The Challenge of Omnipresence

[Excerpt from: A Spiritual Journey] 

After a talk that I gave, where I spoke of the concept of the omnipresence of God – everywhere present, equally at the same time – I was challenged by an individual who considered the negative thinking of a person as a place where God is not. They reasoned that the only way God could be present in the negative thinking of a person was for God to have the capacity to think negatively.

It is, of course, difficult for many to set aside their anthropomorphic views of God and think instead in terms of law and principle. A person can hold the belief, for example, that 2+2=5. We could argue that the principle of mathematics states that 2+2=4, and this is true everywhere but in the thinking of the person who holds that 2+2=5. Does this person’s false belief actually create a place where 2+2 does not equal 4? No. The principle of mathematics remains applicable everywhere, regardless of the erroneous thinking of any individual. Their mistaken thinking does not create some special vortex where mathematical principles make exceptions and do not apply.

We know there was a time when the public held that the earth was flat. Did this universally accepted belief in any way alter the fact that the earth is and has always been round? Of course it didn’t. Believing it to be so did not make it so; it only made it appear to be so. A flat earth has never existed.

We say thoughts are things. Does this mean that if I hold in my mind the thought that God does not exist, I have created a place where God is not? Things, after all, are objects that occupy their own unique space. A rock is a thing. Are we prepared to say that a rock lying on the ocean floor represents a place where the ocean does not exist? If you pull the rock from the ocean, it is true that you would then have a rock and an ocean. If the ocean were omnipresent, however, it would not be possible to separate the two.

A false belief and the thinking it generates does not represent a place where God is not. The young Jacob’s belief that he had traveled outside of God’s presence while fleeing his brother’s wrath did not make it true. It seemed true to him only because he accepted a false belief passed on by his ancestral authorities. The belief that he could leave the presence of God evoked the same level of fear and uncertainty as if it were true. His dream, however, opened his eyes to what was actually true.

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16-17).

We can probably generate dozens of clever riddles and word games to undermine the truth of the omnipresence of God. To do so, however, places us in a weakened position. The above text states that Jacob was afraid, but the proper word, as indicated in his exclamation, should have been awestruck. He was, in fact, suddenly free of fear, totally empowered to move forward with a level of enthusiasm that had been absent while fleeing the wrath of his brother. Yesterday he had been running from a problem. Today he was running to a new possibility. Aside from his own attitude, nothing in the entire universe had changed. Generations of worshiping a localized God did nothing to confine God to a specific locality. It only affected the way Jacob and his family thought of God.

The truth of omnipresence makes it possible for us to say, wherever I am, God is. Poking logic holes in the idea only makes it possible for us to say, God is everywhere but where I am. With this logic, we can justify our misery and our failures, if this is what we want to do. How much better it is to know the full power of God is behind us always, every moment of every day. The instant we awaken to this truth is the instant we become empowered by it.

In the work of ministry, someone is always raising a question because something they read or heard does not jive with their understanding. Those of us involved in ministry do well to seize such opportunities to think through and clarify our understanding of the implications of the issue in question. In the past, we could simply accept it on faith. Now we need settle for nothing less than understanding faith that makes it possible to explain the spiritual logic behind an otherwise abstract teaching.

Omnipresence is not merely a thing we affirm. It is a potent reality that enables us to awaken from our sleep, to rise from our fears and our feelings of being trapped in a life we do not want and to move forward into the life we do want.

The Fullness of Emptiness

Many who teach the philosophy of nonduality encourage the practice of self-inquiry. This involves the process of letting go of all roles connected with title, gender, the act of spiritual seeking, long-held spiritual perceptions, concerns around age, all ambition, goals and intentions, personal history, marital and parental status, education, place in family, regrets of the past, anticipation of the future, today’s to-do list … everything. The idea is to bring your awareness to that part of you–the I–that requires no effort to sustain, that very essence that you are. For those who struggle with meditation, this practice may provide a more concrete approach to reaching a profound point of stillness.

In letting go of all these things, you are emptying the vessel that is the self-image. Jesus referenced such a practice when he said,

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29).

To leave these things does not necessarily mean we are to literally divest ourselves of them. In the safety of our own quiet time, we let everything go so we may experience that part that needs no propping up, that needs no further achievement of anything to make us more than we already are in truth. Jesus’ phrase, “for my sake,” is not a personal reference to himself. It is, rather, a way of saying, for the sake of the truth I am teaching. Spend periods mentally and emotionally letting go of all these pursuits and relationships and delve down into the very core of your being, that part of you that needs none of them to simply be. Here you find your complete soul.

The self-image has tricked us into believing that we are not enough, that something more needs to be added to become whole. We need to find our other half, or make enough money to gain power and control, or get that degree to prove to the world that we are capable of handling anything that comes our way, at least in our chosen field.

I was thinking about all of this as my wife and I undertook the project of stripping old wax from the kitchen floor. Over the years, as the floor appeared to need something more to make it look better, layer after layer of wax was applied. As we stripped the floor to its original condition, we were totally amazed how good the floor looked. We had considered replacing it only to discover that removing all those layers of wax was what was really needed.

The self-image is layers of accumulated buildup of things we’ve added, often to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. This is not to say that everything we have achieved or acquired is our attempt to fill some empty space. A loving relationship, for example, is a good thing as long as we’re not trying to use another person to make us feel whole. The best relationship is not two half-people trying to make a whole. It’s two whole people coming together to share from their strengths. Likewise, the best relationship you can have with your work is one where you are giving to it as much as it is giving to you. Those who work only for a paycheck or benefits are not usually interested in giving more than they have to.

I’m sure most of us have been in both kinds of situations. You may be in one now. In all cases, the practice of self-inquiry will provide some enlightening benefits. You and I are not lacking power, peace or the inspiration to engage life at an exciting level. The weight of the baggage we carry has no value, as it provides the illusion that this weight is actually a signal that something more needs to be added. In truth, much needs to be released. Nothing is needed to compensate for the wholeness of the soul, for the soul needs no compensation. Think of this kind of releasing as self-denial, or self-image denial. Denial is not the art of pretending a thing does not exist; it is a letting go of all those pieces of baggage that blur our spiritual vision.

Spend quality time stripping yourself down to your original “floor” and you’ll quickly see that you already have what you’ve been trying to get from people, places, and things. When Jesus said that by letting go you will gain a hundred times as much, he was pointing to the fact that your world will look like a very different place when you are free of this taskmaster that is your self-image. You will never acquire what it is telling you that you need for happiness. Nor do you need to. But you will never know this for sure until you free yourself from the task of trying to fill this bottomless pit and make a conscious connection with the truth of your present, spiritual completeness.

Issue With the Self-Image

Question: If the self-image is the problem that you say it is, why is it so difficult to get rid of? Why isn’t the soul more assertive?

I have pointed out that I prefer to use the term self-image over ego because it encompasses more than we’ve been programmed to think. I think we could all agree that an inflated ego is a spiritual hindrance worthy of letting go. Few would agree that a shining self-image is as much a hindrance to the soul as the inflated ego. The reason for this is that everybody loves the shining self-image, the effervescent personality. Couple this with an attractive body and a pretty face and you have a winning combination, a magnet for success.

The self-image, in whatever form it comes, is our interpretation of a version of the self we think the world wants to see. It may be totally free of the characteristics we associate with an aggressive ego. It may be sweet, completely docile and give the impression that it thinks only of others. What the world cannot see is that this type self-image can be just as hungry for the approval of others as can the flamboyant egotist. Sweet or brash, neither self-image rests in the soul. Both are seeking compensation for the feeling that something essential is missing. They just go about it in different ways.

It is probably a mistake to set out to “get rid” of the self-image. We will more likely end up exchanging one version for another. The self-improvement industry is loaded with techniques designed to boost the self-image into a more polished look. It has, for example, become wildly popular to teach self-love as a healthy place to begin. Granted, loving your created self feels better than loathing it, but it does not free you of the need to continually try to escape it. Self-love, you hope, will somehow manifest as better conditions that will make you a happier person. Women in particular are targeted with this type of propaganda, encouraged to roar shamelessly to somehow prove their worth. It looks like an inside-out approach, but it’s really not. It’s just more noise from the inadequate self-image.

The ability to discern the difference between the soul and the self-image is critical to moving the I to its proper spiritual foundation. If you’re trying to change yourself to a more spiritual version, you are probably acting amiss. Your soul resides at the purest, easiest most natural level of your being. You don’t create it. You don’t enhance it. You find it. Until you find it, your value system will be grounded in this surface self forever in need of something more to make it feel okay.

If you were abused as a child or as a spouse, you may struggle with issues of worthiness. Trying to build worthiness into your self-image takes you away from the very source of power and self-worth that has always been yours. The soul is in no need of improvement or reinventing. The more you open your mind to its presence, the more you experience a natural shift in values. You will spend less time propping up an eternally inadequate self-image and more time practicing what it really means to let your genuine light shine.

