joy is your spirit
let grace be your guide
my current artistic explorations have become a reflection of my ongoing pursuit of
if you are interested in learning more about this series of work, it will be helpful to understand where it is coming from. most of my imagery, the juxtapositions of imagery, and the text(s) included are all metaphors for what i have been exploring and experiencing during my spiritual journey.
the following text is an ever-growing record of my thought process, and attempt to reconfigure what it means to me to have faith.
no matter what and how you think, or choose to believe, know that I love you.
in pursuit of truth and understanding, i have read an embarrassingly large amount of texts on theology and spirituality. i found myself unable to feel what i was reading about in these writings. that changed when i began paying attention to the present moment. the more i practiced mindfulness, the more I began to understand what all of these teachers, gurus, prophets, enlightened beings, and saviors were hinting at.
what gives me a sense of wonder is how all of these teachers spoke about something unspeakable. i have been able to experience wonder when I quit trying to understand and let the stories and chatter in my head become quiet. when letting go of the concept of myself and waking up to the experience of my unfiltered and unlabeled perceptions, that sense of indescribable wonder floods my being.
this practice of settling into complete awareness can occasionally bring an extreme sensation of wonder. wonder and a complete sense of awe. it is not an easy feat, which is why i want to stress the word occasionally. in one sense, these fleeting moments are akin to the idea of hearing "god's" voice speaking into the moment. speaking, as in communicating the interconnectedness of all things, including "myself," the one perceiving the experience. experiencing the perceptions.
i was raised in the Roman Catholic church. the stories i heard repeatedly of spirituality and God came through the lens of the Bible.
something about this religion didn't settle easily in me. during my angsty, anti-authoritarian, punk-rock, rebellious stages of my teenage youth, i unapologetically and grudgingly left my family's faith tradition for some kind of agnosticism. i never bought into the idea of there being no God, just that the religion that taught me about God was somehow too flawed by humans for me to "buy-in." the idea of interpretations of interpretations and the teaching of those interpretations by people trying to shoe-horn them into today's circumstances felt, and feel, incomplete and unnecessary. the percentage of moralism being taught seemed to outweigh the truth being spoken in parables and stories in the New Testament.
surprisingly, after reading and trying to understand the parable-like texts in other traditions, it was through the Jesus story that i finally began to understand how all of these stories, even those of different faiths seemed to be connected. not the same, but connected in experiences, ideas, and the pursuit of a higher truth. again, i call myself a follower of the teachings of Jesus the Nazarene.
the inner aim of all religions and spiritual traditions is to free us from this illusory state in which we imagine that we are separate from God, the one unlimited and undivided reality.
for example, in Christianity, this state in which we violate the oneness and wholeness of God by imagining ourselves to be an individual separate from him is called the ‘original sin’, which is the root cause of all misery and unhappiness.
waking up to a new truth
because we can become free from this ‘original sin’ only by knowing the truth, Christ said, ‘[…] ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ (John 8.32). the truth that we must know to be made free is the truth that we are nothing but the pure consciousness of ‘I am’ – that ‘I am’ which is the true form of God, as disclosed by him when he revealed his identity to Moses saying, ‘I am that I am’ (‘ehyeh asher ehyeh’ – Exodus 3.14).
to ‘know the truth’ does not mean to know it theoretically, but to know it as a direct and immediate experience. to destroy the illusion that we are a limited individual consciousness, a person separate from the perfect whole which is called God, we must experience ourselves as the unlimited and undivided pure consciousness ‘I am’.
"I am." it is a statement. it is an act of being present. "I am" as a statement, is like a "name" of the state of unfiltered perceptional awareness. non-dual means, literally, not two. and this is a strange thing to utter considering that in saying not two there is the implication of the idea of one. or zero. the act of labeling anything is the act of telling a story, causing oneself to perceive something that they are not... creating two. it becomes a real messy business trying to describe a non-dual experience because it involves sense perceptions. in philosophy, this idea of the uniqueness in sensory data is called qualia.
