Conspiring Together

Greetings!  It’s snowing again in the greater New York area.  I just came in from walking around the lake.  I wonder where the ducks and swans go when the lake freezes over?  I see people ice fishing sometimes, though not today.  The New York Times reported that Russians from Brooklyn like to drive up here and ice fish, but today the roads are bad.  The falling snow gives the air a metallic smell and an intimate hush, like the inside of a big stone church.  I walked around enjoying the intimate-feeling solitude, yet reflecting on how essential it is for us to conspire together.   To paraphrase that great song “American Pie,”  all the beings I have admired most, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost–along with Madame de Salzmann, Thich Nhat Hanh and many other extraordinary ordinary mortals–have emphasized the importance of the spiritual community.  A very powerful energy is generated when people practice together.  It is my deepest wish and intention that the Parabola web space grow and transform to become a place to channel this energy.  So I’ll just begin…

In response to my last post, we were reminded that the word “conspire” means to breathe together.  In the sutra called “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness,” the Buddha describes how to wake up, saying that it all begins–and ends–with mindfulness of the body.  This is a deceptively simple statement–even, let’s be honest, seemingly disappointing!  Don’t most of us wish to be liberated from the limitations of this one, at least somewhat disappointing body, this one, at least somewhat disappointing life?  I remember vividly sitting in my high school art room crafting little Siddhartha-looking figures out of clay and staring out the big windows at the snow falling on the road that wound up a wooded hill beyond (snow was/is frequent in Watertown, New York).  I remember pondering the way someone said the literary critic A.R. Orage pondered, the way kids do naturally:  Why was I here?  Why did I even have to have a body that had to make beds and do homework and other torments?  Why couldn’t I be a cloud or a vapor so I could get places effortless and see and know things without, well, friction and effort?   I smoked cigarettes then (it was part of my outlaw persona, but I quit over 20 years ago.) So I was acutely aware of the pull of habit, and I was also painfully, defensively aware of the narrow confines of my experience and point of view.  I was a girl from the North Country and I had a North Country accent (still do, a little).  I knew I wasn’t the jungle girl or the international spy I pretended to be when I was younger.   How I yearned to be part of something greater!

It turns out that the way to something greater is through mindfulness of the body.  It is through conspiring with others–with noticing that others breathe as you breathe, that the body and the potential you have inherited are not yours alone but your part in the common human condition.  Bit by bit, and quite reluctantly at times, life pushed out onto that road that led away from the high school, out of the known world of my familiar thoughts and associtations into the unknown world that we glimpse from time to time when we open up–the wild unknown of the ETERNAL NOW.   It appears again and again, when we are in question.  Even last night!   One day this week, everything went my way and I felt blessed–the next day, all bad news and I felt utterly unseen, all my efforts ineffectual and pathetic.  Finally, I just had to laugh–just seeing the ego scrambling to get the story sorted out, to insist on itself, it’s claim to be right and the best, whether I was playing the winner or loser!   I went out to sit with others in a local sangha, and as I was doing walking mediation, some wild spark of awareness and willingness in me allowed me to let go all that arguing and affirming for a second and just open up to life.  I felt the support of  the other around me.   For a moment, I felt as if I were stepping forward to volunteer for a brave and reckless mission, to be wide be stripped of the veil of thought, the armor of ego, to be open to what may come.  For a moment or two, I knew there is another way to take in impressions.  We can let them pierce us, rather than buffer them with the mind.  I also knew I would not have been able to make that moment of, well, appearing, showing up for duty for a second instead of being lost in thought, without the support of the others around me.

Another comment last time mentioned the old meaning of “gracious” as Godly, also acceptable, and merciful and compassionate.  In Lord of the Rings, the beautiful elf Arwen gives the hobbit Frodo a potion of the grace that grants her immortality as a gift for healing and strength.  Ron noted that this the way that love and compassion lays us open to grace, which can never be created by us, only received.  Yet we can lay ourselves open to what is higher–and Frodo’s pure-hearted willingness to undertake an impossible mission sparked Arwen’s compassion and allowed grace to enter.  I’ll never foret hearing Cardinal O’Connor of New York say that Mother Theresa once told him that he had to give God permission to enter his heart.

