The Changeless Soul

[Note: the following is my response to a question raised yesterday on this blog.]

You say the soul does not change. What then, is the purpose served by the changing self image? Say one begins believing themself to be a lowly worm of the dust. Through a series of experiences (both good and bad) and helpful teachers their self image changes and they come to accept they are essentially good, indeed, a child of God, made in God’s image and likeness. Correspondingly, their countenance changes, their whole persona changes and they exude a positive, loving, helpful spirit.

There are many advantages to improving the self-image. In our interactions with the world, a buoyant, effervescent self-image will obviously open doors that a dreary, self-loathing attitude will not. A flashlight with fresh batteries is preferred over one with very low batteries. The light produced by the first is more useful than the dim, yellow circle of light put out by the weaker batteries.

One who believes him or herself to be a lowly worm of the dust will feel undeserving. What, after all, does a worm have to offer the world? The light of their self-image will be dim and yellow and only others with the same dim, yellow light will find them attractive. Misery loves company, as we say.

On the other hand, the self-image that is built upon the belief that its owner is a child of God made in God’s image and likeness, enjoys a level of confidence that will brighten the room when they enter. Their batteries are new, fresh and cast a strong white light of confidence. Without saying a word about their spiritual beliefs, this person will be most attractive to others. As misery loves company, so does self-confidence. This person will get the jobs, get the promotions and generally find their path through life much easier.

So we think of the self-image as a flashlight with varying levels of battery power. One suffering from a very low self-image can indeed have their batteries recharged. They too can learn, through a positive lifting of self-esteem, that the job, the promotion and the easier path of life may be theirs as well. The entire multi-billion-dollar industry of self-improvement is based on this fact. And it is a good thing. Or at least it is until something higher begins knocking at one’s inner door.

If we compare a bright flashlight to a dim one, it is not difficult to see which is better and actually more useful. But let’s make another comparison. Let’s compare the sun to the brightest flashlight. The sun is so brilliant that even the strongest beam from the best flashlight pales in its radiance. And the batteries of the sun are never depleted. The earth moves in relation to the sun and we have day and night, winter and summer, but the sun itself does not change. The sun and its light are far superior to the best of flashlights.

The self-image is the flashlight. The sun is the soul. A bright flashlight is preferred over a dim one, but the sun is preferable to both. It is an entirely different thing. If I were born and raised in a room lighted only by the flashlight, my preference would be to have the best batteries I could afford. If someone told me about this abstract notion of sunlight, I would do my best to imagine it. It would be something like the greatest flashlight in the world.

If the day came, however, when someone would show me a door leading into the sunlight, and I stepped out into it, the experience would be so overwhelmingly powerful I would have to go back into the darkness. My eyes could not stand that much light. From that day forward, a strange thing would happen. My brightest flashlight would not seem so bright. Why? Because I moved from holding a concept of the sun to having an actual experience with it.

When Jesus referred to the seed that is dropped into the soil and dies before it can become the fruit-bearing plant, he was stating what must happen to the self-image. The self-image is the world of flashlights, which is good until we experience the soul. Then we understand that the self-image, no matter how bright it is, is still a bushel that covers the radiance of the soul. We do not willingly die to it if we still value our world of flashlights. But the moment that even a slim shaft of sunlight breaks into our awareness, our values instantly shift. I realize I have been making my light, but there is a greater light that is self-existent, self-sustaining. Yes I can brighten my world with my flashlight, but the flood of sunlight that streams in when I throw open my windows and doors changes my world. It changes my world because it changes me. I move from a self-creation to a divine expression that is not dim one day and bright the next.

Why do we study, scouring our books for truth and greater wisdom? Is it not because we intuitively know there is something better than the best we have yet experienced? Is not our quest for enlightenment the quest for greater peace and freedom? That which we seek is not found in even the brightest self-image. It is found only in the soul.

Those gifted to see auras attest to some auras being dark and of a low, repelling vibration. Other auras are light, pleasing, and vibrate at a higher frequency. As one’s self image improves, it stands to reason that the attending aura likewise improves, becoming lighter. If the aura is connected with, and shows the ‘state’ of the soul (as some clairvoyants claim,), it would seem that the soul can, and DOES change in correspondence to the changing self image. If it changes it is, logically speaking, not complete. Your thoughts, and thanks.

