Thursday, February 09, 2012

slender threads

From Balancing Heaven and Earth: A Memoir of Visions, Dreams, and Realizations by Robert A. Johnson:

"The concept of listening to the will of God is difficult for many modern people to follow, as it collides with our love of freedom and our insistence on free will. However, I must declare that, with respect to the most important aspects of my life, I am not free. I am safest when I let go of trying to control my life and instead follow the slender threads. This is a religious perspective in the sense that the human ego must surrender to something more powerful than itself.
     Freedom insists that the ego can do anything it wishes. I do not mean to toss the concept of freedom out entirely. Of course we have free will, but I am insisting that in every moment there is one right thing to do: we can choose to follow the will of God or not follow the will of God, and only in this way can we live meaningful lives....
     Humankind has struggled with with how to balance fate versus free will since time began. There have been many rules of thumb about how to achieve such a balance. My personal approach is that the big events of my life follow a slender thread while the details are my business. Nobody but me will balance my checkbook or shave me or keep my house tidy. Those are the appropriate tasks for the ego. The little decisions belong to us, while the great things are like the weather sweeping us along. Yet most modern people spend a majority of their waking hours worrying about larger issues that the ego cannot really control. The small and limited ego is not the proper human faculty for such issues. The ego does not belong in the driver's seat. In fact, the ego often gets in the way of being attentive to the slender threads. We must learn to humble and quiet our egos so that we may follow the slender threads.
     After many years of struggling with this, I feel that the ego is properly used as the organ of awareness, not the organ of decision. Almost everyone in our society tries to use the ego as an organ of decision. For example, we may say to ourselves, 'I am going to Europe. I will buy the air tickets for this date, and I will stay at this hotel when I arrive.' The ego is useful for collecting information about ticket fares and accommodations and things to see and do when you arrive. But the ego does not determine the experience you will have on your trip. People get so preoccupied with trying to control things that are not in the ego's province that they neglect what is the ego's business--heightened awareness. The ego should be collecting data and watching. The ego serves as the eyes and ears of God. It gathers facts but does not make the ultimate decisions....
     How do we know if we are truly following the will of God? One knows instinctively; there is a sense of peace, balance, and fullness, an unhurriedness.... The will of God is always singular. I believe this, but I can't always stand the truth of this statement. Certainly it runs counter to our sense of free will and self-determination. We want the maximum number of choices and the freedom to choose among them. Madison Avenue is the purveyor of discontent; virtually all advertising is designed to create discontent so as to create a market for a product.
     When you are following the will of God, there is no choice whatsoever.... Listening to the will of God as it manifests within your own psyche, hearing what as been called the still, small voice within--this is the religious life. This cannot be reduced to a tidy formula, but one general guideline is to ask yourself what is needed for wholeness in any situation. Instead of asking what is good or what coincides with our personal interest, ask what is whole-making. Sainthood is the result of wholeness, not goodness. What is required for wholeness will be different for each person, and it changes moment to moment. This required realigning yourself each day, each hour, and each moment. Abiding by the will of God gives live--including its misfortunes--meaning, purpose, and dignity. It also removes a great deal of the anxiety of modern life....
     If I don't know how to make a certain decision, I should use the ego to get all the information I can and then wait. Eventually the will of God will be revealed to me.... A friend of my jokes about this. I asked him, "What are you going to do with your car while you're off in India?' and he replied, "Robert, it has not been revealed to me yet.'
     The way to approach this manner of living is to start with extremely small things. Don't think about it too much or you will end up in contradiction. Just start by attending to how you make decisions in small things. Instead of weighing all the pros and cons and forcing a decision with your ego, simple try to keep your ego alert, and slap its hand gently when it tries to do too much.... If you practice you will find that there is a difference when the ego says something and when the Self says something; I know from experience that the impetus come from different places in me.... The ego decision seems to come from your head, while the Self decision seems to come from your heart or your stomach (we something call it a 'gut feeling').
     How do we know when to exert our will and when to let go and surrender to the will of God? There are times when we need to exert our wills. For most young people, the focus much be on strengthening the ego, passing the necessary exams, graduating from school, staying with the marriage, and so on. The focus must be on learning to direct the will to accomplish the cultural tasks of life. I don't advise everyone to sit and wait for a miracle to save them or for someone to rescue them. Following the will of God isn't about resignation...or passively 'going with the flow.' Rather, it means applying the ego to gather as much information as possible to serve as the eyes and ears of God. But for major decisions in life, it must learn to listen to the heart to hear what is the right thing to do."

1 comment:

Julia said...

Wow-- this is a wonderful passage.