1. the internal and subjective component of sense perceptions, arising from stimulation of the senses by phenomena.
examples of qualia include the perceived sensation of pain of a headache, the taste of wine, and the blueness of an afternoon sky. as qualitative characteristics of sensation, qualia stand in contrast to propositional attitudes, where the focus is on beliefs about experience rather than what it is directly like to be experiencing.
therefore, to know the truth and thereby be made free from the illusion called ‘original sin’, we must die and be born again – we must die to the flesh and be born again as the spirit. that is why Christ said, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. […] except a man be born of […] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3.3 & 3.5-6).
that is, to experience and enter into the true state of God, we must cease to exist as a separate individual, a consciousness that identifies itself with the flesh and all the limitations of the flesh, and must rediscover ourselves to be the unlimited and undivided spirit, the pure, unadulterated and infinite consciousness ‘I am’, which is the absolute reality that we call ‘God’.
when we identify ourselves with a body made of flesh, we become that flesh, but when we cease to identify ourselves with that flesh and know ourselves to be mere spirit, we are born again as our original nature, the pure spirit or consciousness ‘I am’.
the need for us to sacrifice our individuality to be born anew as the spirit is a recurring theme in the teachings of Jesus Christ:
‘Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal’ (John 12.24-25).
‘Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it’ (Luke 17.33).
‘And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it’ (Matthew 10.38-39).
‘If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Matthew 16.24-26, and also Mark 8.34-37 and Luke 9.23-25).
that is, to rediscover our true and eternal life as the spirit, we must lose our false and transient life as an individual. if we seek to preserve our false individuality, we shall in effect be losing our real spirit. this is the price we have to pay to live as an individual in this world. therefore, whatever we may gain or achieve in this world, we do so at the cost of losing our real self, the state of perfection and wholeness (which in this context is what Christ means by the term our ‘own soul’). in exchange for regaining our original and perfect state of wholeness, we have only to give up our individuality and all that goes with it. which is truly profitable, to lose the whole and gain merely a part, or to give up a mere part in exchange for the whole?
taking your cross
in order to give up or lose our individuality, as Christ had done, he says that we must follow him by denying ourselves and take up our crosses. to deny ourselves means to refrain from rising as an individual separate from God, who is the whole – the ‘fullness of being’ or totality of all that is. to take up our cross means to embrace the death or destruction of our individuality, because in the time of Christ, the cross was a powerful symbol of death, being the usual instrument of execution. although he used somewhat oblique language to express it, Christ repeatedly emphasized the truth that to rediscover our real life as the spirit we must sacrifice our false life as an individual.
he is risen
this sacrifice of our individuality or identification with the flesh, and our consequent resurrection or rebirth as the spirit, was symbolized by Christ through his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. by dying on the cross and rising again from the dead, Christ gave us a powerful symbolic representation of the truth that to become free from the ‘original sin’ of identification with the flesh and thereby to enter the ‘kingdom of God’, we must die or cease to exist as a separate individual, and thereby rise again as the pure spirit, the infinite consciousness ‘I am’.
the kingdom of God
the ‘kingdom of God’ which we can see and enter only by being born again as the spirit is not a place – something that we can find externally in the material world of time and space, or even in some celestial world called heaven.
when Christ was asked when the kingdom of God would come, he answered,
‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17.20-21).
the kingdom of God cannot be found by observation, that is, by any form of objective attention – by looking externally here or there. it cannot be found in any place outside us, either here in this world or there in heaven, nor indeed is it something that will come in the future. it exists within us even now.
to see and enter into it, we must turn our attention inwards, away from the external world of time and space that we observe through the limited flesh-bound consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, and towards our true consciousness ‘I am’, which is the underlying base and reality of the observing consciousness ‘I am Chris,' and you are 'so and so'.
the true teaching
the exhortation ‘behold’ that Christ used in the above passage is important. he was not merely telling us the fact that the kingdom of God is within ourselves, but implored us to look and see that it is within ourselves. that is, he did not merely tell us the truth that he saw but told us that we should each see it for ourselves.
in more modern English, we would express the passage: ‘[…] neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you’ as:
‘[…] and they should not say, ‘Look here or look there’, because, see, the kingdom of God is within you’.
this invitation that Christ makes to us not to look here or there but to see that the kingdom of God is within ourselves is the essence of the spiritual practice taught by spiritual teachers and enlightened people throughout time. we should give up attending to anything outside ourselves, and should instead turn our attention inwards to see the reality that exists within us.
the kingdom of God is not a place but a state – our natural state of pure self-conscious being. when we see it within ourselves by turning our attention towards the innermost core of our being, we enter into it and become one with it.
we experience wonder.
this is the state of being born again as the spirit – the state of mystical union with God that all Christian contemplatives seek to attain. In this state called the ‘kingdom of God’, the pure consciousness ‘I am’, which is the spirit or true form of God, exists and shines alone in all the splendor and glory of its undivided oneness and unlimited wholeness.
dualism and non-dualism
all words are open to interpretation – and misinterpretation. this is particularly true of words that speak about the spirit – the reality that lies beyond the limitations of physical matter, and that therefore cannot be perceived by the five senses, or known as an object of consciousness.
