This is an essay I presented to the Universalist Quaker magazine. It was rejected on the grounds that it was too vague, unsubstantiated and that it does not represent the editor’s conviction that human nature is not to be trusted as a source of wisdom and well-being.
Judge for yourself.
‘Yet every heart contains perfection’s germ’ – Shelley
True universality is founded in human nature. For it is in human nature alone that we discover remarkable similarities – similarities which elegantly ebb and flow through the many passages of human history and smooth over the often divisive borders of cultural values. Indeed, it is in the recognition and honoring of that which is uniquely and universally human within us, that the healing power of universality may become our truth and living reality. It is therefore towards human nature alone we need to look in order to grasp the liberating implications of these three words: sower, seed and soil. This essay explores the possibility of a realistic, functional and integrated relationship between them.
Once we grasp the truly human foundation of these concepts, it will become self-evident that our search for wholeness and intelligent, compassionate living does not have to move beyond human nature into metaphysical (other worldly) projections about the possible meaning of these deeply human characteristics. To do so would be to negate the foundations of universality. There is no universality in metaphysical beliefs. All beliefs are created and sustained by the projective ability of thought. And universality is not an idea. Ideas tend to contradict one another and often create more confusion and bewilderment than order and humane living conditions. Universality is a living reality. And human nature is the only reality we experience. All is because we are. Nothing within human experience is not integral to human nature. In this way human nature and the notion of universality could be seen to form one integrated whole.
Yet, to come to an understanding of, or insight into, human nature may not be easy. Human nature does not reveal its secrets to the unwary, casual traveler. It always leaves us with more to discover, something more to experience about ourselves, about life and about the art of integral, humane living. But even while we may stand somewhat confounded in the face of our interaction with the world in which we find ourselves, our natural condition is always ready to lead us from the darkness of our own prejudices, dogmas, superstitions and conditioned responses, to the nurturing light of our inherent integrity, beauty, sanity, compassion and intelligence.
When we thus try to arrive at an unbiased grasp of the nature of the sower, we need look no further than to the complete potential of our human condition. Human nature is an open-ended, self-unfolding phenomenon. It is never fixed. Rather, it is a dynamic process which, from one living moment to the next, displays remarkable potential for its dynamic and creative interaction with life. However, although there is nothing suspect about the inherent goodness of human nature, our activities often display aspects of our potential which could only be called inhumane. Human nature is therefore a process of constant unfolding which could equally manifest from the most humane, loving and intelligent forms of behavior to the lowest and most cruel in us. This is the reality of human life. As sowers of seeds, we are as much capable of sowing seeds of well-being, love and compassion as we are of sowing seeds of destruction, disorder and hatred.
And because of these vastly diverse manifestations of our human potential running through the history of all cultures, we could say that the true universalist is the person who is willing to accept these facts of life, and enquire for themselves into the possibility of allowing for the more humane, truly civilized and intelligent aspects of human life to become their living reality. There is nothing written that we need to live on the basis of our lower human potential. Amidst our confusion and potential for destructive living, our deeper nature lies waiting, always ready to shine through the fog of our culturally conditioned realities, dogmas and superstitions. The choice is ours. And until we fully and unconditionally accept responsibility for our own destiny-creating actions, and begin to understand and have insight into the nature of the sower itself, we will tend to blame or accredit presumed forces beyond our control for both the good and bad which happens to us.
Human development is a human affair. The same is true of our deep humane, spiritual destiny. Only us, as humans, can sow the seeds for our spiritual upliftment. Only us, as humans, can do something constructive and intelligent to the way we function and mostly dysfunction. But, fundamentally our credentials are impeccable. Our potential limitless. That part of human nature which sows the good seeds is always ready to sow the seeds of human integrity and wholeness into our conscious awareness. But for this to happen, we need to become deeply sensitive to our natural potential for goodness as well as to the possibility for radical change from within. The sower of good seeds needs space, openness of mind and heart, willingness to discover and explore – and above all, passion for self-enquiry. The soil must be prepared for the seeds to take root.