I do not have the gift for seeing auras, but like most people, I have the ability to discern a light countenance from a dark one. Same thing though less refined. In addition, most of us read more about a person than what they say in words. We see things in their body language, in the inflection of their tone, in the glance of an eye or many other signals. Sometimes we will not buy what they are trying to sell even when it sounds wonderful. Other times we trust them for no apparent reason.

Yes, a brighter self-image produces a brighter countenance. But let’s return to our dark room for a moment. Does the fact that our blinds are drawn have anything to do with the sun shining outside? If we decide to open the blinds and let the sunlight stream in, are we making the sun do something it was not doing moments earlier? Does the sun change because we open the blinds? No.

In this case, the blind is like the self-image. Some people keep their blinds drawn, some crack them open a bit and others open them all the way. The fully enlightened individual leaves the room altogether and goes outside.

The soul, like the sun, is complete. It is our level of experience with the sun that changes. The time comes when I see greater value in the sun than I see in maintaining and fortifying the self-image. In that day I can truthfully say, If you have seen me, you have seen the sun.

The Highest is the Nearest

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.

A Simple Illustration with Profound Consequences

The concept of nonduality is the very simple understanding that all the many apparent separate pieces of the universe rise from the singular reality of Consciousness. Attempts to characterize the nature of this underlying reality will be familiar to the student of Unity and other similar New Thought approaches. It is God, the one presence and one power in which all things live and move and have their being.

When it comes to the human condition and each individual’s relationship to God, there is a marked divergence in understanding in this spiritual community. Most metaphysical teachings of the West assume spiritual ignorance, experienced as feeling distant from God, is the result of an undeveloped soul. The soul is placed on a linear scale of time and treated as if it is engaged in a process of maturing. This has produced a kind of spiritual class distinction of young and old souls. Judging by the ongoing human struggle, attributed to soul immaturity, the concept of reincarnation is adopted to explain why we do not see more enlightened souls running around on earth. Every individual is traveling through one incarnation after another, all for the purpose of advancing the soul. What we do not learn in one lifetime we learn in another. A teacher like Jesus is held up as the brass ring of spiritual accomplishment. He represents the prime example of a mature soul to which we are to aspire. Nonduality does not share this model and to explain why, I’ll modify an example I used in The Complete Soul.

Imagine that we submerge ten sponges into an ocean. Each is completely saturated with water. The water inside the ten sponges is obviously the same composition and age as the water outside each sponge. Likewise, the water that permeates the various sponges is exactly the same. What is different is the degree of awareness each sponge has of the water. Most are so focused on their identity as a sponge that they do not think of the water in which they live and move and have their being as anything but an abstract concept. All things cellulose is the foundation of their understanding of reality and they spend all their time studying and thinking about its nature. Only one sponge understands that it and all the other sponges are permeated with this identical substance called ocean water.

This simple illustration is nonduality in a nutshell.

What stands between the unenlightened sponge and the water? Nothing. How much time is needed for the unenlightened sponge to become closer to the water? None. When the unenlightened sponge will begin to understand its relationship of oneness with the water is anyone’s guess. Are there any natural barriers that exist between the unenlightened sponge and the water? No. Are there any forces working against the unenlightened sponge to prevent its awakening to the presence of the water? Yes, there is one force that is working to prevent this awakening. This is the force of self-perception. The identity is grounded in the experience of cellulose. The unenlightened sponge touts the banner: I am cellulose that may one day enjoy a relationship of oneness with the ocean.

The enlightened sponge, on the other hand, understands itself as a point of awareness floating in its environment of the ocean. There is no point where the ocean water outside of itself leaves off and the ocean water inside of itself begins. It says, I am in the ocean and the ocean is in me, but the ocean is greater. I am not the ocean, but I am a point where the ocean is expressed as a relationship with a sponge. The sponge may come and go, but the ocean remains. I, therefore, am the ocean expressing through a sponge.

