Friday, March 14, 2008

Chance the Gardener & Rocket Travel

My friend publishes a health and wellness journal in the State of Washington. She recently asked me to write something for the journal. Below is what I came up with. Enjoy.

* * *
Stacy Article Draft

When Stacy invited me to write this article, she mentioned that the theme would be spring emergence. Wonderful, I thought. The seasons have provided rich spiritual metaphor dating back well beyond Christ and Buddha. This will be fun. About a month into thinking about this article, I still had not experienced the flash of what I call the core concept – what will carry this article through the cascading flow of words, images, and ideas? I had no idea when I sat down this after to take a break from my already too leisurely day to watch a film that the core concept would emerge, but, wonderfully, it did.

About six months ago, my girlfriend, Tara, told me I was becoming like Chauncey the Gardener more and more everyday. “Who’s Chauncey?” I asked.

“You know, that guy from the movie Being There. Peter Sellers played Chauncey, I think.”

“Oh, cool.”

“I don’t remember a lot of the film, but Chauncey walks around, does particularly nothing, and mutters random things that people interpret as brilliant.”

“That does sound like me, except for the brilliant part.”

“Well, that’s the thing. You don’t know if he’s brilliant, autistic, retarded, or enlightened - until the end, at least. Ever since you woke-up, you’re like Chauncey the Gardener.”

“You’re not making a very good case for awaking.”

“Neither do you, babe.”

I forgot about the conversation for a long while (not surprising). It was true to a certain degree. I do spend a lot of time wondering around, doing nothing in particular, while saying random things. I like to be alone. If need be, I can lucidly interact in conversation. Other than my teaching work, or organization development projects, I like to meander directionless and stop to “Watch the plants and flowers grow,” just like Chauncey.

Just a few weeks ago, Tara was reading a book series by a Non-Dual enlightenment teacher I really like named Jed McKenna, and in these books he likens himself to Chauncey. It was a joke, but jokes are only funny because they are partially true. Again she insisted that I see the film. “It will be good research,” she said. I dutifully logged on to Netflix, found the film, and bumped it to the top of my waiting list.

The film came a few days later. Like most of my rented films, it sat on the table for about a week before I watched it. I liked this film. Its slow melodic quality, meandering insights, and deep subtle meaning reminded me a lot of the last year and a half. And, as I had been putting off this article for about a month, it gave me the content I needed to produce. I knew what I wanted to say, but how I was going to say it was not yet clear. Like all circumstances where there is not a clear choice, I waited for the content to present itself, knowing it would all perfectly unfold as it was suppose to – much like Chance’s experience in the film Being There.

In case you have not seen the film, I’ll give a quick synopsis:

Chance is a resident gardener in a large Washington D.C. estate – Chance the Gardener. It seems that the owner of the home, a women who is his caretaker, and Chance are the only people living there. The owner dies, the caretaker leaves, and the bank repossesses the home. Chance is now homeless. He packs and wonders out into the city, going nowhere in particular. No plan, no money, no destination – life unfolds. A limousine that chauffeurs the wife of a powerful and influential businessman hits Chance, and she brings him to their house.

At their home, Chance’s (who they misunderstand to be named Chauncey, which Chance does not object to being called) interest of gardening comes out in all conversations. Everyone thinks he is speaking metaphorical. The President of the United States comes by one afternoon and he too believes Chance is speaking metaphorically – on this occasion regarding the economy. This conversation changes the face of the national economic discourse. Appearing on talk shows and receiving requests for interviews, Chance becomes famous.

The most important and reoccurring theme in Chance’s conversations is the changing seasons. “Something’s have to die in order for other things to grow,” he says. This natural, simple truth applies to both development and spiritual transformation. Chauncey hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head.

When I speak about spirituality, I speak about it in two contexts: awakening spirituality and developmental spiritual. Almost all spirituality, at least 95% (I’m being generous, as it’s probably closer to 99%), is developmental spirituality. One of the unique circumstances we have been present to is that a great deal of developmental spirituality masquerades as awakening spirituality, and this leads to a lot of unnecessary confusion, leading to neither awakening or development.

Growth is a process of letting things wither and fall away, in order for new things to arise and blossom. We are in the spring now. Days are longer, and emergence is in the air. You might find that you have more energy, and there is a sense of excitement. Flowers begin to bloom and their sweet fragrance dances and mingles in the wind. However, none of this could happen without the withering and dying process of the empty chill and dark night of winter. Without the rest and hibernation of winter, the expansion of spring is impossible. Without the harvest of fell, and the death and removal of the excess and indulgence, there would not be the space and invitation for new growth.

Spiritual transformation, all growth really, requires the same cycle. Things have to be let go of. Old patterns, ideas, values, and perceptions that do not serve will have to be surrendered, so that there is space for new and spontaneous growth – growth that we could not have even imagined. Spiritual growth, like all growth, is wonderful. It is an intrinsic aspect of our natural world, our lives, and every moment of our experience (think of the cycle of a moment like the flow of seasons). However, we can exaggerate the process, and this, very simply, is where every spiritual tradition has come from. Spirituality is a natural human thing. Humans came first, and then came spiritual meaning making and cultivation.

From a very limited and simplistic, yet liberating, perspective, we can view spiritual paths and traditions as processes of letting go (the process of winter). “Not my will, but thy will be done,” are Christ’s words of salvation (think transformation) imprinted life. Each cycle brings us back to deeper and deeper layers of trust and surrender. “Something’s have to die in order for other things to grow,” says Chance Gardener.