all interpretations of such words fall into two distinct categories – interpretations that are strictly non-dualistic, admitting no division of the one-and-only reality, and interpretations that are either completely dualistic or that at least concede that within the one reality, some divisions and distinctions are real.
the interpretation that we each choose to accept depends not upon the truth itself – because the nature of the truth cannot be proved objectively – but upon our personal preferences.
many people – whether they hold religious beliefs or cherish a more materialistic outlook on life – prefer to take a dualistic view of reality because such a view assures them of the reality of their individuality, and of the world they perceive through their senses, and (if they choose to believe in God) of God as a separately existing entity.
therefore, the only basis for a dualistic view of reality is the attachment that people have to their individuality, to the world that they think gives them happiness, and to their idea of a God who they believe will give them the things that will make them happy.
this perspective of truth is pervasive
this non-dual reality is 'the one truth' about which all religions speak. though they do not always describe the non-dual nature of this truth in explicit terms, all religions do so implicitly in one way or another.
no religion has a monopoly on the truth. what is true in one religion is true in every religion. the truth can never be in any way exclusive, because if it were, it would only be a partial truth and not the whole truth – a relative truth and not the absolute truth.
to be wholly true, the truth must be all-inclusive – it must be the one whole that includes everything within itself.
the one whole truth that does include everything within itself is the infinite spirit, the single consciousness that we all know as ‘I am’. everything that appears to exist does so only within this consciousness. through the many forms in which things appear are unreal as such, the one real substance of all things is the consciousness in which they appear. therefore the one truth about which all religions speak is the single, all-inclusive, and non-dual whole, the spirit or consciousness in which all things appear and disappear.
because they interpret the spiritual teachings of their religion in a dualistic manner, most of the followers of the various religions tend to believe that their religion somehow has a monopoly or exclusive claim upon the truth, and is therefore the only means to salvation. for example, throughout the history of Christianity, most ordinary Christians have believed that true salvation can be attained only through the person of Jesus Christ and that atheists, agnostics, and followers of other religions can be saved only by converting to Christianity. they have justified this belief by their dualistic interpretation of Christ’s saying:
‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14.6).
because of their dualistic understanding of his spiritual teachings, they interpret the words ‘I am’ and ‘me’ that he used in this passage to denote only the individual person Jesus Christ, who was born at a certain time in a certain place called Bethlehem.
however, Christ did not mistake himself to be merely an "individual" person whose life was limited within a certain range of time and place. he knew himself to be the real and eternal spirit ‘I am’, which is unlimited by time and place. that is why he said,
‘Before Abraham was born, I am’ (John 8.58).
the person who was Jesus Christ was born long after the time of Abraham, but the spirit which is Jesus Christ exists always and everywhere, transcending the limits of time and place. because that spirit is timeless, he did not say, ‘Before Abraham was born, I was’, but, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am’.
that timeless spirit ‘I am’, which Christ knew to be his real self, is the same ‘I am’ that God revealed to be his real self when he said to Moses, ‘I am that I am’ (Exodus 3.14).
therefore, though Christ appears to us to be a separate and individual person, he and his Father God are the same reality, the spirit that exists within each one of us as our fundamental consciousness ‘I am’. That is why he said:
‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10.30).
therefore, when Christ said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14.6), by the words ‘I am’ and ‘me’ he was referring not merely to the time-bound individual called Jesus, but to the eternal spirit ‘I am’, which he knew to be his real self. the inner meaning of his words can therefore be expressed by rephrasing them in this way:
‘The spirit “I am” is the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the spirit “I am”, which is the Father or source of all things, but by this same spirit’.
to be saved
the spirit ‘I am’ is not only the truth or reality of all things, the source from which they all originate, and the life or consciousness that animates every sentient being, but is also the only way by which we can return to our source, which we call by various names such as ‘God’ or the ‘Father’.
except by turning our attention within towards the spirit, the consciousness that we each experience as ‘I am’, there is no way by which we return to and become one with our source. therefore true salvation can only be attained not merely through the person who was Jesus Christ, but through the spirit which is Jesus Christ – the eternal spirit ‘I am’ that exists within each one of us.
not only did Christ affirm his oneness with God, his Father, but he also wanted us to become one with him. the most human and relatable moment in the Jesus story was in the garden before his arrest and crucifixion, Christ prayed for us:
‘Holy Father, […] that they may be one, as we [are]. […] that they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us […] that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one’ (John 17.11 & 21-23).