The unenlightened sponges have created an entire religion based on their identity as sponges. It’s about making life as a sponge more comfortable, healthy and prosperous. These conditions become the markers used to measure enlightenment. The enlightened sponge floats by and he looks so serene and peaceful, and they want to be just like him. And so they study, pray and meditate very hard on how to be a better, more peaceful sponge. Among themselves they argue about who is most enlightened. They learn to imitate the appearance of serenity and they carefully adopt the vocabulary of the enlightened sponge. They have great conferences that reinforce the belief that more and more sponges are fulfilling their potential. They greet one another with hugs and treat each other with greater kindness. They see the dawning of a world where all sponges do the same. Their growing numbers convince them that this long prophesied new age of enlightenment is drawing near. Sponge society is on the verge of a breakthrough. They are reaching the tipping point where more sponges than not will stop competing and will live in peace, mutual respect and love for one another. In other words, the day is coming when the ocean will absolutely saturate every sponge in the same way it has saturated the enlightened one.

Now, by this illustration we can see that such a hoped-for condition has nothing to do with time, spiritual evolution or any other factor deemed an obstacle to enlightenment. The difference between the enlightened and unenlightened sponge is not found in their actual state of being. It is found in their self-perception. One is the ocean expressing through a sponge, the other is a sponge who lives with the hope of becoming one with the ocean and its fellow sponges.

Think of the soul as this ocean water that flows within each sponge. When you think of this water in relation to the water flowing outside of this sponge, you see there is no difference. The sponge simply provides a unique point of awareness within the infinite context of the ocean. There are not many souls. There is but one. But this one soul expresses through many channels. There are many kinds of sponges, but there is only one ocean.

When we engage the practice of denial and affirmation, we deny (release) what is not true of the soul and affirm what is. What is not true of the soul is that it is immature and undeveloped and in need of many more lessons to grow in strength and stature. What is true of the soul is that it is complete, fully present and composed of exactly the same life, love, power and intelligence that is found in God. The soul is life, love, power and intelligence. We do not call upon or affirm these elements into being. We release our belief that the trauma we are presently going through indicates these elements are not fully present. Our attention has shifted from the peace of the ocean to the plight of the sponge.

We align our awareness with the truth that life, love, power and intelligence are present and they are, in fact, the very essence of our being. We would call the practice of this alignment prayer. However, the more important practice we would first engage is that of re-establishing our awareness in the ocean. This is meditation. Without this experience of the ocean, we pray amiss. Prayer becomes a mind game whose objective is to enhance the comfort of the sponge. We want the sponge to experience more peace, so we pray that those conditions that are upsetting to the sponge go away.

We first seek the experience of ourselves as ocean water, we then release that which is not true of the water and affirm that which is. What Paul called the mind of the flesh, we could call the mind of the sponge. The mind of the sponge is all about the preservation and comfort of the sponge. We want to shift our awareness to the indestructible truth of the water, to have in us the mind of the water that sets us free from the struggles of the sponge.

Many metaphysical teachings embrace the model of having to move from a point A to a point B to make our world a better place. Nonduality erases the notion of two points and makes them one. That one point is the realization of what is true of the soul: It is complete, it is present and it is the fulfillment of all we seek.

Questions and Answers, Part 2

You wrote, “As a product of Consciousness, all people of all ages have access to this primary Source. All are capable of discerning its behavior and its relation to the realm of matter. The author of Genesis was no exception.” Are you saying you agree with the Bible’s account of creation?

I do not agree with the particulars of either creation story found in Genesis 1 or 2. I do agree with the author of the first chapter (composed some 400 years later than chapter 2) with his opening, “In the beginning God …” I am in greatest agreement with John’s account of creation. It goes into no detail about how creation unfolded, only that it began with the Word. These ancient writers obviously had little or no scientific background, at least as we understand science today. The strength of modern science is its ability to explain material processes. Its weakness is in its inability to acknowledge underlying Consciousness as the source out of which the visible world appears.

This inability has caused science to overlook some profound truths concerning the human condition. For example, an article from the New York Times states:

Over the past two decades, the use of antidepressants has skyrocketed. One in 10 Americans now takes an antidepressant medication; among women in their 40s and 50s, the figure is one in four.

