Originally sent as a newsletter November 18, 2016
I was shocked and bewildered by what was happening on the national political stage. In the past I would have found a sense of center by dropping deep into my Brooklyn community, but I don’t live there anymore. I tried to connect via social media but what I found there appeared to be more lost people, narrating their own tumble through the abyss. Some clung to debris, some clung to each other, many shouted instructions at the rest of us, “Flail like this!” I was not reassured.
I’ve had a few of these experiences in my life. The Greek word for it is aporia. As my dear philosophy professor would have told you it means an impasse, a place that you can't get past with the tools you currently possess. The place of aporia can't be found on any of the maps you already have and getting out of it requires you to abandon your maps altogether.
Socrates would intentionally guide his interlocutors to this place, teasing out of them the shortcomings of their own beliefs. If you started somewhere confident like, “To be a good person means x! Everyone knows that!” aporia would be that moment where you realize you don’t really know what goodness is, or if it even exists.
Right before arriving into the abyss of aporia, you watch your own familiar concepts falling apart in your hands. For most people, this is not fun. It can feel like the scariest kind of betrayal, to stand there as these most intimate objects—your own thoughts, ideas and beliefs—change faces and then abandon all together. You thought that you were standing in truth, fighting the good fight against untruth. But this old guy just showed you that the enemy, deceit, was living within you all along. Ouch. (History tells us how much the powerful Athenians liked that…)
Most of us come to aporia in need of healing. Anyone who feels hurt right now: may you take rest, find ease, calm your nervous system and heal your wounds. Do a media cleanse for a day, take a walk in the woods, call me or come visit me upstate! Don’t worry about people telling you that you must get up and fight right this instant. No great cause is served by wounded people flopping around the battle field. Heal first. Always and forever, heal yourself first.
When strength and sanity return, when you have mourned the loss of tools, maps and ideas that you once trusted, the aporia will not seem so dark. New concepts will begin to form from the ashes of the old. Sturdier beliefs, more soundly rooted in reality, will grow. Old tools you thought you’d never need will catch your eye, glistening from the dusty bottom of your toolbox. Just the right resources will surface, just the right allies will arrive. Don’t be surprised if you find a sense of power and purpose beyond anything you’ve ever experienced. Crisis calls such things forth.
I want to share with you a dialogue I had with my teacher, Adyashanti, the last time that I felt lost in the abyss.
At the time I was experiencing disillusionment with some gurus who had previously held my devotion. When I left my study with them I also left behind the reassuring answers they had to give me, the comfort of their practices and protocols, the protective community of fellow students. I left behind self-identifying labels and world-creating beliefs—sounds nice for a Buddha looking for emptiness, but it was terrifying for a young woman looking for hope.
I asked him if I needed to find a new lineage. He responded with a gift far more powerful than an answer. He gave me the chance to find the answer within.
“Exactly and precisely, why are you doing this?” he asked me, meaning meditating, doing spiritual practice, being there with him on retreat. “What’s this really about for you?”
A response arose in my chest and belly, strong, immediate and wordless. My mind grasped for a the right language to translate the feeling inside. It landed on “love.” It felt too obvious, too cliche, but there it was, as close as I could get.
“Make a commitment to that,” he said.
Wanting to make sure I understood, I pointed at my heart. “If I trusted that, could it take me all the way, without me having to be part of a lineage and have a guru?”
Here is his reply, transcribed this morning from an audio recording:
“You don’t need anything but that thing inside you. If you don’t have that, lineage, guru, avatar, they can’t really do a lot for you. Aside from allowing you to sit around adoring them, you know? But that gets tiresome after a while. Even when you’re on the adored side of it. ‘Ok, it’s all projection time, ladies and gentlemen!’ So, yeah, if you have that, that spark in you, that’s the most important thing. And that tends to find its way. If it needs some mentoring (not worshipping! mentoring) it will find where it feels most resonant. It will lead you to the right teacher. But never let anyone else define it for you. Don’t conform to whatever the model is. That spark is the best thing you got going for you. It’s a very strong force, whatever it is. When all your energy starts to come back to that, that will find your way.”
Today I double down on my commitment to the love that lives inside of me and inside of all beings.
I will give myself space and time for healing.
I will take some of that energy back from my own ideas and projections and identities
so it can return to reality.
I will meditate because that teaches me how to listen.
And how can I honor truth without listening?
I will wake up every morning and ask
“What would love do? How would love respond?”
I will continue to walk proudly down my unique path
because I want to keep growing my capacity to give and receive love.
I will passionately advocate for this beautiful Earth
which is our only home.
I will stand up for any being who is being told to stand outside of Love.
I will remind anyone who has forgotten,
that Love is not a thing, possessed by the privileged,
but the very stuff we are all made of.
If you stop and ask for directions,
I will do my best to lead you back to the spark of truth in your own heart.
What's this all about for YOU? How will you commit to that?