|Searching for Spirit|
My search for spirit began at an early age, but years passed before it really took wing. In the meantime, I experimented with conventional and contemporary religious groups. This search for a community of spirit was my pursuit of fellow companions to share the path. In a larger sense, my quest was realized, but my search for immediate community continued. A Still Searching obituary I wrote conveys the idealistic fervor of my quest for self in community.
I found this spirit of search reflected in an orchestral composition by Charles Ives. (Note 2) In this piece, a trumpet sounds a brief refrain seven times in a voice that seems to ask "the unanswerable question." The trumpet's quest recurs over a background of music suggesting the wheeling of the universe on its axis. Those haunting notes send chills up my spine as much today as when I first hear them years ago.
I learned to communicate with words and through verbal and visual images created with words. Initially I was too literal and overlooked the implicit power of words to convey insight. But as I shifted to verbal and visual images, intuition entered the communication process. Whether as poetry, allegories or visual images, metaphor offered a powerful tool for learning and sharing my sense of knowing. Among others, the images in knotwork patterns spoke to me about deeper meanings.
I don't recall finding this pattern, but I used it as a decorative image for the title page of a book of poetry that a companion and I wrote. The knot symbolized the interweaving of our two strands of existence in a relationship that yielded something more than either of us by ourselves. Although our poems were individual expressions of meaning, taken together something larger than either of us came to life.
I found this Celtic knot pattern in a necklace I bought from an artist who titled the medallion "Spiritual Quest." They went on to say "Knotwork patterns are symbolic of life's journey, an attempt to make sense of the maze of existence. They represent a continuity of life with no beginning and no end, a journey to one's spiritual center, an inner quest for spiritual rebirth, and a pathway to the sacred and devine." (Note 3) What an inspired though unintended description of my writing this memoir.
One of my first inklings of the larger knowledge beyond immediate knowing implied in these knot patterns came when I took a course in psychic experience. (I did not share these nocturnal outings with my academic colleagues!) My teacher spoke of the Akashic record as a "place" where everything about the past, present and future resided. He described his psychic ability as tapping into that knowledge. This was my first encounter with what I now recognize as intuition in the large - a way of knowing that reaches beyond education and experience.
The Big Picture
Even though I may have heard the story of The Blindmen and the Elephant as a child, my first memory of its compelling insight came when I created and taught a Certificate Program in Management Information Systems for computer professionals. (Note 4) This story became a lesson for my classes: systems professionals should seek the larger systems view and not become "blindmen" unable to see the whole for the parts. The first edition of my Information Systems textbook featured a retelling of the story and its lesson. The thoughts expressed there suggested the power the story held for me.
As for others at the time, the picture of the earth from the first trip to the moon had a profound impact. When posters of the earth suspended in space appeared, I framed a copy that hangs above my computer as I write this paragraph. For years it hung in the foyer of my home. A passage from one of Loren Eiseley's books inspired some thoughts on the planet earth nervous system. I imagined each of us as single nerve cells in the living organism earth. In this moment, we are connected through the internet in the way I envisioned. Looking back, I realized that insight was an experience of intuition in the large.
While working on this thread, the astronaut Alan Shepard died. In a tribute, Charlie Rose reran an interview from 1994. He asked Shepard about the most significant event on the first trip to the moon. He spoke about his thoughts and emotions looking back at earth from the surface of the moon. He recognized how small and fragile the planet was and how torn it was by conflict among peoples. Shepard was so gripped with emotion at the recollection, he was unable to continue for a moment. This epiphany of spirit hinted at my reaction on first seeing a picture of earth suspended in space. But I could not imagine the overwhelming impact from Shepard's vantage point.
A vision of our interconnectedness appeared in the Hindu tradition as Indra's web. This magnificent image imagined each of us as a point of light in the sky connected to every other point in an infinite web. This vision added a cosmic dimension to the earth metaphor. I remember my fascination with a theater ceiling where twinkling lights appeared as stars in the sky. Recalling Indra's web, I gazed up to imagine myself suspended in the cosmic web of being like earth suspended in space.
