How does King Lear solve his problem? By realizing that there is no problem because he is really John, not King Lear.
What, then, is sin? To sin is to “miss the mark.” The thing to realize is that, if you have to try to hit the mark, you’re sometimes going to miss. If you’re going to play a part, sooner or later, you’re going to forget you’re playing. Sin is just part of the game. Is missing the mark, then, a “wrong” deserving of punishment? Or is that idea also part of the game?
The game of life includes all ideas: ideas about who you are and who I am, about “right” and “wrong,” and so on. And when it comes to knowing who you are, and the action that comes out of that awareness, ideas only get in the way.
Again, we forget who we are, but that’s just part of the game. We forget that it is all a game, then we believe in right and wrong and then the game is not fun anymore — until we remember. But that’s what the game is. It’s ok.
While The Fall is forgetting, Revelation is remembering. Revelation is The Apocalypse, the end of the world as we know it. Like Revelation, the word apocalypse means “uncovering.” What is uncovered, among other things, is who we really are.
Take the events of 9-11. They seemed apocalyptic, at least at the time. You might say the same about climate change today, or COVID-19. Such extreme events point to a collapse in our way of thinking. Let’s look at what they reveal.
The image at the top of this essay is my adaptation of The Tower card in The Rider-Waite Tarot. I simply split the tower into two. Here on the left is The Tower in The Haindl Tarot. Notice the symbol on the top right. It looks to me like a jet liner. This deck was created more than ten years before 9-11.
What does The Tower represent? The collapse of self-delusion. “The universe, and the human mind, will not allow us to stay forever imprisoned in our towers of illusion and repression. If we cannot free ourselves peacefully then the forces of life will arrange an explosion.”
The events of 9/11, like the destruction unleashed by the pandemic and climate change, all have meaning. They fit into a pattern, a universal dynamic. As tragic as they are, they also have something to teach us. The more we’re willing to face that truth, the less destruction we have to endure.
“One of the reasons why many people fear this inward-looking process is that they are dimly aware that, having discovered one’s real nature, one can no longer pretend in the eyes of the world… and thus the Tower, the edifice which represents the values of the past, must fall… [this] cracks open the defenses and releases those parts of ourselves which have been enslaved.”
In this great uncovering, the very nakedness that can set me free is also what I fear most. It means that who I think I am must change. That idea must die. But let us take a fearless inventory. What are the “values of the past?” And what is our “real nature?”
Our real nature is unity. Love means knowing that there are no “others.” We’re not just souls, we’re cells: cells of a single body. That Body is who we really are. Another word for it is God.
God is simply everyone and everything: what we call the universe. Truly believing in God means knowing who you really are. You “love thy neighbor” when you are the neighborhood.
Human history is the story of seeing ourselves more and more as individuals. This sets us against the world and the truth of who we really are. “We are individuals to the degree that we are separate from reality itself… and to this degree, we are also in conflict with life.” I hide from you. I bomb you without feeling your pain — not to mention what I do to other species.
The denial of our unity is delusion; in fact, it’s psychosis. We do have to kill and eat other living things in order to survive. Where, then, is the line between “good” consumption and “bad” violence? If killing is necessary, how can there ever be peace in the world?
The point is not to ‘make the world safe for everyone, once and for all,’ whether by force or by prayer. That’s not life. That’s boring. Life is the illusion of separation. It can be fun, it can be painful, but it is never “wrong.” As long as we are alive, we are going to keep on hurting each other, and that’s OK.
I don’t know about you, but I think what I just said must be the wackiest thing I’ve ever heard. Earlier I said we never really hurt each other. Now I’m saying we do — and that’s OK. What gives?
There’s a difference between hurt and harm. Harm is permanent; hurt is temporary. Like I said, we are all — people, animals, plants, everything — in this together. And “this” is like a playground or a movie. In it, we are all just playing, just acting. We pretend to destroy each other. Death is but the end of today’s feature presentation.
This is the illusion that causes all suffering. Either you believe that it’s all real, including tragedy and loss, or you believe in God. The idea that there is anything wrong with the world is just that: an idea. It’s the belief in victimhood that creates victims.
How am I to respond to this or that event? By taking responsibility for it. If I choose to be a victim, of course there is nothing I can do. What I’m saying is that this is a choice. And it isn’t just a choice about how to regard what happens. This choice affects what happens in the first place.
“It’s a beautiful paradox: the more you open your consciousness, the fewer unpleasant events intrude themselves into your awareness.” Is it really a paradox if opening your consciousness means seeing things as they really are?