Experts have offered various reasons for this but it is safe to assume that none of these reasons will be found in the Bible. Yet the primary reason that people suffer is clearly illustrated in the early allegories of the Bible. Humankind turned its attention away from its spiritual source in favor of following senses-based information as its basis of reality. The Garden of Eden is the soul. The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is the senses-based self-image. Though we live in one of the most prosperous countries on the planet, our belief that our status and identity can be drawn from possessions and accomplishments in the material realm has made us feel quite naked. We are attempting to live a happy life consciously severed from our spiritual source. We try to compensate for this by clothing ourselves in the “skins” of materialism and antidepressants whose side effects are often so numerous there is not enough room on the label to print them legibly.

I once counseled a suicidal woman who was on 21 prescription drugs. She had become a walking nuclear reactor. Doctors treated her as a machine that could be medicated to a reasonable level of self-worth. She told me that one day she decided to flush all her medications down the toilet. This was the day she marked as the beginning of her return to  the sanity of her own inner Garden. This does not mean that everyone should follow her lead, for medicines have their place. But these ancient writers had a spiritual insight into the human condition that material science, which includes medicine, could learn a great deal.

The Bible does not take into account the fossil record which clearly shows an evolution of living forms. The earliest known fossils (3.7 billion years) are simple celled bacterial forms. If God is behind it all, why did it take so long to come up with a human being?

The universe is obviously in no hurry. A notable point made by biologist Robert Lanza, who Time Magazine ranked among its 100 most influential people in the world, is that there are several hundred conditions in our universe that must be exactly correct to sustain life. A degree’s difference here or there would render it impotent. Lanza, like a growing number of other scientists, holds that consciousness is the key to understanding reality, that the universe is made by and for life, not the other way around.

What story would science tell if it started with the premise that consciousness predates matter and all those biological forms that have left evidence of their existence in stone? As I have already suggested, this story still might include something like a big bang, but with intention. It would not likely include an old man in the sky amusing himself with an unlimited supply of modeling clay. It could hold as intentional the action of the invisible exerting its influence on the visible, not unlike the artist who uses paint and canvas to express an otherwise abstract vision.

This new science would not have us looking billions of years into the past. That which ignited matter with life and its first wiggling organisms is very much at work still. There would be no reason for religion to continue recoiling under the threat of Darwinism. How refreshing it would be to move from the endless battle between science and religion to the science of religion. What an exciting partnership that would be.

In your first post, you wrote, “We long for freedom as a spiritual birthright. The soul that is our very basis of existence has known nothing but freedom.” Would you mind elaborating?

The desire for freedom is universal. Behind every single dream you have, you find the desire for greater freedom. Our desire for freedom at the level of the self-image is triggered by the fact that the soul is already free. We are simply echoing what is true at the core of our being. All living things share this desire and react to confinement with the single purpose of escaping.

A ground squirrel made its home beneath a ground-level deck that holds our hot tub. Rodents, being what they are, love to chew things in their spare time. The plastic insulation on wiring is particularly attractive to many of them. Knowing this, I decided to capture the squirrel in a live-trap and take him out to his natural habitat in the desert. His reaction to this momentary incarceration was predictable. He did not like it and he did everything within his power to end his captivity as quickly as possible.

Another way to trap a wild animal is with the enticement of food. Feed them enough and they will become dependent on you, willingly domesticated, a subject I explore in my novella, The Way of the Bighorn. Soon, the greatest punishment you could render is to set them free to fend for themselves. The desire to be free is still present, but it now translates into the assurance of a full stomach.

This would describe the self-image. At this level, our desire to be free is translated as a full stomach; i.e., a life filled with people, accomplishments and things. We measure our worth and our freedom by what we keep in the pantry. We still respond to this desire for freedom, but we miss the mark in its fulfillment. The soul is the bullseye. Shooting for anything less does not satisfy with the reward of freedom.

“The greatest irony of all is that we look at the door of our cell and see that it stands open. There are, in fact, no natural barriers between where we sit and where we intuitively know we can be.”