There are moments in life when we do give God and life permission to enter, either due to the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to or devoutly wished for and cultivated through prayer and meditation, when we abandon all false hope and enter life.  When we find ourselves simply sitting and breathing with others.   I am thinking of those who know what it’s like to sit with those who are suffering.  I am think of what it is like to wait in an airport or a train station, in a church, a meditation hall, and even writing in this space on a snowy day.  We really are all kin, and what we have much to offer one another.  We can show up.

12 thoughts on “Conspiring Together

  1. There is a serius question lurking for me within what you’ve written that pertains to this matter of community. Am I looking to acquire consolation from it or something far more.

    I remember a passage in Jacob Needleman’s book “Lost Christianity” where Father Vincent explains in part why he doesn’t play the role jacob needleman expected

    To make a long story short, he was working on building a school which was real hard labor. He didn’t understand why but some elders became angry with him and finally, just before the building was finished, they asked him to leave. He couldn’t understand it.

    He had a dream that night before he was to go which also contained a symbol he couldn’t understand but the lucidity of the dream made him stay even though even his associates thought it better for him to go and not make waves. Father Vincent explains:

    “Now came the day of the scheduled ceremony where the elders of the Tribal community were invited and hopefully they would come under the circumstances. Finally a procession was seen coming and the chief elder was seen “holding on top of a pole an image of the sun which I had seen in that dream! I mean to tell you, it was an exact image: the color same shade of magnenta, the same size, everything……………………”

    …………”When I reflected later about all this I was amazed, but at the time, as it was happening, I calmly accepted it and played my role perfectly, without having to think about it. The chief himself wore no mask, but his face was motionless and frozen as though he of them all did not have to paint a godlike attitude on his face; he alone was godlike. I felt this meaning then, I didn’t ‘figure it out’ but it proved to be more or less accurate.

    It gradually dawned on me that we had badly misunderstood everything about the elders’ actions. True they had demanded that I leave, but they didn’t mean it geographically. They had come to the decision that we–especially me, for some reason, were ‘people of the Father (as they expressed it), and that it was time for them to admit us into their way of life. What I took for anger was the only way they could act out toward me a certain ritual of passage………………………

    I can just visualize Father vincent with his politically correct Interfaith look playing the role obvious to the tribe as completely artificial. They couldn’t take it anymore so finally wanted to send this artificial self away and just invite him to be real. An experience like that will either kill you or cure you. :)

    There is a serious question here for me. Are we looking for a community that offers consolation for its members and acquiring self esteem through a group or as the mutual support for another to become themselves? I’m not suggesting one better than the other but only that it must be a personal decision and must serve the aim of the group member. People can breath together but for what purpose?

    “For when two beings who are not friends are near each other there is no meeting, and when friends are far apart there is no separation.” Simone Weil

    I think Simone is comparing people that relate through their personality and those that do so from what is more genuine in each other. When they are compatible I could see a quality of friendship develop that is unlike the great majority ever experience.

  2. Hi Tracy

    Don’t get me wrong. I respect you as a highly intelligent and sincere human being. I like the idea of growing this site and appreciate contributing within it. I do feel met or at least not rejected. However as a realist, I know its limitations. These limitations are even more pronounced on a site by necessity limited to language. This is just how we are and all we can only strive to do the best we can. There is the acceptance of politically correct standards and the acceptance of the recognition of the fallen human condition.

    From Plato’s Cave analogy:

    [Socrates] And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the cave, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

    “The force and degree of a man’s inner benevolence evokes in others a proportionate degree of ill-will” – Gurdjieff …

    “To listen to someone is to put oneself in his place while he is speaking. To put oneself in the place of someone whose soul is corroded by affliction, or in near danger of it, is to annihilate oneself. It is more difficult than suicide would be for a happy child. Therefore the afflicted are not listened to. They are like someone whose tongue has been cut out and who occasionally forgets the fact. When they move their lips no ear perceives any sound. And they themselves soon sink into impotence in the use of language, because of the certainty of not being heard.
    That is why there is no hope for the vagrant as he stands before the magistrate. Even if, through his stammerings, he should utter a cry to pierce the soul, neither the magistrate nor the public will hear it. His cry is mute. And the afflicted are nearly always equally deaf to one another; and each of them, constrained by the general indifference, strives by means of self-delusion or forgetfulness to become deaf to his own self.” Simone Weil, Human Personality, p. 71

    I am suggesting that this idea of “acceptance” manifests on several levels some of which I know are beyond my ability at this time. As odd as it seems, reality often becomes completely unacceptable.

