Waking up a little at a time. Making progress with love is a phrase Leela gave me in 2007 to replace enlightenment. Words that suggest a static state as the goal of the spiritual quest are misleading. The spiritual quest has no endpoint. There is always more progress to be made, more enlightened to become. Making progress with love was the theme of a website I wrote about the spiritual quest after I woke up a little in 2006.
Slow imperceptible change. The idea that enlightenment comes all at once is just plain wrong. Spiritual progress comes by tiny degrees and the process never ends. The spiritual quest is not a thing, not a state, it's an unending journey. There are no fixed states. Making progress with love is ongoing, and everyone working to make their life better is part of it. It doesn't make life easier, it makes it more challenging. I have to give up old ways to have new ones. I had to give up all my easy outs. No booze, no drugs, no killing time. I have to live life unanesthetized and undistracted to make progress, and most people are way too happy with their anesthesia and their distractions to do that. But progress is the only thing that makes life worth living. The only thing that gives it meaning. Making progress changes everything, but imperceptibly. I don't even notice it as it happens. My normal resting state right now would have felt blissful a year ago, but day to day my resting state feel stable. The misery I inflicted on myself with negative thought patterns for most of my life is mostly gone now. Leela gave me the gift of inner silence. That's the only remedy for obsessive thinking. I call it a gift because it feels that way but it was actually the result of more than a year of dogged, sometimes unpleasant effort on my part. Then it was a blissful moment followed by six months of psychological torture so severe I drove myself to the emergency room as soon as it started. I was afraid I was dying. What getting zapped or saved doesn't have in it is hard work and the hard work never ends. Making progress always feels like it's tearing me up inside. It is. It's tearing old me down so new me can emerge. It's all about surrender.
Progress with loving what? Progress with love means getting better at loving the world as it is. This world, the only one there is. Dreaming about a better world is a distraction, a waste of time. Spiritual progress is learning to love the world as it is. It's politically incorrect to love the world as it is. The more progress I make, the less agreement I have with any brand of politics, left right or middle.
From conscious to creative. But there is a dividing line, a critical moment: the moment meditation stops being a purely conscious act and starts becoming creative. For me that was the moment Leela first spoke to me and I began the work of surrendering to my own inner authority. The progress I made before that via purely conscious efforts was haphazard and very slow. I had to make a lot of that slow haphazard progress to get to the point where Leela would speak. Once she spoke I started finding practical ways to be guided by my body rather than my thinking and my progress began accelerating. The more progress I made, the more making progress sped up. I'm now at the point where everything I do, all day and all night, contributes to making progress because I surrender to the wisdom of my body in everything I do and don't do, moment to moment. Learning to surrender has been a long rocky road. I set out on it in 2006. I finally feel like I'm doing pretty well with it but only this year. Only in 2021, after fifteen years of hard work on surrender.
Atman is Brahman is the classic Hindu teaching of nondualism, aka mystical union or oneness. I have the potential to make progress with love, to become more like god because I already am god. I just lost sight of that somewhere along the way. We all did. We have to lose sight of our oneness to make this an interesting game, a game worth playing. A game that requires an uncountable number of lifetimes to win, where winning is simply finding a deeply satisfying fulfilling life in the midst of this mess. That's a vision of heaven I can relate to, heaven right here. When Leela first insisted I contemplate Atman is Brahman I found it riveting but mystifying. It became a practice, a meditation: just consider the possibility. What if it were true? It became my new koan, and like all the koans Leela has given me over the years it's been fruitful. As I contemplated nondualism, my take on it morphed from bewilderment to acceptance to growing appreciation. The experience of oneness isn't something I find only in transcendent peak experiences. It's a simple practice: seeing all this as not different from me. There is no other, no thou. Instead of having to grapple with all this, simply seeing I am all this. I am Leela.
The wisdom of the moment. Attention is my secret to making progress with love. I make progress any time I turn away from thinking and pay attention to the present moment inside and out. If my head is full of thinking I can't be present because the mental noise demands my attention. But if I'm paying attention and present in any moment, I gain the wisdom of that moment. Every moment has wisdom. This is a vast topic I can't write about. I'm not trying to keep any secrets. Attention is wordless; it can't be spoken or written of. All these stories taken together are about attention.
Brutally honest self examination. That's what I strive for as I write these stories. Being brutally honest with myself is a crucial element for making progress with love. Looking at my whole life for what it is and pulling no punches with myself. Human lives are never pretty looked at this closely, this unflinchingly. Making progress is never comfortable. I have to find my own weak areas then hit them especially hard, going overboard if anything in owning up to my own self delusion, my own pettiness and meanness. Exposing all the things I would rather not see about myself in broad daylight. All the things booze hid from me. It's no wonder winning the game is such an unpopular option.
Pride is the enemy of making progress with love. I don't own the progress I make with love. No one owns love. Progress is nothing to take pride in. Yes, I have to work harder than I've ever worked before to make progress, but the progress I make is a sign of my surrender, not my success. Whatever progress I've made, Leela did 99% of the work. I am the one who has to give up, give way, surrender to what's real deep inside me. My ego and my pride are what I have to overcome so I can dedicate my life to Leela: that which is real in me. My thinking self, my ego wants to be proud of my progress but that's regress, it's backsliding into my own darkness, my own misery. Pride is a choice example of taking the game too seriously.