Making Sense of the Senses

Question: When you talk about the senses-based self-image, it sounds as if you are saying the five senses pose the greatest obstacle to our spiritual growth. Would you mind elaborating on this?

This question touches on a very important point that is well worth further exploration. I have said on several occasions that there are no natural barriers to our spiritual growth. This will include the senses-based self-image or, using the terminology of nonduality, the body mind. Regardless of how spiritually incompatible the self-image becomes, it does not alter the condition of the soul. It does, however, alter the condition of our experience. So what does this mean?

The entire notion of soul evolution has grown out of a mediocre human experience. Because it feels as if something essential to our happiness and well-being is missing, we assume something more needs to be added. At first we try to compensate for this feeling of lack with accomplishments and possessions. Over time, we begin to notice that new acquisitions only temporarily mask this feeling that something is missing. This leads some to the conclusion that conditions of lack can only be eliminated by renouncing the senses and the personal ambition they generate. Others find it counter-intuitive to assume we stepped into this plane only to discover that our most spiritually elevated act is to renounce it. These may seek the more moderate balance between their material and spiritual needs by treating material challenges as lessons, opportunities to identify and rectify issues that originate at the soul level. Earth, from this perspective, becomes a school for the soul.

From the standpoint of the complete soul, we start with a different premise. Our earthly incarnation is a choice rather than a condition into which we were thrust, either against our will or as a means to the end of further soul development. If we accept that freedom of choice plays a significant role, then it isn’t a stretch to assume we took on a body simply for the earthly experience itself. Did we have clear knowledge of the many unforeseen issues we’ve encountered in this body? This would be like saying we chose the road trip and that unexpected engine failure.

Making the choice to have an overall experience is not the same as saying our soul chose specific negative events. This kind of rationale sends us on an endless tail-chasing quest trying to make spiritual sense of every unanticipated situation.

To the original question of whether the senses pose an obstacle to the spiritual experience, we need to first see the senses for what they are, and for what they are not. The body and its five senses provide the interface that allows us to interact with our environment. Without it, our soul could not enjoy a cup of coffee, communicate with our loved ones or pet our purring cat. Because the senses allow us to communicate and interact with our material environment, we obviously want them to operate at their full capacity. Our problem is not with the senses themselves, but with our interpretation of the information they provide. The self-image treats this ever-changing collection of information as reality. When our affairs are running smoothly, we are happy. When things go awry, we panic. Because of this, throughout any given day our state of mind can fluctuate as dramatically as the stock market. If our chart ends on a low point, we had a bad day. If it ends on a high, we had a good day.

Anchored in the self-image, we tie our quality of life to the condition of external affairs, an action that forces us to place a high premium on keeping our affairs positive. From this point of view we assume the highest use of mental and spiritual principles is to influence the course of our affairs. If we think positive, things will go our way. If we invoke affirmative prayer, God will provide.

The critical point that this outside-in approach misses is that it equates our state of affairs with our state of being, our quality of life. Our motive for spiritual inquiry, then, is prompted by the need to solve the problems generated by the restricted views of the self-image. Solving material problems, by any means, does not accomplish the balancing shift in awareness from the self-image to the soul. As soon as a given problem is solved, the spiritual inquiry ceases and the self-image returns to business as usual. Our so-called spiritual journey, then, becomes little more than an exercise in shoring up the many weaknesses of the self-image.

Your soul is 100% maintenance free. It has no need for food, shelter, transportation or money. In contrast, the body and the self-image we have constructed around it take the bulk of our attention. We become so entangled in addressing these needs that our universe centers on the body while the soul is pushed to the back burner. A practical teaching is measured by its ability to resolve body-based issues.

Consider this simple example of meeting a friend for lunch. To make this happen, you factor in things like weather, what you’ll wear, how you’ll get to the restaurant, the time the entire event will take, where you will sit when you get there, what you will eat, and so on. Even if everything goes as planned, the amount of body-oriented thought you put into this relatively simple outing is impressive. Your maintenance-free soul, on the other hand, requires no attention whatsoever. You can orchestrate this entire event, and a thousand just like it, without devoting a single thought to your soul. Has your lack of attention harmed the soul? Has your failure to acknowledge all those soul-enhancing opportunities for growth caused some sort of spiritual setback? No. The only thing that suffers from neglecting the soul is your quality of experience.