    So I agree we are compelled to pussy-foot around this problem but suggest that we retain the reality of our psychological limitations by keeping the relativity of acceptance an open ended question.

  3. Tracy and Nick –

    What I feel, is a membership in a larger community where ideas and concepts are freely traded, where you are challenged to think in new ways. I do feel met; I hope others do as well.

    I once wrote in an essay the following words and then followed these words with several quotes and concepts by Prof. Paul F. Knitter, who as a leading voice in pluralism-universalism and as a practicing Christian-Buddhist is deeply involved in an interfaith dialog across many traditions.

    When a Christian looks at Jesus Christ as God, or Lord, we see the “Incarnate Word” the word made flesh. We see God who is present to the world through relationships, and these relationships are a reflection of, an echo of, even an actualization of the very nature of God. God, or the Divine, is always found in these relationships.

    Paul Knitter’s thought on this concept of find God in our relationships follows … “God the Connecting Spirit”

    God is found not only in the relationships we have with one another, but in our relationship with and throughout all of creation. “Relationships that are life giving, life affirming, life caring, life loving, nurturing, respectful, holy (imparting wholeness) and even reverent, inspiring, knowing and intimate, are relationship that bring forth and give birth to more life and existence.” They are relationship driven by the presence of the “Holy Spirit.”

    The importance of this concept is summarized by saying; “behind and within all the different images and symbols Christians use for God – Creator, Father (Abba), Redeemer, Word, Spirit, – the most fundamental, the deepest truth Christians can speak of God is that God is the source and power of relationships.”

    Knitter develops this idea even further by pointing out …

    For any Christian, this also brings a deeper meaning to understanding and accepting Christ. Because when we do so, we are embarking on a journey in which relationships become the primary focus of our lives.

    “To accept Christ, is to accept a new relationship with God and with others, and to place a value on these relationships which is always open and transforming. Our relationships take on a new form that sees God acting through us not as a noun, but as a verb that is transforming, life changing, even mystical as we begin to know and be known within the context of this mystery.”

    God changes our hearts (Metanoia) and in that process changes our lives and the lives of others.

    “To take this concept even further, up to the next level if you will, God as a verb is the activity of giving and receiving, of knowing and loving, of losing and finding, of dying and living that embraces and infuses all of us, all of creation. If we’re going to talk about God, God is neither a noun nor an adjective. God is a Verb! God is much more an environment in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:29), or God is “above all things, through all things, and in all things” (Eph. 4:6).”

    “The presence and Spirit of God “above, through, and in” can be imagined as a sustaining presence (an energy) that surrounds us all, and calls us into relationships of knowing and loving each other, sustaining us even when such relationships get rough, but also filling us with the deepest happiness when we empty ourselves (kenosis) for the sake of others, seeing and finding ourselves in others.

    We may view this as, “God the Connecting Spirit.”

    So, loving others is not a question of “doing God’s will” but, rather, of “living God’s life.” The Holy Spirit in her divine nature and creative role as the feminine side of God loves unconditionally; to love means to relate, to give of ourselves, to bring forth InterBeing (Thich Nhat Hahn’s idea of the Buddhist idea of Emptiness) in the relationships we share in the midst of our everyday lives.”

    “God the Connecting Spirit”, points more to a sustaining presence or energy rather than to a particular being. Still, on a personal level, I feel, as I think others feel the very tangible and concrete presence of God as something close and personal, even visceral at times. In this process we feel God as both a person and as a sustaining presence that energizes or blesses us, that showers blessings upon us continuously. God in this sense is both an indwelling and an interpenetration moving us towards love and relationship.

    The more awake we are to this presence and this mystery, the more we will come to know God is there in this very moment, in the eternal now. This to me is the key and central message of Jesus Christ when he teaches us of his own relationship with the Father (Abba) as intimate and eternal.