during those quiet but inwardly tumultuous hours in the garden praying, Jesus knew he only had a matter of time before he faced a horrific death. his connection to his body, his separate self, was strong.
he quickly bowed with his face to the ground and prayed, “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup ⌞of suffering⌟ be taken away from me. But let your will be done rather than mine.” (Matthew 26.39)
his human loneliness and fear were so strong that night in the garden asking, pleading, with his disciples to stay awake with him and pray. those moments when he found a balance between his humanness and infinite nature have always resonated deeply with me.
the aim of Christ was that we should cease to mistake ourselves to be individuals separate from God and should know ourselves to be the one indivisible spirit, the pure fundamental consciousness ‘I am’, which is the reality of God. oneness or non-duality is the central aim of the spiritual teachings of Jesus.
not really that different, huh?
every religion consists of a vital central core of non-dualistic truth, expressed either explicitly or implicitly, and a thick outer shell of dualistic beliefs, practices, doctrines, and dogmas. the differences that we see between one religion and another – the differences that throughout the ages have given rise to so much conflict, intolerance, and cruel persecution, and even to bloody wars and terrorism – lie only in the superficial forms of those religions, their outer shells of dualistic beliefs and practices. you may also insert your concepts of dogma here.
all the disharmony, conflict, and strife that exist between one religion and another arise only because most of the followers of those religions are too attached to a dualistic view of reality, which limits their vision and prevents them from seeing what all religions have in common, namely the one underlying truth of non-duality.
true peace and harmony can prevail among the adherents of the various religions only if they are all willing to look beyond the external forms of those religions and see the one simple and common truth of non-duality that lies at the heart of all of them.
if we can accept and truly understand the truth of non-duality, we will have no cause to quarrel or fight with anyone. we will be happy instead to let each person believe what they want to believe because if a person is so attached to their individuality that they are unwilling to doubt its reality, no amount of reasoning or argument will convince them of the truth of non-duality.
therefore no one who truly understands this truth would ever try to convince the unwilling. if anyone does try to force the truth of non-duality upon someone unwilling to accept it, they are only displaying their lack of correct understanding of that truth.
non-duality is not a religion that needs evangelists to propagate it or converts to join its ranks. it is the truth and will remain the truth whether or not anyone chooses to accept and understand it. we can and should do no more than make this truth available to whoever is ready to understand it and apply it in practice.
many religious people believe that it is blasphemy or sacrilege to say that we are one with God, because they mistake such a statement to mean that an individual is claiming himself to be God.
uttering that "i am god" could be a sticky business
but when we say that we are God, what we mean is not that we as a separate individual are God, which would be absurd, but that we are not an individual separate from God. by denying that we have any existence or reality separate from God, we are affirming that the reality we call God is one, whole and undivided.
if instead, we were to claim that we are in reality separate from God, as most religious people believe us to be, that would be blasphemy or sacrilege because it would imply that God is not the one-and-only reality. if we were to have any reality of our own separate from God, then he would not be the whole truth, but only a part or division of some larger truth.
if we believe that the reality that we call God is truly the infinite ‘fullness of being’, the one undivided whole, then we must accept that nothing can exist as other than or separate from him. he alone truly exists, and all else that seems to exist as separate from him is, in fact, nothing but an illusion or false appearance whose sole underlying reality is God.
only in the state of perfect non-duality is the true glory, wholeness, and fullness of God revealed. this is what i previously alluded to. this state is that sense of wonder.
so long as we experience a state of seeming duality by mistaking ourselves to be an individual separate from God, we are degrading and demeaning him, denying his indivisible oneness, wholeness, and infinity, and making him into something less than the only existing reality that he truly is.
this truth is hard to swallow
though the inner aim of all religions is to teach us the truth of non-duality, in their scriptures this truth is often expressed only in an oblique manner, and can be discerned only when people attempt to read between the lines with true insight and understanding, and only when they read the writings literately as opposed to literally.
a reason this truth is not and can not be expressed more openly, clearly, and unambiguously in many of the scriptures of the various religions is that at any given point in time, the majority of people have not yet reached a state of sufficient spiritual maturity to be able to digest and assimilate it if it is told as it is. That is why Christ said:
‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now’ (John 16.12).
though most of us may be unable to bear and accept the raw and naked truth of non-duality now, with time, we will each eventually gain the spiritual maturity required to understand and accept the truth as it is, and not merely as we would now like it to be.
once you hear the alarm buzzing, it is time to wake up. there is work involved, and there needs to be a willingness to let go of former understandings, but as Emerson said, “It's not the Destination, It's the journey.”