Communicating with Metaphor
Given their potency, I used metaphor to communicate my deepest feelings in primary relationships. For one anniversary, I gave a pair of interlocking dolphin rings. Each partner wore half the ring as a recommitment to an enduring relationship. This gift had several levels of meaning expressed through a carefully crafted ceremony and card. Since one person's metaphor may be another's mystery, my images did not touch the other with the intended meaning. Such occasions challenged me to transcend even the images to connect with the soul.
Years ago I went to a laser exhibit with many interactive experiments. One demonstration was most striking. I remember it as vividly as if it were yesterday. I projected a 3-D scene from a holographic film using laser light, and then cut the film in half and viewed the scene again. I did this until I could not cut the film into a smaller piece. Each time I viewed the newly cut film, the "whole" picture was still intact. In some way, information for the picture was distributed throughout the film.
A dramatic mental shift was taking place as I stood in line over and over to repeat the experiment. I had considered but not comprehended the "the whole contained within the part." The experience with lasers and holographic film internalized the idea. The physical metaphor of cutting, projecting, and viewing the film as a 3-D image enabled me to experientially embrace a profound concept. This knowing was recorded in the cells of my body from the repeated trials.
I have owned two sailboats: "Searching" and "Searching Too." As with the dolphin rings, the names illustrated how metaphor seeped into the fabric of my life. Although I was fussy about every detail of the boats, their names were more important. If I chose one word to represent my life, it would be "Search." The boat names represented my quest! Through these reflections, I discovered how things I owned and offered as gifts were metaphors for who I am. If another sailboat comes into my life, it will be "Still Searching." A power boat was out of the question. The very idea conjured up the antithesis of the intuitive way.
Church and Religion
We lived in different neighborhoods moving from one location to another in the same city or from one city to another. Wherever we lived in my preteen years, mother arranged for my brother and I to attend the neighborhood church. At one time or another, I attended the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Salvation Army Sunday schools. I had an ecumenical exposure in those early years though limited to the Protestant flavor. My Sunday school teachers might have been chagrined, but their loving efforts gave birth to an agnostic.
On two occasions in those youthful times, assistant ministers took it upon themselves to save my soul. There life mission seemed to be finding young people and convincing them to renounce their sinful ways and accept Jesus. With more than a modest degree of trepidation, I accepted Jesus as my lord and savior. Both times I acquiesced since I felt intimidated by adult authority. Beneath my reluctance, there was a part that responded to the ritual. However it was years before I learned that connecting with the divine was a precious experience.
Early in my professional career, I attended the University of Chicago Great Books evening program for adults. In one class, we read Huston Smith's Religions of Man. (Note 8) This was the beginning of the end of my agnosticism. What a fascinating discovery! I found that religious desire was universal across all peoples and all ages. Some fundamental impulse was operating given the pervasive presence of religious expression. Even though the major religions seemed different in their beliefs and practices; at their core, I found "quest" common to all.
Of the seven religions in Smith's book, the Eastern traditions were most appealing with Hinduism at the top. Although Taosim was interesting at the time, it did not have the same pull as Hinduism. Buddhism was intriguing, but not as much so as Hinduism and Taoism. On his own path, my brother was drawn to the Buddhist tradition. Later I would visit the centers where he followed Buddhist practice. Several times I came across a piece of new age religious humor offering a short course in comparative religion.
During the Great Books exposure, I realized a mystery lurked beneath my agnostic belief. This eventually led me to search for a "church." I experimented with the Ethical Society and Unitarian Universalism for Sunday nourishment. As my children came along, it was important for them to attend Sunday School. This began with the nursery where Debbie screamed at the top of her lungs while we attended the service. Perhaps it's a miracle she goes near a church, but my granddaughter now attends Sunday nursery. She seems happier with the arrangement than her mother was thirty years earlier. But I seemed to be looking in the wrong places for spirit.
