Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Understanding Grace, exploring Chesed

Keep in mind, please, that I am uneducated, so when I use words and phrases familiar to your ears I am probably not using them in the ways now officially accepted by the Thinkers, Academics and Theologians. I have just enough education that I enjoy learning; not so much that I've been indoctrinated into any particular school of thought.

I do love words, very much so. My only fond memories of my highschool days (besides those times I skipped class and wandered in the nearby fields) are of Mr. Harvey's English class. My hand was up so often in that class my arm ached by the end of it. He had to ignore me most of the time or the lesson plans would be derailed. But near the end of the class he'd smile, finally point to me with a nod (knowing what was coming) and I'd ask what he & I (for we understood each other) considered the most delightful of questions, "Sir, what's the root of the word ...?" Ah, dear Mr. Harvey.

Which reminds me, isn't it interesting, that familial relationship between the words "indoctrination", "doctrine" and "Doctor"? I'll leave that for you to play with ..

Now - when it comes to the exploration of the Self, and especially the relationship between the Self and the Divine, volumes upon volumes have been and will be written. Centuries' worth of doctrine exist. Even if  The Answers lie somewhere in there, I don't have time to go through it all. I could read for the rest of my life - not an unpleasant prospect - but in the end I'd be no closer to a functional understanding of the mystery I seek to explore.

" .. for if that which you seek, you find not within your self, you will never find it without." (1)

So much wisdom there. And a pun!

When we study anything academically, we do so from the outside looking in. Science calls that objectivity. Stephen Harrod Buhner calls it "dissociated mentation", which makes it sound rather like a pathology, which I believe it is. We separate ourselves from the object of our study and look at it from a distance. First we look at its surface, then we dissect it and look at the surfaces of those smaller objects we find inside it.

But .. when we use only this method to study our world, we've set up divisions that are both unreal and unhelpful, and that we would attempt to do so in our exploration of our selves ... well from this uneducated, un-indoctrinated seat in the peanut gallery, that just seems silly.

For we don't exist in a vacuum. We are intimately within the natural world, not just in it as though the environment was some kind of 3-dimensional backdrop, we're part of it. We cannot know ourselves without knowing this, cannot know ourselves without exploring what this means. But in order to that, we have to come to understand the natural world, (Nature, Creation, Gaia) as an entirely different "thing" than we've been taught. We have to allow the world to show us what it is, how it lives and what it means to itself.

We just plain won't understand, say, butterflies, until we understand what butterfly-ness is -  to a butterfly. Dissociated mentation won't tell us anything like that. Nor will we understand our own me-ness by looking at our own surfaces from the outside in. That's dissociated mentation too. We can only understand me-ness from within.

Obviously, most of us have a fairly good grasp on our me-ness; we're fairly functional, mentally and emotionally, after all. And if we're still alive, then the body is hanging in there too. But most of us also have that classic disconnect. Sometimes that manifests as physical symptoms of one sort another. You know them, they're the things about which we say "I don't understand why my fill in the blank is hurting/looking odd/smelling funny". Or it might be bad dreams we can't figure out, or a sense of gloom & doom or we're worried about the planet, or society or .. in other words, there are gaps in our understanding of ourselves and/or our place and/or our roles. Meaning slips through our fingers when we try to define it.

What does meaning even mean, anyway?

I am particularly fond of a Hebrew word I first came across long long ago in my solo, unindoctrinated, studies of Qabalah. (I'll tell you more about that some other day). The word is Chesed, which is sometimes (according to the context) translated to mean Grace (God's love that comes to us whether we have "earned it" or not), sometimes as meaning God's loving correction of His children.

I believe the disconnect that we all feel comes from our resistance to that latter definition of Grace. It doesn't even have to be read in a religious context - what is still true is that we have, right under our noses, the capacity to correct our understanding of what the world - Creation, Gaia, however you would name it - is. This living world, every creature down to the smallest self-aware and every system self-organizing, will show itself to us if we allow it.

It's a tall order, I know.

Just acknowledging the possibility that humans are not the only ones who are self aware is a tough go, because well, that changes everything. Dissociated mentation - that objective approach - is easier.

But dissociated mentation is boring! It's flat, and too pat, and there's an awful lot that just won't ever be understood that way.

"Falling into a state of grace" is what happens when I let go of objectivity and instead participate. Engaging self,  - "You will never find it without" - my senses, and my sense of whatever I seek to understand. Chesed - remember that word? -  Chesed allows me to experience the world, Creation, Gaia, not simply look out at it or learn 'about' it.

This is a heart thing.

This is why as I've learned from the medicine plants I have such difficulty sharing what I learn with other people. For as much as I may have read about dandelion before I began to use it, once I began to use it, something other than dissociated mentation kicked in. I learned who (yes who) dandelion is from dandelion.

If I want to understand a plant, I ask the plant.

I can (sometimes) translate what the plants (and other creatures) have taught me into words but mostly not. Mostly what they teach me is how to be more human, how to use my human faculties to embrace, how can I put this .. my own humanity. The faculties of understanding with the heart are very much part of who we are. The plants (and other creatures) teach me how to use those faculties, which in turn, allows me greater capacity to hear them and on it goes in an ever expanding delightful spiral.

It really doesn't matter if you believe in a Creator or not, you know. I would dare to suggest that the ongoing miracle that is Creation, Nature, Gaia - self aware, self sustaining and in every way supportive of all life's manifestations - might invest the heart with truer morality than any doctrine we humans have come up with (so far). If you do believe in a Creator, then to re-immerse in the Creation, take up one's rightful place in it, brings an immediacy of experience, a true grasping in the heart of the Creator's on-going purpose.

That this is possible is what I mean by grace. That doing it changes us, makes us more fully human, is Chesed.


  1. "Mostly what they teach me is how to be more human, how to use my human faculties to embrace, how can I put this .. my own humanity."

    I watched ants today and felt this. It helped me immensely! :-)

    1. Aw .. all creatures great and small, eh?