What do we mean by experience? Suppose you are sitting at your computer reading this post and some of the ideas inspire you to think of yourself and your life a bit differently. Suddenly you get an email from the friend with whom you had lunch. They are very upset over a comment you made in passing. Though your physical position remains the same (you are still sitting at your computer), in the matter of a few seconds, the quality of your life has changed. You have moved from inspired contemplation to the negative fallout from an unfortunate misunderstanding. Because you are deeply troubled by your friend’s email, the quality of your experience is instantly diminished.

Most of us will measure the quality of our experience by the external events that prompted the email. We’ll repeat the entire scene, reliving the details trying to figure out how our friend could have so misunderstood us. To calm this subjective storm, we decide we must talk with our friend and resolve the misunderstanding. We call with apologies and an explanation of why the conversation went as it did. In other words, we take objective steps to resolve a subjective disturbance.

While we do not want to discount the input of the senses, we want to remember that the identity and the perceptions we have built using the information they provide is but a thin atmospheric region surrounding the soul. The condition of the soul does not fluctuate with passing phenomena. Yes, we want to take responsible action toward the improvement of our conditions, and the starting place of all such action is the same.

When Jesus advised to seek first the kingdom and all other things would be added, he wasn’t suggesting that we turn to the great provider in the sky to solve the mental and emotional storms sparked by external conditions. He was pointing to a shift in awareness back to our center of power.

The soul remains eternally unperturbed. When the senses report chaos, we take note, but we remember the issue is occurring at the level of our physical interface. The quality of experience we seek remains within our reach, for it is our very essence. Nothing has the power to diminish or block the expression of the soul. Consciously connecting with your center of power provides you with a fresh interpretation of the information the senses report. We don’t want to shoot the messenger. We want to take into account the information the senses provide and utilize it from the strength of our soul.

See Rev. Doug’s Palm Sunday Talk on Youtube: View From the Threshold

View From the Threshold

Click for audio: View From the Threshold

Click here for video: View From the Threshold

When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, the Gospel account tells us that he rode the colt of a donkey and was greeted by crowds who threw their cloaks and palm branches on the ground before him. This is known as the Triumphal Entry and is commemorated on Palm Sunday.

Many interpretations are put forward concerning the significance of the crowd’s gesture. If we look at the three main elements of this story, we can form an interpretation that has significance to our own spiritual understanding. The three elements are earth, cloaks/palm branches, and Jesus. We have the earthly (road) and the divine (Jesus), and we have a point in between (cloaks and palms). While we might think of the cloaks and palms as a dividing point between two worlds, let’s think of them instead as a connecting point.

Let’s explore this idea with a simple illustration. Imagine opening the front door of your home and standing on the threshold. You can turn one way and face the inside then turn the other way and face the great outdoors. When you’re facing the interior, you are turned toward your personal habitation. When you face the outdoors, you are turned toward the habitation of many. You are gazing into the universal. You are, in this sense, the cloak and palm that stands between the two worlds of the personal and the universal.

Our tendency is to close ourselves inside the personal house of our self-image and view the world only from that perspective. We peer out our windows and get some sense of that world, but most of what we think we know about it we glean from the opinions of others. When we step outside our home, we see something very interesting. Ours is not the only house on the block. Ours is not the only block in town. Our town is not the only town in the state, and so on up to the very galaxy we inhabit and claim as our own. In other words, there is a vast world that begins right outside our door. We are the connecting point between the personal and the universal.

If you are going through a challenge, remember that you are looking only inside your house. You can turn and see that life is much greater than this defined space you call yourself.

Why Half?

Click for audio: Why Half?

The perspective we hold has much to do with the way we approach the challenges in life. A way to get in touch with our perspective is to ask: Do I see this glass as half full or do I see it as half empty? In other words, am I approaching this issue from the standpoint of lack or from the standpoint of possibility? Let’s further challenge ourselves by asking, Why half? Why do we have to assume the glass is either half full or half empty? Why can’t we start with the assumption that the glass is already full?

We do not start with a full glass because, by all appearances, something in our situation is missing. The glass appears to be anything but full. From this point of view, we only have two options. Either we don the mantle of optimism and approach the issue as an opportunity to fill the glass, or we fall into the pessimism of resignation, accepting it as a sign of failure. The first perspective is a call to roll up our sleeves and get to work. The second is giving in to this failed cause.

What about this third option of seeing the glass as full? Isn’t this unrealistic, wishful thinking? The Psalmist apparently didn’t think so. In one of the most oft quoted biblical passages, he penned this powerful affirmation:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows (Psalms 23:5).