All the Wrong Places
The character Mulla Nasrudin appeared in many Sufi teaching stories popularized in several books by Indries Shah. In one of my favorite, Nasrudin lost his keys:
At one level, the story suggested the easy way may not work. At another, it expressed the folly of using inappropriate tools for a task. While an operations researcher, I was sometimes criticized for seeing every problem in terms of linear programming. When all I had was a hammer, everything looked like a nail. More deeply Nasrudin shows how I looked for answers to questions in the wrong places. Although I was taught to handle situations rationally "in the light," the keys to the kingdom lay hidden "in the shadows" behind the intuitive veil.
Plato's Allegory of the Cave had a fascinating hold on my mind. Orson Wells narrated my favorite version of the allegory. I often used this cartoon as the last activity on the last day of my university courses. Even though I saw the film dozens of times, I was as captivated the last as the first time. I do not know if the film had a lasting impact on my students, but my repeated viewings convinced me things are never what they appear to be. The allegory also told me to share any intuitive secrets I discovered with others.
Prayers and Affirmations
Several years ago, my psychosynthesis guide passed along a koan as a catalyst for my spiritual journey. She included a drawing that evoked the spirit of the words. As I periodically looked at the picture and read the words, new levels of meaning were revealed. Sometimes the words seemed as mysterious as they first did; while on other occasions, the image seemed to cut through the mental clutter. A good metaphor revealed new and deeper levels of meaning with each encounter.
I learned to pray in Sunday school but gave that up in grammar school. When my connection with spirituality was firmly established, prayer returned to my life. Spontaneous petitions sought expression out of my sense of connection with the divine. In addition to reciting the koan, I fashioned an affirmation from the psychosynthesis tradition:
A return to prayer was a natural extension of a growing appreciation for metaphor. My prayers called out in the name of the Tao, Ganesh, Kuan Yin and other spiritual symbols with special significance at different times in my life. One enduring petition "Lord Jesus Buddha, thy will be done" was born from a three piece sculpture that spontaneously leapt from my hands. The metaphor of the sculpture suggested the prayer:
Meditating on "Garden of Surrender," I discovered that the center "cupped hands" represented the universal source that the Hindu's called Brahma or the Taoist, the Tao, while the light and dark of the other hands stood for Jesus and Buddha respectively. They were displayed on my desk in an arrangement with the light of the divine source reflected to me through Buddha and Jesus.
Unity in Diversity
During my experiment with church, a book found me. I don't know how. It may have been on a shelf in one of the sanctuaries. Wherever it came from, The Essential Unity of all Religions was a turning point. (Note 11) Bhagavan Das meticulously compiled excerpts from eleven world traditions to demonstrate point by point the common bond at their core. This validated my earlier intimation that quest was at the core of all religious expression. Considering the potency of the message, I was puzzled that so few people had read the book. Only seven thousand copies were sold in all three editions.
Given the widespread brutality practiced in the name of religion, Essential Unity offered an amazing lesson for every combatant. To demonstrate the unity, Das compiled material from the scriptures of Shintoism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zorastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These ideas were in sharp contrast with my experience growing up in Georgia and later working at a restaurant to pay expenses while I attended Georgia Tech. To the whites in Vienna, blacks were second class citizens. Although slavery was abolished, the slave mentality had not changed.
At the Pickrick, whites waited on tables inside, while blacks handled the car hop. The owner Lester Maddox seemed to be on friendly terms with black and white employees. But the rules about who could go where were strictly enforced - no blacks were to be seen in the dining room. Later in the civil rights movement, Maddox achieved brief notoriety for the barrel of axe handles he had to drive away blacks who tried to be served inside. He went on to be governor of the state. With a budding sense of unity in diversity, the racially biased attitude of this kind family man was disturbing and puzzling.
