A Transformational Journey

[When Light Morning was an active community, those wanting to visit or intern here sometimes asked about our core values. In response, we posted three articles to an earlier version of this website: Living Close to the Earth; A New Kind of Family; and A Transformational Journey.]

Choosing to live close to the Earth, in a new kind of family, is to risk intimacy. What drew us to Light Morning in the first place, however, and what keeps us here, is riskier still: a whispered call to cast off our moorings and embark upon a transformational journey.

This journey grows out of an audacious assumption that humans are mutable creatures. As a species, we routinely engage in nearly inconceivable atrocities and generosities. Who could even hazard a guess, then, about what any individual’s capacity for goodness or godliness might be?

This post will approach the complex nature of the human heart from several directions. First we’ll consider a disturbing tension between the soul and the human. Then we’ll turn to an emerging Light Morning paradigm called The Four Cairns and a threefold path of meditation, dreams, and prayer.

The Soul Is Not Human

Several paradoxes have appeared during our voyage of discovery. The yearning to go beyond what we know ourselves to be, for example, while seemingly innate, is also elusive and intangible. And while the conditioned personality may be tempted toward a cocoon by the imagined wings and awareness of a butterfly, it will often distort and co-opt these images to serve its own parochial needs. Finally, what we most want is what we most fear.

My sudden understanding of this last paradox came from an unexpected direction. In the summer of 1995 I had just turned fifty. I was happily married; had a wonderful daughter; lived in a homesteading community that shared its spiritual practices; and was about to attend my first Vipassana meditation course.

Somewhere deep down, however, I felt like I was spinning my wheels.

Then a book arrived through inter-library loan. Rather than the collection of essays I had been expecting, Michael Ventura’s Night Time Losing Time was a raunchy novel about the early rock music scene in Austin, Texas. Midway through the story, one particular passage — coming completely out of context — hit me like a revelation.

The soul is not human. Does not want what a human wants. But needs the human journey for ends of its own. It honors the human journey, but not by protecting what is human.

That’s why the humans are so afraid of their souls. The record of their fear is called history. They are scared most of all because every human knows itself part of a race possessed, precisely, by their very souls.

If only a human can become unafraid of the soul’s necessity to journey, then anything is possible. The soul is honored, and shares its beauty.

These piercing insights showed me that what I most wanted — a closer communion with my soul — was also what I most feared. I saw that I had long been caught in a subliminal ambivalence. No wonder it felt like my wheels were spinning!

The word soul carries too much baggage for some people, or it comes across as quaint or archaic. But Michael Ventura’s words can be loosely translated into another metaphor.

The butterfly is not the caterpillar. Does not want what the caterpillar wants. But needs the caterpillar’s journey for ends of its own. It honors the caterpillar’s journey, but not by protecting the caterpillar. That’s why caterpillars are afraid of cocoons.

Caterpillars feed on leaves; butterflies seek nectar. In a similar way, most humans first turn to food, work, relationships, and other worldly surrogates. As the grist mill of experience reveals these to be transitory, we start looking for something less literal and more enduring.

Weaving a metaphorical cocoon doesn’t mean that we surrender all surrogates and go live in a cave. Instead, we surrender a compulsive dependence upon those surrogates. When our simplified needs can be met more directly, we we will be less likely to squeeze the people around us out of shape in order to satisfy an insatiable appetite.

The Light Morning vortex often serves as such a cocoon for those who live here. This goes back to our founding vision, which had urged us to provide a supportive environment for those seeking a path with heart; to gestate a worldview which encourages these journeys and make them sustainable; and to model — in our personal journeys — passion, competence, and commitment.

What follows is a brief glimpse of the world-view that has been taking shape here.

The Four Cairns

How do one condense twenty-five years of a slowly gestating paradigm into a page or two without having it become unintelligible shorthand? My conscious mind plays with the problem incessantly. Then it finally gets tired and lets go. This allows a memory from three years ago to rise to the surface of my awareness.

* * *

The Religions of Man, by Huston Smith, lies open before me. It’s April of 1997 and I have just returned from my second Vipassana meditation course. My meditation practice feels strong and promising. Reconciling Buddhist philosophy with the worldview emerging at Light Morning, however, is proving to be a struggle.

Smith’s chapter about Buddhism is called “The Man Who Woke Up.” As he tells the story of how Siddhartha Gautama arrived at his Four Noble Truths, a single sentence resonates: “Most persons, if asked to list in propositional form their four deepest and most considered convictions about life, would probably find themselves very much at sea.”

