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Whatever else the spiritual process — the so-called spiritual path — may be about, it is ultimately about remembering who we are. At first, that sounds silly to us, because we assume that of course we know perfectly well who we are. But the truth is, we havenít a clue.
We are all eagles convinced we are chickens, walking when we ought to be flying. The barnyard chicken is a bird which has forgotten its true nature, which has let itself become bound to the ground, preyed upon by foxes, when it belongs aloft, astride the wind. Just so, you and I scratch out our years clucking about in the underbrush, our heads bowed, in constant fear of foxes, real and imagined, when we too belong aloft, wings outspread, blissfully riding the air currents. The pity is we can do it already, right now just as we are, for, just like chickens, we are equipped to soar. But, just like chickens, we have forgotten who we are, and so we walk.
Think about it. No matter what we may say in hymns or affirm in prayer, you and I believe we are the bodies we seem to be inhabiting, and our behavior proves it. In referring to ourselves, we point to the body. In relationship with others, we respond to the body's name. When we want to know what we look like, we observe the body's reflection in a mirror. We measure our age from the day the body was born. When the body is ill, we say, “I am sick,” and when it gets sick enough, we fear “I am dying.” We accept as our own the body's capabilities and the body's limitations; we even adopt the body's gender.
Further, we seek happiness and fulfillment in the things which stimulate the body's senses, things like rich food, colorful clothes, fancy houses, fast cars, frequent sex, and assorted other physical highs or lows which seem to make the body, and therefore us, “feel” good. Virtually everything we say and think about ourselves is in reference to the body, and virtually everything we do for ourselves is something done for the body. Even the last thing we do, our final exercise of will, affirms our identification with the body: “Being of sound mind and body, I … . “
It is perfectly understandable that all of this should be so. After all, as far back as any of us can remember, our parents and friends and assorted authority figures have been telling us, directly and indirectly, that the body is who we are. They seem to mean well, some even seem to love us, so we believe them. Now, how many years later, we are thoroughly convinced; indeed, so much so we ignore or ridicule, or worse, those few among us who say otherwise.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with the body or any of its stuff, or, for that matter, with identifying ourselves with it. So long as we derive enjoyment from it, why not? After all, make-believe in all its various permutations is a delightful game, and there is no reason we should not play it. Some traditions even suggest that Cosmic Make-Believe or Divine Play is the basis of Creation. The difficulty arises when the pleasures begin to wane; when new, shinier toys do not make us happy; when serving the body no longer seems to serve us; when the more we eat, the hungrier we are; when the harder we try for physical pleasure, the less satisfying it seems to be.
What do we do then, particularly if we have been playing the game so long and so well we have forgotten it is a game? In what may be a particularly apt metaphor, what can be done for an actor who has become so proficient and convincing in a role, she has forgotten she is an actor, and now believes she is the character she is playing, and that the character's life is her life, the character's destiny her destiny, the character's crises her crises, the character's death her death? This is the dilemma at the heart of every spiritual tradition: How do we release our identification with the body and our attachment to its reality? Surprisingly perhaps, the answer can be quite simple; in a word, just stop doing it.
Thus, in what may very well be one of the most powerful and yet least heeded lessons ever uttered, Jesus, the Teacher of the New Testament, commands, “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” (Matthew 23.9)
Call no man father, call no woman mother, call no human beings your siblings. Here, in this short instruction, there resides everything we need to know, and everything we need to do, to achieve liberation from bodily identification. No special postures are necessary, no complicated diets, no exotic memorizations, no pilgrimages (although, of course, all of those may continue to be aspects of our path). Quite simply, nothing more is required of us than to integrate this breathtakingly simple but fundamentally revolutionary concept into our consciousness. That is, just do it. Again, simple, if not easy.