As the sower is inherently part of our human nature, so is the seed. The sower and the seed are one indivisible process functioning within our human potential. And it is up to us, as individuals, to create the correct channel for the deliverance of our good seeds into the soil of human experience. This is why self-knowledge is so crucial. Self-knowledge shows us how we function and how our daily activities generally prevent the seeds of goodness to be sown into our conscious awareness from where they may take root and develop to their full potential. We are so occupied with the demands of our socially structured activities that we seldom allow the space and inner silence necessary for nurturing the good seeds as they may present themselves to our field of awareness. In fact, rather than nurturing the birth of the good seeds, we tend to be resolute in our commitment to allow for the daily proliferation of the bad seeds. In this way, human life actively creates and maintains its own mediocrity – tethered to its false imaginings, dreams, dogmas, superstitions and conditioning. These sow the seeds of bewilderment, alienation, relational failure, self-centeredness and loneliness. These are the bad seeds. Yet, they too are part of our human potential. The choice as to which aspects of our potential we will allow to manifest, to grow and become our living reality, is ours.
As inner silence and openness of heart and mind, are the natural conditions for giving birth to the good seeds, it may be useful to approach this matter with considerable circumspection. What is inner silence and how do we arrive at openness of heart and mind? These are fundamental questions, because it is the quality of silence and inner stillness which will determine the quality of the seeds our being will bring forth. In my book: Spirituality Without God, I explore a complete system of inner opening where I describe practical ways for entering deeply into our own inner silence in order to allow, not only for insights and clear comprehension, but also for the full experience and realization of wholeness and the awakening of the intelligence of love and compassion.
As an introduction to the establishment of true inner silence, this article does not allow for the kind of detail with which I address these matters in my book. However, we could perhaps usefully observe some aspects of inner silence.
What is inner silence? What, for instance makes inner silence different to inner noise? And why is it important to distinguish between certain types of inner silence in terms of its effectiveness in bringing about clear insight and the sense of wholeness, intelligence and love? As I indicated above, these are important and fundamental questions we need to explore. But to find out for ourselves, we need to be open from the start. We need to be open to change; open to new paradigms for living; open to seek beyond the borders of our mental and emotional comfort zones and conditioned responses to the challenges facing us. To our generally uninspected, ordinary vision , life appears to have a very clear and self-evident order. We are knowers of what we believe to be facts – scientific, religious, social, moral, who we are – and these exist both for us and as us in what appears to be a world of self-evident reality. But there is nothing self-evident about the world as we experience it prior to us making ourselves available for insight, clarity of mind, freedom of thinking and feeling, and most importantly, freedom of full participatory experience of our world as it unfolds from moment to moment. What appears to be so eloquently ‘self-evident’ is often nothing but the ritual confirmation to ourselves of the fallacies we believe to be true and valuable about life and living. What is needed is a radical, inner revolution – a true turnaround so that we may face both our truth and falseness with courage and a brave, open heart.
The turnaround we seek through inner silence therefore has to be effective and sustainable. This is why the quality of the seed we produce is so crucial. Mediocre seed will produce mediocre change. Seed that is alive with the unadulterated qualities of our deepest human potential will have the power to produce fundamental change for the good from deep within our being. And as we have seen, this is where the quality of the processes giving birth to our good seeds is of crucial importance.
So, we ask again: what is silence? Is silence merely not talking? Does it lie in the absence of words with their deeply conditioned and often disturbing emotional connotations? Indeed this would be one description of inner silence. In this wordless silence we may indeed begin to feel our own inner stillness. We may become sensitive to noises our surroundings. Some other senses may become more alive and sensitive to the aspects of reality they sense. Some mental clarity may begin to appear. Here we may also experience a feeling of relaxed awareness, not generally present when we are active as verbal communicators.
However, while we may maintain this outer silence, we still notice another kind of noise: the ever chattering mind. During this outer silence, we become aware of how our minds project all sorts of images, storylines, memories, projections into the future, worries, hopes and so on. Outer silence is therefore not a necessary condition for a quiet, relaxed and aware mind. From this it may be clear that the kind of seeds which outer verbal silence may produce are not from the deeper layers of our human potential. And should some good seed find its way from there into the noise of the chattering mind, it will soon be interpreted, modified and applied in terms of the superficial, conditioned content of the chattering mind. This kind of silence is therefore not the appropriate channel for the manifestation of seeds of goodness originating from deep within our being.