Like Das' book, writings that were instrumental in dramatic personal change found me in this way. The most important readings did not come from books I decided to buy in advance. They came from browsing shelves, picking up a title that caught an intuitive glance out of the corner of the eye and deciding to bring it home. These purchases usually lay around, for several years in some cases, before they worked their transforming magic. But I could count on their coming my way when most needed as did some books on the Tao.
Discovering the Tao
As my spiritual horizons expanded, Taoism called out for attention. With his uncanny ability to express the inexpressible in words, Alan Watts' Tao: The Watercourse Way provided a bridge to the terse, inscrutible text of the Chinese classic. (Note 12) Reading Watts' words and listening to his tapes drew me to the Tao Te Ching. The Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation was my first encounters with the book. (Note 13) Their beautifully written and illustrated rendition reinforced my fascination with Taoist philosophy. Dan Robey and I prepared a manuscript the Tao of Managing to illustrate themes of the Tao applicable to contemporary management.
My favorite contribution appeared in the final chapter where George used Michael's interest in sailing in an effort to convey the spirit of Taoism. This autobiographical material described my ongoing struggle with the practical consequences of the Tao. Sitting at the keyboard, I notice the discomfort of "doing" in the tension of my forehead and shoulders. I wonder how many lifetimes it will take to master "not doing!" Another treasure in my exploration of the Tao came from Jacob Needleman's reading of and commentary on the Feng and English version of the Tao Te Ching. (Note 14) This two tape set was my companion on many long trips. Audio literature added new convenience to my process of discovery through the words of others.
Two recent versions of the Tao Te Ching are now my favorites: those of Stephen Mitchell and Ursula LeGuin. (Note 15) Both are departures from previous offerings by rendering the material with a feminine touch or taking the feminine view. Mitchell said "I have used the pronoun 'she' at least as often as 'he.'" In her notes, LeGuin stated "I wanted to make a version that doesn't limit wisdom to males." The opening quote for this web site was taken from Chapter 10 of Mitchell's version: "Can you step back from your mind and thus understand all things?"
I might have given up my quest for the Tao's meaning were it not for some extraordinary experiences. Occasionally a sense of awe and wonder gripped my presence. The first concrete memory I had of such an experience occurred on a high school trip to the United Nations. A sculpture stood in the main courtyard with weapons of war and farming implements along with the Biblical quote on beating swords into plough shares. The details have faded in forty-five years, but the feeling stirs me today. Standing before the sculpture reading the words transported me to another realm.
Years later Joseph Campbell gave words to my experience when he described an epiphany to Bill Moyers in The Power of Myth series on public television. (Note 16) Discovering epiphanies was the beginning of the recovery of my intuitive sense. Campbell said of these experiences:
Other times when I felt something larger than self where reading Hermann Hesse's description of the Buddha in Siddhartha, listening to Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech," noticing a father and son at the Leningrad Circus or playing with my granddaughter.
In those moments, the essence of the Tao broke through the surface of awareness. This way of being in the world haunted by subconscious mind. On occasion it popped to the surface with another epiphany. How could I account for these transcendent moments in my life? There were some profound meanings calling out for my attention.
Similar things happened with clients when they deeply connected with The Intuitive Self. Recognition of this kind of experience led to the "transcendent" Type, "epiphany" Form and "understanding" Kind classification in the Journaling protocol. Such experiences connect us with the infinite that lies beyond in Indra's cosmic web of being. The agnostic boy from the neighborhood Sunday school was discovering the source from which he sprang: the omniscience, ever present Tao.
Even though Sunday school did not win me over, a seed was planted for community in spiritual life. Beyond the dogma and ritual, the value of companions on the quest was imprinted on my soul. The Buddhist tradition recognizes brotherhood or sangha as fundamental to the religious quest. Where was I to find an empathetic group? Attending church offered spiritual community. But this was short lived and not deeply nourishing. Although Unitarian-Universalism appealed to my linear mind, in the end it was too rational and spiritually sterile.
