Musings from Quaker Practice
and the teachings of Jean Klein
John Cowan, March 2017
About forty-five years ago, while I was in Philadelphia, attending a convention for Organization Development practitioners this guy corners me to ask if I am some kind of religious expert, and since I was, I said “Yes .“
“Well,” he said, “my problem is that just now, while I was in the shower, God took me over. I was bathed with light and peace. I stepped out into beauty. And for the last few hours it has not stopped. I see nothing but love and glory. There is just one problem. I’m an atheist. So what do I do now?”
I had had a similar problem a few years before. On my way home from an intense workshop, a workshop that challenged everything about me, I had decided to stop by the family residence and tell my mother I loved her, something I had neglected for maybe thirty years. (She never had complained. She never told me she loved me either. Our family just did not do these things.) All hell broke loose, or maybe all heaven. Copious tears were shed, all other family members sought places to hide, and in an hour or so I left the house to enter a world of love and glory.
I do not know if I helped him any but we shared stories and I advised him to avoid radical steps for a while because, at least for me, this feeling passes to return only sporadically and for no good reason that I could discern. I did not tell him that I never attributed the phenomenon to God, but to some psychological absurdity, I knew not what.
In my early seventies as a Quaker, I learned of a phenomenon, The Innocency of Adam before the fall, experienced by George Fox and sought and sometimes experienced by his early followers.
As recorded in Fox’s Journal: “All things were new and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell.” (Fox, 27)
This experience sounds similar but not identical to the two experiences I have told you, and the dozen or so related to me that I could tell you. For me, the occasional experiences tailed off around forty at the time I left the celibate (risk free) ministry and took on the responsibilities of a family man. (risk averse.) This change of status I think dampened the power within me.
Jean Klein is a master of the Advaita Vedanta tradition, a stream of Hindu experience that predates Buddhism. The tradition is non-dualistic. That is there is not two. Nor is there one. If you cannot visualize that, join the crowd. Nobody can. But from my studies of that tradition I will now create a model for how human reality works from the teachings of Jean Klein.
God is the consciousness that underlies all being. God is the Self not in a body. You are the Self in a body. Yes, you are God.
You, God in a body, have needs. You have a function that discerns your needs and intelligently utilizes the body to pursue your needs. We call it the ego. It senses what is missing, experiences anxiety at the absence, struggles to get you what you need.
The cloud of anxiety the byproduct of effort in pursuit of a goal keeps you from seeing reality as it is so the ego drives you up more blind alleys than productive roads, you are bruised by obstacles you did not see, wearied by tasks you did not need to take on, and find much of life dissatisfying.
But, if the ego can cease its striving, the cloud of anxiety will cease, reality will appear and you will be like Adam before the fall, who had no unfulfilled needs, no cloud of anxiety, and saw reality as it was. Or like the young man George Fox who suffered for years in a desperate search for meaning and with the words “there is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to your condition,” his ego needed to no longer search and he saw the world as it was. From four decades of which condition many marvelous things occurred.
So how to stop the ego from working itself into a storm? The first rule is do not challenge the ego to a wrestling match. It is desperate to fulfill your needs and any attempt to divert it, will simply energize it.
You might accidentally have an incident which stymies the ego. A friend of mine, mind full of troubles, was charging around Southern California when she realized she was lost. An hour later while still lost she became stuck. She gave up trying to get unstuck and broke into tears. And a half an hour later she was still stuck, but having given up, ego quit, the haze lifted and she realized life was pretty good. Very good for that matter. Quite glorious. Then, as you might suspect, someone found her. After all, this was not the Sahara desert.
Have a situation where most needs fade to insignificance because of one need. A man I met had as the saddest part of his life the three months he tended his dying wife. And the happiest? Same three months. No busy work for the ego! One job. Care for dying wife. Nothing more to be done. No job for the ego. Just him and her and approaching death. Ultimately he and she would fail.
The ego builds customary paths to accomplish its mission, character traits. The way we do things becomes our prison. Another woman I know was refused a bus ride out of a Mexican jungle because the previous bus driver had mistakenly ripped out with the ticket to the jungle, the ticket back from the jungle. This was the last bus and this bus driver was adamant that she should go to the office down the block with her problem and she was certain that once she was out of reach he would leave her. He would not listen to her arguments so she cried. Now she almost never cries. Her theme song is “I am woman hear me roar!” Despite that she cried. On purpose! Played poor weak little woman in need of heroic male assistance. Which assistance she received in spades. Not knowing Spanish she does not know what was said but a busload of men and women were giving the driver what for until he let her sit down and he drove on to town. With the falling of the character fences, she spent the rest of the evening in beauty and joy.