Behind the drama, we are all — doctors and viruses, human rights activists and Hitler — not just buddies on another plane but reflections of each other on this one. There is a conspiracy behind all this, for conspiracy means “God together.” Whether I see life as a projection (a movie) or a reflection (a mirror), everything in it is symbolic: everything outside of me represents and corresponds to what’s inside. And what’s “inside” (i.e., my attitude) is the only part over which I have a choice. You can’t change the image in a mirror without changing what it’s reflecting.
Let’s say Satan appears in the mirror. Today, Satan is a virus; for two decades, Satan was a terrorist. But the word satan simply means “adversary” or “opposer.” It’s crucial to remember that Satan was originally a servant of God. God sends Satan, adversity, to tell us that something’s wrong. Don’t just kill the messenger!
What is wrong? Nothing, really. It all depends on what game you’re playing. There’s always plenty of talk about what’s wrong. And on that level, we’re all sinners. We’re all playing the game of being separate individuals, separate nations, a separate species. If we ever get around to meeting ETs, it’ll be us against them.
But before you blame anything on yourself or anyone else, answer this question: is there really more than One of us, more than one consciousness in the world? The answer to that question is enlightenment.
We don’t have to end the game to start enjoying it. And enjoying it will transform it. Like I said, the game of life is supposed to be fun. And illusion is part of it. You can’t play pin the tail on the donkey without putting on a blindfold. But you also can’t play if you never take it off.
We don’t all have to take off the blindfold. But the more of us that do, the more the game changes. The game evolves; it gets more fun.
Imagine being a little less separate. Imagine if we could read each other’s minds. What a change, the death of the ego as we know it! I find it scary and exciting at the same time, like jumping into a mountain stream.
For me, the more this awareness of oneness seeps in, the more beautiful life becomes. Everything begins to fit together, to make sense. You and I and every insect, rock, and galaxy are God playing seemingly separate parts. We’re pieces of a puzzle, which is why religion means “to put back together.” And what a beautiful puzzle that is.
Nineteen years ago, I ended this essay with this advice:
What is this “ark” built of? Not belief, not faith. Words will not set you free. Real knowledge is a heartfelt thing. That’s why yoga isn’t only mental. The goal of yoga is to steady the mind. Study doesn’t steady. Real calm can only be built in the body.
The truth is simple. You don’t have to know any of this. It’s already built into your physiology. Life already knows how to heal, how to make whole. Evolution has already prepared us to know — to really feel — that we’re not just all in this together. We are all, together, THIS.
My goal, then, is not to change your mind, for the key is in your body. We can love, and that’s all we need.
I could end there, but you may be wondering, if the world and everyone in it is just a reflection of my inner state, why am I trying to change you? If it’s all “on me,” shouldn’t I just shut up and “be the change?” What if my “inner state” is also just part of the reflection? And if everyone is living in their own world, how can those worlds overlap?
I do struggle with these questions. But understanding is not the point. What if trying to understand is what makes life into a problem? To uncover your loving nature, I recommend body-based approaches like Somatic Experiencing. Then you will know, in all your being, that everything is OK — because everything is you.
More on the Haindl Tower
from Rachel Pollack, The Haindl Tarot (1990)
In the Tower we see the dangers of the human will completely unchecked, dominating nature with a kind of insanity that can lead to humanity’s own destruction…
The Tower is built on pride…
The Hebrew letter, Peh [in the upper left-hand corner of the card], means “Mouth,” and by extension, speech, communication. In this case, the implication is ironic. The Tower of Babel symbolizes lack of communication, language as a means of separating people rather than bringing them together. There is, however, an esoteric side to the Tower, in which the lightening bolt represents revelation, rather than destruction. Illusions become destroyed by sudden knowledge of the truth. “Speech” in this sense means God communicating directly with humanity. Instead of Babel, we have the Biblical account of Pentacost, in which Spirit descended into a group of worshippers and they all began “speaking in tongues,” that is, in many different languages, just as in the story of Babel. In the story of Pentecost, however, everyone understood what others said. The barriers had broken down.
The Rune [the symbol at the top right corner of the card, the one that happens to look like a jet liner] is Yr, or Irr. In German, irren means “to be wrong.” The English is err, almost the same. The Rune, like the card, tells us we have followed an irrweg, a wrong path…
The tower can mean violent release of repressed energy. If a bad situation goes on for a long time, the pressure can build to an explosion. Psychologically, this can be an outburst of rage. Politically, this can mean revolution. Ecologically, it refers to disasters brought on by years of abusing nature…
However grim the card looks, the Tarot remains optimistic. The sunrise, the blue sky behind the clouds, these suggest hope. They lead us to the next card, the Star, in which Gaia, the Earth Mother, renews the power of life.