The Möbius Circle of Life
One cycle ends, another begins. The end of Autumn and the upcoming New Year invite recognition of the circular nature of life. Insight is also circular. A realization that comes once will return again and again, but because life is not static, we never step in the same river twice. Meaning, the conditions of life are ever-changing, so when we return to an insight or experience, something new can be seen, felt, realized.
A few weeks back, in my Monday meditation circle, I was inspired to share one of my evolving realizations. Recently, I'd become more acutely aware of the ways I contract against and try to avoid a very dark and rather gruesome “energy signature." It's a repugnant flavor of energy that's palpable in the reported horrors of our world today.
I further recognized that this sickening energy actually takes myriad forms, some of which, "on the surface" don't seem so grisly. But it was my internal feeling-sense that made this sometimes "undercover" energetic connection visible to me. It's disturbing to recognize how pervasive this brutal energy signature is in our world. But what I found most unsettling was my felt-realization that this energy is not just “out there," it is also “in here.”
Whoa. That realization demanded I pause and fully feel the truth of it...to the extent I could. But who wants to feel that ugliness? It's much more pleasant and self-affirming to think of the yuck as being outside of oneself. However, "waking up" means embracing what-is (whatever that is), so this was mine to feel.
The next day someone from the meditation group wrote to ask if I would further explain what I meant by the yuck not just being "out there"...could I elaborate? Rather than trying to articulate what I sensed to be a vast, multi-dimensional reality, I encouraged an open-hearted and embodied, personal exploration; because each of us must actually feel reality for ourselves. And, if we're open, our understanding will likely evolve over time...as mine was doing.
To our next meditation circle I brought one of my favorite minds, Alan Watts, who beautifully and light-heartedly explores the nature of our existence and self-identity. His potent little paperback from 1966 titled, The Book, offers a wonderful response to the question that was posed to me. Although no one can give us understanding, or make us see and feel reality, pointers like Watts' may help us to find our own way...
“We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that ‘I myself’ is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body...making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. ...
"This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples.’ Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated ‘egos’ inside bags of skin. …
“We need a new experience—a new feeling of what it is to be ‘I’ ... The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego. …
“The difficulty in realizing this to be so is that conceptual thinking cannot grasp it. It is as if the eyes were trying to look at themselves directly, or as if one were trying to describe the color of a mirror in terns of colors reflected in the mirror. ... We are forced, therefore, to speak of it through myth—that is, through special metaphors, analogies, and images which say what it is like as distinct from what it is.”
Watts goes on to share a story that he tells children who ask questions like, Where did the world come from? or Why did God make the world? In his story he employs the word God, but he also likes "The Ultimate Ground of Being," which can easily replace a word that Watts recognizes has become rather contaminated.
Watts’ story is derived from ancient Vedanta philosophy; it holds that “there was never a time when the world began, because it goes round and round and round like a circle, and there is not place on a circle where it begins.” Like hands sweeping across the face of a watch, the world repeats itself. The hour hand goes around in cycles, just like day and night, waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter.
Watts points out that “you can’t have any one of these without the other, because you wouldn’t be able to know what black is unless you had seen it side-by-side with white, or white unless side-by-side with back.” It’s said that in the same way, “there are times when the world is, and times when it isn’t, for if the world went on and on without a rest for ever and ever, it would get horribly tired of itself. It comes and goes. Now you see it; now you don’t. … It’s like your breath: it goes in and out, in and out, and if you try to hold it in all the time you feel terrible. It’s also like the game of hide-and-seek, because it’s always fun to find new ways of hiding, and to seek for someone who doesn’t always hide in the same place.”
“God also likes to play hide-and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself. This is his way of hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and all the people in the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. In this way he has strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. But these are just like bad dreams, for when he wakes up they will disappear.
“Now when God plays hide and pretends that he is you and I, he does it so well that it takes him a long time to remember where and how he hid himself. But that’s the whole fun of it—just what he wanted to do. He doesn’t want to find himself too quickly, for that would spoil the game. That is why it is so difficult for you and me to find out that we are God in disguise, pretending not to be himself. But when the game has gone on long enough, all of us will wake up, stop pretending, and remember that we are all one single Self—the God who is all that there is and who lives for ever and ever.
“Of course, you must remember that God isn’t shaped like a person. People have skins and there is always something outside our skins. If there weren’t, we wouldn’t know the difference between what is inside and outside our bodies. But God has no skin and no shape because there isn’t any outside to him.”
Watts writes that for sufficiently sophisticated children, he uses a Möbius strip—a paper ring twisted so that it has only one side and one edge—to illustrate the inside and outside of God are the same. I was inspired to bring little Möbius strips to my circle and asked everyone to lightly pinch the strip between thumb and forefinger. Sliding the strip gentle through loosely closed fingers, you get both the tactile and visual experience of the outside becoming inside and the inside becoming outside. While it may appear there are two sides to the strip, there is actually only one. Watts continues...
“The secret which my story slips over to the child is that the Ultimate Ground of Being is you. Not, of course, the everyday you which the Ground is assuming, or ‘pretending’ to be, but that inmost Self which escapes inspection because it’s always the inspector. This, then, is the taboo of taboos: you’re IT!”
It’s important to note that, from the Vedic perspective, God is not the King of the Universe. Watts is quick to point out that, for Hindus, God is underneath not above everything, and he or it “plays the world from the inside."
“What’s more, no Hindu can realize that she or he is God in disguise without seeing at the same time that this is true of everyone and everything else. In the Vedanta philosophy, nothing exists except God. … The universe of seemingly separate things is real only for a while, not eternally real, for it comes and goes as the Self hides and seeks itself.”
"But Vedanta is much more than the idea or the belief that this is so. It is centrally and above all the experience, the immediate knowledge of its being so, and for this reason such a complete subversion of our ordinary way of seeing things. It turns the world inside out and outside in. Likewise, a saying attributed to Jesus runs:
When you make the two one, and
when you make the inner as the outer
and the outer as the inner and the above
as the below…”
Watts’ articulation of this story illustrates my felt realization that the energy signature I found so distasteful is not just "out there," it is also "in here." But so too are many pleasant, beautiful energies, like boundless joy and profound love.
In the process of loosening my own contracted "ego disguise," I return to the ever-deepening realization that in being open-hearted no matter what arises, in not contracting or resisting any of life, I am most intimate with Life. That is peace. That is Love.
This intimacy, this peace does not mean we never say no, or that we never stand for something and take action. Quite the contrary. To fully experience and embody the realization that everything is The Ground of All Being in disguise would be liberation from the very contractions that inhibit our compassionate action, and that contribute to our sense of isolation and give rise to a wide range of subtle and horrific ugliness intended to protect us from what is thought to be "out there."
I invite you to listen to the guided meditation below and join our meditation circle in the taboo of loosening our grip on the limited "self."