You say there are no natural barriers that stand between ourselves and our conscious connection with the soul. Because the majority of people are barred entry into conscious union with the soul, could we not consider the the self-image a natural barrier?

We should not confuse the terms normal and natural. The self-image is the product of the senses-based, intellectually driven imagination. As I point out in The Complete Soul, the imagination has the dual intellectual and intuitive functions. Intuitively, it acts in much the same way as the lens of our digital camera. The lens is the intake of raw light (intuition). Through the camera’s processor, an image shows up on the viewfinder, the intellectual, picture forming aspect of the imagination. Our intuition opens to the soul and feeds its information to the intellect.

This is the mystery of the Virgin Birth, where the “Son of God” is conceived and born through a virgin, Mary (intuition). Joseph, the intellect, is not involved in this awakening but plays the supporting role of bringing this child into the world of expression. In the development of the self-image, Mary is quietly put away. At most she becomes a house servant offering a few tidbits of guidance through the maze of materialism, adding a hunch here and a strong feeling there. Joseph is in charge. Even if he does respond to one of Mary’s promptings, he still takes credit for it. This describes our intellectually-based scientific and academic communities. Mary plays no part and has no place in the curriculum.

We turn out towering self-images left to fend for themselves as they move through their lives and careers in a desperate search to fill in the missing piece that is the soul. A few do, but most don’t. Mary is a scientific and academic anomaly that is either explained away or dismissed altogether. Our so-called great intellectuals have heads brimming with information but hearts often so empty that prozac becomes a viable piece of the success puzzle.

So while the self-image is not a natural barrier to an experience of the soul, it is certainly a normal, widely accepted barrier. When we place more value on an experience of the soul than we do on continually fortifying the self-image, we find that nothing stands in our way.

Questions and Answers

[Note: the following is commentary on questions raised and questions that may be raised on yesterday’s post. JDB]

You use the metaphor of the caterpillar and butterfly as a way of illustrating transformation. Aren’t you talking about a form of evolution?

No. The caterpillar does not evolve into a butterfly. It is a butterfly even at the caterpillar stage. Evolution might suggest the caterpillar becoming something different, a lizard, for example. Or it remains a caterpillar but takes on colors that provide better camouflage. The soul does not change. The self-image, on the other hand, changes all the time. It is a linear creation that exists in and is subject to time and space. The soul is eternal and is not subject to time and space. When people refer to soul evolution, they are referencing the belief that one day the self-image will become what the soul already is. As I pointed out with the caterpillar/butterfly example, the “I” of the caterpillar is the same “I” that is the butterfly. The I is the essence of this creature. If the butterfly should emerge from the chrysalis and immediately fly in front of a passing car, the I still exists, though not in the form of the butterfly. The I of the caterpillar and the butterfly is the same as the I of you and me. What is different is the capacity for creative expression (the faculty of imagination) in each creature. In other words, we share the common soul. This is why I said, “The soul is not ours to evolve. We are its.”

You wrote, “With only a few exceptions in terminology, I find the Complete Soul rests quite comfortably in this philosophical framework (nonduality).” Can you give some examples?

The nondualist usually uses the term mind or body-mind where I would use the term self-image or, body-based self-image. We appear to mean the same thing. I am more comfortable with self-image because the term image implies a replication of the genuine article. An image of a person painted by an artist, for example, is something very different from the actual person. Our self-image is our created replication of the soul. As in the case of the artist, regardless of how good a painter they are, they can never bring their image on canvas to life. We may say a painting is so life-like that it almost speaks to us, or it almost jumps off the canvas. Neither, of course, is true and neither is possible.

The self-image can study the works of spiritual masters and it can take on the demeanor and language of these individuals, so much so that they can convince the world they are enlightened. This is simply a self-image posing as a spiritual master. A spiritual master actually gives voice to the soul.

Jesus was called a blasphemer because he spoke from the soul. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” is not a statement any self-image can make, regardless of how spiritually polished it may be. Only the soul can make such a statement. If you were a caterpillar, you would not follow and study another caterpillar to learn how to become a butterfly. You would follow the same I the other caterpillar follows, the same I that is seated in every caterpillar on earth. Only in this way would you fulfill the soul’s activity as expressing as a butterfly.