This is not metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. On the contrary, it is perfectly, even laughably, logical. Every time we call another body “father” or “mother” directly or indirectly, in our thoughts, in person, on the telephone, in a greeting card, or however, we reinforce our perception of ourselves as a body. Bodies give birth to bodies. The evidence of that is all around us and indisputable: cows calve calves, roses seed roses, meteors break up into baby meteors. Things reproduce themselves; like procreates like. Therefore, if a body is my father and another body is my mother, then there is nothing else I can be but a body, for there is nothing else they could produce but another body. So, if I am to stop perceiving myself as a body, I need only stop referring to myself as the child of two other bodies, and instead actively, consistently, and with increasing conviction, acknowledge the Fatherhood of the Divine.
Practically speaking, what this path, if we may call it that, requires is that every time we say the word mother or father we remind ourselves we do not mean Miriam and Gaetano, Tina and Biff, Francoise and Olaf, or whoever else may have warranted those labels heretofore, but God.
And when someone says to us “Your mother is on the phone” or “I saw your father at the restaurant,” we edit the thought before we process it, so that what goes into our subconscious is, “God is my Mother, and Teresa is on the telephone” or “God is my Father, and Kumar was at the restaurant.”
And when we are talking to those two people, when we are relating to them in any way, in person or in our thoughts, we do not treat them as our mother and father, but rather as simply two people whom we know very well, people whom we may love, respect, and even cherish, but not as mom and dad. For they are not mom and dad. God alone is Mother. God alone is Father. God is Mom. God is Dad. Those other two are just people.
Admittedly, practicing this path will present difficulties. Those whom we have acknowledged over the years as parents expect to be called father and mother; some even demand it. That is partly why, in some traditions, seekers are urged, even required, to leave home, to abandon their families and to change their name, dropping all familial accouterments. But those of us who are unable or unwilling to confront this challenge quite so directly may want to try an indirect approach. Consider, for example, this field-proven method. When in the company of people whom you feel you must call “mother” or “father,” do so as if you were a mole or a double agent, an operative who is ostensibly loyal to one government while in fact he or she owes true allegiance to another. Thus, every time you say to them “mom” or “dad,” remind yourself silently, but firmly, “She is not really my mother” or “He is not really my father.” For this to work, it must be done consistently and with conviction. At least as much energy and consciousness as you put into the words “mom” and “dad” must be put into your covert reminder that “God alone is my Father, God alone is my Mother.”
Try it. Live your life as if all of the above were true. Apply the formula Call no man father to as many aspects of your life as you are able, and see what happens. You may be surprised. Of course, the most obvious task is to undertake to see the body's parents, and our relationship to them, in this new light. But to be consistent, we must apply the formula beyond that. We said at the outset that there is very little we do or think which is not directly bodily oriented. We may still continue some or all of those activities, but now we should do so in the new awareness that what we are doing for the body, we are not necessarily doing for ourselves. After all, if I am not the child of a body, which means I am not a body, then it follows too that the body is not me, not who or what I am. Clearly, that perspective changes everything.
So, rather than thinking of the body as ourselves, we should begin to think of it as an other. We may continue to care for it, nourish it, even love it; but don't think of it as “I” or “me.” If this is difficult, try considering yourself as a nanny or a caretaker, and the body as your charge. Perhaps even visualize a ceremony in which God (in whatever form you like) comes to you, and asks you to look after the body as a service to Him or to Her. Then, when you hear yourself thinking “I want a malt,” correct it to “the body wants a malt.”
Of course it's contrived. Ultimately, the entire spiritual process is contrived. It's even a nuisance. But is it more of a nuisance than identifying with the body, with its desires, its fears, its pains, its sicknesses, and finally its death?
Once again, what the spiritual process is all about is remembering who we are. Not becoming something, or Some Thing, but recalling our already True Posture or Nature. Doing that, or being in that position, continuously, effortlessly, and spontaneously is Christ Consciousness, Nature Mind, or Self-Realization, the ultimate product or function of every spiritual practice ever devised anywhere. Like many others from various traditions, “Call no man father” is a formula or a yoga which can yield just such a result. Its special magnificence lies in its simplicity. We can do it whoever we are, wherever we are, whenever we are. We do not need anything we do not already have; we do not need to go anywhere we are not already. We need only heed the lesson: Call no man father. If we are serious about this, how difficult can that be?