The power of this passage is found in the fact that it is framed in present tense. He doesn’t say, You will eventually prepare a table, or You will anoint my head in the future, or you will one day fill my cup. He treats these things as if they are done now. The glass is full.

What does this mean? It means that the resolution you seek is now present. Because this is true, you may stop struggling to find it. This resolution may look entirely different from the one you are expecting. But why should this matter? The willingness to release your preconceived notions of both success and failure opens your mind to an entirely new set of possibilities. Rather than spend your time contemplating the half-full or half-empty question, you declare your glass is not only full but overflowing. Move through your day with this attitude and see what peace it brings.

In Response to a Comment …

To me it seems rather disingenuous that one who writes a blog about spiritual matters seemingly disparages the very readers of the blog he writes by announcing how superfluous it is they continue to seek. Readers who, like him, seek to more fully understand and live the truth they have experienced – that they are a complete soul now and not the self image associated with the temporal body which carries the soul during this earthly lifetime – appreciate being able to read those who elucidate and verify their experience. Teachers, prophets, ministers, churches and now bloggers come and go with their various messages, but the complete soul remains, and we continue to appreciate having this truth verified.

Perhaps I’m missing something here, but even the individual in your favorite parable engaged in a search before he found the treasure that was hidden. The fact that it was hidden implies that it must be sought before it is to be found.

This is a comment that deserves a fuller response that will, hopefully, clear up any misunderstandings around yesterday’s post.

Suppose you are car shopping. You’re driving down the street and you see the most beautiful car for sale. It is everything you want. Right color, right style, right everything. Guess what? Your search is over. You are no longer a car seeker. You found the right car. So what’s left? Now you have to figure out how to buy it, a whole different kind of activity. You may have to sell your present car or borrow the money. If you really want it, you’ll figure out what you need to do to get that car.

Of course there is another option. You can leave the lot without buying it. Every day you can drive by that car, admire its beauty and hope that some day you can figure out how to own it. Here’s the important point. You know which car you want. You need look no further. You are enlightened.

With this analogy, the spiritual quest is like car shopping. This is the process all of us were engaged in before we found what we believe is Truth. We were taught that God was in the sky and we were on earth, separate from God. We could not quite buy that so we searched for something more, something that appealed to our intuitive logic. When we heard that God was within, our soul rejoiced. We found what we were looking for. That was our moment of enlightenment.

So, do we spend the rest of our life looking for what we have already found? This would be like driving by that car we love every day but never really believing we can possibly own it. Maybe in ten years or maybe next lifetime I’ll be so prosperous I’ll be able to buy this car or something better.

This is exactly how many (myself once included) approach their quest for Truth. We’ll say, I know where God is. I know my soul is complete, but I don’t have the spiritual capital to make the experience of either a reality. These are glittering concepts sitting on the car lot that I drive by every day and imagine owning. I love to read books about them and have bloggers tell of their wonders. I love to attend seminars and travel around the world hearing about God within. It feels so good when I hear someone tell me what I already know.

We all know there is a vast difference between ownership and wishful thinking. Many on the spiritual path have come to know that God is within and that their soul is accessible. But this is not their experiential reality. The car remains on the lot and they remain the passer-by. In the parable, the man’s search ended the moment he stumbled upon the treasure. Jesus was saying, the next stage is ownership. I’ve told you the treasure is within. You know this is true and you love hearing it. So now you have to come into possession of this truth. You’re enlightened. You know where to look. Now do what you need to do to own that treasure.

When Jesus said to seek, knock and you will find, I believe he meant it. Many of us have, in fact, done exactly that. We know where our contact with God is. We can accept that the soul is complete now. So our search is over. What is left is to make the soul our core identity, to build our house on this rock rather than ride with the ever-shifting wind blown sand.

I hold that anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time is spiritually enlightened. But not because you follow this blog. You have discovered for yourself where your contact with God is, and this blog reaffirms this. No one can argue you off of this understanding. What I hope to accomplish here is to encourage the shift away from the notion that you are an eternal seeker and start owning the truth of what you have actually found, what you know to be true. This is a very different process.

To say the soul is complete sets a very high bar. If I’m complete, why don’t I feel complete? The answer. I have some selling to do. Here is what I know. I am no longer a seeker of Truth. I have found what I was looking for. I know without any doubt that my soul is complete and my oneness with God can never be compromised, not even in my darkest moments of ignorance. Have I sold all of my possessions to come into full ownership of this truth? No, I’m still doing that. But the coordinates of my treasure are marked. I know exactly what I am looking for and where it is located. And I’m willing to bet the farm that you do too.