It has become very clear to me, many times, that words are quite insufficient. We could read hundreds of books and know very little about genuine spirituality. We could research and write hundreds of books and still know very little. We could talk about it for years, decades, and still know little. We could spend our entire lives thinking we know much about the Divine, but never having experienced it personally, for ourselves, we might be quite mistaken about what the Divine is, which I think is something that is all too common today.
Genuine spirituality is not something linguistic or even a rational conception in the human mind, but rather something experienced. This is key. It is a state of being, a state of consciousness, a state of identity, a state of intuition, communion, insight, union, and direct wisdom in Wisdom. It is contemplation, which is ironically not what most people think it is, because it is beyond all thought.
The Problem with Words
One of my favorite quotes from the Mormon prophet-mystic Joseph Smith is this one:
Could we read and comprehend all that has been written from the days of Adam on the relation of man to God and Angels in a future state, we should know very little about it. Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience… Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.“History, 1838–1856, volume E-1 [1 July 1843–30 April 1844],” p. 1750, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 12, 2019, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-e-1-1-july-1843-30-april-1844/122.
I think that is very accurate, and it should compel Mormons to seek direct experience in the Divine, in communion, in meditation, in contemplation, but in modern times it unfortunately has not. We have drifted to being heavily attached to the intellectual rational capacity of the mind (perhaps a misinterpretation of “the glory of God is intelligence”), and we have let the intuitive and contemplative capacities atrophy in our culture until they are practically absent today. And where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).
As I noted recently, I have written about four books worth of content on this site over the last two and a half years, all of it freely available for reading. That’s a lot of words! As I’ve also noted, words are a valuable form of expressing symbols and metaphors of and from the Ultimate Divine Reality, even a form of Love in action, but it is still just words. Words on a page. Symbols. Metaphors. Pointers. Pointing fingers. All of it. As Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh has noted:
A finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. The finger is needed to know where to look for the moon, but if you mistake the finger for the moon itself, you will never know the real moon.-Thich Nhat Hanh, Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha
Words can inspire, they can guide, they can point, they can stimulate the psyche, but they cannot communicate the Divine itself. They are not the real moon. Only the Divine can communicate itself, only experience in the Divine can do that. We want to know God, not merely know about God, and no amount of knowing about God will bring us to knowing God. To know God, we must enter God’s Presence. That is the only place we can know God as God really is, and not merely as we think God is. There is a cosmic difference! As Joseph noted, reading the experience of others will never give us a true understanding of our relation to God. We must experience our Self.
I will continue writing, but I also want to get back to experience, to meditation, to contemplation, to communal communion, and there is a power that comes in social meditation, or meditation in community, a communal power. When we meditate together, we commune together, we experience together, we find a common ground together, and this can go far beyond individual solo meditation. We can experience the ground of consciousness together, that Divine consciousness which we all share. Solo meditation is likely necessary too (I will continue my own solo practice in addition to this one), but some of my most sublime illuminating experiences have been when I have been meditating in groups, as on retreats.
I am going to re-open the Meditation Room. If you are not familiar with what this is, I introduced it a while back. I closed it down when my family moved across the country a few months ago, and never got around to bringing it back. It is a place where we can gather online, here on this website, that facilitates easy face-to-face videoconferencing. If you have used Zoom software, you are familiar with this technology. I am using a similar tech, except it is even easier. No downloads, no plugins, nothing to install, nothing to register for. Simply visit the link in your browser, and you will automatically join the room (the first time your browser may ask you for permission to use your camera and mic).
Here we can meditate together, in each other’s virtual presence, from wherever we may be physically located in the world. I’m going to meditate here every weekday morning at 8:15am Mountain Time (click here to quickly convert the time into your local timezone), and all are invited to join with me, including you. We will meditate silently together for 30 minutes, and then have time afterwards for open sharing of any thoughts. I look forward to meditating with you.
I am also going to re-open the Friendship Room. I also introduced this a while back. This is a videoconferencing room similar to the Meditation Room, but is intended to be a place for talking, for chatting, for discussion, for dialectic, for philosophizing, for friendly conversation. Again, all you have to do is visit the link to enter the room. I will be in the Friendship Room every weekday morning from 10:00am to 11:00am Mountain Time (click here to quickly convert this time into your local timezone. If you want to schedule a different time to chat with me, we can do that too).
Here we can chat, face-to-face, as a person speaks with a friend (the allusion here to Exodus 33:11 is intentional). It is in this dialectic that we can each come to greater understanding of each other and of ourselves, deepen our relationships and community, and get to know one another better.
What can we talk about? Anything. Life, God, the weather, sports, philosophy, religions, doctrines, history, mysticism, meditation, mystical experience, science, theology, psychology, politics, social justice. Anything, really. This is a time when we can just talk. Just talk, that’s all. It may just be you and me, or others may join us. Of course, if anyone wants to talk privately, we can lock the room. I look forward to chatting with you.
Even with all the advances of technology these days, I think there is something unique about meeting together physically, in person, real face to real face. No technology will be able to replace this, ever, it seems to me. The human body seems to emanate a presence that can only be sensed in the actual presence of another human. This cannot be simulated or substituted. There is just something to being in the presence of other people, the real, live, actual presence.
Now, I’m a bit of a hermit myself. I don’t get out often to socialize. So this is even outside of my own comfort zone. But it is perhaps the ego’s comfort zone, and it is not me as I truly am. I think the true Self in all of us is radically open, loving, invested in others, a listener, non-judgmental, compassionate, empathetic, desirous to know others, and more. I have seen this Self in myself, and so I know it is there, and I know it is in you too.
I am going to start a monthly evening Mindful Meetup at the clubhouse in my townhome community for those who live locally here in Riverton, Utah, and surrounding areas of the Wasatch Front, and would like to come. We will meditate silently together for about 30 minutes, sitting in regular old chairs (we could call it “Maitreya” style), and then there will be time for open sharing. There is no preset agenda or discussion topic. I will not be “teaching,” but I may moderate the discussion, if needed.
This is a time for open sharing by anyone on any thoughts that might come up during the meditation, without judgment, likely on something about spirituality, meditation, mysticism, religion, philosophy, metaphysics, community, or the deeper nature of life. We will share for another half hour to an hour, or however long the discussion lasts. I will bring ice water, and a plate of yummy gooey chocolate chip cookies. There is no donation or any other contribution expected. Just come, and give the gift of your presence.
I will schedule these meetups on Facebook, in the private group Contemplating the Beloved. If you would like to participate, please join the group so you can be notified of these meetups, and can indicate your attendance. For those who are not local, I may also use the Meditation Room on a laptop so that you also can tune in to the meetup from abroad.
I hope that these are some ways in which we can begin experiencing the mystical more than merely looking at words, and thinking fancy thoughts. Words can do a lot to point us in the right direction, but if we want to experience the mystical, we must establish a practice of some kind which can shift our state of consciousness to experience consciousness as it is. If you already have a practice, and do not desire to join with us in these activities, that’s just fine. Only join us if you think it will help your experience, your practice.
There are many different kinds of contemplative practices, but in my experience basic meditation and dialectic conversation seems to be ancient and traditional means of invoking the mystical state. And, of course, there are many different kinds of meditation. I personally practice vipassana, or “insight” breath meditation (which is technically anapanasati), but there are other forms of silent meditation too, such as using an inner mantra, or visualizations, or even focusing on an external object. You are free to use any silent method you choose when we meet virtually or at the meetup.
I look forward to meditating and talking with you, friends. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about these new activities.