The nondualist uses the term Consciousness to indicate the single, underlying, invisible reality behind all that we see. Awareness indicates consciousness. One of Rupert Spira’s suggested exercises is to simply be aware that you are aware. Most of the time our awareness is focused on some thing. I am aware that I am thinking about what to buy at the grocery store. I am aware that I argued with my spouse. I am aware that my paycheck was not as large as I expected. Engaging in the exercise of being aware that you are aware can indeed awaken you to the more universal experience of consciousness. When practiced by the self-image, however, it can also fall into an ineffective word game.

What the nondualist calls Consciousness, I would call God. And in fairness, they do not seem to shy away from this term. That point where God, the universal, expresses as the individual, I would call soul. As I’ve pointed out in past postings, the writer of John made the distinction between God and the Word. These are one and the same, but the Word is the creative aspect of God and is the maker of all created things. Because the Universal cannot enter into the personal and remain Universal, the soul/Word provides the mechanism for this to happen. The soul is the basis of this interface between the unseen Universal and the visible expression. In one sense, the soul is the prism that allows universal white light to be broken down and observed as a rainbow of color.

As I point out in The Complete Soul, I use the word consciousness to indicate the sum of our ideas. This is common usage in New Thought circles. In terms of their influence, the most important ideas are those associated with the way in which I see myself. Both the self-image and the soul generate consciousness. When consciousness is generated by the self-image, it is false because it reflects my understanding of myself from the basis of the body. Paul refers to this as the carnal mind or mind of the flesh. When consciousness is generated by the soul, it is true because it reflects what is true at the unchanging spiritual level.

The self-image can generate a consciousness filled with spiritual ideas. This would be like someone showing you a picture of a mountain and then you try to imagine what it is like to experience the world from this peak. You form concepts, some of which may be good. But these are immediately dispelled the moment you actually sit on the mountain. The self-image lives with a consciousness of perceptual replicas. The soul lives with a consciousness of direct experience.

Why do you consider the speculations of the beginning of life and the creation of the cosmos an important part of your spiritual understanding? We’re here. What difference does it make how we got here?

Every major world religion explores the notion of creation, of the ultimate beginning. Science, of course, has adopted this same practice. They justify their exploration with the importance of knowing where we came from. The same can be said of religion. Science says we came from matter. Religion says we came from God. Understanding both perspectives addresses the more pertinent question of why we are here. Why would this matter? Because our cosmology provides the context from which we live our daily life. If you adopt the context of orthodox science, you will look out at your world and say, “I am a product of matter. When my body dies, I will be no more.” With this attitude, you will live your life one way. If you look out at your world and say, “I and all that I see are a product of God,” you will live your life in quite another way. The materialist believes it is impossible for the consciousness, the soul, to survive the loss of the body. The nondualist holds that the survival of consciousness is not dependent on the body. The illustration usually used is the brain and body are like the television set. The programs transmitted by the set are not located within the television. The programming, like the soul, continues even if the television set is destroyed.

There seems to be a growing number of scientists with nondualistic leanings. What impact might this have on our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe?

By all appearances, nondualists in all branches of science, including medicine, are a minority and will remain so for some time to come. While this has not always been the case, it certainly is now. Watch any of the latest presentations on how the universe came to be and you will see the latest discoveries couched within the parameters of this assumption: The universe came from matter and here’s how we now believe that happened. As exciting as science is, it will be even more exciting when it begins to explore the cosmos based on this assumption: The universe came from Consciousness (God) and here’s how we now believe it happened.

Orthodox science is a long way from even considering this premise, but if and when it does, the textbooks will all be in for some exciting new revision. An entirely new science, in fact, will be born.

To be continued …

Nonduality and The Complete Soul

Have you ever gone to sleep one night, awakened the next day and found yourself in a very different world—without a single drop of alcohol involved? In one sense, I have found myself in such a situation. Having followed the promptings of my primary teacher, Emilie Cady, I have gone alone, thought alone and sought the light of spiritual understanding alone. Prompted by a three-plus-year series of events, I sorted through much of the thinking that has culminated in my life as a Unity minister. I’ve examined and re-examined the values that led me down this path until I reached a healing understanding of why I made my choices. Most importantly, I have allowed myself, using a metaphor of Jesus, to redefine the standard for fish I keep and fish I throw back.