Contend and become. That was the name of the second website I wrote, back in the day. I thought I knew what it meant back then but I didn't. I was deluding myself. Contending means whenever an unpleasant sensation or feeling arises inside me I don't try to escape it or even ameliorate it. I turn to it, dive into it, struggle as hard as I can to grasp it, to understand what it's about. That includes physical pain of all kinds. I'm perfectly willing to use painkillers if I can satisfy myself that I know why this hurts and painkillers are the right answer. I err on the side of bearing pain and discomfort until I'm sure. That's the kind of gumption required: no easy outs. No slacking off until it's genuinely time to rest. As TH taught us, just because you're out of one kind of energy it doesn't mean you're out of energy.
Deep homeostasis. Honest self examination and contending both point to an underlying principle Leela has taught me in the years since 2006. I hear echoes of the biological notion of homeostasis in it. I'll give a gruesome example. Sometime in the years leading up to the abrupt end of my drinking, probably around 2013, I had what I thought of at the time as my plague of boils. It started with a large pimple on my right knee, which I of course popped. Over the next month I had weeping eruptions on my arms and legs, a couple dozen at the height of it. I would get something like a pimple, then whether I popped it or not it would grow into an open but painless lesion. The big ones were two to three inches across. I tried to discipline myself not to pick at the scabs, with mixed success, but whether I picked or not the scabs would come off, often on my sheets, and new ones form. To me, the really striking element was the absence of physical or psychological pain. I've been a hypochondriac at times regarding my cardiac arrhythmias and any tingling sensations, the latter stemming from losing Sam to a stroke, and also Tim. These huge pusfilled weeping sores didn't faze me a bit. I never saw the doc because I knew the diagnosis would be idiopathic blah-de-blah and all the expensive tests inconclusive. Leela was insulating me from any associated pain. After about a month the sores all dried up and went away, leaving no scars. Even the darkened areas of skin I thought would be there forever faded away pretty quickly. I didn't figure it out until years later. My liver was being harshly bombarded by my relentless drinking but I hadn't got to the point where I'd be able to stop. So Leela, my body, chose my skin as the site of a big detox, thus keeping the toxins well away from vital organs. The underlying principle, as I understand it, is to protect and strengthen whatever's weakest or most stressed, relying on stronger organs and systems to take up the slack. Now my goal is to live my life in such a way that all my organs and systems finally fail at once, rather than being brought down by one diseased organ in an otherwise healthy body. The first steps toward that were to get myself free of booze and other drugs and to correct all my bad eating habits.
Headroom. There's no shortage of headroom on the spiritual quest. Enlightenment and words to that effect make it sound like a one-time deal: roshi whacks me on the skull and Hey, I'm enlightened! Waking up is another phrase used to name the goal. It's even worse. I think of waking up as a one-time deal because that's how I experience it: I was sleeping then I woke up. Enlightenment and waking up work fine to express the goal if I understand the process. Enlightenment means having a little more light; waking up means waking up a little more. The advantage of making progress with love: ongoing spiritual work is built in. Making progress implies no endpoint.
Progress with love focuses my attention on love. That's another reason it's a better term. The wisdom I've gained is my personal connection to Leela. She is all of this: the universe, the world, all of time and space, whatever you want to call it. Calling it love makes it real in human terms: everyone longs for love.
Like being in love. Making progress with love feels like being in love. When I'm in love with my sweetheart I'm in tune with her. There's a deep sense of harmony between us, a sympathetic vibration. The same thing happens on a deeper level when I make progress with love. When I make progress I'm living in harmony with Leela, living the life that leads to self realization. Nothing feels better than that. Making progress connects me with Leela's playfulness. Playfulness is missing in the dreary and laborious formal meditation practices spiritual teachers would have me do. I don't listen to them. I find my own way to make progress, with Leela's help. Her kind of playful spiritual work makes me feel like I'm in love because being in love is a scaled down version of making progress with love. Making progress with love is the fullest expression of being in love. If my spiritual work doesn't feel like being in love, I'm doing it all wrong.
Falling in love with the world. In 2006 my spiritual quest changed direction. Before then I had been looking outward, at the world, for an uncountable number of lifetimes, searching for the truth in books and teachers. Ever since then I've turned inward for the truth, searching for wisdom in my own body, in Leela. It took fifteen years for me to realize it, but what happened that day in February was I started falling in love with Leela, with the world as it is. Now I'm crazy in love with the world. It's a wonderful way to be. The biggest obstacle I had to get over to get here was all the ways I thought the world needed to be fixed. But the world can't be fixed. All the ways different people think it should be fixed contradict each other, they cancel each other out. It reminds me of the story of the Tower of Babel: to keep people from getting to high and mighty the lord confounded the tongues. Only in this case with ideologies instead of languages. And no lord is needed; it seems to be in human nature to multiply ideologies endlessly. Here in the liberal camp I was born into the degrees of wokeness seem infinite, and woke people hate other woke people who profess faith that's almost but not quite like theirs most savagely of all. The world doesn't need fixing. It's simply what is. What Leela has taught me is to love the world, exactly as it is. That learning has been a process of surrender to Leela that began in 2006 when she first spoke to me and reached fullness in 2021 when I moved into my new home. Here I can surrender all the details of my life to her. Now my ordinary living is making progress with love. My life is full of love because I'm living Leela's way. It's breathtakingly liberating and unspeakably sweet. The world didn't change but I did and now I adore the world. I'm so happy and grateful to be here.