[Excerpt from The Complete Soul]
“One drop of water taken from the ocean is just as perfect ocean water as the whole great body. The constituent elements of water are exactly the same, and they are combined in precisely the same ratio or perfect relation to each other, whether we consider one drop, a pail full, a barrel full, or the entire ocean out of which the lesser quantities are taken; each is complete in itself; they differ only in quantity or degree. Each contains the whole; and yet no one would make the mistake of supposing from this statement that each drop is the entire ocean.” —Emilie Cady
I was sixteen when I first read Cady’s analogy. On that day, a light came on that has never gone off. She helped me understand that my spiritual essence, like water taken from the ocean, could be the same as the water in the ocean itself. I understood that I was not the whole of God, but I was beginning to make that all-important connection of oneness between God and myself.
Jesus, on the other hand, posed a different challenge. I understood how he, with a perfectly clear conscience, could shock his listeners with the highly charged claim that if they had known him, they had known the Father. I grasped how he could be in the Father and the Father in him, but the Father was greater. If the water in the pail could speak of the ocean, could it not make the same statement? I could believe Jesus himself when he said the works he did, others could do as well, and even greater works.
The issue I had was not in the claims Jesus made for himself and others. My growing discomfort was with those claims others made about him. I understood the logic of using Jesus as our primary example, our Wayshower, a clear illustration of what we can and must become. In him, we had a trustworthy standard of morality, sound spiritual logic by which we could measure and be measured. What would this very old, highly evolved soul have to say about our handling of that difficult neighbor, or that church dispute, or that beggar on the street? What would he think, say, and do if he were in our place? More importantly, what should I think, say, and do to become more like this worker of miracles who healed the sick, fed the multitudes, forgave his enemies, walked on water, calmed angry seas, and transformed his own dead flesh into shining immortality?
Where did this view of our Wayshower come from? Was Jesus really all of these things, or could this super-human portrayal simply represent a composite of old world Christian evangelicals and over-zealous modern metaphysicians? Wherever it came from, I was beginning to realize that this larger-than-life status assigned to him was completely inaccessible. If we are to believe testimony from the Gospels themselves, the most enthusiastic response to Jesus and his teachings came from the common people. Is it not possible that this Wayshower had a more down to earth understanding of our spiritual objectives?
I had no reason to doubt my spiritual teacher’s portrayal of Jesus as the prime example for the rest of us still struggling to master the tyrannical desires of body and mind. I could accept in theory that my essence was the same as his, that every spiritual lesson learned, every obstacle overcome added more drops to my pail. Still, Jesus and I remained light-years apart. He was not merely in another league; he was in a league of his own.
At times, I seemed to be making spiritual progress. Other times, I felt as if mine was a leaking pail, a broken cistern, as Jeremiah put it, that could hold no water. Overall, I moved forward with the faith that, despite this vast gulf between where I was and where I needed to be, I was making a net gain. My evolving soul, though advancing at a glacial pace, was indeed edging forward. Even with that little voice from somewhere in the back seat of my mind constantly asking, “Are we there yet?” I continued plodding away knowing that this sense of urgency would one day be satisfied. If God was in no hurry, why should I be?
Yet this little voice would not be silenced. It did not grow quieter but louder, asking other questions that a mere further mustering of more patience would not appease. I seemed to find significant challenges to the evolving soul model from Jesus himself. In one very short parable he explained that the kingdom of heaven was like a treasure hidden in a field. A man happened by, discovered the treasure, covered it again, and in his joy sold everything he owned to buy that field. The man’s ability to purchase it did not hinge on a preordained time-line that evolving souls must follow. The speed by which he acquired that field depended only on his willingness to let go of his present possessions.
In my first book, A Practical Guide to Meditation and Prayer, I related this parable to my own spiritual awakening:
One of the turning points in my spiritual career came during a time of deep frustration. I remember waking up one morning feeling spiritually empty (as I had for some time), so I picked up a book by Charles Fillmore and began to read. Beautiful as the words on those pages were, their effect was mocking and antagonizing instead of uplifting. I wanted to be what those words described but it seemed the harder I tried the emptier I felt inside. In a moment of anger, I threw the book down and said to God, “If You want me to learn all this stuff, then You’re going to have to show me, because I’m tired of trying to do it all myself!”
There was no reply. All day I felt mad at God for giving me a vision that seemed impossible to reach. That night I was getting ready for bed and a strange thing happened. I was sitting on the edge of the bed when something in my mind suddenly opened and I could perceive a grand scheme. Everything was beautiful and in its proper place. Deep waves of love and the feeling of total acceptance rushed through me. I felt a level of contentment with myself and my surroundings that I have never felt. I could see the infinite nature of all things, animate and inanimate and it was wondrous. A knowing came to me that said, “Do not be concerned about your life, for there is a plan for you.” I felt this message was not to me alone but to all who could receive it. In tears and total release I whispered, “Let it be that others can see what I am seeing now.”
With such an incredibly high experience and the numerous aftershocks that followed, it was inconceivable that I would ever leave the beauty of this absolute love and step again into the shallow domain of illusion and half-truths generated by the senses. Yet the world called and the dazzle of illumination grew dim. This was the disappointment of waking from a satisfying dream to a hot, humid night, the lonely chirp of a cricket the stark reminder of my attachment to mundane existence.
The experience left me with the impractical knowledge that the thing everyone is looking for in churches, careers, relationships, money, power, books, sex, drugs, food, sports, movies, and countless other places, I had found in those few spiritually lucid moments. My restless self had briefly settled in peaceful repose on its eternal foundation.