Here it may also be interesting to sensitize ourselves to something the chattering mind is very good at: in the absence of outer noise, the unquiet mind begins to await the arrival of insights, god’s messages, intuitive understanding and so on. The superficiality of the chattering mind truly believes that outer silence alone will facilitate the arrival of insight and true understanding. So, in the relative silence produced by outer silence, our chattering mind enters a different, more subtle, kind of noise: it inwardly awaits and even demands insight or direct communication from god or what ever it perceives god to be. But this waiting attitude, being in itself a form of inner noise, becomes an effective barrier between the appearance of insights and our conscious awareness. Such waiting for something to happen is founded in a subtle demand for delivery by whomever or whatever we believe we are opening ourselves to through the practice of outward silence. The problem with such a demand-driven form of practice is that true insight cannot be forced. It needs space and a receptive, free-floating attitude which is mere openness. In this openness nothing is forced or demanded. Only in such a completely relaxed inner environment can insight become a natural manifestation of our deeper being.
So, if outer silence is not the most effective instrument through which insight could be established, what else might be more effective?
Most of the contemplative traditions have become sensitive to this problem, and developed specific practices through which inner silence could be effectively established. One such practice is generally referred to as mindfulness. In fact, in the Hinayana Buddhist tradition, for instance, we find a very systematic explanation of how true mindfulness leads to insight and clear comprehension. For the purpose of this discussion it may be useful for us briefly to look at the method they describe.
The practice is divided into two distinct sections: mindfulness and insight. Here we take an object of meditation, such as one’s breath, a mantra, any bodily sensation etc. and try to hold our attention stable on it for some time. Naturally this would be done in the context of outer silence. Sitting quietly and trying to hold attention focused on one object creates an inner stillness in the mind – not only of our ever-active thought projections, but also of attention which tends to jump around from mind image to mind image in a purely habitual manner. When this practice becomes stable, and the practitioner experiences the deep inner quiet of their mind, the ground will be well prepared for the appearance of insights and profound inner clarity coming from within this silence. And because in this instance the good seeds are no longer filtered through the chattering mind, they present themselves to our consciousness with great clarity and power. During this practice true insights begin to manifest through an open channel of communication between our deeper being and our ordinary awareness. Clearly, the deeper our silence, the deeper our insights. During this practice there no waiting on god to speak or for insights to arrive. The practice produces these quite naturally.
Another very accessible approach to the experience of inner silence is through deep physical relaxation. Much has been written on this subject and there are many tapes, books and CD’s available which give excellent guidance in this regard. In brief this practice consciously follows a gradual process of relaxation of stress-tensed muscles. Typically this kind of progressive muscle relaxation starts with the muscles in the face around the eyes, the head, neck and move down to the rest of the body while holding attention consciously on the mere sense of each muscle or muscle groups as they relax into their natural order of benign equilibrium. This practice quiets the ever-active mind and establishes a deep sense of well-being in the entire body-mind. In the process it opens the practitioner up to the potential for deep insights and inner clarity.
Practices such Christian contemplative prayer, shamanic rituals, deep concentrative meditation, direct bodily awareness, moving meditation and so on – are all well established forms of practice to bypass the noise created by the chattering mind and to allow for insight and deeper states of meditative absorption of unity consciousness.
There are many areas for further investigating this kind of practice. In Spirituality Without God I also discuss a very specific, and extremely effective form of this practice which directly leads to insight and could be used effectively in daily living for mental and emotional healing. Inner silence has its own healing power. We need not only concern ourselves with the seeds of insight to bring about effective change to our confused conditioned state. Often the seeds which are not reflected as clear thoughts in our mind have profound effects on the way we function. The human organism is a most delicate and sensitive instrument. It can detect the most subtle influences coming from its limitless well of healing and nurturing potential and orders itself in remarkable ways along the intimations of our deeper being. Our only responsibility in this regard is to discover appropriate channels of communication between our hidden natural abilities and our ordinary functional reality.
No seed, however potent and alive with insight and clarity, can take root in unprepared soil. And as we are the soil in which the seeds, coming from within our deep human potential, hava to take root and grow, it may be useful for us to consider this question of preparation with a sense of urgency and keen interest. It would be of little use to discover ways for giving birth to seeds of goodness and then to allow these seeds to fall into a soil which does not facilitate the realization of their complete potential. Seeds, however potent, exists only in a state of potential. By themselves they may remain in such a state for a very long time. They remain dormant – mere potential, without actualization.
How do we prepare the soil? What do we need to bring to our quest for wholeness and a greater humanity in order to facilitate the growth of our good seeds?
Our very first responsibility is to consider the value of developing an attitude of change. We cannot remain as we are and expect the good seeds to flower in the midst of our ordinary fragmented, confused and conditioned mental and emotional states. The second point to sensitize ourselves to is that we need to keep an open heart and mind so that the refreshingly new and often challenging nature of the good seeds can find their way into our conscious awareness to do their good work. The third attitudinal predisposition is that we appreciate the need for sustainability. It is one thing to be given deep and profound realizations when the good seeds burst into conscious awareness during moments of inner quiet. During such moments the force of clarity with which the seed presents itself may be perfectly clear – in fact so clear that we may find it difficult to understand why we have not seen the matter with such obvious clarity before. We feel light and enthralled in the presence of our clarity. Yet, it asks for a categorically different inner attitude for these seeds to maintain the value of their insight in order for it to become and remain our living reality rather than becoming just a fond memory of something true and beautiful we have realized. Sustainability and appropriate preparation of the soil are closely related. Without the latter, the former will soon lose its immediacy, vibrancy, creativity and life changing value.
These are general guidelines for preparing the soil. But if preparation of soil is necessary, what could be considered unprepared soil? What is so distorting of truth and beauty in our ordinary state which needs preparation for the good seeds to flower? Looking at it in another way we could ask: What is it we are presently doing which prevents these good seeds from taking permanent root within our being?
The answer to this question reaches every aspect of our ordinary functioning. It does not lie within the scope of this article to go into every aspect of our functioning which distorts and confuses our living reality. In my book I discuss this matter in considerable detail as it needs our careful and detailed attention. Briefly we could say that every resistance to the intimations of our deeper nature distorts and confuses human life. Generally these resistances present themselves in the form of unresolved psychological issues, mental conditioning, emotional shadow material, social demands, an over-sensitive ego, a chronic sense of self-contraction, spiritual pride, dogmatic beliefs, religious indoctrination and habituation. There are many other, more subtle, aspects of our ordinary living which present obstacles to the sustainable flowering of our good seeds. All of these need to be investigated, seen for what they are and ultimately transcended or left behind.
Do as we may, our spiritual life cannot unfold while we remain tethered to, and bound and entranced by these states of confused inner functioning. Not only will these states form an effective barrier between us and the birth of our good seeds, but will they prevent the good seeds from taking root. Moments of inner silence may very well temporarily by-pass these states of confusion, but once the inner silence is no longer our present disposition and we find ourselves back in the functioning of our ordinary waking state, these states will again effectively prevent the seeds from taking root. This is why we so often fail our most sincere gestures towards the fulfillment of our spiritual ideals. Our ordinary living generally excludes most of our potential for giving birth to the good seeds, and inhibits, or completely prevents, these seeds from flowering.
Inner silence is our most precious gift. It has the power, not only to transform us as individuals, but to transform the world. Correctly understood and practiced, our silence is directly experienced as the sower, the seed and the soil. It is here where our human potential finds its measure and reveals its secrets to us. It is also from within the silence of our being that we may naturally begin to manifest all the finer qualities of human life such as unconditioned intelligence, compassion, love, charity and emotional equilibrium.
To the serious seeker, inner silence becomes a way of life rather than just an outward religious gesture. It becomes a practical, living reality – not something we vaguely believe in, or engage in as mere religious ritual. We are indeed born in the image of the highest. But this image will remain mere potential until it becomes our living reality. We have to learn how to move from the superficial aspects of our lives to allow the deeper, more holistic truth of human life to become active as our guiding light. To be whole, is to be whole as the true, functional relationship between the sower, the seed and the well-prepared soil. In this way our inner wholeness will resonate freely with the undivided nature of out total field of experience.
Ladismith. South Africa.
March 9, 2008.
Möller de la Rouvière