I recently read an article describing how, down in Texas (a rogue fourth world country), the people in charge of public education wanted eighth graders to select their career paths.
As I thought about what I might want to say in response to this insanity, outlining my view of education, I remembered the very first article I had ever published, back in 1991. I found it hiding in my hard drive. I read it. I didn’t change a word.
Here it is. I will write another article outlining my view of education, but for now I’ll let this article stand on its own.
Career Day for Mystics
I don’t remember seeing an information table for aspiring mystics during Career Day in high school. I suspect that never in the history of high school career days has there ever been such a table.
What’s the deal? How can kids with a sliver of awareness pointing towards reality find suitable colleges and careers?
Why wasn’t someone like Meister Eckhart seated behind a table in the converted gymnasium, beckoning us as we strolled wide-eyed and impressionable down the shopping lanes of career offerings?
I don’t remember anyone exhorting us, as Meister Eckhart would have:
“One should not give up, neglect or forget for a moment one’s inner life, but one must learn to work in it, with it, and out of it, so that the unity of one’s soul may break out into one’s activities.”
My career day was in 1968, at Magnolia High School in Anaheim, California. That sliver of light within me that wanted validation and encouragement was disappointed.
What would have happened to the legendary dancer Nijinsky had he not found a dancer’s stage, or Ray Charles had he not found his way to a piano? What happens to the young mystics’ inchoate yearnings, ripe for opportunity and guidance and mentoring?
Somewhere within me was the sentiment expressed by Tom Robbins:
“Deep down, all of us are probably aware that some kind of mystical evolution is our true task. Our purpose is to consciously, deliberately evolve toward a wiser, more liberated and luminous state of being.”
But Tom wasn’t there, and the only enticements for a compelling future were offered by the big corporations and the service academies—nobody was there to speak to me about a path towards soulful eruption. That would come years later. On that day in 1968, I did not see a sign “Career Opportunity for Mystics” up on the wall. Upon graduation from high school, I orbited restlessly for five years around and through a number of colleges, countries and continents.
Then, in India, a mystic mentor entered my life and pointed to a path that had not been evident on career day.
I have come to think that being a mystic isn’t exactly a career, but a prerequisite for any career. In terms of a college curriculum, it might be called “Reality 101” and would certainly not be an elective. Everyone would have to take this course before any other courses and before one selected a career path.
We would have to learn what Chief Seattle taught back in 1852,
“This we know: the Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the Earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a stand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
This would properly prepare us for our career choices and responsibilities. In fact, we shouldn’t graduate from nursery school before we are reminded about mysticism. Come to think of it, the kids in nursery school probably do know about it, but by the time most of us graduate from high school, overwhelmed with education, we’ve forgotten what nursery school kids know about mysticism.
Webster’s dictionary defines mysticism as “the experience of direct communion with ultimate reality” and “the possibility of direct and intuitive acquisition of ineffable knowledge and power.”
Alan Watts, quite the mystic himself, slyly presses a single finger to his lips when asked about mysticism. He doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be talked about, but that it must be known in silence. But the twinkle in his eye is very alluring, and had Mr. Watts been seated at a booth during my career day, perhaps I and others would have signed up with him.
What did you know in nursery school that you forgot by the time high school career day came around? I think that nursery school kids play with God. As kids, our memories often stretch back to the time before we were born and retain images of the universe as it is: the big picture.
I think we know intuitively the sorcerers’ secret, like don Juan, who said,
“We are luminous beings. We are an awareness. We are not objects. We have no solidity. We are boundless. The world of object and solidity is a way of making our passage on Earth convenient. It is only a description that was created to help us. We, or rather, our reason, forgot that the description is only a description and thus we entrap the totality of ourselves in a vicious circle from which we rarely emerge in our lifetime.”
That’s what we all tend to forget as we ingest millions of bytes of information.
Communing with ultimate reality is not as big a deal as you might think. It’s as simple as remembering that we are luminous beings whose strands of luminosity are woven together with everything else.
Career people have obscured the simplicity and naturalness of mysticism.
Career people who have gone on to become presidents and CEOs of multinational corporations, business ones and religious ones alike, want to sell us things, most of which we don’t really need to live happily in the cosmic tapestry, have obscured this with their attention to lesser things.
Conventional career days are so successful because high school kids have forgotten who they are. And there is so much opportunity for people who have forgotten who they are. Nonetheless, something in all of us stirs when we hear Ray Charles sing. There is a moment when our inherent rapturous selves pour out under the enticement of Mr. Charles’ soulful voice. There is an instant of remembrance.
But then we forget again under the relentless pressure to go to work or shop for things we don’t need.
Mystics are not special human beings; each human being is a special kind of mystic. It is very important to know this, especially in these modern times when careerists are screwing things up for all the living things on the planet. All the living things on the planet includes everything, not just humans—even the beautiful, fearless, and utterly stupid blue-footed boobies of the Galapagos Islands mentioned by Kurt Vonnegut.
Mystics know that all things are alive with the same essence. the careerists think that only their careers are alive and that everything else, including humans, is just career food. This kind of thinking is very fashionable and leads to a lot of silly ideas, which lead to more silly ideas, usually at the expense of living things. One day we may even read about over-anxious business people planning to build a papier-mâché tunnel through the Milky Way as a way of profiting from toll booth fees.
When ideas are hatched out of forgetfulness of who we are, the unmistakable stink of rotten eggs hangs in the air.
Albert Einstein said this about mysticism:
“The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. Those to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, are as good as dead.”