Still under the influence of the fey mood induced by ten days of silent meditation, I close the book and rise to the bait. Eventually, four deep convictions take shape in my quieted mind, like seed crystals precipitating in a super-saturated solution. Lacking the chutzpah to call them noble truths, I instead refer to them as cairns: those small stacks of weathered stones left by climbers to guide others up the side of a mountain. This is how the cairns first appeared:

We Are Dreamers

We Are Being Dreamed

We May Awaken In Our Dreams

The Ego Is a Larval Creature

Continuing to ponder the four cairns, I discover they each have two facets which unfold and extend the implications of the cairn. Like the cairns themselves, the facets are sequential. The first must be assimilated before the second can be approached.

The First Cairn
We Are Dreamers
Re-entering the Theater of Dreams
Viewing Daily Life as a Dream

The Second Cairn
We Are Being Dreamed
Playing Roles in One Another’s Dreams
Finding Ourselves Alive in a God’s Dream

The Third Cairn
We May Awaken In Our Dreams
Inducing Lucid Dreaming
Awakening in a World of Sleepwalkers

The Fourth Cairn
The Ego Is a Larval Creature
Weaving the Glimpses of a New Creature
Choosing a Shared Path Through the Cocoon

The four cairns feel like heirloom seeds cradled in the hands of a gardener. Or like a special blend of teas waiting to be steeped. Or like freeze-dried trail food needing to be reconstituted before it’s served to those around a camp fire under the night sky.

* * *

Toward the beginning of The Religions of Man, the author says that the book is about religion that exists, “not as a dull habit but as an acute fever. It is about religion alive. And whenever religion comes to life it displays a startling quality; it takes over. All else, while not silenced, becomes subdued and thrown without contest into a supporting role.”

A new religious impulse, then, isn’t merely a theoretical or theological construct. It’s a story: one that is feverish, visceral, and alive. Like a live wire. It’s a quickening agent that throws all else — reason, caution, community, relationships — into “a supporting role.” It kindles passion and keeps us walking our talk.

Because the need for a new religious impulse is both personal and collective, it is currently gestating in our individual psyches, in places like Light Morning, and in the world soul. Like a fetus coming to term, it seeks release from the womb of our subliminal awareness into the dream-like world of our daily lives. The call going forth, therefore, is for midwives.

A Prayer Bead Necklace

The fourth cairn points to a shared path through a metaphorical cocoon. Paradox once again becomes our traveling companion, for a sustainable path doesn’t begin until the final cairn. Also, while we seem to choose the path, the path also chooses us. Finally, although a shared path is essential, each person’s journey is unique.

This dance between the group and the individual is elemental. It echoes the dilemma modern physicists face when trying to understand how light can be both wave and particle.

We are all born into a consensual cultural reality, inheriting a vast array of imprinted beliefs, perceptions, and expectations. Extricating ourselves from such a well-fortified worldview means fashioning a special consensus. By definition, it’s a collaborative undertaking. Transformation is therefore a team sport. It’s music that must be played by a group.

Different sports have different positions, just as different kinds of musical groups play different instruments. As we embark upon a shared transformational journey, we have to guard against mistaking someone else’s position or instrument for our own; or trying to force fit the role of goaltender onto a baseball team; or wanting our French horn to be part of a string quartet.

The primary task, therefore, is for each of us to find an authentic personal calling, a path with heart. As Carlos Castaneda’s mythical sorcerer don Juan tells his apprentices,

Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use.

Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

Light Morning’s path with heart came out of the hidden story alluded to in the four cairns and consists of three closely related practices: meditation, dreams, and prayer. These disciplines can be developed both individually and as a group.

Back in the hippie era of the 1960s, those who made journeys to the East occasionally returned with prayer beads. Cylindrical in shape, they were hand painted with colorful designs. Each bead told a story. We threaded them onto slender cords and wore them as necklaces. Briefly recounting Light Morning’s threefold path reminds me of stringing together one of those prayer bead necklaces.

Meditation

Meditation helps us live in the moment.
Meditation clarifies the mind.
Meditation enhances empathy.
Meditation facilitates prayer.
Meditation leads to lucid dreaming.
Meditation ripens and awakens us.

Dreams

The forgotten language of dreams is our mother tongue.
Dreams are pictures of feelings.
Dreams are teaching stories that quicken and guide us.
Dreams are love letters from a secret admirer.
Dreams make visible our hidden prayers.
Behind the veil of dreams is a numinous, perilous realm.
Shared lucid dreaming is one way of exploring this realm.

Prayer

Appreciation is prayer.
Posture is prayer.

Daily life is the child of prayer.
Expectations are powerful prayers.
Formulary prayer can be effective.
Dreams can serve as templates for prayer.
Praying for oneself and for others is indistinguishable.

Light Morning’s transformational journey, then, is to become less afraid of the soul’s necessity to journey. It’s using the four cairns as guideposts. And it’s following a threefold path of meditation, dreams, and prayer. Others who have given their hearts to Light Morning would most likely offer somewhat different interpretations of our journey. Yet if all these alternate versions were to pose for a family portrait, as it were, the resemblances would be striking.