Mine is not unlike the experience of the caterpillar responding to the call of something more. Having eaten its fill of the fibrous roughage abounding in its earthbound world, it responds to the urge to go alone, to encase itself in a chrysalis of inner reflection, surrender to a new but strangely familiar process from which it emerges a butterfly with newly acquired abilities and a taste for the refined nectar of the flowering plant. It does not leave this world but experiences it anew. The I that was the caterpillar foraging from plant to plant is the same I that now flitters among a rainbow of flowers.

My chrysalis has been the process of The Complete Soul, a book intended to summarize and articulate those seed ideas I find scattered throughout my earliest writings. And yet I have always sensed this direction, while somewhat new to me, was not new to others who have recognized that it is not the butterfly’s world or its inherent makeup that is in need of change. Omnipresence furnishes laws governing the earthbound and those who have taken flight. We are accommodated at any level we choose.

Over the span of a few short months I have stumbled unexpectedly into a community of kindred spirits, most bearing scientific, philosophical and spiritual pedigrees. I will write more of this in a moment. For years I have had a fascination with both our cosmic and human origins. As a minister, I am quite familiar with the depiction of Biblical creation and science’s inevitable rebellion to its simplistic approach. I have also familiarized myself with science’s answer to this ancient mythology that seems to demand one be long on faith and short on logic.

I must also say that I have discovered orthodox science (those getting the lion’s share of government grants) has issued the same long on faith requirement. We are asked to set aside all logic and accept that 13.772 billion years ago a particle (a fraction the size of an atom) suddenly exploded and in a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second expanded into a mass of matter the size of a universe. From this mass came time and space, billions upon billions of galaxies and countless trillions of stars, planets, moons, quasars, nebula and, eventually, every life form, including ourselves. Gosh, this makes the Bible’s account sound rather tame.

I have a deep respect for science and the phenomenal fruit of its disciplined labors. I puzzle, however, over its insistence that matter gave birth to life and that human consciousness is a product of the brain. My interest in near-death research is prompted by what appears to be irrefutable evidence that consciousness is not dependent on the brain, that the death of the body is not the death of the soul. I have always accepted that the soul survives so-called death, but I am very interested in those scientists who are applying themselves to this field of research. I am particularly interested in the elevated state of consciousness described by many who have a near-death experience. This advanced state does not suddenly come into being with the death of the body but apparently already exists. Far from generating the soul, the brain and body apparently greatly restrict the capacity of the soul. I have concluded, therefore, that the notion of soul evolution is a myth. The religious and spiritual disciplines that include the evolving soul actually hinder the level of spiritual enlightenment that is available to every individual.

Today, as never before, every person with a computer has access to the greatest minds and the most cutting edge science and philosophy in the world. It was through this digital venue that, while pursuing my interests in the subjects of cosmology, the origin of life, near-death and the advent of our own species (all of which I find relevant to my spiritual interests), that I stumbled into the above mentioned community of kindred spirits. I say “community” not because you’ll find them living together in some 21st century version of Findhorn, but because they share, in one or another of its many forms, the common philosophy of nondualism. Roughly speaking, this philosophy, which is found in ancient Eastern religions as well as much Western spiritual thinking, names consciousness, not matter, as the fundamental basis of the universe. With only a few exceptions in terminology, I find The Complete Soul rests quite comfortably in this philosophical framework.

Because consciousness predates matter, and if we choose to use the term in this context, we would do well to distinguish it with an upper-case C, as in Consciousness. Stripped of its anthropomorphic implications, we can also simply use the word God, as in, in the beginning, God …. Obviously lacking our current scientific understanding of the universe, we can easily credit this ancient writer with such an intuitive insight. As a product of Consciousness, all people of all ages have access to this primary Source. All are capable of discerning its behavior and its relation to the realm of matter. Why should the author of Genesis be an exception?