Did you ever hear this kind of talk on career day? Neither did I. That’s why I said mysticism is a prerequisite for al careers, because if we don’t remember who we are, we’re as good as dead.
If Mr. Einstein is correct, then we should ask ourselves why we so easily go along with the ideas of people who have not graduated from “Reality 101.” Why do we sheepishly go along with plans to build parking lots and malls over the rainforests? Why do we eagerly march off to wars that are the ideas of people looking to advance their careers?
Because we all forgot how to play together in the luminosity of our true beingness. We got anxious for a career. We were encouraged to watch television and go shopping.
Ramana Maharshi was a great Indian mystic. In America, he would have had some trouble getting by because he didn’t evidence much ambition. He never owned very much and, by career standards, didn’t amount to much. But he knew who he was because he had let go of silly ideas about who he was and what he should do.
The magic about Ramana was that in his presence, people remembered who they were. Perhaps their inner Ray Charles started singing. their souls awoke, their luminosity ignited, and they reconsidered what they were up to. They may have even wanted to stop steam-rolling steamy asphalt over lush forests, because they could suddenly hear the terrified screams of the Earth as the hot gooey tar was being applied like deadly mascara to her face.
Ramana Maharshi said,
“The ultimate truth is so simple. It is nothing more than being in the pristine state. This is all that need be said. All wee need to do to realize the pristine state is to give up our habit of regarding as real that which is unreal. Reality is simply the loss of the ego.”
The ego is nothing more than all the bad ideas about who we are that we ate as we were growing up; it’s just a bad idea that keeps playing in our collective mind like a broken record. It’s an eccentric quirk of awareness that corrupts the inherent wonder of our transcendent nature into the bad idea that we are separate and different from the light that streams through the cellular corridors of living things everywhere.
This feeling of being separate from the web of life gives us a terminal case of fear, anxiety, and tension, which makes us think up bad ideas.
Ramana is saying that if we remember what we knew in nursery school and forget what we learned in high school, we’d all be a lot better off.
We ought to stop remembering that we’re not who we really are. the light of who we really are instantly shines out between the cracks of our forgetting to remember who we’re not. The big rush of self-forgetfulness we experience when we’re in love is who we are asserting itself. Not a single day passes that we don’t start silently off into the imaginary distance and try to remember who we are. We do it instinctively.
When it came time for me to choose a career, I decided to speak with other career people about mysticism. When I first started, I was as nervous as a heretic during the Inquisition. The Inquisition is when the career people of a certain religious order tired extremely hard to increase their membership by encouraging dissidents to join them or else. This went on for about 300 years, during which time at least three million humans were paved over with the asphalt of a very bad idea.
I took courage in remembering that we had all gone to nursery school, that we were all there together, learning to walk and talk and swing on swings. I remembered that we all used to play in the sandbox of luminosity and it was no big deal.
One day, I decided that if I could remember, then others could, too. Could and would, though it was a bit risky in career terms.
I started walking right up to people in big offices and conference rooms, asking, “Would you tell me about your mystical experiences?”
Guess what? They did.
They remembered their nursery rhymes, though they were a bit rusty and skipped a few words here and there.
Even presidents of big companies Even lawyers.
Here’s what they remembered about reality, which is where we ought to live, all things considered: we are bigger than our bodies and smarter than our brains.
We know things no one has ever told us, and we can fix our bodies with the right attitude. We feel connected to other people; in fact, we feel connected to all of life, including clouds and spider webs and the Crab Nebula.
The happenings in life go on well enough without our manipulation, as when delicate flowers appear out of nowhere at the gong of spring. When people experienced who they really are, torrents of love would make their eyes sparkle like dew. They wanted to help others. They became causelessly happy.
No people have yet told me that when they were dancing like Nijinsky or singing like ray Charles in the luminosity of their original happy hearts they got the idea to torture their friends with cattle-prods or drop mustard gas bombs on little children giggling with the secret that is still so obvious to them.
No one said that they wanted to pave the Earth with asphalt or crush the tender skulls of baby seals for sport or profit. Everyone said that it was good to be kind and helpful. They said there was a definite purpose, or plan, for all living things and for the whole universe.
Meher Baba expressed this essential purpose quite profoundly,
“To penetrate into the essence of all being and significance and to release the fragrance of that inner attainment for the guidance and benefit of others is the sole game which has any intrinsic and absolute worth. All other happenings, incidents, and attainments can, in themselves, have no lasting importance.”
This means that we should not pave the planet with asphalt. We should not kill everything that gets in our way.
We should learn to live with everything. Everyone should eat. Don’t be greedy. Learn to be wise and loving.
That’s what people told me they remembered about who they really are. It seems to me that we all ought to sit down right now and try hard to remember this. I know we can. And when we do, we’ll also know how to fix the mess we’ve made. That knowledge is part of the plan of reality. We just got carried away with careers and shopping.
I know that many people are secretly sad because they rushed right up to the tables of career day and signed on.
People want to know reality. When we make the unreal real, we reap a massive harvest of sadness.
And that’s what we do when we forget that we are all mystics. We sow and reap the misery of great destruction because in our forgetfulness of who we are, we become fearful and greedy and we end up wanting to hurt and enslave others, and we try to take away their freedom and pass laws against dancing with the universe like Zorba did on the beaches of Greece, thinking that if we outlaw the dance of luminosity we can protect our interest in the harvest of silly ideas.
This is a very bad idea. I hope we will all remember who we are, and I hope we will remember this very soon, and I hope we will begin to act accordingly.
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Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Alice Popkorn/Flickr