Can you talk about your interest in near-death research and explain why you think it is important to our spiritual understanding?
Throughout my life, there have been a few things that have captured my attention in a way that should not and cannot be ignored. Near-death research is one of these. I’ve been asked if I am obsessed with death and dying because it offers a way out of this often confusing and restrictive earthly experience. My answer is, no. My interest is in living. In countless ways, those who report an NDE reveal much about the nature of the soul. In all their diverse ways, they report the experience of absolute love, incredible beauty and, perhaps most important of all, the feeling of having come home. People who describe their discovery of a spiritual teaching with which they resonate often say that something in the teaching triggers the feeling of having come home. This is how I felt when I discovered Unity, and I have heard countless others express this feeling of homecoming as well.
All of this reveals that our spiritual home is not a place but an internal shift in focus and experience. The NDE forces a shift away from the body and the self-image that has grown up around it. The experiencer quickly sees that the homecoming is really a conscious return to the soul or whatever they choose to call it. When we discover a teaching that reveals this truth, we have that similar experience. Ideas that are true of the soul cause our awareness to resonate, if ever so slightly, with the warmth and familiarity of our real home. The near-death experiencer, in perhaps the majority of cases, is told they must return to their body and earthly life, for their work is not yet done. Many are baffled by this. They return to their body and spend a great deal of their life looking for the work they are supposed to do. Likewise, the one who discovers a spiritual teaching that stirs them to the depths feels like this discovery is leading to some thing, a great work of some sort perhaps.
The work to be done is not drawn from the world of appearances. The work is in aligning our consciousness with the soul. This is not accomplished through doing things, even selfless things, for others. It is accomplished through direct exposure to the soul. This is what Jesus was referring to quoting Psalms, “And they shall all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to me” (John 6:45).
The soul is our home, but our prodigal awareness has wandered far away. We have heard and learned from the Father the instant we experienced that feeling of coming home. The NDEr is dipped directly into this home and then pulled back out. In contrast, the one who discovers the soul-stirring, strangely familiar teaching has heard and learned from a distance, so to speak. Neither have the consciousness, the framework of soul-centered ideas, to support the perpetual experience of the soul. In both cases, our so-called spiritual journey, our work, is the alignment of our consciousness with what is true of the soul. We are the man who discovers the treasure buried in the field who goes about the work of selling all he has to buy that field. Thus far we have navigated through life from the basis of a senses-based self-image. Now we are shifting from the self-image as a center of gravity to our correct home, the soul. This alignment is not an other-worldly process. It is the process of living in this world with the understanding that we are not of it.
You use the illustration of the sponge immersed in water that literally permeates its being. How could the sponge be so immersed in something and still not recognize it as that which it is seeking?
This sponge is a graduate of Sponge University. It has earned a degree in sponge physiology. It attends the First Church of Spongification. To maintain its physical elasticity, it practices Sponge Yoga. It takes pride in its size and appearance, often taking on a hole-ier-than-thou attitude. It identifies with pictures of itself from the time it was but a spore to now. It totally identifies with its history as a sponge. It studies with great fascination those fossilized spongy imprints of its ancestors, interpreted as the beginning of life by the greatest spongologists on the planet. In other words, it is not simply immersed in ocean water; it is immersed in everything sponge.
The enlightened sponge that floats by saying, “You are not a sponge. You are the water you seek” is viewed with great suspicion, socially relegated to a life of cleaning the dishes and maybe even the toilet bowl. There is so much evidence to support the belief in the sponge-centered universe. After all, everyone can see the sponge. It takes a major shift in perception, abnormal to sponge culture, to see and experience the water. The experience of water is an intuitive one. Living in the world of sponge-facts is strictly intellectual. Though it is omnipresent, the water cannot be intellectually grasped because it cannot be seen, weighed or measured. A cubic foot of water floating within water, after all, weighs nothing. By all standards of measurement, in fact, it does not exist. To the sponge-centered intellect, something that weighs nothing and cannot be discerned using the most acute techniques of sponge observation, cannot possibly exist and be available to the average sponge. This is why the First Church of Spongification goes to great lengths to make the experience of sponge heaven other-worldly. If the water were truly spread out before them, surely everyone would see it.
In yesterday’s post you said, “When we engage the practice of denial and affirmation, we deny (release) what is not true of the soul and affirm what is.” How do we know what is true of the soul and what is not?
Jesus said we have to enter by the narrow gate. There is only one way to know what is true of the soul and that is through direct experience. The research shows that those who have an NDE and those who have a true mystical awakening are permanently impacted by the experience. You may read about God and the soul and engage in studies that offer much insight into the spiritual reality of the individual. You may even earn certificates that show the world you are an expert in this field of study. If you have not had an actual experience with your soul, however, you have a head full of spiritual information that amounts to little more than sounding brass and clanging cymbals. You are, as one teacher put it, over-read and underdone.
I have never considered my ordination my badge of spiritual authority. Becoming ordained was the effect of the profound spiritual awakening I experienced in my early twenties. In quality, it was amazingly similar to the beauty of absolute, unconditional love and limitlessness expressed by those who have had a near-death experience, another of the several reasons I am drawn to this research. A new benchmark of reality had been established in me. I entered the Unity ministry because I believed it would support this revelation, but it does not, at least not in the way I had hoped. People that make up a church community are the same people that make up every other community. They are drawn by certain ideas compatible with their preferred worldview, but most still carry the kind of baggage that can erupt into petty conflict so prevalent in the world. After going through one particularly difficult church conflict, I made this announcement to my congregation: “I think we’ve just proven that Unity people can fight as well as any Baptist.”
Ministry has taught me to teach that we are not to look for our spiritual support system outside of ourselves. We must be firmly grounded in the soul and then use the outer platform, whether it be ministry or some other profession, as our medium of expression. We do not enter the profession for what it can give us. We enter for what we can give through it. And this is why I love ministry and its outlets such as a pulpit, books, music and this blog. Ministry is the canvas upon which I paint, through the spoken, sung and written word, the authentic revelation of my soul. It is my outlet for that inlet of inspiration that bubbles from the silence of Being.
The term nonduality is apparently becoming a more important part of your vocabulary. Do you see yourself as a member or representative of this community?
I prefer to see myself as one who has reached many of the same conclusions held by those who have adopted the consciousness-based understanding of reality. I came to the concept of nonduality through the back door. It is only within the last few months that I discovered this rather loose-knit group of people who consider themselves nondualists. To my knowledge, they have published no statement of faith. It is a diverse community. Many draw their views from the Eastern tradition, which is very interesting but quite foreign to me. Though it may offer some valuable insight, I am not compelled to learn and parrot that vocabulary or tradition. What I need comes in its own way. To make the point of steeping one’s self in religious study of any type often becomes an intellectual distraction away from the actual experience of the soul.
The mystical maxim that the highest is the nearest is absolutely correct. That which has brought me to this point is an obvious demonstration that it knows what it is doing. That it will carry me on, I have no doubt. At this point, my guidance is to steer clear of representing any spiritually-centered collective. The only brand I choose to adopt at this time is the one provided by my soul.