    In some wonderful way, are not our own relationships with others, an intimate part of God. I think that they are, which is why nearly all the core religions and faiths teach that we should love and treat others as we would wish to be loved and treated.

    Jesus says in John 4:24, “God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”

    I see this as question we must all find an answer to and practice in some form. It is certainly a key question in how you or we might wish to live your life.

    At some level, we all know that our perception comes into play here, and that by shifting our perception and our focus, or just by simply giving our consent, as when entering into meditation and prayer, we will enter into and encounter God, and the grace of God.

    This has been my own experience over the years. I believe that God is always waiting, patiently and with great longing, for us to do exactly that. To reach out and find rest and love in that sustaining presence, and then share that love in relationship with, well, with just everything, with all of creation, but especially with one another.

    Tomorrow morning, I will get up early and go to an 8AM Eucharist at Trinity Episcopal Church here in Houston. Later in the morning I will be meeting my two best friends of some 40 years for brunch. It has months since we have been together and I’m looking forward to sharing that time with Greg and Ron, who I first met during the summer of 1969, the summer before our senior year in high school. I’ll let you imagine all the things we might have done with one another over the years, including the college years when all be had eyes for were beautiful girls and fast cars, or was that the other way around? I digress into old memories and relationships.

    I have no idea what we will discuss, other than how are your folks, your kids, and even your grandchildren in Ron’s case. It doesn’t matter, all that matters is that we will have some quality time together in order to catch up. To let one another know that we are still here, that we are present in our lives, and that if one us needs something, some help, or just to listen to one another; then we will be there, we will be available, we will be present. This is what happens in any relationship, you are there for one another. And it can happen at any level, it is a reflection of God’s love at work within the world.



    I wrote a poem a few weeks ago about our long friendship, and my wife smiled at what I had to say. You see, she has listened with great delight to some of our old stories. She knows how deep the friendship goes and what it means to us and even to her. She has been drawn into that relationship too, and sees God working in our lives, however you may wish to imagine God at work.

    1. Nick, What you write is rich food for thought, and I agree with it. Still, I find really interesting–and demanding–to try to speak and write the truth–the real lived experience of the truth.

      1. Hi Tracy

        Nick, What you write is rich food for thought, and I agree with it. Still, I find really interesting–and demanding–to try to speak and write the truth–the real lived experience of the truth.

        I remember when I first read Gurdjieff explaining the difficulty in discerning a truth from the lie in ourselves. I thought it was an exaggeration but I must admit that it is true.

        My experience with the Internet is that people like to post for effect which is why it is so useful for Interfaith because IMO secular Interfaith thrives on saying the “right” thing rather than sharing sincerity.

        I once had a strong disagreement with a popular website over the Armenian Genocide within which management catering to certain regulars supported its denial. America and Israel still do not recognize the Armenian Genocide for several reasons including political expediency. I learned to my horror that some are incapable of admitting the ease of genocide denial making the expression “Never Again” meaningless.

        This all has to do with the considered importance of saying the “right ” thing as opposed to admitting our inability to collectively recognize genocide for what it is.

        A person posting on a site, especially like one you are suggesting, is really caught between the attraction of saying the “right” thing and the value of sincerity.

        A site such as you support for example could ask fundamentalists and atheists if they could be open to Simone’s reconciation of Religion and Atheism.

        “Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification. I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God. Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong.”
        – Simone Weil, Faiths of Meditation; Contemplation of the divine
        the Simone Weil Reader, edited by George A. Panichas (David McKay Co. NY 1977) p 417
        How many atheists and fundamentalists would sincerely admit that they may be missing something? That is the trouble. I really question how many would value sincerity at the expense of feelgoodism and self justification.

        Community can either serve to enhance the Great Beast (society) and all its hypocrisy, or as a means of mutually supporting efforts towards psychological freedom from the Beast in the cause of becoming oneself.

        Community can sustain a happy barnyard. But what of the Simone types that need “truth” of a quality greater than just a barnyard creature? How do we respect them? Can they have a community?

        A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat on his strong golden wings. The old eagle looked up in awe. “Who’s that?” he asked. “That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” said his neighbor. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth – we’re chickens.” So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.”Anthony de Mello(1931-1987) Jesuit Priest

      2. Nick, I love the Simone Weil material you bring–and this eagle story. I also know that sometimes there are chickens who are raised to think they are eagles.

