Whoever searchesThe Gospel of Thomas
Must continue to search
Until they find
When whey find
They will be disturbed
And being disturbed, they will be amazed.
When learning something, it’s helpful to identify the patterns. The MIT physicist Max Tegmarck once remarked that when people talk about God, or The Divine, they’re usually focused on identifying the cause (i.e. who or what created the universe), but perhaps the correct way to approach The Divine is through identifying the patterns.
This resonates with my own experience of practicing meditation and yoga. The root of the word Divine in Sanskrit, Dev, means “to shine or to illuminate.” The Divine or Consciousness as Light is a common pattern that we find in spiritual traditions. In Nondual Shaiva Shakta Tantra, Shiva is that quality of The Divine, of consciousness, as The Great Light.
A Tantrik view of awakening is that we need to be shattered in order to be reborn. In many traditions, as well as modern psychotherapy, we encounter language that evokes a more gentle approach to the spiritual journey, as one towards wholeness, for example. That language is also helpful, but in my life I have discovered that the Tantric view, that we need to be shattered in order to heal and to evolve, resonates with my personal experience.
This also helps us to understand the importance of grace. Grace does not mean that everything happens for a reason per se, but rather that the way the mind chooses to make sense of what happens to us can empower us to transform our suffering into fueling our evolution. We can further our sense of purpose by sharing lessons from our suffering to help others.
This opening line from The Gospel of Thomas has a very Tantrik feel to it. We need to seek until we find, which usually only happens when the desire to keep seeking outward exhausts itself. This points to the nature of samsara: the wheel of desire that keeps us spinning around and around. Samsara is a state of endless wandering. Chasing after sensory experience to satisfy our deepest desires for happiness is like trying to quench our thirst by drinking salt water; it only makes us thirstier.
We have to become exhausted with this state of endless wandering before the mind finally stops searching for happiness and peace outward in external appearances and turns inward and rests in its own place.
It’s actually a very old story, one that we all keep telling ourselves: “I’ll be happy when…” Perhaps you feel you’re happy but deep down you wonder subtly if you could be happier. This doubt fuels the chase all over again. We want to be able to ride the energy of desire in order to fuel our creativity. Life wants to live. However, we want to do so with a clear and embodied recognition of the view that our heart-mind will only find the peace and joy that it most deeply desires in one place: the present moment.
This is also why Jesus says in The Gospel of Thomas:
“The kingdom is inside you
And it is outside of you
When you know yourself
Then you will be known.”
Like nirvana, The Kingdom of Heaven is not in another dimension of time and space. It’s always and already here and now. We learn to recognize it through shifting our perspective, through recognizing and resting in the true nature of mind. This transformation includes waking up from the fantasy that “I’ll be happy when…”
After tireless seeking, we tend to get to a point when we are disturbed. We are drawn in search of the light but before we reach its source we must encounter the darkness. We must walk through the shadows that the light casts, which are the shadows of our unconscious. Being disturbed may include the point in time when the universe fractures us, when we are broken open. This might be an experience that is associated with positive or negative emotions.
Falling in love breaks us open. So does losing a loved one. Love and grief are flip sides of the same coin.
If we like, we can find a spiritual path that forgoes sexuality and romantic love for the stability, equanimity and inner peace of a life devoted solely to spiritual practice. That’s the right path for some people, but it’s not for most. Or we can choose a spiritual path that allows us to develop clarity of mind so that we can move deeper into relationships. It is through the mirror of relationships that we can more vividly see our own patterns and receive the opportunity to cut through them.
Love and grief are the two most potent ways that we’re broken open, but they’re not the only ones. Encountering a personal health issue is another. We might point out though that this might even be a form of grief, for it’s about waking up to the actual state of our condition, that life is impermanent. This body is subject to aging, disease and death. Our life is remarkably fragile, Our life could vanish in an instant.
It is in the wake of these moments when we are most deeply disturbed, whether that’s the shock of losing a loved one or the way that falling in love upends our lives, that we become amazed. The universe dispels the illusion that the ego is in control. It shatters us into a million pieces; these scattered pieces reassemble and take form in a new way.
Reframing these moments as grace is what allows us to relate to the inevitable difficulties of impermanence in a new way. It becomes easier when we start to see that this is the natural unfolding of the process of evolution. We all want to be reborn, to evolve and grow, but in order to do so we have to be willing to die as the person we are right now. This is why so many mythological stories are about learning to die before you die so that we can live life more fully.
Ultimately, meditation allows us to cultivate a sense of awe and wonder.
I’ve found that this is a natural part of how the path unfolds the further you are on it. However, I’m also drawn to contemplative traditions that elevate a sense of aesthetics designed to evoke a sense of awe and wonder. Tantric traditions of both Buddhism and Hinduism point in this direction. So does Zen.
As we learn to shift our perspective, we can come to find a much deeper sense of happiness and well-being comes from shifting how we’re relating to experience, rather than constantly trying to engineer having the right kind of experience. We can rest more and more in awe and gratitude.
We come to appreciate the wisdom of Marcel Proust’s words that “the true voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.”
Contemplate the question: in what moments do I find myself abiding in a sense of awe and wonder?