June 2013


Fellowship of Friends

What’s the problem?

We all have memories from our school days of studying for examinations. We sat in class and our instructors tried to teach us how to solve a problem, warning us that we first had to understand what the problem was. (As my father used to say, “If you understand the problem, you’re halfway to the solution.”) Then all we had to do during the examination was read the problem, take the understanding and tools we had acquired through our studies, and apply them. What can be simpler than that?

When we entered “real life” after the school years, we found things to be different. Truly, as we were taught in school, we have many problems to solve. There is a little twist to it, however; in most cases we are not told what the problem is. Unlike our childhood exams, where we entered the classroom and received a paper full with problems to solve, now we are given a blank page and we have to formulate our own problems. We have to look carefully at the situation we are in and define the problem; only then can we begin to apply our experience to solve it. Formulating the problem accurately gives us a better understanding of it, but our first task, and this is important, is to realize that we have a problem.

So life channels us through yet another course called “finding the problem.” Mr. Ouspensky says “imagination satisfies all centers,” and this situation seems to be illustrated in the image above of the Hanged Man in the Tarot. He is in a dangerous position, but he looks quite unconcerned. If we are hanging upside down and all our centers are satisfied, feeling no pain, how can we realize our position?

"The world which we cherish as sweet is but a delusion when in the end
the veil is lifted from our eyes." Guru Nanak

Prince Siddhãrtha lived in his father’s palace, surrounded by the finest the world could offer. His father, knowing that his son was predicted to become a holy man rather than a king, protected him from seeing the real suffering of life, and tried to shower him with its pleasures instead. However, Siddhãrtha felt a growing uneasiness that urged him to go outside the protective walls of the palace and see what was there. He left the palace secretly and was shocked to observe old age, illness, and death. These experiences caused the prince to renounce his wealth and position, and set him on the path to become the Buddha.

"He who has received the mystical kiss from Christ seeks again that intimate experience,
and eagerly looks for its frequent renewal." Bernard of Clairvaux

When we are content in our lower centers we are locked in this seemingly pleasant palace. The ‘I’s circulating in our mind create a veil that prevents us from receiving the impressions that would reveal the truth about our position. When we emerge from imagination, we get a glimpse of the prison we are in, and so can start working our way out in order to reach presence and prolong it.

“He (the Lord) hath put a new song in my mouth" (Psalms 40:3).

How do we reach this higher state? Because our lower centers are satisfied with themselves, because we are asleep without knowing it, we must receive help from above. Our higher centers want to appear, and they are constantly sending us shocks and reminders to awaken; it is up to us to recognize these shocks and act on them. As our experience of being present increases, and as our understanding deepens, our urge to recognize these moments of sleep and our ability to work with the help we receive grows stronger.

When we experience a higher state, however, at some point our lower self creeps back in and veils us. We return to imagination without knowing it. This is a part of the human condition, and we should not grieve over it, but rather strive to be ever more aware of, and grateful for, the reminders that are sent to us for our aid..

Going back to those school days, I try to keep with me an understanding that worked well. In the end, once we have clearly recognized the problem, the solution is simple. If it is not, then we either have the wrong solution or we are trying to solve the wrong problem.

The memories and energy created by our moments of Presence build an increasing desire in us to escape imagination and to use whatever is given to us in order to awaken. We gradually learn to fan the sparks that come to us throughout our life into a fire that can never be extinguished.

"Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump:
for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed."
1 Corinthians 15:51-52

Ron M

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