But what do these words mean? What could they possibly mean when they too will disappear in the endless cycling of the planets. This conjunction shall pass, this full moon shall wane, and life will continue its ebb and flow. The sky will keep revolving. So what are we to make of “liberation” or “enlightenment,” or even “individuation,” when all is in flux?
Consider for a moment the way in which the concepts of liberation and enlightenment are typically held. The perennial philosophy tells us that we live in a state of illusion or ignorance, bound up in our stories, identified with our materiality, and yearning for things that will only eventually leave us again. Within this very familiar, and pretty global spiritual story, it’s easy for the concept of liberation, individuation, or enlightenment to be dressed up in the garbs of the hero. The hero is a handy archetype to project our desire for liberation onto. The hero does his meditation every day, without fail, is uncompromisingly truthful, eye gazes you back to God, can do every yoga posture perfectly and won’t stop until he burns through every last karma keeping him chained to the cycle of death and rebirth. In this hero we see the muscular Christ, carrying his cross to Calvary. We see the Buddha as an immovable rock beneath the tree. We see breakthrough after breakthrough, like lightning burning apart shackles and chains. And these heroic images are rooted in the idea that the future can and should be different from the past…must be…eventually, by ever-present waiting, diligence, and firmness…by the willingness to be opened like an eternal flower by the perfecting power of God the gardener, whose real future sits ready for us like a perfect bride or groom, an altar covered in roses that never die.
But what if this notion of enlightenment and liberation is secretly rooted in the same ambitions and desires of the same old person who likes donuts and cherry pie and who wishes for the perfect body or a better pay-check or a lover who is truly and authentically as spiritual as we are?
How does our notion of liberation change when we view the past, the present, and the future as simultaneous, complete, and static? It’s of course easy to see the past, the present, and the future as a never ending cycle of ups and downs that keeps repeating based on ignorant choices we keep making that necessitate its repeating, but what if that’s just not what time is or how it works? What if that view of choice and free-will is an illusion as well? What if that view of time is anachronistic…an already beyond its expiration date notion as soon as it is invoked?
I sometimes imagine that all of time is co-present. The past, the present, and the future are simultaneous. As weird and tricky as it can be for the mind to imagine this, I try. And I have had glimpses of this simultaneity and have found that it is instantly liberating.
For example, imagine that you struggle in the present with a pattern of anger, or over-eating, or sadness, or a lack of motivation. The spiritual hero view of enlightenment would tell us that we are experiencing this because of an inability to choose something different than what we’ve chosen in the past, effectively creating the same “future” over and over again. This standpoint forces us to imagine multiple universes in which you could be something or someone other than what you are, if you could only change these patterns. We are thus haunted by our best possible selves and worst possible selves, constantly, mercilessly, coming at us like missiles of failure and success…with everything riding on us. Of course from this standpoint you better get onto your damn yoga mat, right now!
But what if instead of understanding our current state of pain, be it the overeating or the anger or whatever, as being caused and reinforced by our choices, we took the opposite view and imagined these patterns as something choosing us, or as something passing through us, or perhaps some combination of both?
Oddly enough, this upside-down perspective creates simultaneous intimacy or soulfulness and liberation. The pattern knows us intimately, profoundly, in the instant that we know it as distinct from ourselves. That this is the nature of the relationship between ourselves and all experiences brings the past, the present, and the future together and begs the question, “What other choice is there? What other future or past is there?”
Christ or the “liberator,” thus becomes an entirely different figure. He is now also the apostate who must reject God fully while chained to his own heroic and muscular cross. He must fall under the weight of his attempts at glory, renounce God for making his task impossible, and then utter the words, “it is complete,” like a full zen circle script returning to itself in whispery threads. After all is said and done, he learns that he did not choose the cross, he did not choose his faults, he cannot bear the responsibility alone because the cross and his faults also chose him, the alone also chose him. The world is alive with unimaginable intimacy, broken open from its bonds not by its choices but by its very nature.
So what do the heavens mean when they sparkle and crack with these electric and tempting words, “Mercury.” “Uranus.” “Liberation.” “Enlightenment.” ?
Prayer: Help us to see what chooses us, what breaks us open, and help us to know that it is bearing us as much as we bear it alone.