I spent a good portion of my spiritual life asking the question, what needs to die today? I would begin and end each day with that simple yet powerful question. This question does not take faith, experience, training, tradition or anything of that nature – just ask the question. By the way, there is certainly nothing wrong with faith, experience, training, and tradition; however, when you add those simple five words to any of the above, you’re tossing gasoline in your own spiritual fire. You are inviting the winter of spiritual experience that will, always, inevitably usher in a new, expansive spring.

There is a huge misunderstanding in spiritual circles, and it goes something like: the more I develop, the closer I will be to enlightenment (or whatever this particular group of people has decided to call it). Development and evolution never stop. They never end, and this is the very reason they are called development and evolution. If there were an end game, it would be called a project or something like that. But, wonderfully, evolution and development never ends. The seasons will unfold until the earth ends. No one has, and no one will, ever develop himself or herself into awakening. Sorry to switch metaphors, but it’s a whole different ball game.

If development is like the flow and experience of the seasons, then awakening (enlightenment) is like leaving the planet and watching the whole thing from outer space. Think of my roll as NASA – I run a space travel program.

Imagine in the middle of winter, you wonder what the whole season thing looks like. What is it that is actually going through these birth and death cycles of transformation? You begin to ask. Some people tell you to do more season work. Some tell you to focus on winter more, or spring more, or the transition between the two. You find someone with an eastern perspective on seasons. You do that for a while. You find someone with a western perspective, and you do that for a while. You decide to make your environment cleaner, as this might help a bit, so you purify, fast, and detox. You invest in some super food to assist with growth. But through all this you never find out what it is that is actually changing. Then, one day, you walk into NASA’s apartment and you’re invited into a spaceship. Blast off, baby!

You fly hurling through the atmosphere and land in orbit. From way up above, you realize many things. Like when it is summer in the northern hemisphere, it is winter in the southern. You can see how seasons affect weather patterns, and how weather patterns in one part of the world will affect the patterns on the other side of the world. You realize that you are not any longer bound by the seasons, or weather, or anything happening on earth. You are no longer on earth. And because you are no longer on earth, you are no longer affected by earth. Earth is obviously a part of your sensory experience – you are looking at it. You are free to experience earth, but you are no longer subject to its cycles. “Life is just a state of mind,” rings loud as the last line of dialogue we hear in the film Being There. You recognize this fully.

You then realize something further. Because you are no longer affected by earth, you are free to experience it fully. You are not that season thing, but you are free to be that season thing. You also realize that as long as you are present to the season thing, it will continue to unfold. Chance’s experience in the film effortlessly unfolded. When I woke-up, I no longer experienced any identification to my thoughts, personality, or self-expression – my developing self. Being free from this self allowed me to fully be myself whenever and however I wanted.

It is often said that transformation, whether developmental or spiritual, is painful. My experience, post-awakening, is different. When there is no longer any identification to the person that is being expressed and experienced in the moment, then changes within this person are rather simple, easeful, and wonderful, just the way the seasons unfold. Most of my teaching is about awakening and assisting people with this. I ask people to make a clear choice – which way do you want to go? If it is a developmental path, be clear and committed to that. If it is an awakening path, be clear and committed to this. For a long time, I always said, ‘Awakening first, worry about development later.’ But I now see this as an error, as I find that most people do not have the rocket fuel capacity (back to the space travel metaphor) to see the awakening thing through all the way to orbit, even if they think they do. And though I spend most of my time talking about the awakening path, I encourage people to be fully and deeply committed to the development path.

Developmental spirituality is about moving through the cycle of seasons, with each new cycle producing more growth. There is no end game to growth, just as there is no end game to the flow of seasons. Growth always grows – wonderfully. Spiritual awakening is to step away from identifying with the process of growth (and everything else that happens on the planet, which is you), and is to recognize your self as the space that contains all things earth, which is what you believe yourself to be.

You are ultimately that space. Your true, undying, unborn nature is that space. Right here and right now, you are empty space. Within that space something is happening: thoughts, memories, perceptions, growth, and death. Within that space is a transforming and evolving spiritual being. However, you are not that being, you are the space that contains that being, and because you are the space that contains that being, you are free to be that being. Be that.

In this time of seasonal transition and the inevitable emergence of spring, become absolutely clear about what your path is. Is your path the process of moving through the season of growth and life skillfully and consciously, or is it the radical transformation of space travel? I spend most of my time talking people out of the space travel adventure – it’s a rough ride and you never know what is going to happen. But it is up to you. Like Microsoft asks, Where do you want to go today?

“I watched the film,” I mentioned to Tara while staring across the room at light streaming through the windows. It is not really about the light, but the way dust floats through it. Actually, it is not really about the dust either, but how sweet and soft light touches upon the surface of the dust – beautiful.

“What film?” she asked.

“I guess it’s been awhile. Being There.”

“Yeah, it’s been a few weeks. Did you like it? I told you, you’re like Chauncey, right?”

“I’m not retarded,” I say while laughing. She hits me in the arm.

“He wasn’t retarded. He was enlightened. Retarded people don’t walk on water.”

“I don’t walk on water.”

“It was a visual way of expressing his fluidity. You’re fluid. Just like that.”

“I suppose. But you know what’s most important?”


“The last line of the film. Remember?”


“Life is just a state of mind.”

No comments: