Girard Haven is a writer and teacher of the Fourth Way who hosted a meeting in Japan a few years ago. I tagged along while he was going back to his lodgings and found myself walking alongside him. He was, as always, freely answering questions in his amiable, focused way. In Japan, and especially in Kyoto, the country’s spiritual capital, one is exposed to the teaching of Buddha, and I wondered how one aspect of that teaching might be compatible with the Fourth Way.
I asked Mr. Haven what he thought about karma and whether or not it really existed. He answered that karma is what we are identified with when we die. This was a revelatory extension of the concept of identification—a phenomenon that all students of the Fourth Way must spend a great deal of time studying and combating.
So what is identification, and why is it important?.
We can visualize the state of presence, or self-remembering, as maintaining a portion of our attention on the external world (including our own bodies and our thoughts and emotions), while simultaneously remaining aware of the conscious Self, of ‘being here.’ So, attention is divided, and one holds a sense of one’s Self as it observes what is going on around it. With practice, this state will grow deeper and will last longer, a vital stage in the evolution of the individual.
When we are identified, all our attention flows out into the external world (that is, everything that is not the Self), and the sense of Self is lost. When we begin to recognize this psychological phenomenon, we realize that this is how we spend most of our lives: looking for our glasses, enjoying a work of art, worrying about bank balances, talking about awakening, and so on. Our lives pass and we do not see that we are living in sleep – until something in us that wishes to wake up begins to act.
We spend much of our time in imagination about our identifications. Loose chains of repetitive associations pass through our minds as we ‘think’ about relationships, money, sex, food, homes, careers, families, our spiritual progress or lack of progress. It seems that, in the absence of presence, something, however useless, has to rush in to fill the space.
In short, when we are identified, our true identity, the higher Self, cannot manifest. All our attention flows out of us and there is nothing left inside that truly exists. However, Girard Haven takes it to another level when he implies that what we are identified with at our death will influence the conditions of the next life. It seems that if we don’t work with our identifications now, they will go on forever.