With Consciousness as the ground force of creation, we can likely take some version of science’s Big Bang and fit it into a Consciousness-driven universe. That science still refuses to take this leap is in no way indicative of what is actually true. The scientific view of the universe is, after all, a work in progress, a highly revised mathematical model. And with the concepts of dark matter and dark energy already nipping at its heels, we will, in all likelihood, soon find this theory in the heap right next to the flat earth and earth-centered universe.

When I watch interviews and Q&A sessions with these deeply empathetic teachers of non-duality, I see a replay of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, that intellectually grounded academic who was attempting to cram the boundless soul into the confines of his senses-based self-image. I observe teachers like Francis Lucille, Rupert Spira and the full-hearted Jamaican-born, Anthony Paul Moo-Young, better known as Mooji, interact with students who anxiously pick their brains for the key to the complete consciousness the teacher holds as ever-present. While this quest for understanding often takes the form of a complex though unintended word game, the wisdom in the responses of these teachers is as self-evident as their compassion for the inquirer.

Aside from my relatively limited exposure to Eastern religions, I have absolutely no background in any of the Eastern traditions in which the concept of nondualism can be found. This, of course, is of no concern to me, for every principle I have encountered in the philosophy of nondualism is embodied in the teachings of Jesus. These are principles any who start with the omnipotence of God and the fully-developed soul will likely discover. I have, in the quiet of my own room, reached many of the same conclusions expressed from within this lively community. I may even surprise myself one day by attending the annual Science and Non-Duality (SAND) conference held in California. Then again, I’m not driven by the need to become a part of yet another group. It may suffice to simply know there are others out there who hold the compatible view that the notion of soul evolution is a myth in need of expulsion from our spiritual vocabulary. To put it frankly, the soul is not ours to evolve. We are its.

That each of us shares a point of awareness we identify as that unchanging central I that has been witness to all the many events through which we have traveled, indicates the universal nature of consciousness. Likewise, we share the universal desire to be free, but not because we are voicing some pipe dream that may, at the end of a very long evolutionary path, be finally realized. We long for freedom as a spiritual birthright. The soul that is our very basis of existence has known nothing but freedom. The caterpillar spins the chrysalis, rests for a period and emerges as the butterfly while claiming a constant “I” through this entire dramatic transformation. It can say I began as a caterpillar and I have become a butterfly. I express changes in my condition while the I that I am is changeless. Even from within the apparent confines of the chrysalis, the soon-to-be butterfly does not experience confinement. Its I rests peacefully in this very productive stage of quiet. Its external condition is irrelevant to its process. It is cradled in the loving arms of the cosmos every step of the way. In the span of a single lifetime, without instruction or prodding of any form, this insect fulfills the soul’s purpose for taking on a body. Should we expect less?

Through the window of the prison of our self-image in which we have unknowingly confined ourselves waft breezes from the reality of our spiritual countryside. Huddled beneath the patch of sunlight that also streams through our window, we imagine the hills and valleys beyond our walls bathed in unconditional light. From our cell, we study the laws of sunlight under the superstition that the more we know about the nature of the sun, the greater our right to partake in the full glory of its warmth. The greatest irony of all is that we look at the door of our cell and see that it stands open. There are, in fact, no natural barriers between where we sit and where we intuitively know we can be. No one and no thing holds the key to this door. It has no lock. Yet we feel so safe in our familiar cell that we have convinced ourselves of the need to stay and learn the laws of life within these walls before we earn the right to graduate and move beyond them.

Nonduality teaches that consciousness is the fundamental reality behind all we see. Consciousness has no beginning and no end. It is the Alpha and Omega that has been present forever. God, the Creative Life Force, is my preferred name for it. The term consciousness has other, more concise uses. Whether we call it Consciousness, God or the Complete Soul, this dimension is the spiritual home we long for and, in truth, have never left. It is in us and in it we live and move and have our being. The unnatural barriers that keep us in confinement are perceptual only, conditions that might exist in the impossible absence of Omnipresence.

For me, it feels as if a new day has dawned. What this day holds remains to be seen, but I have a very good feeling that that which brought me to this point can hardly wait to show me.