My return to church took place when growth centers and alternative communities blossomed on the landscape. The need for friends to share inner longings drew me to self realization centers. For several years, a new age community flourished in South Florida. Several "Living Love" intensiveness introduced me to the human potential response to spiritual hunger. My self understanding was evoked, but my spiritual palate was not satisfied. Rather than community, self indulgence came to dominate the scene.
The mother of all human potential centers was born on California's Big Sur coast. The message and mission of Esalen held out the possibility of fellow travelers on the road to Damascus. (Note 17) When I could afford travel to the West coast, carefully chosen programs offered spiritual nourishment. And the hot springs on the cliffs of the Pacific ocean were magnificent. After taking part in several programs at Esalen, it was clear community was not in Big Sur although I remained a Friend of Esalen and returned occasionally for a weekend.
With the coming of East to West, ashrams sprang up around the country. They seemed to offer an ideal place for spiritual companions. For three summers, I participated in the life of the Himalayan Institute community. (Note 18) Although I learned essential yogic skills and practices, this community did not meet my needs. After spending shorter but intensive periods at similar communities in the states and Southern India, I realized ashrams were not the answer. Having been eyeball to eyeball with a dozen Gurus, valuable lessons came my way, but community still eluded me.
During my householder years, individual and group counseling became important. This led to a spiritually oriented therapist specializing in Gestalt and Psychosynthesis techniques. The Synthesis Institute offered an ongoing group working with these methods. (Note 19) I took part in this group for six years. Each monthly weekend as well as week long summer intensives focused on personal work in an intimate group setting. Quest oriented people were drawn to this group which was the closest I had come to spiritual community.
As my academic career matured, opportunities for community were numerous in professional associations. I attended annual meetings of The Institute of Management Science while still computer oriented and the Academy of Management when my focus shifted to management. These were the places to develop collegial affiliations necessary for national status, but offered little in the way of intellectual stimulation let alone spiritual succor. Each meeting I came away frustrated with the narrow focus and limited perspectives. Participants were so specialized, a generalist had no place to hang his hat.
Eventually I was drawn to the Institute of Noetic Sciences. (Note 20) Since they support "new belief systems which embrace human potential for healing, creativity, and wholeness," IONS was a natural place to turn to develop the whole person intellectually and spiritually. Their national conference presenters often included innovators bridging the chasm between science and spirituality. As provocative as the speakers were and as many times as I watched my favorite presenters videos, a sense of community also was missing from this group.
As interest in intuition moved to the foreground in my career, the Global Intuition Network offered a community committed to exploring the dimensions of intuitive experience. (Note 21) Surely opportunities would exist to form bonds of intellectual and spiritual interest. I found people of like mind with one or the other interest but not intellect and spirit equally. Given my need to bridge the split between intellect and spirit, I was drawn to those making a similar leap. My search for community was once more frustrated.
My failures with community were not the groups' fault. As with Mulla Nasrudin, I was looking in the wrong place. A larger lesson emerged from these encounters: true community was in the relationship of self to Self. These communities could not meet that need. Going here and there to join this or that group or to search new vistas on the Eastern horizon or explore well trodden paths on the Western shore would not yield the answers I sought.
A Community of One
The Hindu tradition recognized four stages of life. Although there were variations in the names, these labels rang a responsive chord: student, householder, hermit and teacher. For several years, I have lived alone exploring my spiritual self while disengaging from an academic career. A hermit quality pervades my space as I type these words in a one bedroom apartment. The Tao Te Ching recognized that being alone in one place was all that was needed for understanding:
Turning inward toward questions rather than outward for answers gradually revealed spirit in all its splendor. When self communes with Self, a divine union opens to true community - anyone and everyone. A stanza from my poem "Lost and Found" speaks this truth:
Looking outside for spiritual validation was doomed to failure: there was only one guru - the inner guru - The Intuitive Self. This Self knew it never was separate from other selves. A Zen poem said it all: (Note 23)
The more profound, the simpler the metaphor. These lines transform everyday words into ageless wisdom describing the intuitive way. The mystical tradition of China captured this wisdom in one word: "Tao."