It was Emerson who challenged his readers “ … to live with the privilege of immeasurable mind.” I’ve always loved this statement, and to the extent that I have experienced it, have understood its value.
In my most recent exploration of nonduality, I have discovered that a few teachers who promise instant illumination. A student will ask how one enters the experience of oneness and the teacher will say, “Come, let’s do it now.” So he or she takes the student through an exercise where they experience a flash of pure awareness, a momentary dropping the baggage of the self-image and proclaim, “WOW!!!” It is as if that moment marks the beginning of their new life free of all the body-based distractions and attachments. My sense, however, is that most, if not all, will once again begin collecting the baggage they dropped in that emotional moment. It seems but another version of the intoxicating, hand-raising, born-again revival. All things seem possible with a charismatic speaker and the emotionally stimulating energy of two-thousand believers.
If I accept that the soul is complete and that there are no natural barriers between where I currently stand in my awareness and a full experience of the soul, why would I be skeptical of such claims? Because short of a dramatic shift in values, a brief and emotional moment that may positively stir dormant energies does not carry the power to lift us out of the gravity of the self-image. A speaker can lay out the logic, pose many leading questions that prompt a willing submission to leave the old and strike out for the new. The listener may, for one day, three days, a week, a month or a year, take their steps down this path before they find the shimmer of the new begins to fade. It’s like buying a new pair of shoes that you really love only to find they, like the old pair, eventually take the same form of your foot. Anything we put on is subject to aging. Only the actual and perpetual experience of the soul provides the longevity of newness we crave.
Material science says that even the most brilliant of our species uses approximately ten percent of the brain’s capacity. I believe it would be more accurate to say that the brain and body greatly restrict the soul’s capacity. Imagine the situation where your soul enters a body that has no limbs, is blind, deaf and unable to speak. And then you are told that you must learn to be happy in this situation. Before entering this body, your soul is complete. In time this body will die and your soul will be freed from its physical prison. What would be gained from such an experience? If the soul remains unaffected by taking on such a body, then what’s the point of the experience? The same can be said of taking on a whole and healthy body. It’s not about increasing brain power. It’s about soul recognition.
It is clear that most spiritually-minded people see their earthly tenure either as a test or as an educational opportunity for their soul. But it makes no sense to think something will be learned by anchoring an unlimited soul to a body for eighty-five or so years and then return it to its native state of freedom. The soul is free before entering the body and it is free when it lays down the body. It does not learn this freedom from grappling with the distractions of inhabiting a body.
So, if our soul is not here to learn, what’s the point in taking on a body? To bring this question into perspective, we must first drop the notion that the body and earthly experience are some kind of testing ground for the soul. These in no way shut down the capacity of the soul. The soul already knows more than anything we can learn on earth. The earthly experience triggers a shift in our center of gravity, from the soul to the self-image. This shift in values means that we now measure our perceived spiritual progress by mental, emotional and material standards. Because our quest for happiness becomes an endless attempt to bring the self-image into a state of peace and contentment, we brand ourselves as incomplete and we spend our lives trying to fill this void.
It is the self-image, not the soul, that feels the void. If any one of us could safely drop our body at this very moment, we would be astonished to discover that we already are everything and more that we have been looking for. The soul is in perfect harmony with the music of the spheres. The distortions and distractions of the self-image do not tarnish the soul in any way. Regardless of how far from the soul we stray, we will return, either in the body or out, because the soul is our eternal and essential nature.
Is it possible to bring the fullness of our soul into this bodily experience? This is the real question. The answer depends on our understanding of where we have placed our center of gravity, our core values. It’s important to know that whether or not we make the transition of values from self-image to soul, the soul remains unscathed. Many on the spiritual path act as if they are walking a spiritual tightrope with reincarnation spread beneath them like a safety net into which they will once again likely fall. The only thing that suffers is our present quality of experience. The body does not actually shut down the capacity of the soul. It is only our shift in values that distracts us away from who and what we are at this deepest level. So yes, it is possible to bring the fullness of our soul into the bodily experience. Doing so requires the releasing of a lifetime of body-based values, a process that will likely pit us against the conventions of our cultural and spiritual training. An instantaneous shift can and does happen, but usually as the result of a significant crisis.
An important takeaway from near-death research is its demonstration of a person’s instantaneous shift in values. These are cases where the soul is momentarily released from the confines of the body, revealing the true eternal and limitless nature of the individual. Researches say that it takes a person an average of seven years to integrate this incredible revelation into their life. Many suffer extreme depression for being crammed back into the confines and pain-filled experience of a body. Most return to a life made instantly alien from only moments of rising above the gravitational pull of their body-based self-image. They find that the only community that truly shares their rediscovered, soul-centered values are fellow experiencers. Their approach to life in a body is completely changed by the revelation of who and what they truly are.
We do not need the trauma of a near-death experience, but we do likely need some significant shock to our current body-based value system. We won’t get this in an afternoon seminar whose presenter offers to take our hand and lead us into some paradise of pure awareness. They may stir our emotion, but only we have the power to change our values. And we do it to the extent that we recognize the value of doing so. Otherwise, we will likely continue to tread spiritual water till the death of the body.
The habit of trying to raise the quality of our experience using people, places and things is deeply ingrained and so habitual that we scarcely recognize that we are doing it. We’re drawn to those so-called spiritual teachings that promise more prosperity, health and harmony in relationships not realizing that we are simply attempting to pad those abrasive aspects of the body-based self-image. We long to live with privilege of immeasurable mind, and we will, either in the body or out of it. If we want to experience it in the body, then a major shift in values is required. We are not forced to make this shift, but the opportunity is here if we choose to engage the process. I think we’ll find it helpful to remember that it is the quality of our experience, not our soul, that will be the benefactor. The soul is doing just fine.