  4. Thank you, Ron. It’s so interesting to contemplate, the intimacy of God. I recently heard that people who work with the dying almost always feel that this work makes their lives change for the better. How do they change? Rather than being driven to accomplish great outer or inner deeds, they come away wishing to have more intimacy, closer friendships, more capacity to be patient and open with others. Peace.

    1. Tracy,

      I agree with you, that people who work with the dying have a special gift and are answering a unique calling. Death does have a way of changing our perspective on life, or putting our life into perspective.

      I had lunch today with two of my oldest friends (Greg & Ron) and learned how Greg’s mother, is now in hospice care and is down to 78 pounds. They don’t know for sure, but she may last until Valentines Day. So, he is now preparing for that day, and we with him.

      What he shared with us though is how loving and compassionate many of the caregivers are to his mother. One of them, a young women, can get her to do almost anything, that she would normally not do, like eat.

      Her body is shutting down, so we talked about what that would mean and what he may still need to share with here verbally, like telling her that loves her and other things. Perhaps even a thank you for bringing him into this life and taking care of all the scraped knees he had as a kid, or understanding that for a while, right after high school, we all felt a bit lost. And how she and his father of course, were there for his marriage, the birth of his three sons, and even his eventual divorce; they were there as a steady presence.

      Conversations like this can only happen with the closest of friends, and maybe the oldest of friends, with people we really trust, people who we know intimately.

      When we were saying goodbye, just a few hours ago now, I walked away knowing that the time we spent with one another was an important time. And that Greg, walked away with some strength of spirit that we were able to give him, simply by spending a couple of hours together over lunch. These are “the ties that bind, bless be the ties that bind.”

      A week ago, this lunch was not even in the works, we were just all so busy with very busy lives. But, something in me moved a few days ago to suggest that we meet for today for lunch, and we made it happen.

      The writer, Barbara Brown Taylor, would probably tell us that this was a movement of the Holy Spirit, and I would have to agree with her. It was an act of the Holy Spirit, blowing through our lives, and shaking us, help us to move outside ourselves and the normal rhythms of our lives. Prompting us to take the time to be with one another. These are important moments to pay attention to, these are moments in which the Divine touches us at most unexpected of times and at unexpected depths.

      Thanks for listening.

      Peace – Ron

  5. When I Contemplate the distinction between the secular and transcendent conceptions of “conspiring together” I am struck by on the one hand how obvious it is and how repulsive it is on the other.

    “Here there are neither Russians nor English, Jews nor Christians, but only those who pursue one aim — to be able to be.” Gurdjieff

    I’ve experienced secular Interfaith to assert that we already ARE and the need is to share what we are so as to become as ONE.

    I really believe that this is why all authentic teachings based on this idea of conspiring together must be in a minority. How many competant within society and without the need for escapism or consolation are there to welcome this quality of sharing: from the position of humility?

    How many have bought the book “I’m OK, You’re OK?” How many do you think would buy a book titled “I’m an Idiot, You’re an Idiot” with the intent of taking it seriously?

    I rest my case.

  6. Hmmm…


    Is the glass half full or half empty; are they not the same?

    I cannot control how others may view the world or their own world-view; I can only do that for myself.

    It seems to me that the world is coming from us, not at us.

    Isn’t our perception the key to how we each experience life?

    What is the Great Mistake that Master Patanjali teaches?

    Could the life we are living be an echo of how we treat others?

    Isn’t the Golden Rule found in all the core religions in the world?

    And isn’t the life we all could be living grounded in how we view the world and treat one another.

    And our failure to do this, simply missing the mark, hamartia.

    How often do any one of us we miss the mark?

    Matthew 6:21-22 (21st Century King James Version)

    “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”

  7. Ron

    In reality the glass is as it is. We label it half full or half empty. Our CONDITIONED perceptions are the key to how we each experience life.

    The golden rule may be at the core of societal religious teachings but how many are willing to admit they are incapable of it as a matter of free choice. They discover they are the wretched man as described in Romans 7.

    Then if searching for a path, they have a choice to initially admit what they are or glorify their opinion of themselves

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