In the years that followed, however, I often felt that revelation was more a curse than a blessing. It set me apart, instilled a kind of aloneness that made me question if I really belonged on this planet. I’d stumbled on the hidden treasure, but I did not want to lay it back in the ground, cover it, or go and sell all other possessions to buy the field. I wanted to lift it from the earth and hold it forever, a response that I am sure would be normal to anyone. I was the near-death experiencer who did not want to return to the body but was told, “It’s not your time. You have to go back.” The kingdom I had briefly experienced was not of this world. I had peered through a hole in the fence of a gated community I could not enter. Having seen this great wealth and beauty, returning to the plain streets of my world was enormously frustrating.
These few moments of lifting the veil and experiencing a profoundly beautiful cosmic awareness ultimately set me on the path to ministry. My message, fueled only by my experience of God, would center on God as a living presence whose existence I could not deny. Never in my young life had I felt so complete or so supported by the everlasting arms of love that sustained my very existence, all without condition or price. I had no major healing to talk about, no rags-to-riches story I could hold out to the world as proof of my life-altering revelation. Despite this handicap, I could not deny the permanent impact this elusive treasure had on me. I knew my highest service would be that of telling others they too had their own inner field, their own hidden treasure. I took the formal steps of entering the Unity ministry to become a champion of those who, like me, had been called from that far country of life-at-the-surface and were making their way back to their true spiritual home.
For much of my ministerial career, I maintained the evolving soul model as the most workable and practical. I wandered in and out of the awareness of absolute love, sometimes feeling very much at home in God, and other times out again on yet another hopeful venture into some new far country. Why not just stay home? Why repeat this prodigal eating of husks when I knew the advantages of staying home? Why, like Paul, do I “… not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate?”
The best answer seemed to be the partially filled pail theory, the notion of the evolving soul. Though I was beginning to regard this idea with increasing skepticism, my pail was obviously not full. Mine was an immature soul, an adolescent doing what adolescents do. I was leaving home in high moments of strength and self-assurance, and returning when that strength waned, and fear and insecurity drove me into repentant humility. I could envision a day of coming home and staying home, but apparently I was not spiritually mature enough to settle into my true, God-given estate. I was an evolving though impatient soul not yet seasoned with the sweet stability of maturity.
Still, I could not forget the sheer completeness I had felt in those fleeting moments of absolute knowing. There was no question that the water in my pail was drawn from that cosmic ocean we call God. I could not shake the growing suspicion that my pail was already full.
Then, a slight shift in my understanding of the hidden treasure occurred to me. My wife and I were relaxing at a friend’s cabin in Colorado when it suddenly dawned on me that the treasure was not a partially filled pail, a potential to be developed, but one whose current value exceeded all else the man owned. I realized that this parable was a metaphor depicting the soul (hidden treasure) whose full value is already established.
I had thought of myself as having repeatedly left this field because I was spiritually immature. But the man did not leave for this reason. Quite the opposite, he left because he was mature enough to recognize the value of the treasure. Like me, he had found what he was looking for. He had stopped trying to acquire more things and was divesting himself of everything that was of lesser value than this treasure. I realized this was exactly what I was doing. My eye had become single, my choice between God and mammon clear. I wasn’t leaving the field, as I supposed, for the adolescent purpose of squandering or acquiring something more. Like the man, I left to unburden myself of things of lesser value, that I may buy that field. In my own way, I was moving my self-awareness from a pail-centered self-image to its true ocean-water foundation, the soul.
The revelation did not stop there. I began to realize that if you draw one pail of water from the ocean today and another in a year from now, the age of the water in each pail is still the same. Likewise, one soul, regardless of when or how many times it has incarnated, is no more advanced than another. As with the water in the pail, the clock we think is ticking in regard to the soul is relative only to time spent in a body. The soul, like water, neither ages nor matures.
What I had gradually begun to suspect was now blossoming into a full-blown realization: The premise of an evolving soul, as logical as it seemed at one point in my understanding, was wrong. I could now see the soul is complete, has always been complete, and years devoted to further spiritual study would make it no more complete. The spiritual problem that confronts us is not the result of soul immaturity. The problem lies in what we mean when we speak the pronoun I. Thus far, we have associated it almost exclusively with the pail, the self-image. The I must be understood as a reference to the water, the soul.
My pail, I began to realize, is indeed full, my soul eternally complete. As an individualized projection of God, created in the image and after the likeness of God, it cannot be otherwise. My essence, my foundation of being is as equal in composition to God as the composition of the water in the pail is equal to that of the ocean. As Jesus put it, the harvest (soul completion) is not four months, four lifetimes, or four-hundred lifetimes away. This field is already ripe for harvest. Everything is in place right now. The truth that sets us free is present, accessible, and will never be more so than it is at this moment.
I was beginning to see that from the instant I stumbled upon my own treasure, I had been undergoing a major shift in values. I was not aware of it at the time, but I had begun selling those possessions that were preventing me from embracing the truth of my soul. Though I am still sorting through inconsistencies in self-perceptions and beliefs about the world, I have come to accept that we are not here to convince the world we are something other than that which we are at our sincerest, most authentic level. If we express qualities the world deems great, it is not because we have labored hard to manufacture these. We express them because we are simply doing what comes most natural. We made the choice to be here, to give expression to our soul, to give it a face, a voice, and a way to interact in the world that is ours and ours alone.
This is why, in this book, I am placing emphasis on experiencing the soul rather than knowing God. It’s not that knowing God is unimportant, but I choose to follow Jesus’ premise that if you have known me [the soul], you have known the Father [the soul’s source]. Studying a single pail of ocean water is not nearly as intimidating as studying the entire ocean. Yet following this analogy, understanding of the composition of the water in the pail is equivalent to understanding the composition of the water in the entire ocean. When you experience your soul, you experience God.